BOULDER - Though the offense has struggled for most of the year, particularly in conference play, the Colorado Buffaloes sent shockwaves through the FBS when they benched starting quarterback Steven Montez against Washington State. With Montez entering halftime 4-of-13 for 21 total passing yards, the Buffs made the switch to Sam Noyer to start the third.
Though blame for the Buffs' offensive issues has been widespread, from questionable coaching to poor offensive line play to drop-prone wide receivers, Montez had seemingly received the least negativity of any player. Pro Football Focus had named Montez to the all-offense team only two weeks prior, ranking him the second-best Pac-12 quarterback behind rushing juggernaut Khalil Tate.
After the shutout loss, head coach Mike MacIntyre confirmed he would open up the quarterback competition for the week prior to Cal. Though there was likely more than one reason for the switch, MacIntyre said that at least part of the motivation was his search for a shift in momentum.
"The way that game was going I thought that was the only thing we could do that could spark us in the second half at that time," he said.
At Tuesday's press conference, lead rusher Phil Lindsay was vocal in his trust of whoever takes the field on Saturday.
"We believe in both quarterbacks," Lindsay said. "At the end of the day, they're both here on scholarship for a reason and they're both out there competing and trying to win games. They need to continue to push each other, that's what it's about. For us, we just have to keep moving forward. We're not going to flinch because of something that we can't control. It's about winning and it's about team, and both quarterbacks love each other and care for each other.”
Montez has racked up 1,712 yards and 12 touchdowns, with six interceptions, so far. He has done it behind an injury-plagued offensive line and with his receivers struggling to create separation.
Lindsay, who has worked side by side with the quarterbacks all year, believes that Montez returned from Washington State with a different outlook. He has faith in his ability to hang on as the starter.
"Montez has come back with a lot of focus," Lindsay said. "So has Sam [Noyer]. Both of them are out there competing; that's what you need, and that's what we're going to continue to have. Whoever it is, at the end of the day, we're going to roll with them. Montez is doing well, he's hungry, he understands what he needs to do and he's maturing fast.”
MacIntyre has seen a renewed Montez as well. He hopes that the challenge of re-opening the competition will push Montez to be the best version of himself, something the Buffs will need as they head into a tough final stretch of conference play,
"I've seen him working hard," MacIntyre said. "I'm not inside his brain or heart. I've seen him work hard and push at it. Sefo [Liufau] had some of the same types of things happen to him as he was going through the growing process. Hopefully, we'll see some better results.”
MacIntyre hopes this move sends a message to the entire team. He won't announce a decision at quarterback until the team kicks off against Cal on Saturday, but will start the best man for the job.
"They know that at every position they've got to compete, they've got to play and they've got to perform," MacIntyre said. "I think Bill Belichick always says, 'You've got to do your job and do your job well.' That's what we have to do. We're always going to try to find a way for us to be successful. Everybody's got to compete and has got to keep playing. Both of them have practiced well this week. I'll see what decision I make before we run out behind Ralphie."