It was on full display in the FCS spring season’s national championship: Quarterback health, to no one’s surprise, makes a definite difference in a team’s outlook and path to success. Simple enough.
Here’s where it gets complicated: What happens when a rash of injuries to quarterbacks throws nearly half of a conference into limbo entering October?
The CAA is about to find out.
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The CAA leaders who have looked most impressive in the outset of fall 2021, No. 3 James Madison and No. 12 Villanova, have entrenched starters who are healthy and pushing all the right buttons, to borrow JMU head coach Curt Cignetti’s description of Dukes QB Cole Johnson’s play.
The run of signal-caller injuries has hit what might be considered the next tier of the CAA standings, pending more action from Delaware and Richmond, two of the ranked counterparts to JMU and Nova.
Delaware’s Nolan Henderson has been termed both “day-to-day” and “week-to-week” with a pelvic/hip/groin/abdomen injury that is resurfacing after a beating taken at FBS Rutgers that included five sacks. That’s both a lot of slashes for one injury and a lot of sacks.
Blue Hens head coach Danny Rocco, however, said multiple times Monday that Henderson will “certainly” suit up and be reinserted in game action this fall.
“I just don’t know how quickly or how often,” Rocco continued. “But we’re optimistic that we’re going to have Nolan back in our lineup here before too long.”
The “before too long” timetable might not spare Henderson, the preseason First Team All-CAA pick, from missing Saturday’s game in which No. 9 Delaware hosts UAlbany in both teams’ return from a bye week.
Said Rocco, “Will he play this weekend? I don’t know. Will he be able to put together a series of weeks, a series of games? We’re hopeful.”
If Henderson is inactive or of limited availability against UAlbany, primary backup Zach Gwynn will start in his place. Gwynn entered Delaware’s spring quarterfinal win at Jacksonville State and moved the sticks some when the Hens really needed a stabilizing presence.
Meanwhile, Richmond was just getting underway at FBS Virginia Tech last week when starter Joe Mancuso exited with what has been diagnosed as a broken index finger in his throwing hand.
Spiders head coach Russ Huesman gave Mancuso a timeline of two to four weeks to return. In the interim, Beau English, who has prior game experience for UR, will get the starting nod. Typically, Richmond has been more run-oriented with English in games, partially due to English’s ground prowess as a mobile quarterback relative to that of Mancuso or to Mancuso’s lack thereof.
Another back-end Top 25 team in the league, New Hampshire, is without its starter, but for the season’s entirety. Wildcats returnee Max Brosmer is sidelined with a preseason torn ACL and has been replaced by Bret Edwards, whose insertion has gone well outside of a 77-7 disaster at FBS Pittsburgh. UNH is currently 3-0 against FCS opponents.
UNH’s archrival, Maine, is missing its quarterback indefinitely as Joe Fagnano nurses what Black Bears head coach Nick Charlton termed a “severe high ankle sprain” suffered at JMU. Redshirt freshman Derek Robertson has been the next man up.
Speaking of freshmen, William & Mary is off to a 3-1 start (3-0 vs. the FCS), and the Tribe has a potential QB controversy to thank for it, oddly enough. Starter Hollis Mathis, who shined in the spring, has a surgically repaired throwing shoulder and has been limited this fall, but Stats Perform National Freshman of the Week Darius Wilson has turned heads early this season in his place. Mathis’ situation is reminiscent of Henderson’s in terms of being in flux week by week, but W&M has Wilson to lean on right now, and the youngster is coming through before tests in league play arrive.
“In flux”: That might well be the most apt way to describe the bulk of the CAA that is chasing at-large playoff spots that are scarce each year. Quarterback question marks could, to no one’s surprise, be a difference-maker in that hunt.
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