LOGAN As maturation processes go, Diondre Borel is facing a fast one.
A year ago, he was a skinny freshman playing wide receiver for Utah State and not playing much at that. Now, just a year later, he's a sophomore although still a skinny one and his coach has handed over the keys to the offense to him.
That's a pretty stiff order considering USU's Brent Guy is a coach without the luxury of job security. Asking a young, shy and inexperienced quarterback to take over the leadership of the team when a senior is in camp and ready to play is a little risky.
But it might also be a move Guy had little choice to make.
"We are going to put Diondre out there and see if he can get us started," Guy said before Borel's first start. "He is right now our best runner, so hopefully that will help the running game as a whole."
Sean Setzer won the starting position coming out of fall camp but had a hard time moving the ball downfield in three games against challenging opposition.
Borel came off the bench in Utah State's first three games. At UNLV, he took over midway through the third quarter and finished the game. At Oregon, he was called upon even earlier.
Against Utah, Setzer was again the starter, but Guy alternated frequently as he tried to find the quarterback who could best spark the team.
And though the results were often mixed with disaster, Borel was clearly the player who brought the most energy and life to the team.
He also grabbed the leadership role by the horns, so to speak, during a pre-game meeting on Friday.
"Diondre stood up and said the coaches give us all the things that we're supposed to do and it's up to us players to just do it," freshman running back Robert Turbin said. "They can't go out on the field and do it for us."
Shy, soft-spoken and often not sure what to say when asked a question in a press conference, Borel said he was anxious before his first start in last week's 42-17 win over Idaho.
"I was a little bit nervous (before the) first start," Borel said. "It's different when you start than when you come off the bench. But I was excited."
His weaknesses unpredictability and an eagerness to tuck the ball and run at times become his strength. Because of that lack of experience, Guy said, Borel often made a quick decision to run with the ball rather than let his pass plays develop.
It's something Guy thinks is a work in progress but is getting better with each game.
"Diondre sometimes thinks he has to hit a home run with every play," Guy said. "But Diondre's learning that you don't have to hit a home run every time. You can hit singles and doubles and still be effective."
With a running style that often leaves defenses not to mention his own blockers unsure where the play is going, Borel can make people miss, find himself alone with nobody to block for him or simply have the play end with lost yardage.
Increasingly, though, he's discovering ways to move the ball downfield either by himself or by actually involving the rest of the team.
After two-plus quarters of option-style quarterbacking, USU coaches went a little traditional last week for a play or two and caught Idaho's defense napping.
The Aggies had run five running plays out of six snaps on a drive and were moving the ball fairly well. That's when Borel did something he hadn't done much all season. He dropped back in the pocket you know, kind of like a classic quarterback often does and took his time. He looked downfield and saw Stanley Morrison flying past the drawn-in defenders who were expecting yet another running play.
The ball was delivered on target and Morrison scampered untouched for a 46-yard touchdown, tying the game at 14-14.
A drive later, Borel missed a golden opportunity to connect with tight end Jeremy Mitchell on a roll-out pass play. Instead, he pulled the ball in and ran for five yards. Normally a 5-yard gain would be a good thing. But when it takes what should have been a big gain away, the coaches wanted to make sure Borel got it right the next time.
That opportunity came just two plays later when the Aggies ran the same play and Borel found Mitchell alone in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
Earlier in the game, his open-field running skills were put on display. On a second-and-2 play, he called his own number and slipped through the left side of the line before juking to the right. He made a linebacker miss with another move and then zigged left before zagging back to the right around an Otis Nelson block to dance untouched for a 33-yard run through the heart of the Vandals' defense.
And with that, it seemed, Utah State's quarterback dilemma was mostly solved. Though far from a perfect quarterback and leading a far-from-perfect football team, Borel is a hit for now."From last week's game to this week's game, everybody had more fight," Borel said. "Nobody was getting down when the other team scored, and we just kept our heads up and kept playing."
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