LINCOLN — The adage is: When you have two quarterbacks, you have none.
Or something like that.
The reference is to more than one quarterback playing regularly in a game, alternating quarterbacks if you will, as Maryland has done this season—juniors Josh Jackson and Tyrell Pigrone.
Jackson has started seven games, Pigrone three. But both have seen regular action. Jackson has completed 83-of-168 passes for 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions. Pigrone has completed 65-of-110 for 684 yards and three touchdowns with six interceptions.
Pigrone, who’s listed as “probable” despite a knee injury, has rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson is listed at minus-70 yards “rushing,” a reflection of sacks.
“Yes, they operate on a two-quarterback system,” Husker cornerback Lamar Jackson said. “One’s pretty much . . . throws a deep ball. One’s a little bit more athletic, (a) dual-threat guy.
“So it’s kind of like they both give you different things.”
Jackson (6-2, 218) is the former, Pigrone (5-10, 209) the latter.
“When you play two quarterbacks, it’s kind of easy to lock in on what they do, rather than not really knowing because they can do both,” said Jackson. “Once they put a quarterback in, we kind of know, ‘RPO ready, quarterback run,’ or vice versa; they put the other quarterback in, expect deep shots.
“So it’s kind of a little bit easier to organize scheme-wise. But for the most part, they’ve got two dynamic guys that are capable . . . you gotta prepare for both equally.”
Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle echoed Jackson.
“They use two quarterbacks, you’ve just got to prepare for two quarterbacks,” Bootle said. “Different guys have different strengths. You’ve just got to understand the personnel and understand which one we’re going against, what point in the game, and just understand how the offense is changed.
“Not everybody has the same skill sets. They’re probably in for two different reasons.”
Whichever quarterback is in the game, he’s had to prepare for Bootle and Jackson, who have been constants in the Husker secondary. Bootle, a junior, has 22 consecutive starts. Jackson, a senior, has started 34 games over his career, including 33 of the last 34 and one as a true freshman.
Though he hasn’t had a pass breakup in the last two games, Jackson still leads the Big Ten and is tied for fourth nationally with 12 for the season.
He is second to safety Cam Taylor-Britt among players in the secondary with 35 tackles, including a season-high six against Wisconsin. He has four tackles-for-loss and one sack.
“I’m kind of taking pride in these last couple of days,” Jackson said after an early-week practice. “I know, like, they (are) dwindling down fast, you know what I’m saying?”
If Nebraska doesn’t win against Maryland and Iowa the day after Thanksgiving, there will be no bowl game, the season will be over—as will Jackson’s Husker career.
“I’ve got potentially less than two weeks left,” he said. “So I’m not taking them for granted. I’m just going out there, trying to stay high-energy, stay positive . . . just keep everybody in this thing together and just finish it for us and for the team.”
Maryland Stadium is among only three in the Big Ten in which Jackson hasn’t played. The others are Michigan State’s Spartan Stadium and Rutgers’ SHI Stadium.
“Everybody in this conference has got, pretty much, good fans and a good amount of people there,” said Jackson. “There’s not too many teams where it’s going to be pretty much dead. For the most part, every time we go to an away game, we kinda gotta a good stage and a good crowd appearance.
“So it’s kind of one of (those) things where we’ve just gotta fight through that, fight through what they’ve got going at their stadiums.”
At Maryland Stadium, there might not be the energy of a large crowd. Official capacity is 51,802, and it was overflowing for a 59-0 loss against Penn State. For the Terrapins’ other four home games, however, the average attendance has been just under 35,000.
There could be a large number of empty seats, which means Jackson and the rest of the defense might have to generate energy as well as deal with two quarterbacks.
Whether playing at soldout Memorial Stadium or playing where “the crowd is pretty empty or half-full . . . at the end of the day, you’ve still got to do your job,” Jackson said.
The focus here is two quarterbacks, however, knowing there will probably be two going into the game. “It’s something we have to deal with this week,” said Jackson.
And dealing with them won’t necessarily require identifying jersey numbers. “Sometimes they’ve got different physical statures and stuff like that,” Bootle said.
In Maryland’s case, when you have two quarterbacks, well . . . you have two quarterbacks.
“You just see the guys and you just automatically know,” said Bootle. “You go through the checklist in your head and understand what physical threats they’ve got, pose (for) your defense.”
Mike Babcock is a long-time Husker beat reporter and editor for Hail Varsity Magazine.