In the FCS Huddle: Four QBs in FCS semis a dangerous bunch

As a freshman last year, Sam Houston State 14 thrashing at the hands of Western Illinois.

It was the type of loss that could have demoralized a young quarterback, hurting his confidence and slowing his growth.

Not Bell.

"I remember when he came in as a true freshman against Western Illinois," Sam Houston State center Travis Watson said. "You first see him and he's not the most imposing figure, but he just has this confidence about him. He wasn't like a freshman usually would be in the huddle."

The experience of playing as a true freshman paid off for Bell, as the now sophomore has helped manage his team to the cusp of the FCS national championship game.

Bell isn't the only sophomore making a start in the semifinals this weekend as he will go head-to-head with Montana's Jordan Johnson, while North Dakota State's Brock Jensen will be under center against Georgia Southern, which has the lone senior quarterback of the four remaining teams, Jaybo Shaw.

It's not the typical group of quarterbacks normally associated with four national semifinalists. They won't be named to All-America teams and aren't the chief area of concern for most opponents.

But that misconception is what makes them so dangerous.

All four of the remaining quarterbacks rank 58th or lower nationally in passing yards per game, largely due to the fact they aren't asked to pass the ball often. But when they do drop back to pass, Johnson, Jensen and Bell are ranked in the top 43 for passing efficiency. Shaw doesn't qualify since he doesn't even attempt 15 passes per game, but if his statistics counted, he'd be the nation's leader in the category.

"Obviously, our main focus is running the ball, controlling the game and scoring points," Shaw, who operates Georgia Southern's triple option, said. "But, when my number's called, we do a pretty good job of catching teams off guard."

In a national quarterfinal against Maine last Saturday, Shaw attempted only eight passes, but he completed seven of them for 116 yards and a touchdown.

What makes Shaw and all the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs most valuable is what they don't do - throw interceptions.

Combined they have thrown just 18 interceptions. Jensen and Shaw have just three each.

"My job is just to lead the offense and stay on the field," Jensen said. "I have to convert when my number's called. If protection breaks down, I should be able to move the ball and stay on the field. We're not the focal point of the offense. We don't get our numbers called every single play, but we are both up for the challenge and step up our game when the team needs it."

For each quarterback, stepping up when his number is called can mean something different each week. For Johnson, it meant accounting for four total touchdowns against Northern Iowa in a national quarterfinal last Friday. For Bell, it meant surprising Montana State with a 54-yard touchdown run up the middle in their national quarterfinal last Saturday.

Making those key plays all comes down to decision making, something Montana coach Robin Pflugrad attributes to a strong football upbringing.

"Both of them (Johnson and Bell) have fathers who have been coaches for years and years," Pflugrad said. "I think their mental approach and personality are similar to a guy like (Boise State quarterback) Kellen Moore. (You) really have to credit the decisions they make."

Making the smart decision is what has kept the four quarterbacks generally under the radar. Not only do they put their team in a position to win, but, more importantly, none of the four has put his team in a position to lose this season.

"(Jensen) makes a good throw or he throws it away, which is still a heck of a good play," Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said. "It's much better than throwing one to the other team."

Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz voices the same sentiment.

"The big thing for us is turnover-takeaway margin," Fritz said. "Nothing wrong with punting and nothing wrong with throwing the ball out of bounds."

Reaching a level where any mistake will be heavily examined under a microscope, and national television, the four remaining quarterbacks may not be the household names of a given offense, but they do what's more important - win.