Premier QBs share mutual respect on field

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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By the time his career is over, Liam Coen will literally own almost every Massachusetts passing record. He has a Division I-AA national championship appearance to his credit, and will likely be known as the best quarterback in school history.

But in the eyes of NFL scouts and general college football fanatics, he won’t even be the best quarterback on the field this Saturday in Chestnut Hill. That honor belongs to Boston College signal-caller Matt Ryan.

“He’s probably the best around right now,” Coen said.

Tops in the nation may be a bit of a stretch, but he’s certainly close to it if you listen to ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. Kiper rates just two senior quarterbacks ahead of Ryan – Louisville’s Brian Brohm and Kentucky’s Andre’ Woodson – and believes that BC’s field general is better than the more well-known John David Booty of Southern California.

UMass coach Don Brown can see why Kiper thinks so highly of him.

“He makes every throw,” Brown said. “He can throw the short ball; he can throw the vertical game. He drives every ball with confidence. He’s a complete guy and he’s going to be a first round draft pick.”

Ryan is an imposing presence on the gridiron, with both his size (6-foot-5, 218-pounds) and terrific skills. He considers himself a classic pocket passer, but has the ability to beat you in other ways – rushing for 10 touchdowns in his career with the Eagles.

But where Ryan really beats you is with his aerial attack, throwing 35 touchdown passes in his career. He’s enjoyed a big start to the 2007 season – throwing 10 touchdowns in just four games, while completing 112-of-181 passes (61.9 percent) for 1,341 yards.

“I just try to stay in the pocket and try to get the ball out to guys around me,” Ryan said. “[My teammates] are really talented, and I just try to distribute the ball to them as best I can. Hopefully that’s good enough on Saturdays for us to get wins.”

Behind Ryan, the Eagles are 4-0 and are ranked No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ poll. For his efforts, Ryan is ranked 7th on ESPN’s “Heisman Watch.”

Ryan came into national prominence last season, leading BC to a 10-3 season and a BCS Bowl Game (Meineke Car Care Bowl) victory on Dec. 30, 2006 over Navy, 25-24. Interestingly enough, UMass lost to Navy earlier that season – also in a one-point game – by the score of 25-24.

Ryan threw two interceptions in that bowl victory, but completed 20-of-29 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing), helping BC get into position in the final seconds for a game-winning field goal over the Midshipmen as time expired.

But Ryan’s coming-out party really occurred in 2005, when he came into the game against Wake Forest, trailing 30-21 with 3:30 remaining. Ryan led BC to the comeback victory, completing 7-of-9 passes for 134 yards and two touchdown passes, including the game-winning 26-yard pass to wideout Kevin Challenger.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen any weaknesses in him,” Coen said. “He’s sound; I don’t see many mistakes he makes in a game. Obviously he’s a big-time NFL prospect, and I have lot of respect for him.”

That respect goes both ways, as Ryan thinks quite highly of the quarterback he will be opposing in Saturday’s tilt at Alumni Stadium.

“From what I’ve seen from him in the past I think he’s a really talented player,” Ryan said. “He’s done a great job up there in his career. He’s a good player and I’m excited to watch him play on Saturday.”

But while Coen and his coach – and seemingly everyone in the country – have sung the praises of Ryan, Brown is more than happy with the quarterback who will suit up for his team come Saturday.

“I’ve said it 100 times and I’ll say it again, I won’t trade my guy for anyone in the country,” Brown said.

That statement comes with good reason. Coen, along with running back Steve Baylark and a strong defense, guided UMass to the national championship game against Appalachian State on Dec. 15, 2006. Coen and the Minutemen lost that game, 28-17, but the 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback gave his team a chance to win – throwing for 221 yards and a touchdown on 20-of-33 passing. He was, however, intercepted twice.

Interceptions were rather scarce for Coen last season, as he racked up just 10 of them compared to his 26 TD passes – which was 11 more than Ryan. He connected on a school-record 65 percent of his passes, and threw for 3,016 yards.

Coen’s game is quite similar to Ryan’s – minus the running, of course – in that he can consistently beat you with both his arm and his brains. Both are very knowledgeable and extremely well-coached quarterbacks who limit their mistakes and capitalize on the mistakes.

Both play for two of the elite teams in the country. The major difference, of course, is that Ryan plays for one of the elite teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, while Coen plays for the No. 2 rated team in the Football Championship Subdivision.

But according to Ryan, you can throw all that out the window.

“He’s a great player, and I’m sure he would do well at whatever program [FBS or FCS] he was at,” he said.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]