Late relief is the kindest way to describe quarterback Scott Barrick’s early-season role on the San Diego State football team. To be less diplomatic, mop-up duty is more to the point. And with the Aztecs’ slow start, there was plenty to clean up. With his team behind early and trailing badly at the end, Barrick entered his first 3 college games when there was little left to decide.
Most of the crowds had headed through the exits, the other teams’ bands had struck up victory marches and the defenses were rushing through the tired Aztec line as though it wasn’t there. All the while, Barrick was trying to impress the coaches.
“I kept thinking I could show them something,” Barrick said. “But under those conditions, I had little chance. I was thinking that this must be what college football was like.”
But there is more to the game than those limited auditions allowed. Barrick, now the starting quarterback, is beginning to understand.
“The past few games have made such a difference,” he said. “I’m learning every week.”
Barrick will make his third college start Saturday afternoon when the Aztecs play Texas El Paso in a Western Athletic Conference game in the Sun Bowl. Barrick, a redshirt freshman from Fallbrook High School, took over as quarterback from Brad Platt in the second half of a 13-7 loss at Colorado State Oct. 22. He led SDSU to its lone touchdown and has been the starter since.
“I said at the start that Brad was my starter, but that nothing was set in concrete,” SDSU Coach Denny Stolz said. “I kept an open mind about Scott. I could see in practice that he was coming along. He was maturing and getting more comfortable. He was making the right decisions, throwing the ball to the proper receivers. It was starting to click for him.”
The Aztecs’ poor start at Colorado State gave Stolz his chance to try Barrick. He had played in only 3 of the Aztecs’ previous 6 games and had completed 2 of 10 passes for 9 yards with 1 interception and 4 sacks. Since then, he is 47 of 80 for 559 yards and 2 touchdowns with 4 interceptions and 7 sacks. More importantly, he helped lead the Aztecs to a 27-15 victory Saturday night over then-No. 20 Brigham Young.
It was the Aztecs’ first victory over a ranked team since 1981 and ended a 6-game losing streak.
“Scott has brought some stability to the quarterback position,” Stolz said. “He has a cool head out there. He has a calming effect on the whole offensive team. He doesn’t get too excited out there.”
Barrick’s temperament is a cross between Todd Santos’ and Platt’s, the SDSU quarterbacks who preceeded him.
Santos, who finished his career last season as the major-college career leader in passing yardage, was quiet on and off the field, almost to the point of being reserved.
Platt, a junior transfer from Southwestern College and Hilltop High School, was a vocal and demonstrative leader. He is the kind of player who raised the ball aloft before he reached the end zone en route to his first SDSU touchdown.
Barrick is one who will neither gloat nor remain rigidly silent. His is just the kind of outlook Stolz said he was seeking.
“It is tough for a freshman to come into a situation like he did and lead the team,” Stolz said. “But Scott has done a great job. It also has helped that he is young because, when he makes mistakes, the other players understand. They don’t give him such a hard time.”
The transformation in just a few weeks from seldom-used reserve to starting quarterback has made Barrick grow up in a hurry. Running the second team in practice and walking the sidelines during games taught him little about playing college football, Barrick said.
“You learn pretty much next to nothing just watching,” he said. “It really doesn’t help. You don’t see the defenses straight on, and you’re not under the same kind of pressure to make a decision.”
Watching was not so tough last season, Barrick said, when he knew he would spend his first year redshirting behind Santos. But the waiting was more difficult this season, knowing he was ready to go.
“The first half of the game was not that bad because I could keep busy and keep hoping that I would get my chance,” Barrick said. “But the second half, I would just wander the sideline.”
His backup status and the presence of transfer Dan McGwire, a former starter at Iowa who becomes eligible next season, gave Barrick cause to wonder about his future. But he said he never seriously contemplated transferring.
“I thought about it, but I never picked up the phone,” Barrick said. “This is where I wanted to go to school all along. I wanted to make the best of it. I didn’t want to leave.”
But it did not help that he found himself behind Platt almost from the start in the competition to replace Santos.
“It seemed like no matter what I did, I was always one step behind,” Barrick said. “Brad just had that little edge.”
Coaches and players agree that Platt has a stronger arm, more speed and more mobility than Barrick. But for all his physical advantages, Platt was not able to provide Stolz with the consistent quality of play he wanted from the position.
Platt has completed 57.5% of his passes (130 of 226 for 1,466 yards), but he has thrown 10 interceptions compared with 3 touchdown passes.
“The problem with Brad is that sometimes he would turn a bad play into a worse play,” Stolz said. “Instead of just taking the sack, he would start to run and that sometimes got us into worse trouble. Scott, on the other hand, will take the sack and we’ll just punt.”
A subtle change like that sometimes can make a major difference in a team. It was a chance Stolz was ready to take after his team’s early-season struggles.
“We wouldn’t have made the change if we didn’t think Scott was ready,” Stolz said.
San Diego State nose tackle Brad Burton was released Wednesday from Sharp Memorial Hospital, trainer Don Kaverman said. Burton was admitted Oct. 30 because of an infected right ankle. He will not return to play this season.