Jerry Pettibone has never had any indecision when it comes to choosing his weapon. As a former assistant at Oklahoma and Nebraska, he was an option guy long before landing his first head coaching job at Northern Illinois in 1985.
Now, in his sixth season at Oregon State, Pettibone still draws the option attack from his holster each Saturday afternoon. But he can’t seem to decide who should pull the trigger.
That crucial responsibility will fall on the young and not-so-broad shoulders of redshirt freshman Tim Alexander this Saturday when the Beavers serve up the homecoming opposition for Washington State at 2 p.m. in Martin Stadium.
And when the slightly built burner from Sarasota, Fla., makes only the second start of his collegiate career, he will become the sixth different starter Pettibone has used under center against WSU in as many years.
None of the previous five - Fred Schweer, Ed Browing, Mark Olford, Ian Shields or Don Shanklin - had much success firing Pettibone’s spread-option attack into the heart of the Cougars’ smothering, speed-oriented defense.
The Beavers were outscored by WSU 196-47 in Pettibone’s first four seasons and managed only 196 total yards last fall, despite snapping a 14-game winless streak against the Cougars with a 21-3 victory.
Pettibone still has Olford and Shanklin on his roster. But Olford has since moved to halfback and Shanklin, last year’s starter, was demoted to the No. 2 unit after the Beavers’ opened the season with an unimpressive 14-7 win over Division I-AA Idaho and unexpected losses to Pacific, North Texas State and Arizona State.
Alexander, a 6-foot-1, 170-pounder, made his first start last Saturday at home against Washington and accounted for 322 yards in a 26-16 loss to the 18th-ranked Huskies.
“He really handled himself well,” Pettibone said of Alexander’s starting debut. “He rushed for 182 yards, threw for 140 and scored two touchdowns. And we didn’t have any fumbles in what we call the mesh - that area where we ride between the quarterback and fullback - or any pitches that hit the ground.
“He did a real good job in the execution of the fundamentals of running option football. I just thought he was outstanding.”
So did WSU coach Mike Price, who watched video of the Beavers’ loss to UW and came away convinced that Alexander is the real deal.
“He’s got great speed and he looks to be a little bit better decision-maker than Shanklin was,” Price said. “And boy, when he gets to the seam, he can put it in the (end) zone on anybody.”
Alexander, who ran 10.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 10.6 in the 200 as a senior at Riverview High School, came to OSU last fall as the most highly touted option quarter in the nation.
He visited Oklahoma and Nebraska before signing with the Beavers and there were those close to the OSU program who expected - even strongly believed - that Alexander should have been the starter from opening game of last season.
Pettibone felt otherwise, however, and tried to ease his prize recruit into the Division-I football wars. He held Alexander out of the season-opener against ASU with plans of using him off the bench against Wyoming in OSU’s home opener the following week.
That plan fell apart when Alexander sprained an ankle in pre-game warmups and played only two plays against the Cowboys. Three weeks later he got another chance in a reserve role against Southern California and ran for 117 yards and a touchdown before breaking his collarbone near the end of the game.
The injury kept Alexander sidelined the rest of the season, but he petitioned for - and received - a medical hardship redshirt season from the NCAA.
“The media might have thought Tim was ready last year, but not the coaching staff,” Pettibone explained. “It was handled the way it needed to be. If he had been put out there any sooner, I think it would have been a big mistake.”
OSU has changed its option attack slightly this year from a true wishbone set to double-slot or double-wing look in hopes of improving its stagnant passing attack. Alexander likes the change and senior halfback Cameron Reynolds likes having Alexander as the new trigger man.
“He’s a big-play kind of guy and that’s something this offense needs out of our quarterback - a big-play threat that the defense has to try to take away,” Reynolds explained. “It’s something we’ve had in the past, to an extent, but not consistently. Tim gives it to us every play and defenses are going to have to respect that.
“For the past couple of years, they’ve taken away the fullback (dive) and halfbacks (option pitches) and let the quarterback run with the ball and then tackle him with pursuit. But by Tim’s display of speed and running ability, they’re going to have to start taking away the quarterback now, and that’s just going to open up the fullback and halfbacks.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BEAVER QUARTERBACKS VS. WSU A breakdown of the six different quarterbacks Oregon State has started against Washington State the past six seasons, along with the Beavers’ offensive production as a team and the final scores: Starting Total Year Quarterback Rush Pass Offense Score 1990 Fred Schweer 170 162 332 55-24, WSU 1991 Ed Browning 168 10 178 55-7, WSU 1992 Mark Olford 190 147 337 35-10, WSU 1993 Ian Shields 76 32 108 51-6, WSU 1994 Don Shanklin 178 18 196 21-3,OSU
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