Arizona State quarterback Andrew Walter and California QB Aaron Rodgers have two things in common.
“They're both very successful, and they're both going to be first-round draft picks,” said ASU coach Dirk Koetter.
Other than that, the two quarterbacks are about as similar as the body you see in the mirror and the body you want to see in the mirror.
Rodgers, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior, is the quarterback every coach dreams of.
He's completed 75 percent of his passes (111-of-148 for 1,376 yards and 14 TDs, with four interceptions). In Cal's 23-17 loss at USC three weeks ago, he connected on his first 23 passes, tying the single-game NCAA record.
If Rodgers continues to shoot straight, he'll shatter the NCAA single-season completion percentage mark, set by Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper (73.6 percent) in 1998.
“If you think back, it wasn't that many years ago if you completed 50 percent of your passes, that was good,” Koetter said. “Then, five or six years ago, that was elevated to 60 percent. No one has ever said 70 percent. That's unheard of.”
One of the reasons Rodgers is so accurate is the Golden Bears' reliance on the short passing game, which emphasizes high-percentage throws. He's also benefitted from working with Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who might be the best friend a quarterback can ever have. Tedford has recruited and/or worked with five players who became first-round NFL draft choices: Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller.
Rodgers will be No. 6.
“Jeff is a heck of a coach from a mechanical standpoint,” Koetter said. “Rodgers has almost textbook technique.. . . The guy makes next to zero mistakes. Some quarterbacks when they're pressured they'll make bad decisions and throw it into traffic. He hardly ever does that.”
Walter will, which makes their matchup Saturday so intriguing.
If they were gunslingers dueling at 20 paces, Rodgers would hit Walter three times before Walter could get off a shot, but as Walter was falling to the ground, his death certain, he'd shoot Rodgers right between the eyes.
Call it a flair for the dramatic or the ability to be at his best when his team needs him most. Whatever it is, Walter's got it.
In that respect, he's like another No. 16 who played quarterback at ASU. Guy named Jake.
“I suppose I'm somebody who can make the big throw when the game is on the line,” Walter said.
Walter's not sure why he's able to elevate his play at crucial moments. But like Plummer, he seems most comfortable when he should be a raw nerve.
“A lot of it is when the game is on the line you don't have anything to lose,” he said. “You throw everything out the window and just say you have to complete balls. You almost maybe relax a little more.”
The ASU-UCLA game last Saturday was the perfect synopsis of Walter's career. For 3 1/2 quarters Walter drove Koetter nuts.
He missed wide-open receivers. He threw balls into the ground. Three of his passes were intercepted.
In the last seven minutes and 12 seconds, however, he became John Elway. He completed 4-of-6 passes for 149 yards, including touchdown strikes of 46 and 65 yards to wideouts Derek Hagan and Terry Richardson, respectively.
“Andrew was extremely ugly at times in that game, but what he did in the last seven minutes, there's not very many people who can do that,” Koetter said.
Nor are there an abundance of quarterbacks who could have found Hagan with a pass that was so perfect it looked like the ball was placed in his outstretched hands.
Walter has 76 career touchdown passes. One more, and he ties the Pac-10 record Elway set at Stanford (1979-82). It is a remarkable accomplishment for a quarterback who was close to transferring after Chad Christensen was named the starter heading into the 2002 season.
This story can't end without the question that accompanies every quarterback comparison:
Some NFL scouts say Rodgers. Others, Walter. Don't seek the opinion of Pac-10 coaches. It's like asking them to pick their poison.
“You're talking about two really good quarterbacks who have done great jobs for their teams,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley.
Two quarterbacks who should put on one heck of a show Saturday night.