LAWRENCE, Kan. – The culprit at Kansas has been ineffectiveness.
Down the road at Kansas State, the problem has been health.
Either way, the two Power Five schools in the Sunflower State are in the most unenviable of situations: They are stuck in sticky quarterback situations as they plunge into the meat of the Big 12 schedule, the Jayhawks trying desperately to turn their season around and the Wildcats fighting to get on track.
Kansas coach David Beaty refused to announce a starter for Saturday's game at Iowa State this week after Peyton Bender, who won the job out of fall camp, was benched in the second half of last weekend's blowout loss to Texas Tech. Carter Stanley performed reasonably well in relief, but last year's starter did not do enough to guarantee him the job going forward.
"Quarterback play's so important to the efficiency of your offense," said Beaty, whose background is on that side of the ball. "Those guys, they've shown that they're very capable of doing it. We'll get back to the drawing board and get them on track as we go to this next one."
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder was equally unequivocal in describing his quarterback situation on Tuesday after starter Jesse Ertz was banged up in last weekend's double-overtime loss to Texas.
Ertz was sidelined two years ago by a knee injury, and last year he played much of the season with a bum throwing shoulder. But while it's unclear exactly what was amiss against the Longhorns, the reality is Ertz was struggling to make plays, while backup Alex Delton provided a pronounced spark that could be helpful facing sixth-ranked TCU on Saturday. The Wildcats also have Fort Osage graduate Skylar Thompson as another backup.
"Playing both was a good thing. I'm pleased that Alex had a chance to get into the ball game," Snyder said, "but by the same token, we're not really a two-quarterback system. It depends on whether Jesse is totally capable of going or not. We want to make sure he's healthy."
There's an old adage that goes something like this: "If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any." The idea is that it's better to have a clearly defined starter, the best one on the field.
Especially when you're in the middle of the conference grind.
But the Jayhawks (1-4, 0-2 Big 12) and Wildcats (3-2, 1-1) hope they can dispel that notion, and there is reason to believe their respective quarterback shake-ups can turn out to be a positive.
Bender and Stanley waged a nip-and-tuck battle throughout fall camp for the starting job, so it's not as if a gulf exists between them. Bender has the big arm better suited to the "Air Raid" system of new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, but Stanley has the kind of natural moxie and gamesmanship that brings back memories of former Jayhawks quarterback Todd Reesing.
The numbers didn't reveal a clear-cut No. 1 last Saturday. Bender was 12 of 24 for 146 yards with a touchdown and a pick against the Red Raiders, while Stanley was 11 of 19 for 110 yards with an interception.
"Felt good to be out there, no doubt, running the offense," Stanley said. "Just try to go out there and give it my best shot. Try to produce, move the ball down the field."
Beaty intended to use both quarterbacks, and he started off the game rotating freely. But he made the decision in the locker room to go with Stanley exclusively in the second half.
"Carter did some good things and then some things that he has to knock the rust off of a little bit," Beaty said. "He still had two turnovers in the game and we have to manage those. He did some good things as well just like Peyton. Peyton did some good things in that game as well. We're going to need both of them as we go down the stretch."
Ertz has been the unequivocal starter at Kansas State, particularly after offseason shoulder surgery was supposed to leave him healthy for the first time in years. But Ertz's play this season has been erratic and underwhelming, not only in a dismal road loss to Vanderbilt but also a home win over Baylor.
Delton, whose running ability reminds many Kansas State fans of Ell Roberson, provided a spark of his own against Texas. He ran for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns after taking over.
"He had a lot more speed and he was very patient with his blocks," Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson said. "He made it very difficult on our defense."
He might give the Wildcats the lift they need heading into a crucial game against TCU, too.
"(Ertz) is our starter. That's defined," Snyder said, "but only if his health is in shape."