A Deeper Look at Brett Ratliff

Brett Ratliff will be in the thick of the competition to be the next starting quarterback of the New York Jets once training camp opens this summer. However, most fans know little about him aside from what they saw in limited preseason reps a year ago. To give more of a background about Ratliff, I asked Sean from Block U, SB Nation's University of Utah blog, five questions on the former Utes quarterback.

1. What is the story behind Ratliff starting at Utah?

Brett Ratliff was recruited by former Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig in 2005. The Utes were set on Brian Johnson replacing Alex Smith in the 2005 season, though Ratliff was picked as a backup if anything were to happen. Unfortunately for Utah, on the final drive of the second to last game of the season, Johnson was injured and lost for their big showdown against their rivals, BYU. Johnson was in the process of leading Utah on a game-winning drive when he went out and Ratliff stepped in, threw a first down and then an interception, ending any chance Utah had of winning that game. The loss dropped the Utes to 5-5 on the season and they entered their game against the Cougars needing a victory for any chance of receiving a bowl bid.
 
The game was played down in Provo and Ratliff was making his first official start for the Utes. No one gave Utah a chance. since they were without their starting quarterback and their best receiver, who had been lost earlier in the same game. Yet Ratliff stepped up and guided Utah to a 41-24 overtime victory over BYU. The win guaranteed the Utes a bowl berth and in that bowl game, Ratliff again would lead Utah to victory, this time over the nationally ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets by a score of 38-10. Ratliff instantly became a hero for Utah fans, since he stepped in and saved the Utes' season. Since he was only a junior and it became obvious Johnson was not going to be able to return for the 2006 season, as a senior, Ratliff won the starting job and guided Utah to an 8-5 record. He ended his career with a 10-5 record at Utah, including two bowl victories.

2. Did he run the Urban Meyer spread option his entire college career with the Utes, or did he ever operate out of more conventional pro formations?

Utah had run the spread option for the entire 2005 season, since Johnson was a spread-option quarterback. But Ratliff wasn't and had pretty much established himself as a pro-style quarterback. The final two games of the 2005 season saw little adjustments, but in 2006, with Ratliff not as conditioned on the spread, Utah adjusted its offense and built it around his strengths. There were bits of the spread option being used by the Utes, but not at the extent you saw during the 2003, 2004 and 2005 seasons (or the last two seasons with Johnson again leading Utah). With the lack of a spread-option quarterback, Ludwig opted to run a hybrid offense and often would line Ratliff up under center or in the 2006 season, use Eric Weddle for the option aspect of the offense.

3. How would you compare him with Alex Smith, the last pro quarterback prospect from Utah?

Alex Smith was a very intelligent quarterback, but they both stepped into the starting position in very similar ways. Smith was a backup to Brett Elliott when Urban Meyer arrived from Bowling Green in 2003. However, in the second game of the season against Texas A&M, Elliott was injured while trying to go for the game-tying two-point conversion in the final seconds of that game. The injury ended his season and career with the Utes, throwing Smith into the starting role for their Thursday game against Cal. Smith would lead Utah to a late victory and then proceed to go 21-1 at Utah, including the 12-0 2004 season where the Utes became the first non-BCS team in history to play in a BCS bowl game. Ratliff did not have nearly the success at Utah and didn't pick up the spread-option as easily as Smith did. Smith wasn't recruited to run the spread-option, as he had been brought to Utah by Ron McBride's staff and McBride ran a more conventional offense here. Yet in 2003 -- and especially 2004 -- he ran the spread-option better than any quarterback I've ever seen.

So it's hard to compare the two. Smith is a legend at Utah and the most successful quarterback in school history, even though Johnson recently became the winningest quarterback here. It's not say he failed, but there were moments were Utah struggled with Ratliff as their quarterback, including a mind-numbing two game stretch during the 2006 season that cost Utah a conference championship. With that said, he also stepped up and had some great games as a Ute. I mentioned earlier how we walked into Provo and beat the Cougars, even though Utah was a double-digit dog. But outside of that, and the Georgia Tech victory, he beat TCU, who finished with only two losses that season, had an amazing performance against nationally ranked BYU that same year, though lost that game due to the defense collapsing at the end and once again managed to lead Utah to a bowl victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. Much of this happened without any real running game, as Utah had lost its 1,000-yard rusher from 2005 due to graduation. So, if you look at the holes the Utes' offense had, it isn't hard to see why he struggled here at times.

4. What attributes do you think Brett has that will help him succeed as a pro?

I think he's very tough, not allowing distractions to bring him down. This is a guy who walked into the Holy War, the biggest game on either Utah's or BYU's schedule, and won. I talk about that game a lot because it's one of the greatest moments in the rivalry's history.

5. What attributes do you think will hinder Brett's attempt to win the starting job?

Here at Utah he had a tendency to make dumb decisions. There were bad passes and questionable decision makings, but you often have to wonder how much of that was due to Utah's offensive coordinator and lack of offensive firepower. The thing is, Ratliff was not recruited to be a starter at Utah and that's exactly what he became. Because of that, you've got to look at his performance in context and though at the time it was very frustrating, since Utah had gone from a team that was 22-2 over two years to 8-5, looking back, I think he did a good job.

A big thanks to Sean for taking the time to answer my questions and offer his perspective on Ratliff.

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