Coach Scottie Montgomery has yet to announce East Carolina’s starting quarterback for Saturday’s home game against Southern Methodist.
It’s a decision he probably won’t make until at least Friday. Just don’t think for a minute that the Pirates have a quarterback controversy on their hands.
The uncertainty is the result of senior Philip Nelson’s injured shoulder, which limited his effectiveness and forced Montgomery to replace him during the first half of last week’s loss at Tulsa. Gardner Minshew’s effective performance, in which he went 29 of 49 for 336 yards and a touchdown in a relief role, only served to complicate the situation.
If Nelson is healthy and practices well — and he was a full participant by Tuesday’s workout — he will almost certainly be under center against the Mustangs on Military Appreciation Day.
And he should be.
Because after a tumultuous start to his college career, the Minnesota native has come to Greenville and made the most of his second chance by playing well on the field while being a team leader and model citizen off it.
But given the rapidly deteriorating state of the 2016 season, Minshew’s strong play every time he’s been called upon, and the strong infusion of quarterback talent coming into the program, it might be in the Pirates’ long-term interest to get the junior college transfer as many snaps as possible over these final three games.
“He’s been good every time that he’s come in from a percentage standpoint,” Montgomery said, praising Minshew’s poise in the pocket and ability to extend plays with his mobility, “but also the timing of everything that we’re doing.”
Minshew will have two more years of eligibility remaining after this season, so the more Montgomery and offensive coordinator Tony Petersen are able to see him and evaluate his play, the better off they’ll be in determining his potential role moving forward.
That could be an important factor considering the battle that’s shaping up for the starting job next spring.
More quarterbacks in the pipeline
In addition to Minshew, the staff is high on freshman Reid Herring — who is redshirting this season — and another three-star prospect will join the fray when dual-threat standout Kingsley Ifedi from Vance High enrolls early as expected. A second incoming freshman, pro style passer Mic Roof, will also become part of the mix.
Then there’s also the possibility that Nelson could apply for a sixth year of eligibility, since he missed two full seasons because of transfers and a legal issue that led to his leaving Rutgers without ever playing a game.
It’s not certain whether ECU would be interested in pursuing such a course of action or whether the NCAA would grant the waiver. It might be worth a try, though, considering that the Pirates’ current 3-6 record (1-4 AAC) is hardly Nelson’s fault.
He has completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,477 and 16 touchdowns with only six interceptions and led an offense that ranks third in the American Athletic Conference with an average of 500 yards per game. And while the season to date has been nothing short of a disappointment even to those that came into it with low expectations, the reality is that bowl eligibility is still possible if the team wins out and finishes 6-6.
The more experienced Nelson, assuming he’s healthy, figures to give ECU its best shot at pulling off that difficult task against a remaining schedule of SMU (4-5), Navy (6-2) and East Division leader Temple (7-3).
But at the same time, it would be smart of Montgomery to allow Minshew to continue his growth by finding him at least a series or two in each of those games. Or perhaps even more if, or when, the goal of qualifying for the postseason becomes mathematically out of reach.