Scottie Montgomery said at the start of preseason camp that he’d know who his starting quarterback will be after his team’s second intrasquad scrimmage.
That practice game took place on Saturday.
So presumably, the second-year East Carolina coach has either made up his mind who will be under center for the first snap against James Madison in two weeks or he’ll make that important decision sometime in the next day or so.
Whether he chooses to announce his choice is anybody’s guess. But based solely on the statistics provided by ECU’s athletic communications office from the Pirates’ two scrimmages, the race between semi-incumbent junior Gardner Minshew or graduate transfer Thomas Sirk appears to be too close to call.
Minshew, who started two games in relief of injured Philip Nelson last season, was 11 of 16 for 156 yards with a rushing touchdown Saturday. Sirk, who played for Montgomery when the two were together at Duke, was 10 of 16 for 93 yards and a score. He also ran for a TD.
Combined with their performances from the first scrimmage a week earlier, their numbers are almost identical:
Minshew 22 of 33, 337 yards, 1 touchdown. Sirk 19 of 30, 211 yards, 2 touchdowns. The only discernable difference other than the yardage totals are the two times Sirk was intercepted, one in each game.
It should be noted that scrimmage statistics won’t be the only determining factor on which quarterback wins the job. Montgomery and his staff have been watching and evaluating everything during the first three weeks of practice — including poise under pressure, mobility, command of the huddle and all those other intangibles needed to move the team and be an effective leader.
Those factors would seem to favor the well-seasoned veteran Sirk getting ready to start his sixth — yes, sixth — college season, especially since he has experience running Montgomery’s offense. But while coaches don’t usually bring in graduate transfers with only one year of eligibility left just to sit on the bench, there’s growing speculation that Minshew has done enough to hold onto the job he appeared to have won coming out of spring practice.
Of course, winning the job out of camp is only half the battle. Whoever opens the season as the starter will then have to play well enough to keep the job. And as the past two seasons have proven, it’s never a bad thing to have more than open competent quarterback capable of getting the job done.
Besides, there’s a way for Montgomery to get both Minshew and Sirk involved and perhaps solve one of the Pirates’ greatest 2016 shortcomings at the same time.
It’s not actually a two-quarterback system, a philosophy which Montgomery has said on several occasions he doesn’t like. It’s more like a situational quarterback system, one that worked well for both Montgomery and Sirk during their time as Blue Devils.
In 2014, Sirk rushed for eight touchdowns and threw for three more while serving as his team’s short-yardage and goal-like quarterback behind starter Anthony Boone. At 6-foot-4, 220-pounds, he’s a powerful runner with a knack for getting into the end zone. Among the 17 wins he had to his credit in the two seasons he saw action at Duke were overtime victories at Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech in which he bulled his way into the end zone for the winning touchdown even though everyone in the stadium knew he was going to carry the ball.
That’s a quality that could come in handy for an offense that ranked 121st out of 128 FBS teams in red zone efficiency last season.
“My memory is my memory and he changed us, he transitioned us in the red zone and short yardage when we were in Durham,” Montgomery said during his media address back on August 5. “We’re going to give those guys a chance to fight it out, but we do think that (Sirk) will have the ability to help us, not just in red zone efficiency, but in other situations that will give us a push.”
That is assuming he stays healthy.
Sirk has had a problem doing that during his college career and while his twice-torn right Achilles tendon appears to be holding up well through preseason camp, he reportedly hurt his non-throwing shoulder diving for a fumbled snap on the final play of Saturday’s scrimmage.
ECU has offered no information about the severity of the injury. But if it’s bad enough to keep him out of action even for a few days this close to the start of the season, it could turn out to be the factor that makes Montgomery’s difficult decision on who to start just a little bit easier.
At least for now.