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Like it or not, Herd sticking with two QBs

MARSHALL FOLLOWERS, you'd better buckle up: You're probably looking at a two-quarterback situation the rest of the season.

Whether you're indifferent or you hate it, that's the way it's going to be. (Who really loves it?)

Coach Doc Holliday, who has trotted out the "If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any" cliché a few times, embraced the situation after his Thundering Herd yanked out a 24-20 victory over Rice Saturday.

"We're not in this category yet, but the year we won the national championship at Florida, we had [Chris] Leak and we had [Tim] Tebow, and we'd bring in Tebow in certain situations," Holliday said. "I'm not saying we have Leak and Tebow, [but] we'll take a look at what we've got and what each brings to the table.

"If playing them both helps us, we'll do that."

After the Herd's offense deflated against the Owls, the Herd's defense swung the game into the win ledger for this second time this season. How would 1-6 taste about now?

(From what little I know about the NFL, I am guessing Vinny Curry made a few million dollars in the Rice game. Was that a blocking sled he was pushing, or a right tackle?)

Quarterback A.J. Graham made his first collegiate start and knocked Rice defenders off their heels with his zone-read running and excellent play fakes. His passing is decidedly hot and cold.

He went 12-of-23 for 110 yards, but you could sum up his throwing better with two consecutive passes during his second touchdown drive.

Graham has a live arm and showed it with his 32-yard shot to Andre Booker down the right sideline. Booker went up for the ball and won it despite pass interference by Rice's Denzel Wells.

But two plays later, he hurried a 21-yard shot to the end zone, throwing well short of Antavious Wilson. If Graham throws that one on target, he likely would have drawn a pass interference foul. I thought he could have been more patient in the face of a blitz.

Holliday went to the bullpen and summoned Rakeem Cato on two different occasions, and both drives went three-and-out. The Herd's total for the day was five three-and-outs, plus one possession with a first-play turnover.

Of Cato's six snaps, he threw short on one pass and long on his only downfield shot, a third-and-12. That distance was set up by a 5-yard loss on a swing pass, a play call that deserved the round of boos it received.

So what now? Is the Herd season cursed because one running QB is not accurate enough and the other QB is not proficient in the zone read?

I'm not in the mood for doom today, even if Marshall faces the 21st-ranked team and the nation's most potent offense in Houston, in a state where the Herd has never won. That's 4:30 p.m. EDT on WSAZ Channel 3, if you dare.

Here's the funny thing: quarterback Case Keenum, the Cougars' all-universe candidate, emerged from a two-QB system.

Way back in 2007, Keenum was splitting snaps with Blake Joseph, about 50-50 in several games. That wasn't a Graham/Cato situation, but they had split the 10 starts entering the Marshall game. Keenum had 194 attempts to Joseph's 141.

But Keenum was handed full control for Houston's not-that-close 35-28 win over the Herd at medieval Robertson Stadium. He went 24-of-32 for 298 yards and two touchdowns in that game, threw for 335 yards against Texas Christian in the bowl game and hasn't looked back.

I think of some other two-QB situations that have worked to some degree. Skip Holtz made one work in 2007 at East Carolina, somehow juggling the mobile Pat Pinkney and classic pocket passer Robert Kass. By 2009, Kass was a reserve tight end and Pinkney was the undisputed leader.

ECU survived 2007 and '08, going 17-10 with a Conference USA championship and a bowl win over Boise State.

Then again, Marshall's last good two-quarterback quandary, the Bernard Morris/Jimmy Skinner dilemma of 2005-06, didn't work out so well. Not only did the Herd go 9-14 in that span, but some fans wondered why Derek Devine did not get a chance.

That didn't kill the Mark Snyder regime, but it didn't help. And now, Holliday and coaches Bill Legg and Tony Petersen must mostly hit the right buttons and not worry about boo-birds. Graham and Cato must prepare and play, not worry about being replaced.

And the defense must keep one very good quarterback from ringing up seven touchdowns Saturday. No matter what Marshall does at QB, it cannot win a scorefest at Houston.

  • nn
  • My two or three cents on conference realignment, as the Big East tries to pluck up to five schools from the new Mega-Conference USA:

    I am amazed how short memories are or how needy the Big East is, after years of contorting itself to stave off new applicants. As of Sunday, the league seems to have invited, denials aside, Boise State and Air Force from the Mountain West, Central Florida, Houston and Southern Methodist from C-USA, and Navy.

    These days, all seem attractive. But are some of these football programs the flavor of the month, riding a crest that's sure to subside?

    Let's examine where these programs are, and where they were five to 10 years ago:

  • Air Force, Navy: Dependable programs, though Navy recently ended a 3,000-year losing streak to Notre Dame. Navy has had nine straight seasons of eight-plus wins; Air Force has had five losing seasons in the last 29.
  • Major bonus points for Thunderbirds/Blue Angels flyovers.

  • UCF: Loss to SMU last weekend aside, this is a high-enrollment school whose alumni base is swelling in a hurry. Coach George O'Leary took the program to new heights last season, though the Knights are generally the third banana in their own city.
  • O'Leary came to clean up a heck of a mess eight years ago, and had to suffer an 0-11 season in 2004 before rebounding.

  • Houston: Anybody remember the Cougars being 0-11 in 2001? Or falling back to 3-8 in 2004? Or drawing 15,014 a game, as they did in 2005?
  • These guys are making a BCS-busting run at the right time, for certain.

  • SMU: Speaking of peaking at the right time ... wow. I bet the Mustangs have escaped Page 14 of the Dallas Morning News sports section.
  • Coach June Jones has reversed a culture that saw the Mustangs go 0-12 in 2003, and 1-11 in 2007 and 2008. As recently as 2006, SMU listed an average attendance of 15,428.

    Having been there that year, I know that figure was fudged.

  • nn
  • Basketball legend Russell Lee returned to Marshall for homecoming. He said he last came for his MU Hall of Fame induction in 2003.

    I remember doing a lengthy story on him then, but was it really eight years ago?

    Working for the Walmart Corp. out of Atlanta, he isn't waiting eight years for his next visit. He is coming to town Feb. 2 to witness the demolition of the Memorial Field House, where he thrilled packed houses in the early 1970s.

    He likes Cam Henderson Center well enough. He loved watching coach Tom Herrion's team practice. But as he spoke Saturday in the MU football pressbox, he cast a sentimental eye to the Field House, visible five blocks away.

    "The thing I liked about it was the crowd, they were right down on the floor, and I felt sorry for the visiting teams, because it was hard for them to listen to what the coach had to say with all the cheering and yelling," Lee said. "Because they were right on the players."

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com.


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