Herd preparing for two MTSU QBs
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Of the six teams that began football play in Conference USA this fall, Middle Tennessee seemed to have the best quarterback situation.
Logan Kilgore is a fifth-year senior, a selection for the Manning Award watch list and has eclipsed the 6,000-yard mark in career passing yardage. The school's all-time mark of 8,007 yards remains in sight.
The 6-foot-3, 206-pound native of Rocklin, Calif., has been itching for the opportunity to lead the Blue Raiders into C-USA on the right foot. By all accounts, he's healthy.
So why, pray tell, is Marshall preparing for two quarterbacks this week?
The "why" is not necessarily important to the Thundering Herd defense. This is: That unit is spending the 12-day run-up to Thursday's game preparing for two different signal-callers with differing styles.
The other QB is Austin Grammer, a 6-foot-2, 212-pound native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., who is part thrower, part tailback. He is quick enough to have topped 100 rushing yards in the Raiders' previous game, a forgettable 34-7 loss at North Texas.
"They're two guys who bring different skill sets. They both play, so obviously you've got to prepare for both of them," said MU defensive coordinator Chuck Heater. "They both have done great things - one quarterback's had a lot of success there. I'm not sure of all the dynamics on it, but we're certainly going to have to be ready for both of them."
Those dynamics seem to be a bit contentious in Murfreesboro after the North Texas game. Kilgore started his 32nd career game but was taken out after the first two series, a stretch in which he went 8 for 8 but for just 30 yards. The drives ended in a fumble by receiver Kyle Griswould and a three-and-out.
Grammer entered and never came back out. Early in the second quarter, he led a 57-yard scoring drive that tied the game at 7, a drive he finished with a 5-yard touchdown run. North Texas scored to make it 14-7, and Grammer then threw a "pick-six" to put the Raiders down 21-7.
The Raiders (3-4, 1-2) were blanked the rest of the game, crossing midfield on their last possession - and that ended with Grammer losing a fumble on a sack. Grammer ran for 106 yards, but he was a wretched 6 of 22 passing for 36 yards and an interception.
That had Kilgore voicing his expectation to return to his starting role when MTSU takes on Marshall (4-2, 2-0) at 7:30 p.m. EDT Thursday, with Fox Sports 1 televising.
MTSU coach Rick Stockstill noted that Grammer was going to play some anyway against North Texas, and was left in after an already thinned offensive line lost its starting right tackle. The coach, a Florida State QB from three decades ago, said he wasn't confident that Kilgore could be protected on pass plays.
The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro reported Friday that Stockstill had not named a starter for the Marshall game, but Kilgore might blow a gasket if it's not him. He wasn't pleased at watching the debacle at North Texas.
"Our coaches put together a game plan they thought was best, and weren't able to prevail there," Kilgore said Thursday. "[North Texas] did a good job and got up on us early.
"Sometimes you try some things that, you know, we didn't do a good job as a team and all that stuff. I think everybody's itching, we're excited about this week, and we're ready to roll."
But with whom behind center? Will it be Kilgore, going the distance?
"Yeah, I think that will be the case," he said. "The offense, we played some darned good defenses in the first half of the season. Anytime you begin to underachieve a little bit offensively, it might seem it might provide a spark to change some things up. Obviously, it wasn't the case, and I think moving forward we'll get back to the way that we won the first three games we've won so far."
As it turns out, Kilgore and/or Grammer will face the conference's top defense, at least as measured by total yardage, pass defense efficiency and third-down conversion rate. The Herd has faced several mobile quarterbacks, and players are pronouncing themselves ready for anything.
Check that - everything. Especially the mobile Grammer.
"You don't want him to get comfortable running," said Marshall senior defensive end Alex Bazzie. "Getting out there, our first thing will be to contain him, make sure he doesn't get comfortable getting any running space, and make sure you get him on the ground. You've got to be able to tackle.
"Our first thought is going to be tackle him, let him know he's not going to be in good condition running. So once we can do that, we can limit him to one dimension, and we'll be ready for the pass."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.