After initially intending to redshirt, East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew was set to hold a clipboard and learn from the sidelines, but an injury to Philip Nelson has forced the Pirates’ hand.
Minshew took the reigns from Nelson during last week’s loss to Tulsa and fellow Pirates have pointed to his confidence as a driving force.
“The guy that can be poised and step up into the pocket, as bad as that may sound, and create some scrambling toward the line of scrimmage is going to have a better opportunity,” ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said in Monday’s weekly press conference. “We've seen Gardner do a good job of that."
In the Pirates’ fifth game of the season, Nelson was injured after a targeting call late in the third quarter against Central Florida. A roughing the passer penalty allowed Minshew to enter the game for the first time this season with a first-and-10 on his own 24-yard-line.
After a one-yard rush by James Summers, Minshew stepped up for ECU and connected with wide receiver Quay Johnson for a 75-yard touchdown pass on his first passing attempt for the Pirates.
Minshew then took first team reps the following week, as Nelson’s health was in doubt. But after backing up Nelson against South Florida, it seemed as though déjà vu struck the Pirates’ offense, with the incumbent suffering yet another injury .
Minshew in turn, came into the game more prepared than he was the previous week, and completed 21-of-33 passing attempts for a total of 220 yards and a touchdown in the conference matchup.
"We wanted to go into the second half and give him a chance. If he didn't look like we thought he could look, then we were going to go with Minshew,” Montgomery said after the game against USF. “It's only because we felt like he had gotten banged and dinged a little bit earlier in the game. But Gardner did a great job coming in and giving us a chance to win the game."
Last week’s game at Tulsa, Nelson was pulled from the game, perhaps a lingering injury or a poor first-half performance to blame, giving Minshew another chance to step up to the plate. Even with an incredible amount of pressure on him — he was sacked three times — Minshew threw for 336 yards and a touchdown to help the Pirates keep the game close.
“I keep feeling that I am more comfortable the more reps I get,” Minshew said. “This week we’re really going to focus on red zone offense.”
As the Pirates prepare for Saturday’s Military Appreciation game against Southern Methodist, yet another conference rival, the battle at quarterback will be the main point of concern. Both quarterbacks have been competing in practice, making for a difficult decision for Montgomery and his coaching staff this Saturday.
“[SMU’s defense] is very talented, especially upfront,” Minshew said. “They do a lot of great things. They have a great scheme, but we just have to do what we do, and take care of the ball. We’ve got to keep moving the ball and get it in the end zone.”