Football

ECU’s 2-quarterback system a week-to-week decision

East Carolina's James Summers (11) looks to pass the ball while being pursued by Virginia Tech's Trevon Hill (94) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Greenville last week. East Carolina won 35-28.
East Carolina's James Summers (11) looks to pass the ball while being pursued by Virginia Tech's Trevon Hill (94) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Greenville last week. East Carolina won 35-28. AP

A little known fact: East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill holds his breath during every snap of a Pirates football game.

Last Saturday he wasn’t the only one.

The play of quarterbacks Blake Kemp and James Summers left McNeill and the 50,000-plus fans at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium breathless during ECU’s 35-28 victory against Virginia Tech.

But just how long will the Pirates’ two-QB system last? Don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer.

“We’re just going to go week to week, and I’m not hiding anything, that’s just really how it is” East Carolina offensive coordinator Dave Nichol said. “I’d imagine if one throws for like 800 yards and eight touchdowns then we might play him a little bit more, but I think it’s just going to be a week-to-week deal.”

One thing that is certain is that both Kemp and Summers will play this Saturday when ECU (2-2, 0-1 AAC) heads to Dallas to take on SMU (1-2, 0-1) at 4 p.m.

“I look at it as a great opportunity for our team. You’ve got two really talented guys that play the position and do it a little bit differently,” McNeill said. “They make each other better with their abilities. We’ll continue to use them.”

Two-quarterback systems are rare in college football for various reasons. First, so much of what offenses do is predicated on precision timing, which can be thrown off by having two different quarterbacks. Second, that timing is established by repractice reps, and when a team has two QBs, coaches have to split those reps.

So what exactly does the offense gain by using two quarterbacks?

“I guess maybe it’s a surprise, I guess, maybe for the defense. That’s one thing. You know, I guess that’s it,” Nichol said.

It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for a two-quarterback system.

Summers was a bit more enthusiastic about it.

“I mean what can you defend? He can pass. I can come in and run, and he can run. We just love it,” Summers said. “When (starting quarterback) (Kurt) Benkert went down, we had to come together for the team.”

Playing his first meaningful minutes with the Pirates, Summers checked into last week’s game at the start of the second quarter with the score tied at 14 and proceeded to rush for a game-high 169 yards and two touchdowns. He completed five of his eight pass attempts for 110 yards and a score.

Kemp, who has started all four of the Pirates’ games this year, continued to show inconsistency. The junior, first-year starter committed two turnovers on ECU’s first seven snaps, which led to a Hokies 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

Kemp showed resiliency and accuracy on the next two possessions, as he strung together two of his best drives of the season to pull the Pirates even.

Like Summers, Kemp has taken a positive approach to sharing the quarterback job.

“James is a great guy. Some of the plays he made out there he looked like the best athlete on the field,” Kemp said. “With his skills and my skills together we will do whatever it takes to win.”

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