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BOGACZYK: Backup QB Battle Plays on into August

Gunnar Holcombe

April 26, 2014



HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When you look at Coach Doc Holliday and his talented Marshall football team that’s an early Conference USA favorite, what’s the difference between his Herd and Noah and his ark?

Doc has three of everything, or so it seems.

There is one exception.

For Holliday, the biggest question with which the Herd began spring football still lingered on a glorious, sun-baked Saturday after a Green-White Game before 9,163 at Edwards Stadium, including a bevy of returning Herd/NFL alums led by quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich.

Who is the 2014 backup quarterback to fourth-year starter and Heisman Trophy candidate Rakeem Cato?

In the spring practice finale, redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holcombe made strides from his two earlier fitful scrimmage performances. He’s No. 2 heading toward August camp, with true freshman Cole Garvin third and redshirt freshman Kevin Anderson at No. 4.

There were about 10 likely Herd starters who didn’t play because of injury or their “veteran” status and in no need of work, and the QBs were throwing against a defense that was without four top cornerbacks. If you were keeping score, Holcombe led Team Leftwich to a 30-13 win over Team Pennington.

Cato played sparingly in his final Herd spring game – and wearing a red, no-contact, jersey, which the three relief pitchers didn’t get for their 15th and final spring workout. But there won’t be any call made by Holliday and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill Legg just yet on Cato’s caddy.



“The young QBs made some mistakes, but they made some plays, which was good to see,” Holliday said. Asked his thoughts on the QB derby, the fifth-year coach didn’t see anyone ready to step into the spot vacated by Blake Frohnapfel, who is transferring to Massachusetts after he graduates next month.

“I don’t know,” Holliday said about who is No. 2 to No. 12 (Cato). “It probably hasn’t changed a whole lot, which is probably not a good thing, to be honest. I’d have liked to see one of those guys separate, but they didn’t, although I do think that both of them (Holcombe and Garvin) showed they had the ability to play.

“It’s just a matter of getting more reps and making a little better decisions at times. We made ‘em live today, which you can kind of get an idea when they are live. But sometimes guys step up in scrimmage situations and play a little better. I thought at times they did that.”

Holliday didn’t sound a whole lot different than he did on the same subject on the eve of spring workouts a month ago.

“I think the quarterback situation is critical,” the Herd coach said in his March 24 press conference. “We all know Cato can play, but we’ve got to get a backup, and when you don’t have that guy at that position, that’s an issue. So, three guys are going to get a lot of reps, and we have to make sure we do a great job as coaches.

“I’ve seen it a lot of years in my coaching career. Kids react different when it’s their turn. Now, all of a sudden there’s an opportunity for somebody to step up and be the guy, and I’m anxious to see who that is. Competition is a great thing, with Gunnar, Kevin and Cole, all three of them have worked extremely hard, and it’s going to be critical for us.

“Hopefully, by halfway through spring we’re down to a couple of them and by the end of spring down to one. … I’ve been around a while. When you think you have more than two quarterbacks, chances are you don’t have any. Or, if you’ve got more than one (as a backup), you don’t have any.

“If it’s that close all the way through the spring with all three of them, chances are we don’t have a backup. That’s the way it goes. I think it’s critical that one of those guys rises up pretty quick because if we have three and they’re all about the same, chances are we don’t have any.”

It’s obvious there is some separation now, but Holcombe, a 6-foot-3, 199-pound, strong-armed Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, still finds consistency elusive.

“I think I’ve come a long way in knowing what’s going on and what to do when things happen,” Holcombe said after Saturday’s spring game. “And besides consistency, the only other things I need to fix is getting bigger, faster, stronger. When I cut it down to two or three things I think (the defense is) going to do and then they don’t do it, I can’t freak out. I have to continue to the next read or throw it away or run or check it down. I can’t panic when they don’t do what I think they’ll do and I need to push into the offseason to push Cato so that we can get to 14-0.”

Holcombe was 4-of-17 and 6-of-18 in the Herd’s first two spring scrimmages, and combined had 151 yards with three interceptions and a touchdown. In the Green-White Game, he went 11-of-18 for 220 yards and three touchdowns with one pick.

“I think I told myself, ‘Don’t focus on what happens, good or bad, make a play,” Holcombe said when asked if he thought he made progress in the spring game. “Whatever happens, go on to the next play. I figure I told myself to go out and have fun. Do what (Legg) taught me. I think in the first two scrimmages, I was so focused on trying not to mess up that it affected my performance.

“In practice, I’ve been having a couple good ones then a bad one, and when the scrimmages came, I was trying so hard to do well that I was my own worst enemy. So, I think I took a baby step today … had some consistency, but some things I wasn’t on point.

“I was more consistent today, but still not consistent enough.”

Cato said he saw a step forward for Holcombe, but said the bottom line is that all four Herd quarterbacks need to continue to aid one another.

“They have to be prepared at all times, come out, give every effort and push me,” Cato said when asked what Holcombe, Garvin and Anderson need once summer workouts begin in the weeks before August camp. “I’m going to make sure I push them and help them to the highest limit.

“Most of all, they just have to come out and get better. They know what’s they’re doing. Gunnar, he made a lot of good throws today, on time, and he wasn’t holding the ball as much early in the game as he had been. He was finding his plays, taking what the defense gave him. Toward the end, he had a couple of MAs (missed assignments), but I think he had a pretty good spring.”

It wasn’t good enough, Holcombe said, and so Holliday and Legg have a big decision after no decision.

“I need to push everyone, outwork everyone,” Holcombe said when asked what he needs to secure Frohnapfel’s role of the last two seasons. “We all work hard. We need to keep competing. That’s what makes us better. Not only against them. I need to compete against myself, use my best potential to push Cato.

“He’s come a long way himself since he’s been here. People talk about watch lists, the Heisman if he has a good year. I want to be someone to push him, so if something happens or we’re way up (on the scoreboard) that my team can trust me if I need to go in.

“Byron was talking to us the other day and he said when he broke his ankle (in 2002), he knew he could trust his backup, Stan (Hill). He came in and beat Ben Roethlisberger with Miami of Ohio and won the game.

“I want to be the guy that my team feels if something bad happens – hopefully nothing does, but if it does – that they can trust me to do as well as he did.”

August camp awaits …

Spring Game numbers

Team Rushing (including sack yardage): 51-224 (4.4/play), TD

Team Passing: 24-50-431, 4 TDs, 3 INTs

Total Offense: 101 plays, 655 yards (6.5/play)

Individual Rushing:

Butler 5-95, TD

Mudimbi 12-83

Rodriguez 11-60

Watson 7-23

Holcombe 1-1

Team 1-(4)

Cato 4-(-9)

Garvin 6-(-11)

Anderson 2-(-14)

Individual Passing:

Cato 3-11-102

Holcombe 11-18-220, 3 TDs, INT

Garvin 10-17-109, TD, 2 INT

Anderson 0-4, INT

Individual Receiving:

Wilkins 4-60

Evans 4-14

Hunt 3-153, 2 TDs

Reaves 3-44

McManus 3-37, TD

Jean-Louis 2-40, TD

Frohnapfel 1-56

Alston 1-7

Rodriguez 1-7

Woodrum 1-16

Butler 1-0

Individual Defense:

Scott 3 tackles, INT

Reidel 3 tackles, TFL, sack

Waiters 5 tackles, PBU

Letman 10 tackles, 2 PBU

Shaver 2 tackles, 2 INTs

Lang 3 tackles

Hunter 2 tackles

Wilson 3 tackles

Manning 5 tackles

Holmes 2 tackles

Camacho 1 tackles, half TFL, half sack

C. Carter 5 tackles, TFL, sack

Plant 3 tackles, half TFL, half sack

Yonter 3 tackles

Thompson 5 tackles, TFL, sack, FR

Massaquoi 1 tackle

Blackmon 2 tackles

Dillon 1 tackle, TFL, sack, FR, FF

Samuel 1 tackle

Williams 3 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 sacks, FR

Brown 2 tackles

Helow INT