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Friday, September 23, 2011

Pierce and QB's shine in opening game

During the Owls’ preseason training camp, I asked head coach Steve Addazio about the possibility of running a three-headed quarterback system on offense this season.

Addazio’s response was short and dismissive.

“No, I don’t want to do that,” Addazio said.

The ironic thing is that, in the season-opening blowout against Villanova on Thursday, Addazio ended up using three quarterbacks, but not for the reason that I, nor anyone else, could have foreseen.

Redshirt-junior Mike Gerardi impressed as the Owls’ starter. Gerardi finished the game with 235 yards and two touchdowns, but even more notable was the confidence and poise he displayed in the pocket. He took multiple shots downfield (his two touchdown passes went for 35 yards or more) and spread the ball amongst his receivers (five different players had at least one reception). Above all, the offense did not turn the ball over when Gerardi was at the helm.

“I thought [Gerardi] did a great job,” Addazio said. “He managed the game. He was a leader in the huddle. He had confidence. He threw the ball really well. I was proud of him.”

Gerardi was so impressive that the Owls had built a 35-point lead going into the fourth quarter, and Addazio saw fit to bench Gerardi and give redshirt-sophomore Chris Coyer a chance to finish the game at quarterback. Needless to say, Coyer made the most of his opportunity.

In just his third play from scrimmage, Coyer ran a beautiful option fake and scampered straight through the heart of the Villanova defense for a 68-yard touchdown, the first of his collegiate career. With one swift play, Coyer put a nail in the Wildcat’s coffin while simultaneously unhinging the nail in his own coffin, as his chances of being the Owls’ starting quarterback this season seemed buried due to Gerardi’s outstanding play.

“[Coyer] knows everything about the offense, just like the starter would,” Gerardi said. “[Coyer] helps me, I help him. We both make each other better.”

Sophomore Clinton “Juice” Granger, who Addazio has deemed a guy who “you don’t want to be off the field,” took all the snaps at quarterback on the Owls’ final drive of the game. So despite the Owls’ impressive Mayor’s Cup victory, it appears that the quarterback controversy at the head of the Owls’ offense is far from being settled.

“It was a tough call,” Addazio said about the starting quarterback decision. “I thought [Coyer] had a heck of a camp, and you saw he had a heck of a play out there himself. We really think [Granger] has come quite a way as well.”

“What we were really waiting for was to see who could really grab the leadership of this team,” Addazio added. “I thought that they all really grew in that regard. [Gerardi] has had a little bit more experience, and it favored him a little bit.”

The good news is that no matter who starts at quarterback, the Owls offense will continue to be centered upon junior running back Bernard Pierce. Pierce had one of his best efforts of his career Thursday, rushing for 147 yards and tying a career-high with three touchdowns.

“[Pierce] played great,” Gerardi said. “When you’re able to run the ball like he did, it opens up the other things we can do on offense.”

“The last two years, [my performance in the Mayor’s Cup] didn’t really go over,” Pierce said in a teleconference on Friday. “Coming out this year, I really think I set the tone for the rest of the season.”

Pierce showed the burst of his outstanding freshman year, when he rushed for more than 1,400 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He dominated short-yardage plays and used his speed to consistently get around the edge of the Villanova defensive line.

“He’s as talented as any of the backs that I’ve seen at any of the conferences I’ve been in,” Addazio said.

The quarterback that will continue to run the Owls’ offense remains to be seen, but a healthy Pierce makes that uncomfortable feeling associated with a quarterback controversy fade away.

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