ECU QB situation uncertain heading into Saturdays game against SMU

As the capital letters O and R wedged between names of Philip Nelson and Gardner Minshew on East Carolinas football depth chart suggests, its uncertain as to who will be under center when the Pirates play SMU on Saturday

James Guillory—USA TODAY Sports
East Carolina Pirates quarterback Philip Nelson (9) fumbles the ball after being hit by Central Florida Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin (18) during the third quarter at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Greenville

It isn’t exactly a quarterback controversy, since the situation is based as much on health as it is performance. But as the capital letters O and R wedged between names of Philip Nelson and Gardner Minshew on East Carolina’s football depth chart suggests, it’s uncertain as to who will be under center when the Pirates play SMU on Saturday. Nelson, who has started all nine games this season, has been bothered by a shoulder injury that limited his practice time last week. It was only after a solid performance in ECU’s final workout on Friday that coach Scottie Montgomery decided to go with the senior in Saturday’s loss at Tulsa. Even then, he lasted less than a half before Montgomery decided to pull him in favor of Minshew. The junior college transfer responded by completing 29 of 49 passes for 336 yards and a touchdown in a performance that will make Montgomery’s decision on who to start this week either easy or difficult depending on Nelson’s physical status. “Moving forward, we’ll be in a similar situation,” Montgomery said at his regular Monday press conference. “(Nelson’s) going to have to be able to practice to go, especially with the performance Gardner had. He’s been good every time that he’s come in from a percentage standpoint, but also the timing of everything that we’re doing.” Minshew twice relieved Nelson earlier in the season while Nelson was suffering from the effects of a concussion. He threw a 75-yard touchdown pass on his first career attempt and has completed 56.6 percent of his throws for 756 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, earning praise from Montgomery for his poise in the pocket. That’s become especially important in light of the Pirates’ offensive line struggles this season, a problem that was especially glaring in their most recent loss. “Coming into the season, we knew (we had) offensive line limitations, but it’s not always going to be clean,” Montgomery said. “There’s not always going to be an umbrella in the pocket. “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. We’ve seen Gardner do a good job of that.” Nelson ranks among the American Athletic Conference leaders in both passing yards per game and passing efficiency. Although he completed 9 of his 13 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown against Tulsa, the former Minnesota and Rutgers transfer was sacked four times for a combined loss of 42 yards. He was also called for two intentional grounding penalties and overthrew several balls to open receivers before being benched. “If you watch early parts of the game, I thought we just missed some throws,” Montgomery said. “Then we had some times where the pocket did break down. I would’ve liked to see him scramble toward the line of scrimmage and throw the ball away rather than retreat and take sacks. Those were some of the critical times that I thought some of it had to do with his physical ailment.”