August has delivered a fall football camp roller-coaster ride for most ECU Pirates fans, stretching from a dismal team scrimmage (offensively) on August 15th to the naming of a new quarterback on the 19th, to that new QB having a knock out second scrimmage on the 22nd to today’s news that starting QB Kurt Benkurt (RS-SO) who had groomed himself – quite ably – to step into the huge shoes vacated by record-setting QB Shane Carden has been lost for the season to an ACL tear in his right knee.
It has been a grind of a two-week span leading up to a Pirate fan’s favorite time of the year, no doubt, but it is not the end of the world (ECU football world that is) for anyone.
To follow social media, that roller coaster conjures up those prolific words from one of South Central Louisiana State’s big fans…“Oh No! We suck again!”
Losing KB for the season, this close to the opener, hurts, no doubt, but it likely isn’t the catastrophic blow it may appear to be. No disrespect to KB – he has all the markings of a future star, all of which will be in the battle for the job next season. But, having a near three-year starter graduate last season put the Pirates at a juncture where we all simply don’t know what we don’t know.
KB has all the measurables that the Captain didn’t have and was appearing to surge forward in the area of leadership (his post-injury tweet was evidence of this) and buy-in from his teammates. But we have little to go on to know – with any certainty – that his proficiency would carry the offense this season.
A good bet, probably…but we simply do not know what we just lost. That story will unfold in 2016 when he is back in harness. Today, the narrative for this season, we learned, will be written by another QB.
Competition is now open again.
This coaching staff has made a point of building competitive depth and while QB recruitment has been a thorn in the side of the program over the last couple of years, we aren’t without quality talent competing for the new vacancy. An injury to Cody Keith could be seen as hurting as much as KB’s injury this week. Keith had and still has potential…he knows the system in detail and he is healthy again. Equally, Blake Kemp has been in the system a year and battled close enough in the competition to delay the naming of a starter till just last week. And, he has a career to date built on being overlooked despite extremely high productivity. He has been a winner everywhere he has gone. He wasn’t a distant second battle for the job this fall.
In a previous post here, I broke down the competition for QB going into this season and felt then that Kemp (here is video on our likely new starter) would push KB and that is how it went in camp. And Keith, IMO, is not a bad back-up option either. In Kemp you get a gunslinger whose history of winning and his unpredictable play-making may conjure up some comparisons to the Captain. He finds ways to keep the O moving. In Keith – when healthy – you have a more prototypical passer who knows this offense inside and out and will make the safe, routine play. He could be good if he can get going – consistently playing.
Remember, this is all about the system and with the bevy of talent around, the plan won’t change based on losing No. 1. The Pirates will seek to run the ball more early on in the season (the case whether KB was playing or not) while a new QB gets acclimated to game speed and pressure. Of significant note on Kemp, his history fits perfectly into the current situation he finds himself in.
“They have a great program and if you are on the depth chart at ECU, you are a very good quarterback, so I know that I would not be handed anything like a starting job. Shane is a senior and I have a redshirt year (if needed) and then there is Kurt who has been one of the nicest people with me. I really don’t look at it in terms of where I would fall on the depth chart, but I do see it as a great opportunity for me.”
-Blake Kemp, from his Bonesville Magazine interview in 2014
Not saying Kemp will be what KB would have been, but none of us can say for sure what that would be. In the 2014 edition of Bonesville Magazine, I profiled Kemp and certainly has the right attitude. In 2014, he told me that his number one priority was to not just learn the playbook, but to master it…to become “an expert” on it, which, based on his consistency in the spring and early in fall camp – he statistically was the most consistent QB in camp – appears he has done. Important to remember also is that Kemp was a guy that former OC Lincoln Riley sought out (yes, under duress to find backfill after losing two verballed QBs to other schools) largely because of Kemp’s ability to keep drives alive. In this regards, he is more in the mold of Carden…with a headiness – a knack if you will – to figure out how to keep things rolling. He will keep defenses guesses. He is not the “elite” prototype but has been a winner everywhere he has gone and has…that “chip” we all love…depend on at ECU.
In that same interview, Kemp essentially said what drives him.
“I play for those people who support me. I remember Coach (Ruffin) McNeil talking about having a chip on the shoulder and I feel like my story sort of fits the ECU story some…I have some of that chip with me.”
I think we will be ok this season and when KB is back healthy (can you imagine the fire that kid will have when he gets back on the field) we will be in for one hell of a spring next season.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Cannot wait for the opening kick-off of the season. Go Pirates!