Kyle or Kirby. Kirby or Kyle. No, this isn't what coach Randy Shannon wants this spring to be about. But whether The Commander likes it or not, it is the No. 1 question more than 1,000 fans showed up to try and at least shed some light on Saturday when the Hurricanes held their first scrimmage of the spring. And at least through these set of eyes, the choice looks easy. Kirby Freeman should be the starter.
Yes, Saturday was only the first scrimmage. And yes, there are two more scrimmages. But if UM's new offense is going to operate the way it did Saturday, Kirby is the obvious choice. It's not that Kirby played better than Kyle on Saturday (Freeman was 13 of 24 for 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs; Wright was 15 of 41 for 82 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs). It's that Kirby looks like he's the better fit.
This offense Patrick Nix debuted for the public Saturday was not West Coast quarterback friendly. It wasn't built for somebody who needs a solid, experienced offensive line, some burners on the edge who can go deep and haul in 20-yard passes downfield. It looked like it was built for someone like Vince Young, a scrambler, who can fake a handoff to one running back up the middle, run the other direction and decide whether or not to pitch it or keep it for himself. Or scrap all that and pull back and pass.
"Our offense is so unpredictable now," said fullback Jerrell Mabry, who hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Kirby Freeman for the first of three touchdowns on Saturday. "We can have a run play and a pass play called at the same time, but you never know what we're going to do. The quarterback has a choice. He can run the ball if he wants to, but if he sees an opportunity to pass the ball, he can do that."
That's Freeman. You may hear The Commander -- if he ever decides to speak on the quarterback situation -- say Wright is athletic enough for this offense. But that's not what Wright came to UM for. He came to make plays with his arm. And right now it doesn't appear UM has the receivers or the line to make that happen. Aside from that, Wright is still throwing too many interceptions. He threw two Saturday eerily reminiscent of what he did often last year -- overthrowing open receivers or flat out failing to see defensive players in the wings.
This offense, which will be based around the running back talents of Javarris James and Graig Cooper (I'll get to them in a minute), needs a quarterback that can avoid those mistakes. For the moment, it seems like Freeman holds the edge in that category too. For the record, it was Wright who came out and quarterbacked first on Saturday. He quarterbacked the opening two drives. But I'm not sure we should really make too much of it. Shannon doesn't want to shake any of his quarterbacks' confidence right now. And since Wright is the incumbant starter, Shannon probably felt it necessary for Saturday's scrimmage to take place in that order.
Aside from the Kyle-Kirby debate, the other reason 1,000 fans were excited to watch Saturday's scrimmage was because of the guy wearing No. 2, freshman Graig Cooper. Super Coop didn't have a spectacular day. But there were glimpses of the shimmies and shakes that have made him sound just like the player his teammates have been talking about since he arrived on campus. Cooper had 34 yards on 10 carries by my count (since there were no official stats, I was among the few journalists who actually charted every play). He also caught two passes for -2 yards, plays blown up by an aggressive defense, which oh by the way still looks like the fifth-best defense in the country it was last year.
Back to Cooper. I asked the 6-foot, 195-pounder from Tennessee what he has learned in his two weeks of practice at UM. To my surprise, he had trouble answering the question. "What I've learned. Let me see. That's a hard one right there. I've learned the offense. Just being me, playing my part."
Cooper stumbled to answer the question because the offense hasn't stumped him. It's the same offense he ran in high school and at prep school, where two talented backs tear up the turf without a lead blocker. UM's running game didn't do much treading Saturday. The running game was held to 79 yards on 47 carries, a result more of a good defensive front and only six healthy and tired offensive lineman. But at least we learned one thing -- James and Cooper are by far head and tails better than anyone else UM has its in backfield. James led all rushers with 38 tough yards on 16 carries. Charlie Jones, the guy who was the starter last season for three games, had -14 yards on 9 carries. Derron Thomas, the fourth RB, had 6 yards on five carries.
I really would prefer not to venture on how the receivers and offensive line did considering the injuries sustained there and because UM really didn't do a whole lot of deep passing. In fact, Lance Leggett was the only player to haul in a pass further than 20 yards down the field. He made a spectacular over the should grab with cornerback Chavez Grant and safety Lovon Ponder on him for a 45-yard gain. Leggett then celebrated by drawing a penalty for excessive celebration (the scrimmage was officiated). He finished the day with 7 catches for 102 yards and a 9-yard touchdown catch from Wright to finish the scrimmage. It was a good sign for a guy who should be doing that on a regular basis.
I'll be back to add more in a bit. I'm at Doral for the third round today.