In the race for the starting quarterback job at The Citadel, Ben Dupree grabbed the early lead in training camp, and Matt Thompson came on late.
Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that he wants to watch two more practices before picking one of the two freshmen to start Saturday's season opener against Chowan at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
"I think both of them will probably play on Saturday," Higgins said Monday at his first weekly news conference of the season. "That's the plan going in. We'll practice each of them with the first-team offense Tuesday and Wednesday, and then on Thursday we'll make a decision on who the starter will be."
Dupree, a 5-9, 180-pounder from Harrisburg, Pa., appears to be the shiftier runner of the two, a key asset in the Bulldogs' new triple option offense, and he threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Alex Carr late in Saturday's final preseason scrimmage. Thompson, a 6-1, 184-pounder from Orlando Beach, Fla., has improved dramatically throwing the ball since the start of camp, and he popped a long TD run in Saturday's scrimmage. Both have passed redshirt freshman walk-on Sam Martin, who entered fall camp at No. 1, on the depth chart.
By delaying an announcement until Thursday, Higgins also deflects the spotlight from the two knobs for a few extra days. Either Thompson or Dupree will be the first freshman to start a season opener for The Citadel since Mazzie Drummond in 2001.
"Part of this is that when you put a freshman as the starter at quarterback, and at a military college, there's a lot of things that go into that," Higgins said. "I still want to see how they handle their academics today. Will they be on time for formation tomorrow? These guys are getting worn down a little bit more, and they've got to be able to handle the pressure of all this. The more time we can take from an evaluation standpoint, the more beneficial it will be. And competition is always good as well."
Dupree, who accounted for 80 touchdowns in his career at Susquehanna Township High School, got off to a quick start in fall camp before struggling in an Aug. 21 scrimmage.
"Ben really surprised us initially with the way he threw the ball," Higgins said. "He threw it better than we thought he would. But when he had a chance in the scrimmage a week ago, he didn't throw it very well. In other scrimmages and situations we've put him in, he's done a good job throwing the ball for a guy his size and in this offense."
Thompson, who passed for 2,398 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior at Seabreeze High School, was shaky at the start of camp, but has come on strong the last two weeks.
"Matt really struggled that first week throwing the ball," Higgins said. "I said, 'Gosh, that's not the same guy we saw on tape.' But every day, he's gotten better and better, and that's what's prompted his move up the depth chart. All of the sudden, his release is quicker, he's got a better understanding of where the ball needs to go and he has a strong arm."
In the triple option, 15 passes in a game will be a lot. But Higgins said he feels better about the Bulldogs' ability to throw the ball now than he did when practice started.
"I think they are both very capable passers, and I'm more excited now than we started this thing about their ability to throw," he said. "But we have to do a better job from a protection standpoint. In our last scrimmage, we had a couple of assignmemt busts and put some pressure on those guys that they don't need."
Left guard Jameson Bryant (shoulder) is doubtful for Saturday's game. If he can't go, look for right guard Jim Knowles to move to the left side, with right tackle Lincoln Kling shifting to guard and senior Tyler Thornton starting at right tackle ... Higgins said senior receiver Travis Ruff has earned a starting job with a solid camp ... Sophomore WR Greg Adams will take over for Andre Roberts as punt-returner, with Keith Gamble and Tyler Starnes deep on kickoffs ... Senior kicker Sam Keeler had a good day in the final scrimmage and will handle placekicking duties. ... Chowan, a Division II squad from Murfreesboro, N.C., opened its season last week with a 59-10 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne, the school where The Citadel's new offensive coordinator, Tommy Laurendine, last coached. Lenoir-Rhyne, also running the triple option, racked up 513 rushing yards and 631 total yards on Chowan, which turned the ball over three times on two interceptions and a fumble.
Chowan scored its only TD on an 85-yard kickoff return by Tony Goodman.