Garden City, Kan (westernkansasnews.com)-Garden City Coach Matt Miller never tips his hand. So when his team took the field for their annual scrimmage Friday night at the multi-sports complex, he had no intention of showing much.
“I’m an old Bill Snyder guy,” Miller said. “You never know if the opposition is in the seats or not.”
Miller might not have shown Highland what they’ll see in seven days, but he let his quarterbacks show enough to make his decision a little easier.
Freshman Danarious Graham, who missed the first seven practices because of paperwork issues, didn’t lead any scoring drives during 11-on-11. But he was steady, and showed glimpses of what Buster fans have been searching for since Nick Marshall left for Auburn two years ago.
Asked if he did enough to earn the job: “I think I played well,” Graham said. “I could have played better. Seeing how I played, I think I’ve done enough. But we’ll see.”
Though there were no scores during team drills, Graham was sensational in 7-on-7. He was 6-of-10, with two gorgeous touchdown strikes to Brandon Snell; both pinpoint passes that traveled nearly 60 yards in the air.
“I still have to have my individual meetings with both quarterbacks,” Miller said. “But right now I’m leaning towards Danarious.”
And with good reason. During his time with the first team offense, Graham showed poise in the pocked and didn’t make any glaring mistakes (although he did fumble a snap that he recovered). He finished 4-of-7, for 27 yards. But the most impressive part of his night just might have been the throws he didn’t make, and the throwaways.
With a freshman quarterback, you have to live with mistakes. And trust me, Graham will take his lumps early in the season. But it’s how he responds to adversity that will be the biggest tell-tale sign. On Friday, he went through his progressions and didn’t force it. Then there were two particular plays that stood out: one was an overthrow where it appeared he stared down the receiver (rookie mistake). But he instinctively knew it and made sure no one could catch the ball. Then he showed moxie on another pass when the play broke down and lobbed a bomb up the seam (an end-of-the-half type heave). The receiver was bumped and fell down inducing a pass interference. Those are the small plays that might have given Graham the edge.
Meantime Bryce Gemmel did some nice things in team drills. But his 7-on-7 outing was marred by a spectacular diving interception by Trevin Wiens. He was 4-of-7 there. In team-he completed his only throw for 12 yards.
Advantage Graham. An official announcement should come Sunday. The question now is does Miller go with two out-of-state quarterbacks or does he does he back Graham up with Kansas products Tyler Lasalle or Alex Gomez. An interesting decision looms.
Ground game produces
Lost in the quarterback tussle was the running game. Undre Williams and Matt McDonald showed off a one-two punch that could prove to be lethal come next Saturday. Williams carried the ball four times for 32 yards (8 yards per carry), while McDonald had three totes for 12. Paul Jones, who was McDonald’s high school teammate at Kansas City Piper, rushed three times for nine yards.
Miller was asked to describe how his defense played following Friday’s scrimmage:
“I thought they were fantastic,” he said.
Especially the second and third levels. Linebacker Dalton Gantz baited Tyler Lasalle into an interception and returned it up the right sideline. Then there was Pedro Padron recovering a botched snap by Lasalle. Sprinkle in sacks by Tyler Gastineau and Demario Allen, and you could say it was an all-around good night.
“Coach Rodriguez is doing a tremendous job with them,” Miller said. “(Trevin) Wiens had a spectacular interception. Gantz had a really nice one in team. They forced turnovers. I feel really good about my defense.”
One particular guy stood out.
“I thought Demario Allen really stepped up for us at defensive end,” Miller said. “With his performance, he’s solidified that strong-side end for us. I’m really excited about the things that Demario can do for us.”
The rest of the defensive line, which could include guys like R.J. Hairston, Nathan Fairbanks and Ben Harper, should also be announced on Sunday. Expect Gastineau to be in the mix at defensive end as well.
The top three linebackers arguably are Alex Neuschafer, Gantz and T.J. Ellison, although Kalil Gray could make a push for the one spot. In the secondary, pencil in Jakarrie Washington and Donald Warren at the corners, while Wiens and Sam Green will solidify the safety spots.