The Georgetown football team’s quarterback carousel would seem to make for an uneasy situation. Except Scott Darby and Isaiah Kempf haven’t allowed it to get uncomfortable, even as the teammates — and friends — jockey for playing time for a third season.
“I’ve been in situations where [having] two quarterbacks was kind of weird,” Kempf said. “But Scott has made it as least awkward as possible. Whenever I come off the field, he says, ‘Here’s some things you missed and here’s where you did well.’ ”
“He’s almost like a second coach,” Kempf added. “I’ve tried to do the same thing.”
Sixth-year coach Kevin Kelly would not specify how he plans to divvy up playing time this fall — the Hoyas open the season at home Saturday against Davidson — but Darby and Kempf likely will receive ample playing time, as determined by the opponent, score and, of course, which quarterback is performing better.
“They’re both there,” said Kelly, whose Hoyas stumbled to a 4-7 record (2-4 in the Patriot League) last season after getting off to a 3-1 start.
“And that’s normal for us.”
Darby, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior, is the more powerful runner. He started all 11 games last season and was the second-leading rusher with 356 yards on 109 attempts. He also passed for a team-high 1,338 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions while, according to Kelly, playing through an injury the coach declined to specify.
Kempf, meanwhile, has the stronger arm. Kelly turned to him in five contests, and the 6-3, 195-pound junior passed for 748 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
There’s an old football saying that goes something like this: “If you have two quarterbacks, you have none.”
But that’s not how Kelly sees it. He hopes rotating a pair of experienced quarterbacks — with markedly different strengths — will keep defenses off balance.
Kempf became convinced of the plan’s effectiveness in the Hoyas’ 24-21 loss to Bucknell last season.
Trailing 14-7 at halftime, Kempf replaced Darby at the start of the third quarter and promptly threw two touchdown passes to put the Hoyas in front 21-17. Although Kempf’s final pass was intercepted and returned for the decisive touchdown, Kempf said the second-half rally underscored the potential advantages of a platoon.
“They really planned for a run-heavy” scheme, Kempf said. “Then I came in the second half and really slung it around. They were really shocked.”
Kempf played well enough the next three games to prompt Kelly to open up the competition for the starter’s job this spring. As of last week, Kelly said he still was not prepared to name a starter for the opener.
“Coming out of the spring, we thought there might be a front runner but they kept going back and forth,” Kelly said. “It’s the same right now. Both will play. We can win with either one of them, so we’ll play it by ear and go from there. . . . As a defensive coach, it gives you two types of quarterbacks to contend with.”
Kelly also said he expects Darby and Kempf to be more efficient in directing the Hoyas’ run-and-shoot offense, installed last season by offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude. The scheme is predicated on the quarterback reading the defense at the line of scrimmage, then adjusting the play call accordingly.
“It’s a quarterback’s dream,” Darby said. “You have control over every aspect, from changing routes, changing the plays, getting yourself protected. That was definitely new for us last year. The overall comfort level and being able to take more responsibility with changing things around, that’s [going to be] the biggest” difference.
Kempf added: “Being our second year in the system, Scott and I know where we are going to go with the ball before the snap. Last year, there was a lot of guessing.”
On defense, the Hoyas bring back nine starters, headlined by first-team all-Patriot League selections Andrew Schaetzke, a 6-4, 245-pound defensive end, and cornerback Jayah Kaisamba. Schaetzke led the league in tackles for a loss with 15 last season and Kaisamba ranked second in interceptions with six.
But, as is often the case in college football, Georgetown’s prospects lie in the hands of the quarterback — in the Hoyas’ case, both of them.
“At the end of the day, we both want to start,” Kempf said. “We [each] want to be the guy to lead the team to wins.”
After pausing for a moment, Kempf added: “It’s really hard to explain. It’s just a good, healthy relationship.”