Manley should be man against Minnesota in upcoming game

Anthony Catezone, Managing Editor

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Andrew Manley has been there before. He has faced Minnesota in TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., and he won.

In 2011, the current Eastern quarterback was the starting quarterback for New Mexico State, where he led the Aggies to their first ever win over a Big Ten conference opponent with a 288-yard, three-touchdown performance.

“I’ve been in the atmosphere,” Manley said. “I know how loud the student section gets. I’ve played against (Minnesota) coach (Jerry) Kill before. I’m going to feel very comfortable because of that.”

This year, at Eastern, Manley is splitting the starting position with another quarterback who has experience at the FBS level in Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow.

While first-year Eastern coach Kim Dameron said he will not reveal the official starting quarterback until kick off at 6 p.m. Thursday, he did say both Manley and Whitlow will see playing time.

“They will both play in the first game and I would hope that it will be that way all year long,” Dameron said.

Leading into the season opener, Dameron said there is no game plan determining how much playing time each quarterback will see; rather it is the way the game unfolds that will determine who will be the man under center.

Manley should be that man.

Aside from having the experience of winning in TCF Bank Stadium, Manley also has more experience with Eastern, developing the appropriate chemistry with teammates.

The red-shirt senior has spent the last two seasons at Eastern. That is two years more than Whitlow, who joined the Panthers in late May.

Manley established himself as the starting quarterback in the spring and the addition of Whitlow should not change that.

This offseason he has showed off his arm and impressed the coaching staff with the ability to avoid turnovers and score points, all backed by his leadership and experience.

Manley emerged as the starter during spring practices, having only improved since then, with a better understanding of offensive coordinator Greg Stevens’ playbook that is best described as a pro style, which can speed up and slow down whenever it wants.

“I’m making better decisions with the ball,” Manley said. “I’ve been getting the ball out a lot quicker and I’ve improved on making my reads.”

Stevens, also in his first year at Eastern, comes from Southeastern Louisiana, where he guided quarterback Bryan Bennett, a transfer for the University of Oregon, to 3,165 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. Bennett finished eighth in the Walter Payton Award Watch List.

However, Bennett, a dual-threat quarterback, also has a tremendous ability to scramble when a play breaks down as well as the benefit of being able to have running plays tailored around him

Bennett rushed for 1,046 yards and 16 touchdowns — Whitlow has the edge over Manley in that sense — he has the potential to flourish in an offense that Manley said favors the run.

In 22 games at Kentucky, Whitlow rushed for 663 yards and nine touchdowns.

But a confident Manley said he is not discouraged.

“I’ll run when I have to, not just running for the hell of it,” Manley said. “I’ll look through my reads, and if my reads aren’t there and see the green light, then I’ll take off.”

After all, running can only go so far. In Whitlow’s 22 games in the FBS he amassed just 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns passing. Where Whitlow’s athleticism soars, his passing game suffers.

Meanwhile, In 25 games at New Mexico State, Manley threw for 4,268 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Manley’s decision-making, arm strength and accuracy are the perfect intangibles to lead Stevens’ offense.

The best way to avoid a quarterback controversy is to not have one.

Eastern does not need to have a controversy. The answer is Manley.

Anthony Catezone can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]