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Fuente 101: The Quarterback

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Motley vs Evans. Who deserves to start September 3rd against Liberty?

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question since the 2015 season ended still remains unanswered. Who's going to be slingin' the pigskin come early September? The two big questions in my eyes for Fuente and the quarterback position are: (1) what will he ask the quarterback to do, and (2) which QB fits the bill given those assignments? So far, we've talked about how Fuente will adapt his scheme to the personnel he has to work with, and that stays true with the quarterback position.

It's been well documented that Paxton Lynch basically never threw the ball in high school, as his primary offense was the Wing-T. That obviously wasn't going to fly in college, even though Fuente incorporated some of the Wing-T in his offense at Memphis. Looking at Lynch as a quarterback, two things are apparent: his physical tools, namely his size and mobility -€” and his cannon for an arm. So Fuente called plays to take advantage of those attributes.

We've already seen Lynch's velocity on his throws with the out routes and quick hitches zip to the receiver in my first piece in this series. The Hokies' quarterback room doesn't really have anyone proven who can make a throw like this consistently.

But if no one in that room can make a certain throw, the point is Fuente won't force it upon his starter to do so. The next question to ask is where did Fuente have his QB throw the football? Thanks to Sam Monson and the fantastic work of Pro Football Focus, we can see where the majority of Paxton Lynch's targets went.

The intermediate throws are the ones that provide a lot of information in my eyes. There were plenty of throws across the middle in the 10-19 yard range, a lot of them on the over route I covered in my last piece. The thing I find most interesting is the lack of targets outside the numbers. That area is typically where most timing routes occur, where the ball has to come out before the receiver makes his break, such as deep out routes and comebacks. If you read the entire article where I got the above chart, you'll see that Paxton Lynch struggled with anticipation and timing routes at times. He's a guy who usually needs to see his receiver come clear before he delivers the football. However, you can see that Lynch's superior arm talent combined with his deep accuracy nicely, as he was on target on most of his 9's and other deep routes.

Since I haven't seen the quarterbacks on the roster when the bullets are flying in a live game -€” no one has -€” we don't know what each guys feel for the defense is. That is, the defense's base coverage, leverage, where pressure is coming from, and how quickly can they get through their progressions. Those are all essential quarterback mental tools.

However, Fuente already confirmed the race is down to two guys: Brenden Motley and newcomer Jerod Evans.

"I believe that it will be one of the two older kids, Brenden Motley or Jerod Evans," Fuente told reporters at ACC media day. "They're both working incredibly hard. There's not one guy over another right now. It's up in the air. But I like the way they're going about it and the way they're working."

With the starting job up in the air, we can only speculate who the first-year coach will prefer under center. In order to do that, let's look at some of the defining traits Fuente would probably want in his quarterback.

Mobility should be one of the primary attributes for the new QB. Both Motley and Evans have wheels, but that's not always what mobility means for a signal caller. Usually when people think of mobile quarterbacks, they think of a read-option or zone read play that the QB keeps and takes it to the house. Those plays will certainly be heavy components of the new offense, but there are other aspects of being a mobile quarterback in addition to running with the football.  Fuente loved to move the pocket at Memphis for Paxton Lynch, giving him extra time to throw the football. Moving the launch point also protected the offensive line, since the defense couldn't pin their ears back every play and attack a sitting duck in the pocket. Throwing on the run is an essential skill and one that Fuente will look for in his quarterback. Both Motley and Evans have experience doing this, although the former has done it against better competition.

The new quarterback will also have to be an excellent ball handler, which may not be the flashiest attribute for a QB. Executing play-action fakes is one of the overlooked components that makes this offense go. A good fake is the difference between freezing the defense to allow a receiver to run free or an unsuccessful play. Given the volume of misdirection plays in Fuente's offense, ball handling may be a key underlying factor in deciding who gets the starting nod.

Just take a look at this play fake. Lynch does an outstanding job of deceiving the defense, making them think the ball is going to the RB on a dive play. Instead, he pulls the ball out of the mesh point quickly and smoothly. As a result, Lynch has a wide open receiver who runs in for the touchdown. Look at how #24 for Houston pays for having poor eye discipline because of Lynch's great fake.

This could be an area where Jerod Evans separates himself from Brenden Motley. I don't think Motley was very convincing with his ball fakes last year. It seemed like the defense always had a beat on where the ball was going to end up on those fake jet sweeps, which really didn't allow Motley to use his legs in the open field. It still remains to be seen whether Evans is much better in that category -€” reading JUCO defenders is a much easier task then carrying out a fake against an ACC EDGE. But if he is significantly better, that would definitely factor into Fuente's decision.

The Tigers used plenty of misdirection while running the ball. Jet sweeps, read option, and zone reads all are designed so the defense doesn't know who's going to end up with the ball in their hands, essentially creating an option-based ground game. The QB almost always had an option to keep, which is why size and mobility are important attributes Fuente will want in his new quarterback. Paxton Lynch had a great combination of the two -€” he was able to get downhill quickly due to his 6-7 frame and fall forward, which was extremely advantageous in short-yardage situations. And with his long strides, Lynch gobbled yards quickly when he got in space. But let's get this straight: nobody on the roster compares to that size/speed combo Lynch possesses. Therefore, I don't think Fuente will be calling as many option plays as he did last season, although they will be seen with some regularity.

Let's look at a sample game for an example of Fuente's ground attack. Memphis ran the ball 54 times against the Houston Cougars in what was arguably their most important game of the season.

Carries

Yards

Average

TD

Long

Doroland Dorceus

26

116

4.5

1

35

Paxton Lynch

13

43

3.3

0

9

Tevin Jones

3

30

10

1

25

Jarvis Cooper

5

12

2.4

0

4

Sam Craft

5

8

1.6

0

4

Phil Mayhue

1

4

4

0

4

TEAM

54

212

3.9

2

35

(stats courtesy of ESPN)

Fuente preferred a workhorse tailback in his backfield, and Dorceus' 26 carries are proof of that. Travon can bear that load as the feature back, so I would assume Fuente would like him to get 20-25 touches per game if things go according to the gameplan. Paxton Lynch was second on the team in carries which was consistent throughout the season for the offense. Those carries came off options, fake jet sweeps, QB draws, or just scrambling when the play broke down. Here's a breakdown of the types of QB runs in this game:

Run Type

Frequency

Yards Gained (approximate)

Fake Jet Sweep

3

6

Scramble

4

20

QB Sneak/Draw

2

11

Sack

1

-8

Zone Read

2

9

Option

1

5

Fuente also called triple/speed option plays back-to-back which resulted in a touchdown, then a turnover, which ultimately was the boost Houston needed to come back and win this game. Lynch could have easily become the ball carrier on either on of those plays which would have inflated his number of carries. In total, Lynch's number was called 8 times. That's not a lot, but it is enough to show that there will definitely be called QB runs in Blacksburg.

One of the major benefits of having your quarterback run the ball is that you gain an extra blocker. But the cons outweigh the pros unless you've got a guy like J.T. Barrett or Deshaun Watson under center. Quarterbacks are much more fumble prone and are going to take some big shots. This is another spot where Jerod Evans may have an advantage over Motley. Evans is listed at 6-4, 235 pounds while Motley is 6-3, 225. That extra size can be the difference between a killshot/turnover or a first down. It also helps around the goal line. Just look at Cam Newton for an example of how great of a weapon a huge QB can be in the red zone. Lynch also had 13 (!) rushing touchdowns in 2014, and many of those came inside the 20 and goal-to-go situations. I'm sure Fuente would love to have a similar skillset near the goal line in his new QB if possible.

Jerod Evans also seems like a more decisive runner than Motley. Too often, Motley dances behind the line of scrimmage, waiting for an opening. That allows the defense time to react, collapse, and close on the runner. On the other hand, Evans sees it and goes.

Yes, that is a huge running lane, but there is zero hesitation there. Evans trusts his eyes which is something I love to see, especially in a runner.

I very briefly touched on how QBs tend to be more fumble prone. At Memphis, Lynch was good in this category -€” he lost 4 fumbles which isn't terrible. A ball carrier's number 1 priority is to secure the football. If Evans or Motley can't do that, then I don't expect Fuente to call as many QB keepers this fall. Good offenses take care of the football and the new coach won't want to put a turnover machine out there to lead his team. In fact, Fuente listed taking care of the football as the first priority for whoever he puts under center.

Fumbles and interceptions are backbreakers for the entire team, not just the offense. The defense often is left to defend a shorter field, and field position is one of those hidden yardage statistics that is so crucial to winning games. Fuente has harped on playing complementary football all summer. All three phases of the game should help each other succeed.

At the JUCO level, Evans did an outstanding job of taking care of the football, and had an otherworldly 12.7/1 TD-INT ratio. However, plenty of those touchdowns were to wide open receivers which he won't see when playing in the ACC. Motley threw 11 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, but 5 of them came in just two games (Miami and Pittsburgh) and another was against Ohio State where he replaced an injured Michael Brewer midway through the third quarter. That's not an excuse for his poor judgement in those games, but it does provide some perspective of the situation he was put in.

Fuente will preach to the quarterback room to avoid sacks in addition to turnovers. Defenses are placing more and more emphasis on going after the football when they get to the quarterback to create strip-sack turnovers. It's one of the reasons Fuente wants to get the ball into the hands of his skill position players quickly. Pocket presence is rare to see on a highlight video, but here's a decent example of Evans stepping up in the pocket.

He does a solid job of feeling the pressure on the edge and stepping up while delivering a dart to the sideline. Brenden Motley has shown the ability to break the pocket when there is pressure, but he doesn't finish the play as well as Evans did above. For example, take this play against ECU last season.

Motley feels the pressure a little late, but is able to shrug off a tackler and get to open space. But the throw sails over Sam Rogers' head. If Motley and Rogers would have been able to connect, it would have been six points for the Hokies. Instead they had to punt it away to a hot ECU offense. Motley was not consistent when he got outside the pocket on his throws and this type of play happened more than once.

Comparing game tape to a highlight reel isn't fair, I know. Evans probably missed a few throws after getting outside the pocket as well, but his movement and throwing motion looked very clean on the play above so we know the JUCO has the potential to do it. We, and more importantly the coaches, should know more in the upcoming weeks on how each quarterback is progressing with feeling and avoiding pressure.

The second trait for playing QB as noted in the tweet above is what I like to call moxie. The "it" factor, if you will. Football games always tend to get crazy, both on the field and in players' heads. As the leader of the football team, the quarterback has to keep the team focused. The Hokies have had multiple game-breaking concentration lapses over the last few years which have led to blown leads or just plain old sloppy football. Part of that is due to lackluster coaching, but it never felt like the QB said, "hey, I'm going to go win this game. Who's with me?"

This is a spot where Motley really needs to show me something. For example, take the Pittsburgh game this past season. It may sound nitpicky, but that game was dying for someone to make a few momentum plays and take control. That is when you want your quarterback to be the alpha and win the game for you. Motley simply didn't do that -€” although the Hokies' offensive line certainly contributed to that problem. The offense only put up 13 points against a defense that had given up 26.1 PPG that season. Those moments make me hesitant to want Motley under center to begin the season. It's another area where Evans could end up making a strong impression on Fuente. If he comes in and plays with confidence during camp, the players will rally around him and it'll be very tough for Fuente and Cornelson to pick Motley as the opening-day starter.

Lastly, Fuente wants predicted outcomes from his signal caller. That essentially means execute the play like it's supposed to be run without taking any detours.

"I want to see a quarterback go where he's supposed to go with the football," said Fuente. "Sometimes the results may not always be what we want them to be, but for us it's about is that kid doing what we're asking him to do on a consistent basis."

It's simple: do what you're asked to do. Make the right reads and get the ball out to the playmakers on time. Fuente wants someone that plays well within the structure of the offense. Between Motley and Evans, who does this better? The offense is still probably in the install phase, so no one has the answer to that yet. As we approach the Liberty game, the coaches will have a good idea of which quarterback is grasping the offense better.

I think this is the one spot where the incumbent has a strong advantage over the newcomer. Motley has seen ACC defenses his entire career and the game shouldn't be too fast for him, especially since he is entering his last year of eligibility. That should allow him to get the rhythm and timing on the offense down quickly. On the other hand, Jerod Evans still needs to adapt to the speed of D1 football even though he was a stud at the JUCO level. If Fuente decides to run a quick-hitter offense and Evans starts, there will be growing pains. Sacks, turnovers, and misfires will be much more common than we would like them to be. Undoubtedly, Fuente will simplify his offense so it is easier on his new quarterback if he is struggling, but how much simplification can the offense take before it becomes ineffective and predictable? This is why many people are saying that Evans needs some seasoning before being thrown into the fire.

We've gone over 5 or 6 aspects of playing the quarterback position in Fuente's offense. For the quarterback battle taking place on the practice field, I think Motley should be the opening day starter. The one thing that really "sells" me on Motley is ACC/D1 experience. That can't be overlooked. He's also had the entire offseason to watch film and correct his mistakes. Motley has the mobility, and right now has the trust of some of the older guys in the locker room. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Evans is the starter at seasons' end. There's so much talent there, and once he gets acclimated to the speed of the game and earns the coaches' trust, he'll be getting the reps come Saturdays. For now, it's Motley's job to lose.

If you haven't read my first two pieces in the series, you can find the first one here and the second one here.