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West Virginia Film Review: Josh Jackson Impresses in Collegiate Debut

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Many Hokies shined in the season opener on Sunday, including their new quarterback.

NCAA Football: West Virginia vs Virginia Tech Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

*If you’re on mobile, I recommend turning off the reader view Apple gives you when you go on to a mobile site so you can actually see the videos and pictures.

The Hokies’ 31-24 win over the Mountaineers was nothing short of thrilling. There were areas on both sides of the football that were concerning, and areas that were encouraging. Virginia Tech, starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback for the first time since Michael Vick, was able to stave off West Virginia on a last ditch effort and advanced to 1-0 on the season.

I reviewed every play from Sunday’s game, and compiled my thoughts in the tweet listed below.

Let’s get into this film review.

QB Josh Jackson

The player that everyone was excited to see made a solid debut on Sunday. I thought he played smart, efficient, and most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over. Decision making is the most important aspect to playing the position. Jackson showed the ability to make good decisions, especially when the play wasn’t there to be made.

Take this play for example. The Hokies run one of the more commonly used pass concepts on third and short, as they try to leak tight end Chris Cunningham into the opposite flat off a play action fake. Usually, the receiver will be open for an easy gain of a few yards or the quarterback will have a little room to run to get the yardage himself.

The problem is the defender does not bite on the fake and Cunningham isn’t open.

Instead of trying to make something happen, Jackson throws the ball in the dirt like a veteran and lets his defense get a stop. These types of situations can prove to be recipes for disaster for young quarterbacks, but Jackson shows poise and maturity here. There were two or three of these types of plays Sunday night and the redshirt freshman passed the test each time.

Another encouraging aspect of Jackson’s game on Sunday was that he flashed the ability to read the defense pre-snap and go through his progressions post snap. On this next play, Jackson recognizes that West Virginia’s corners are playing off coverage (granted, it is 1st and 30) so he hits Cam Phillips (bottom of screen) on a quick out route to gain quick, easy yards. This offense will be able to destroy defenses that play 7+ yards off the receivers because of reads like this.

Sometimes, the defense is prepared and shuts down what the offense wants to do. This is the case here. Virginia Tech tries to attack the Mountaineers deep with an actual post-wheel concept this time, but the linebackers and defensive backs get good depth and their drops taking those two routes away.

You can actually see Jackson turn his head toward each route as he makes his reads. He does not see an open receiver so he checks it down to CJ Carroll.

This may only be a three-yard gain, but again, Jackson shows he is risk averse as a quarterback, choosing not to force it into coverage. Three yards is better than an incompletion or a turnover. Jackson also gets rid of the ball on time and gets through his progressions quickly. That isn’t something you commonly see from a quarterback making his college debut.

Talent wins games more often than not, and without a talented quarterback it is tough to compete against the top tier teams in the country. That goes for all levels of football. In addition to showing off his smarts, Jackson also displayed his arm talent at multiple points Sunday night.

One of the hardest throws to make in football is a comeback or out rote past the sticks. That football has to be thrown with velocity, accuracy, and precise timing. Jackson’s throw to CJ Carroll late in the first half had all three of those elements.

This playcall was actually one of Fuente’s favorite route combinations in third and long situations while he was at Memphis. Kumah and CJ Carroll run a switch, imitating a post-wheel concept. However, instead of continuing on the wheel route, Carroll breaks off his route after he gets to the marker and runs a comeback route instead.

Fuente moves the pocket for his quarterback, but Jackson still has a linebacker bearing down on him and gets hit as he makes this throw. Jackson shows outstanding arm strength to beat the defender breaking on the ball, placing the ball perfectly between the numbers on Carroll’s jersey. An underrated aspect of Sunday’s game was Chris Cunningham’s blocking. He does an excellent job keeping his defender off of his quarterback with tremendous effort.

In my opinion, this was the throw of the game for Jackson. It was a big time throw in a two-minute drill while knowing he was going to get hit. A lot of scouts call this a “DNA throw”. You can either make this throw or you can’t. Very impressive poise and moxie from a young player.

Despite all the positives to Jackson’s performance, there were a few fundamental aspects he can work on. One of these things is making sure he sets his feet before he throws. While Jackson is a very good athlete, a quarterback’s footwork is the lifeblood of his throw. There were a few instances where his feet weren’t set and it resulted in an inaccurate throw.

While his throw to CJ Carroll was perhaps Jackson’s best throw of the game, the following throw was probably his worst. The Hokies run a run-pass option to get the linebackers to bite up so they can hit Cam Phillips behind them on a quick slant. The play design works to near perfection, but Jackson’s throw is low and Phillips can’t corral the pass.

You’ll notice that Jackson’s footwork is inefficient on this play, leading to an off-platform throw when it was not necessary. As a result, he does not throw with proper balance, and it probably resulted in the inaccurate throw in addition to the throw being slightly across his body.

Even on his touchdown throw to Cam Phillips, Jackson’s footwork was not as clean as it should be. Watch how he backpedals after his pump fake despite the offensive line giving him plenty of time to throw.

While this throw is accurate, Jackson should focus on having “quieter” feet on the release. He had ample time to set his feet and didn’t take advantage, instead throwing off his back foot. I understand the rationale of seeing someone break open by 10+ yards and the need to get the ball to them as quickly as possible, but inconsistent footwork generally leads to inconsistent accuracy. And as a QB, you don’t want to miss layups like this beautifully designed play.

This was his first collegiate start so it’s unrealistic to expect Jackson to play with the fundamentals of Drew Brees. But there is some comfort knowing he played very well and is not a finished product yet.

Other Notes/Miscellaneous Items:

· I mentioned Chris Cunningham’s blocking above and how crucial it was for the Hokies success on offense. Well, Dalton Keene looked just as impressive as a blocker in his first start from the H-back position. His athleticism allowed the Hokies to get to the perimeter with ease at times which is important since Fuente wants to stretch the field horizontally.

· Terrell Edmunds has received some criticism for being involved in two of West Virginia’s touchdown plays. However, I think this might have been one of his best performances as a Hokies in terms of showing off his versatility. He played in the post, he came up in the box and tackled well, played man-to-man against tight ends and receivers, and played the ball well more often than not. Not many players can do all those things at a high level.

· I was interested in seeing how the Hokies offensive line would handle the 3-3-5 look West Virginia uses. Some players handled it better than others. I think the left side of the OL, Nijman and Teller, were outstanding in the run game and did enough in pass protection to keep Jackson clean. Teller in particular was a mauler in the run game, and might be one of the best pulling guards in the nation. Braxton Pfaff had an off game in pass protection but was able to generate movement for the running backs.

· Virginia Tech’s defensive tackle combination of Ricky Walker and Tim Settle were unblockable at times for the West Virginia offensive line. Settle’s first step combined with his size meant that he was able to disrupt both the run and pass games. Ricky Walker, meanwhile, showed the ability to handle double teams at the point of attack, keeping linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Andrew Motuapuaka clean so they could effectively make plays. Walker himself drew two holding penalties and probably should have drawn a couple more. This play shows how talented both guys are.

· Fuente said he was pleased with how his running backs performed, particularly Deshawn McClease. I agree with him. On his touchdown run, McClease showed power, agility, and toughness. Peoples showed why he can’t be just considered a fullback. Both players routinely made plays when there was nothing there. McClease also showed the ability to pick up blitzes in pass protection, an essential skill for a back if he wants to see the field on third down. Example:

Again, if you want to check out my full game notes from the win, you can find that here.