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The Hokies QB Conundrum: A Recent History

A look at the history of the position at Virginia Tech for the past several years, and some lessons that I’ve gleaned along the way. Part one of two of my look at quarterbacks for this spring.

ACC Championship - Virginia Tech v Boston College Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Welcome again, all, to ‘Josh doesn’t know what to do with this’ theatre. As spring practice starts, and I’m reminded of football optimism, I can’t help but be stuck on the fact that quarterbacking at Virginia Tech is making yet another shift. But not in the way that you think. Because it’s kind of all happened before, and it’s relatively recent, too. I’m going to try and put the position behind center in context for the past 10 years, because it’s actually pretty much 10-11 years since what I’d consider the modern age of the Hokies to have started. Great point for a long retrospective. Grab a can of Hokie Nuts, folks, it’s going to be a bit of a doozy.

So, guys, let me remind you how the time ATR (After Tyrod Recruitment) went in terms of recruiting, narrative, and planned starters:

ATR-0 (2007):

Assumed Quarterback: Sean Glennon

Actual Quarterbacks: Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor

Tyrod was recruited into the class of 2007 and was supposed to redshirt. An across the board talented five-star quarterback, Tyrod would go on to have one of the most storied careers for a Virginia Tech quarterback ever. Unfortunately, this was still his freshman year. As the year was spent in a campus-wide recovery effort from the events of April 16th, Tyrod got inserted into the lineup at LSU as it was clear Sean Glennon wasn’t doing much in moving the offense (LSU would go on to win the national championship that year on the strength of its defense, but eh, hindsight). Tyrod and Sean would spend the year going back and forth as they tried to use Tyrod as a secondary option. I don’t think that this did EITHER player that well, and Tyrod wasn’t on top of his game yet. It was easy to see he was still the more electic player, though, and fan calls just to simply start him were ignored (as honestly, most fan calls should be). But in the end the team lost to KANSAS in the one odd year that team was amazing thanks to Todd Reesing under Mark Mangino and the talents of Aquib Talib. As for recruiting, the class of 2008 featured one quarterback, Ju-Ju Clayton. He was a lower-ranked recruit not expected to have to do much. He was going to be behind Tyrod, after all. In cold reality, he’s someone that a coaching staff would ‘over-recruit’, meaning he technically should be filtered out of the system as more talented players come in over him. (Note: There was also some talk about Marcus Davis becoming a quarterback from this class, but he stuck at wide receiver).

ATR-1 (2008):

Assumed Quarterback: Sean Glennon?

Actual Quarterback(s): Sean Glennon & Tyrod Taylor

I think there was an actual hope that Glennon would improve and Taylor could finally be redshirted, but after being upset by ECU in the season opener, Taylor slowly took over thanks to Glennon being benched during the Furman game. It was simply obvious that despite his limited passing offense, Taylor was the one moving the ball. This is the year that the Hokies won the Orange Bowl over Cincinnati (Tony Pike and Brian Kelly Cincinnati). However, none of the games but for the ACC championship over Boston College (Take THAT Matt Ryan) were blowouts, and the stats bear out that while Taylor sure could run, BOY was our passing offense crippled. The team didn’t total over 2000 yards for the year and ended with 6TDs to 12INTS, of which 7 were thrown by Taylor. Recruiting wise, the Hokies recruited Logan Thomas, playing quarterback, as a tight end…we’ll see how that goes later. Because two of the other quarterbacks that they chased were Tajh Boyd, who rewrote the record books at Clemson, and Bryn Renner, who had a decent run at UNC. Either way, helped by a very good defense and a solid running game between Taylor and thumper Darren Evans, the year was probably the best year Tech’s had in a long time.

ATR-2 (2009)

Assumed Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor

Actual Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor

This is the year that theoretically went off without a hitch. Outside of a couple odd passes thrown by Clayton, Tyrod took the reins all year. 13TDs to 5INTs, 5 rushing touchdowns, and hey, the Hokies beat the Vols in the Chik-fil-A bowl, which isn’t terrible. Ryan Williams went gonzo and the defense was still plenty good to ride to a good record. This is Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin coming into their primes, too, which helps. Too bad that Darren Evans was hurt this year, but Williams was indeed great. Looking back it’s a decent year considering where things ended up a couple years after this. On the recruiting end, however, now’s where Tech starts to run into trouble. Tech recruited a pair of young dual-threat guys, Ricardo Young and Mark Leal. Young will eventually transfer away to Maryland (now in the BIG10) and didn’t ever have any impact. Leal would come up in the future. Logan Thomas spent the year redshirted as a tight end prospect. The other quarterbacks that the Hokies offered- at least as far as 247 is concerned- were Bryce Petty (Baylor) and Robert Bolden (Penn State/LSU/EMU).

ATR-3 (2010)

Assumed Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor

Actual Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor

But for a hideous and obvious outplay and outcoach in the Orange Bowl and that JMU thing I don’t ever want to talk about again, overall, 2010 was not a terrible year for the Hokies. They won the ACC and Taylor came into his own as a polished passer, throwing for 24TDS and only throwing 5INTS, while rushing for an additional 5TDS. The combination of Darren Evans, Ryan Williams, and David Wilson was too much for almost anyone to stop, and you even get to see Thomas make a couple throws in relief as the new backup quarterback and catch one pretty lofted pass in the end zone. Taylor ends his Hokies Career as one of the most decorated passers of all VT history, and loved by all the fans. Thomas is the presumptive starter for the next year, and all seems to be going alright. This year, however, no quarterbacks were recruited. Between Ju-Ju Clayton, Logan Thomas, and then Mark Leal, everything looked to be figured out and it seems like the Hokies sacked it. But they DID want Marquise Williams and that fizzled.

ATR-4 (2011)

Assumed Quarterback: Logan Thomas

Actual Quarterback: Logan Thomas

Okay, everyone, hold your noses when this is over because you’re going to start going downhill from here. 2011 was the last hurrah of the Beamer Era, as David Wilson went absolutely berserk and the Hokies made a Sugar Bowl where they should’ve won but for an egregiously dumb call by PAC12 refs in the back of the end zone on a Danny Coale (non-…) catch. Logan was a redshirt sophomore, which meant that he was surrounded by NFL talent as he got his first year’s starting experience. Which, admittedly, was amazing at the time. 19 passing and 11 rushing touchdowns to 11 interceptions, Logan Thomas looked like the next big thing. There were even draft projections that had him eventually becoming a top draft pick. Things were supposed to be aces going forward. But that year quarterback went through a very very dry spell- the TJ Millweard recruitment went pretty south after he committed early (and then never developed into anything anywhere he went; he ended up being one of those itinerant transfer types). But at least the Hokies came away with local option QB Brenden Motley, which was interesting at the time but not a ton of people thought he’d be a starter at QB. Well…best laid plans and all that…

ATR-5 (2012)

Assumed Quarterback: Logan Thomas

Actual Quarterback: Logan Thomas

So, good news about 2012? In the class of 2013, the Hokies recruited Bucky Hodges and Carlis Parker at quarterback. Bad news…well, where can I start? That team went 6-6, 7-6 if you want to count that absolutely repugnant bowl game against Rutgers as a ‘football game’. Thomas regressed, running for only 9TDs, while throwing 18TDs…with 16INTs, and a completion percentage that teetered on 50% despite throwing for almost 3000yds- what an all or nothing offense. The running game started its decline that year, and the receiving totals of Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller led the team- Davis almost becoming the first 1,000 yard receiver in Tech history. But the team suffered from frustrating defensive collapses along with the offense failing to perform frequently. Carlis Parker eventually transferred to North Carolina A&T as a wide receiver and recorded no stats. Hodges was quickly converted to a tight end, thus making this quarterback class a complete washout. Hodges of course would go on to become a highly successful tight end, but that’s a 4 star quarterback that never happened. Either way, it was a year to forget.

ATR-6 (2013)

Assumed Quarterback: Logan Thomas(?)

Actual Quarterback: Logan Thomas

This year went marginally better and yet also somewhat worse than the year previous. The record ended at 8-5 as the team had an overall better defense than the year before, but there were games that the offense bordered on nonfunctional. Thomas’s completion percentage ticked up to 56%, but his touchdowns dropped to 15, his INTs to 13, but his rushing touchdowns went all the way to 4 and the running game continued to stink. Leal finally got playing time in the Sun Bowl due to Thomas, after taking a brutal (borderline-or-past-it dirty) hit, was knocked out of the Sun Bowl against UCLA, and Leal came in and stunk- though to be fair, terrible position to be in. Considering no receiver had over 660yards (leading receiver that year? Willie Bryn, ladies and gentlemen), it was obvious that the targets that Thomas were throwing to weren’t helping him overmuch, but neither was the first year in Loeffler’s offense in his last year at Tech. Logan Thomas exited his career as a Hokie holding so many records by volume of being a 3 year tenured starter that threw for a pile of long ball yards, but without a ton of wins to show for it. IN my personal view? Thomas was both a product of who he was and who was around him, for better and for worse. I don’t think he was a great quarterback, and I don’t particularly think he could’ve been a great one, in hindsight. His delivery never solidified, he had to worry too much about executing footwork and not the play, and he wasn’t that accurate- which you have to be in the modern college game. But he also wasn’t surrounded by a lot of talent- his running game went to hell in a handbasket and his offensive line was not any great shakes- and it was obvious that the offensive scheme was starting to get old and ineffective when Tyrod was quarterback, let alone Thomas. Even looking back now, I’m not sure what I overall can think of the Logan Thomas Era. Oh, and in terms of quarterbacks recruited, Loeffler picked up three- two from high school, and a graduate transfer to take over for Thomas- Andrew Ford, Chris Durkin, and Michael Brewer. Ford is going to be a redshirt senior at UMASS this coming up season and is likely to be the Minutemen’s starting quarterback for the third year in a row (He spent a year at Lackawanna Community College as their starter, too). A moderately successful career, but not with the Hokies. Durkin had a flirtation with both quarterback and tight end, and ended up transferring to Youngstown State, where he had one catch against Robert Morris last year. Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, however, stuck around…

ATR-7 (2014)

Assumed Quarterback: Michael Brewer

Actual Quarterback: Michael Brewer

Brewer had a bunch of new targets to break in- Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, along with Bucky Hodges and Sam Rogers. But the first three were super young in their growth process, and with a running game still out to lunch (until JC Coleman took over at the end of the year) and a porous offensive line, Brewer got regularly pounded. His performance wasn’t much better than average Logan Thomas- 18TDs, 15INTs, and of course fewer rushing touchdowns with only 2- and that team lost a PILE of close games wherein either the offense would fail to move at all, or the defense would give up the ghost after trying to hold on all game. It also was the year with probably the biggest upset in Virginia Tech history as the Hokies dropped eventual National Champion Ohio State, but the team couldn’t parlay that into anything and spiraled out of control, having to barely eke out a win against Virginia to be bowl eligible for the Military Bowl (an admittedly oddly fun one). The next in the line of Hokies quarterback recruiting goofs happened, too- Dwayne Lawson committed to the Hokies over a multitude of other offers, and ended up washing out of Tech as he couldn’t ever inspire enough confidence in the coaching staff…and there were supposedly other issues behind the scenes. According to the Roanoke Times, he was likely going to be suspended. He was supposed to transfer into Illinois out of spending time in community college, but was held out for academic issues, and would have to sign with them again this year.

ATR-8 (2015)

Assumed Quarterback: Michael Brewer

Actual Quarterback(s): Brenden Motley & Michael Brewer

So for the first time since 2008, the Hokies had a timeshare at quarterback, though this was for injury and not ineffectiveness. Brewer broke his collarbone in the Ohio State game to start the season, and Motley (the unheralded nice local kid story from the Recruiting Class of 2012) took over. Admittedly, I didn’t have much faith in him myself, but Motley was effective enough that the season didn’t go down in flames. Between the two of them they cobbled together 24TDs to 14INTs and 4 rushing touchdowns. Not great, but not terrible. And hey, look, Travon McMillian put together the first 1000+ yard rushing season since David Wilson! But, in Beamer’s last year, the Team still staggered to the end of year, barely beating out Tulsa in an uncharacteristic shootout. That team also lost and won an odd combination of close games (being 0-2 in overtime games and getting tossed by OSU after the Brewer injury, compounded with the back-to-back frustrating as hell losses to ECU and Pitt, along with a beatdown by Miami). But that’s when Justin Fuente took over, bringing in Jerod Evans from Trinity Valley Community College and hanging onto Josh Jackson, a 3/4* recruit from Michigan that Scot Loeffler had started recruiting and now couldn’t finish due to the pending retirement. Motley put up a fight against Evans in the spring and lost out, while Jackson came on more in the fall. Evans would eventually win the job for the next year.

ATR-9 (2016)

Assumed Quarterback: Jerod Evans

Actual Quarterback: Jerod Evans

With a first year head coach and quarterback with a brand new offensive system, it was obviously an enjoyable shock for the Hokies to end up with a 10-win season and nab a decent Belk Bowl win over Arkansas. Evans took hold of the record books with one sparkling season, leading to a lot of optimism about the year after…but Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges declared for the draft. And then Evans did. Leaving Josh Jackson and the walk-ons as sole survivors but for that class’s incoming freshman quarterback, Hendon Hooker, and a Junior College transfer, AJ Bush.

ATR-10 (2017)

Assumed Quarterback: Jerod Evans -> Josh Jackson

Actual Quarterback: Josh Jackson

I’m not going to recount this, but suffice to say Jackson started as if he was going to set the world on fire…and after the midpoint of the season thanks to hitting the freshman wall and lack of experienced depth at the skill positions around him, along with his own issues with accuracy and injury, Jackson faded down the stretch…which now means that new incoming freshman Quincy Patterson of the class of 2018 has people excited for a quarterback competition again in the fall.

But this gets us to the present day, so I’m not going to recount all that for you. That’s for Part II. Just a couple impressions from what I can see in the trend of the Hokies and their quarterbacks and their quarterback recruiting.

1. The Hokies had a bunch of quarterbacks come in, but very few of them between Tyrod graduating and now stuck. Evans was a one-hit wonder, Lawson looked like the next big thing then his issues washed him out. Ford, Parker, Durkin, and Young all transferred out. Leal and Clayton were middling prospects that never were going to take over and weren’t planned to at all but for private grumblings, and Thomas is one of the oddest enigmas ever to grace behind center in Blacksburg. Brewer and Motley did what they could with what they had in terms of coaching and experienced talent around them, which admittedly meant a lot of struggling. Bottom line is that Tech hasn’t had a lot of luck developing consistent quarterbacking depth or options at the position for a number of reasons.

2. The position has been, for all that rotation, stable under two quarterbacks for a longer stretch of time than most would give it credit for. It’s only of late where we’ve had weird turnover with the middle spate of quarterbacking talent evaporating, which necessitated bringing in Brewer in the first place. His injury of course didn’t help things, but that’s no one’s fault. But it hasn’t helped without any semblance of balance, or any amount of coaching until recently.

3. Loeffler wasn’t that great, but honestly I think that if Brewer had stayed healthy in his senior year, things likely would have gone somewhat better. Brewer was the undisputed starter that spring and summer and that meant that Motley was coming in on the fly without any first team reps. For a former option quarterback in high school, and with me expecting he’d go sub 50% in his completion percentage and throw a heck of a lot more picks due to seeing him in spring games? He exceeded my excessively modest expectations. Shows what I know.

4. Side Note #1: Boy did the bad offensive line in that middle stretch of years stink for everyone behind center. That was combined with a swap-in and swap-out of several OL coaches (Newsome, Grimes, Searels, and Vice hotswapping in four consecutive years? Yeesh) recruiting for three to four different blocking schemes. At the coaching and actual on-field positions you want the most continuity, the Hokies have been lacking until now.

5. Side Note #2: The three years we had really experienced and talented skill position players (2010, 2011, and 2016) our offense peaked. That’s to be expected. But the issue is that’s still seven years where the skill players were either inexperienced, not up to a high talent level, or both. Tech really has to do a better job at recruiting, rotating, and staging its talent so you aren’t looking at a mass exodus ruining the offense in most years. This year was the first year I’d say we had a mass exodus and still had a decent-ish year on offense- and that was because Josh Jackson became very Cam Phillips-dependent for a majority of that offense (the one experienced guy).

But this again, is part one of a two-part series. Next time I’ll be looking at this coming up year and why everyone seems to be so hot and bothered to replace Josh Jackson with…who exactly?

(Recruiting classes taken from 247, and statistics via Sports Reference)