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The Hokies QB Conundrum: Present Predicament

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Now the Hokies look down the barrel of a quarterback controversy that may or may not even exist? I investigate some of the feelings around Josh Jackson and the Hokies quarterback ‘competition’. Part two of two of my look at quarterbacks for this spring.

Courtesy John Schneider, Gobbler Country, SB Nation

Well, here I am in 2018 when the Hokies should- SHOULD- have a second year starter that’s set for the next couple years as the no-doubt bet to take every non-injury-related snap from behind center. A redshirt freshman with a pretty successful starting season where he had a lot of inexperienced skill position players and somehow managed to throw for twenty touchdowns and run for six touchdowns while limiting turnovers to only nine picks (no fumbles). He completed close to 60% (59.6%) of his passes and still has plenty of room to grow.

…But, I’m not going to mince words: The fanbase reaction to Josh Jackson has been…mixed. And the coaches haven’t backed off a competition at the position.

But while this ESPN article corroborates the idea that Jackson is in a competition, the conversation obviously isn’t closed. He’s not listed in this Rivals article about ACC position battles. Our sister site, State of the U, doesn’t seem to think that Jackson’s job is up for grabs, either. Bleacher Report has him as basically an honorable mention for best quarterback in the conference. College Football News doesn’t seem to even think there’s a competition. The ACC digital network seems to think he’s a player of the year candidate. Not to mention these tweets:

(Note, Jackson is a redshirt freshman, but it’s basically the same but for some system experience)

In fact at the end of this semi-but-not-really scientific open poll, most respondents had a middling (and I’d say, even-handed) response to Jackson.

By the way, change very few of those words and totals around- twenty to nineteen, nine to ten, six to eleven, 59.6% to 59.8%, and freshman to sophomore? You have Josh Jackson on one end…and Logan Thomas on the other. I don’t think that Thomas had nearly as many people dumping on him after his redshirt sophomore season.

So what’s the issue? Why is the vitriol there in the first place? Why are so many Virginia Tech fans ready to simply jump ship on Jackson? Well, I can think of a couple of reasonable explanations and a couple of unreasonable ones.

Unreasonable Explanation 1

Virginia Tech Fans have been spoiled with success with mobile quarterbacks. In the past 30 or so years of Hokies football, the most celebrated and statistically impressive quarterbacks were Michael Vick, Tyrod Taylor, and Logan Thomas. There are points to be had for Jerod Evans’ one shining year, and to some extent Bryan Randall, but the big three were all excessively mobile quarterbacks that could either break tackles or break ankles or both. Jackson’s rushing capability is more closely statistically comparable to Michael Brewer and second season Bryan Randall’s profile. That puts psychological pressure on the fanbase to demand mobility out of their quarterbacks to an extent. And while correlation does not imply causation, the most successful seasons we’ve had in the past years have been with said mobile quarterbacks. But it’s unfair to expect that same kind of success and method for it from a person with a different set of skills.

Unreasonable Explanation 2

As somewhat referenced with my previous article, rarely in the past dozen or so years has Virginia Tech’s quarterback situation been clearly settled. We, as a fanbase, haven’t had a consistent multiyear ‘successful’ starter since Tyrod Taylor. Logan Thomas of course was a long term starter, but even then his performance left something to be desired in terms of team success and stylistic credibility. I DO remember that there was some fan thought that the team should try Mark Leal out, even though when he got the chance he didn’t exactly wow any of us.

Unreasonable Explanation 3

On top of this, people automatically assume Fuente’s quarterbacks succeed because he’s Justin Fuente and that’s what he’s known for. Jackson statistically profiles better than Andy Dalton until Dalton’s junior year (he was a four year starter), and Paxton Lynch until Lynch’s junior year (three year starter, though Lynch’s junior year is pretty statistically comparable). By the by, Lynch was about as good if not worse a runner than Jackson was (Dalton ran more than both Jackson and Lynch and was somewhat more successful at it after his freshman year). Not all years are the same, even with the statistical similaries, however. Jackson did the work he had with more talent than Lynch and MAYBE Dalton, but he was still working with- outside Cam Phillips and maybe Travon Macmillian- a lot of inexperienced skill position players when he himself didn’t have a single live snap at the collegiate level. And this year, if you put in Hooker or Patterson, it’s not going to be much different than Jackson was this past year. More on that a bit later.

Reasonable Explanation 1

Jackson spent a year with weird numbers that fluctuated not only over the course of the season, but over the course of the game. A full quarter of his touchdown passes came against East Carolina, which was the absolute worst scoring defense in FBS. 130 of 130. 45 points per game surrendered. Yikes. Jackson also fell apart after the Boston College game in terms of completion percentage, falling from a 65.6% in the front half of the season to 53.9%. His touchdowns over the first half of the season totaled 13, and over the final 7? Only 7. And while he rushed for more of his touchdowns over the back end of the season, he wasn’t exactly overly successful with it. The lack of success in the heavier ACC slate really grated on the fanbase- as the games got more and more important, Jackson got worse.

Semi-Reasonable Explanation 2

Jackson was dealing with a bevy of vague injuries over the back end of the year. I don’t think he was ever officially listed as injured with anything in particular due to the tight-lipped nature of Fuente’s media output. But without official confirmation, no one knows what exactly Jackson played through. All we have is supposition and what we observed with how beat up he was (shoulder, elbow, ankle). Part of this was due to the inconsistent nature of his supporting staff and his offensive line (Nijman getting hurt was awful for the team). But of course, if you’re going to leave him in there, people are going to expect him to perform. Personally I think that it more has to do with the coaching staff’s lack of faith in AJ Bush to run the offense over a long term. And, of course, Fuente IS a coach that will play his quarterback all season n matter what the performance is. I get it. You can’t develop a quarterback without them playing. But if they’re going to play hurt and poorly, why play them?

Semi-Reasonable, Semi-Unreasonable Explanation 3

For once? Tech actually has talent waiting in the wings at quarterback. Two four-star recruits (one of those many fans seem to have completely forgotten about, somehow) are actually going to be on campus behind Jackson. …Granted, many people forget Jackson was rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN and 185th in the country and the 8th best dual threat quarterback, but that’s beside the point. Redshirt Freshman Hendon Hooker (only a four-star by 247 ratings) and incoming freshman Quincy Patterson (four-star across the board) are going to be right there in the summer/fall to push Jackson, with Hooker obviously already there doing so. And many people are excited for Patterson- with articles/videos like this, this, this, this, this, and oh, this – it’s super hard not to root for the guy. But I think that now finally having a stable of talent behind an already decent quarterback that had even anywhere close to a mediocre season has people itching to just turn the ball over to who they think is a better prospect. Hooker lit up the spring game against backups; that doesn’t mean his skill will translate in a full, live time exercise versus a real defense. Patterson doesn’t arrive until the summer and will be transitioning from an 80% running offense to throwing somewhere, ideally, around 50% of the time; but he has a theoretical mountain of upside as an athlete, a quarterback, and obviously a student. People seem to think that handing off the job to ANYONE ELSE would be a great idea. But there’s no guarantees in any way that either Hooker or Patterson will be able to wrest the job from Jackson, or would do any better than he did on the field.

My personal opinion? Jackson had ups and downs on the season. He had games where he looked brilliant, and others where he looked poor. As his body and his starting cast started to fall apart around him, and he was dealing with defenses and teams with a higher talent level, his play started to decline. Yes, some of those statistics are empty calories and not everything is comparable or equal, regardless of how I choose to slice it. Right now, to quote Fuente, if we had to play today, Jackson is the starter. I don’t necessarily see a reason why that would change in the future. Someone would have to win the job rather than Jackson lose it. Some of the criticism is justified. Some of it isn’t. Right now his job is in a hard pencil, not a pen. But as an architecture student, I can tell you that some pencils can be just as good as pens for the impressions they make. I just caution all of you: ultimately, Coach Fuente is going to do what he thinks is going to win him the most games. Whether that’s Jackson, Hooker, Patterson, or even Willis? That will have to wait until the first game of the season on Labor Day in Tallahassee to know for sure.