The actual announcement wasn't that much of a surprise. How it was announced though? Now that's surprising. And while that sounds like a Geico commercial, I promise I'm not writing to sell insurance. Let's discuss Thursday's Virginia Tech press conference.
A Break From Tradition
The news we all knew was coming did, this afternoon courtesy of Justin Fuente.
"Josh [Jackson], barring any unforeseen circumstances, he's the starter."
In the past, there has been a press conference dedicated to announcing the starting quarterback. That's why when Fuente divulged such desired information nonchalantly as a response to a question about Quincy Patterson's reps, the media room did a double take.
But let's be honest. Nobody is shocked. If somebody tries to tell you otherwise, they've been living under a rock. Fuente, for the first time as the Hokies' head coach, will have a returning starter in the quarterback room. Jackson was 1 of only 16 freshman quarterbacks in the country who played meaningful snaps last season. He threw for 2,991 yards at a 59.6% completion rate with 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Jackson also added 466 (4.57 per non-sack carry) yards and 6 TDs on the ground.
When thinking about previous quarterbacks coached by Fuente, Paxton Lynch immediately comes to mind. Looking at Lynch's stats year-by-year opens some eyes and might lend some insight into how Jackson might fare this season.
Freshman year: 2,056 yards, 9 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 58.2% completion rate
Sophomore year: 3,031 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs, 62.7%
Junior year: 3,778 yards, 28 TDs, 4 INTs, 66.7%
Joel wrote a great statistical breakdown that analyzed quarterback progressions within Fuente's system. Go check it out.
TL;DR: Jackson could be in for a special year if his performance follows the patterns.
That's why this announcement comes without theatrics or debate. Yes, Jackson's status was up in the air for a little bit this offseason. But as soon as he was fully cleared, it was right to assume he would be the starter on September 3rd
And as Brian recently wrote, Jackson might be able to take advantage of some lower expectations and more talent around him this season. I'm not giving you a TL;DR for this one, that's a piece you should read from beginning to end.
While the starter is established, that doesn't mean the quarterbacks are just done with camp.
"Figuring out the other order of things, has been interesting in a good way," said Fuente. "Ryan [Willis] has a little bit of experience and is continuing to take reps and Hendon [Hooker] is much improved from the spring. ... And Quincy is still deserving of some reps. We're pretty meticulous in about how we're planning all of those out, both getting Josh ready to play and continuing to kind of sort through those other three guys ... figuring all that stuff out is what we're sorting through right now."
That's a long quote, but I think it's important to include all of it to give some context into what's going on. With Jackson established as the starter, it sounds like the next step for the coaching staff is to figure out the main backup while also taking advantage of the new redshirt rule.
This season, Patterson, or anyone else eligible for a redshirt, may play up to 4 games without burning it. I anticipate Patterson taking advantage of his 4 game allotment, as a way of getting real game experience. We won't see a massive amount of the 6-4, 236 pound Chicago product this season. Willis could be a reliable backup, but it sounds like Hooker is developing nicely as well.
"I'm really pleased with him [Hooker], you can tell he put quite a bit of work in this summer," said Fuente. "He's reaping some of those benefits."
To be honest, I've been more interested in who our QB2 will be than who our QB1 was going to be. That still holds true. With Jackson now inked into the starting position, my attention moves to that QB2 competition.
Defensive Line Depth Details
Fresh off a scrimmage, Charley Wiles stepped through the nitty gritty of the defensive line.
Vinny Mihota, who bulked up to 297 pounds and slid inside from DE to DT, performed pleasingly in Tech's second scrimmage. Mihota suffered a left knee injury against Pitt last season.
"I was really, a little concerned going into the last scrimmage, but then he moved around good," Wiles explained. "We limited his work, and he was starting to get about 50% of the work. I'm talking like good-on-good, then we got up to 75%, and then he played 19 plays in the scrimmage and I was pleasantly surprised how well Vinny moved around.
"A lot of that has to be mental too. That you trust putting that foot in the ground and playing ball again. He's down a nice job with rehab. Now it's really getting into good football shape. He did all the running this summer, but he missed some of the team good-on-good stuff, but he's coming along."
Wiles also praised defensive end Houshun Gaines' all-around performance thus far this camp.
"He's having a dynamic camp," said Wiles. "He brings a lot of energy to our practices and really to the meeting room. House [Gaines] loves football, he really does. He's got a great football IQ. He watches film with a purpose. He's really good for the younger guys with the way his approach in our meetings. He asks a lot of really good questions, and we talk ball between each other, and it's good for the young guys. He's very much into it. I really like the way he's evolved. He's one of our leaders, no question."
But in a broader sense for the defensive line, Wiles was also encouraged.
"I was real pleased with how we played in that scrimmage the other day. Our young ends continue to improve," Wiles said. "That includes Eli Adams and of course Tyjuan [Garbutt]. [Nathan] Proctor got hurt a little bit, just an ankle, I mean he's going to be fine, but he didn't get to play the other day. So that allowed Eli to get a lot of reps, Tyjuan to get a lot of reps ... Jarrod Hewitt kind of took over the scrimmage a little bit, at times, did some really good things. Looked at Jarrod and saw that quickness that we had recruited."
Odds and Ends
Again Fuente mentioned TE James Mitchell's name when asked about freshman that are standing out during fall camp.
"The guy that continues to get better that we're still trying to figure out James Mitchell," said Fuente. "When you think about coming from Southwest Virginia playing quarterback, wide receiver, and free safety, and then go put your hand in the dirt and try to play tight end, his improvement on an almost daily basis has been noticeable."
Fuente also said that Dax Hollifield will play in "some capacity", but I feel that had been much more of a given going into this season.
Fuente quickly touched on the kicking competition, saying that both sophomore Brian Johnson and redshirt freshman Jordan Stout are more than capable. Fuente reflected on the possibility of having two kickers, one for short distance and one for long, but didn't seem all too keen about it.
Zohn Burden shared his thoughts for why the Hokies had success running the ball against Oklahoma State. Tech busted out and rushed for 248 yards. Against the trend, the running backs shouldered much of the load (Deshawn McClease 124 yards, Steven Peoples 56 yards, and Jalen Holston 12 yards).
"We were more downhill in the Oklahoma State game," said Burden. "In the pistol, and H-Back in front of us a lot. I think just Steven, his presence in that game, being able to hit it downhill and punch those guys in the mouth, and then Deshawn being able to bounce it outside and Jalen as well to break some tackles outside, is just kind of like a 1-2-3 punch, I think. And we want to continue to carry that over."
That may provide some insight into how Virginia Tech's allotment of carries plays out this fall.