Josh Jackson's Departure From Virginia Tech Best For All Involved

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomas1996 | Jan 24, 2019
It's been a crazy few days around the Virginia Tech football program with four players announcing their transfers, all of whom were significant contributors on offense. That included former starting QB Josh Jackson who was expected to be in a QB competition with Ryan Willis, Quincy Patterson, and Hendon Hooker this offseason. While there's plenty to talk about regarding the whole ordeal of these four transfers, we're going to focus on Josh Jackson and his transfer decision. Our focus on Jackson comes after Mike Niziolek of the Roanoke Times had this interesting note from a source on why Jackson was choosing to transfer rather than compete for the starting QB job: "'He won the job as a [redshirt] freshman, he won the job as a sophomore, he breaks his leg and now has to do it all over again?' the source said, of Jackson’s thinking. 'He gave them three years.'” This isn't a crazy thought for a quarterback to think that he shouldn't be in a QB battle in pursuit of opening his third-straight season as the starter at one school. Also, everybody knows that an injury isn't something that a player does as a failure to play the position, it just happens sometimes. Here's the thing, things are once again different from the previous time Jackson won the starting QB job despite being an incumbent. When he was competing the for the job last year, Jackson was the only QB with starting experience at Virginia Tech. That mattered and throughout that spring, Justin Fuente mentioned how he was willing to give the QBs challenging for the job more reps because Jackson had already set a baseline for performance within what Justin Fuente was looking for. This time, the Hokies were set to enter the spring with two guys with double-digits starts as a Hokie in Jackson and Ryan Willis along with two other QBs who have received a few limited reps in Quincy Patterson and Hendon Hooker. If Jackson would have stayed, you can expect that Justin Fuente would have had a balanced QB battle with both of them having to push their baseline higher rather than Jackson being the established guy. Part of that comes back to the performance of Ryan Willis with numbers that weren't much different from Jackson's full season as a starter.
  • 2017 Josh Jackson: 2,991 passing yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs, 59.6% completion rate, 7.6 yds per completion, 135.2 passer rating
  • 2018 Ryan Willis: 2,716 passing yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs, 58.5% completion rate, 7.5 yards per completion, 138.0 passer rating
When you look at those numbers, do you really see a difference? Outside of a higher interception per game rate, you can make a statistical argument that Willis has surpassed the Jackson baseline and pushed it higher with numbers that project out better over 13 games. Of course, there are other factors to evaluate that benefit both Jackson and Willis. Willis gives the Hokies a better vertical passing threat while Jackson is the more accurate QB. Jackson also put up his numbers in a redshirt freshman season while Willis was in his fourth year of college. Yes, those factors do exist but even with those, it seems clear that WIllis has not only matched the baseline that Jackson set in 2017, but may have pushed it a little higher. In general, a QB competition was inevitable and would be par for the course with what Justin Fuente has done in the past. In his first three seasons as head coach, Fuente has waited till the fall to name a starting QB even when it's seemed obvious that it should be Jerod Evans (in year 1) or Jackson last season based on the facts we knew or past history. Even when the starting QB choice was inevitable, Justin Fuente would still have a competition at the QB spot. Part of that for now just seems to be his style. Of course, that could change as we get a larger sample size but if Jackson had to compete for the job last year despite being the only proven starter, then why wouldn't he have to compete for the job this season when Ryan Willis has proven to be a more than capable starting QB. So why does the timing of this move make sense? Look once again at the quote from the source in the Roanoke Times.
“He won the job as a [redshirt] freshman, he won the job as a sophomore, he breaks his leg and now has to do it all over again?” the source said, of Jackson’s thinking. “He gave them three years.”
So if Fuente was 100% set on a wide open competition, with Ryan Willis as the likely frontrunner even if it's as a slight one, and Jackson wanted assurances that he would be guaranteed to have the job, then does that sound like a coach and QB that are on the same page? Additionally, Josh Jackson was one of two returning captains from last year's team. Think about having a team-elected captain not on the same page with the head coach as the most important position on a football team? Even for a guy like Jackson, who is a high-quality young man, how does not create a locker room that could also be a little off with your head coach and the one QB that was also a captain last season on different pages. Given the importance of this offseason, Virginia Tech can't afford to have that while Josh Jackson may not be as productive in an environment where he's not 100% on the same page as his head coach. Look at the Green Bay Packers, they had one of the league's most talented QBs in Aaron Rodgers yet finished with a losing record. One possible reason for this, the relationship between Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy wasn't right and it sank them. Josh Jackson is a talented young man while Virginia Tech seemed to be trending towards Ryan Willis as the slight frontrunner for the 2019 job. A transfer already seemed possibly in a spring where Jackson's time as a starting QB seemed to be in danger with Willis' rise and Quincy Patterson being seen as the future, it started to make sense for a potential parting. Given the fact that Jackson and Justin Fuente aren't on the same page philosophically, it makes it clear that now is the time for Josh Jackson to make his decision to be a grad transfer and leave Virginia Tech. For both sides, this is the best move giving Virginia Tech a more focused locker room and allowing Jackson to find a program where he is on the same page with the head coach. Jackson leaving early didn't make sense when the news broke, but it's becoming clear that this is the best move for Virginia Tech and Jackson.

Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

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