Since Tyrod Taylor‘s departure in 2010, Virginia Tech has struggled to find dynamic quarterback play. Whether it be Michael Brewer, Brenden Motley or Mark Leal, the Hokies’ quarterbacks in Frank Beamer’s final few seasons fell far short of the standard Taylor set in his curtain call.
Justin Fuente was hired to fix that and to an extent, he did. The level of quarterback play in Blacksburg has come a long way from the dog days of 2014 and 2015, but the narrative surrounding Fuente as a “quarterback whisperer” holds less and less merit the longer he coaches.
That narrative took another hit on Monday, as former Elite 11 and four-star prospect Quincy Patterson entered the transfer portal.
We bought the narrative in 2016, when Jerod Evans set passing records and nearly moved mountains by himself. Evans was skilled, powerful and determined, and the Hokies created an offense centered around his abilities. That offense, paired with a senior-laden defense, nearly won an ACC Championship.
Josh Jackson put up respectable numbers in 2017, numbers far greater than some of his predecessors. He was just a redshirt freshman too, a quarterback destined to grow into a polished passer and runner.
Of course, we know that didn’t work out. Jackson stumbled down the stretch in 2017 and in 2018, Jackson broke his leg. He transferred to Maryland after the season.
Jackson’s problems are just an example of Fuente’s quarterbacks not fulfilling their potential or developing the skill set they arrived with.
Jerod Evans: Evans set multiple passing records in his one season at Virginia Tech, but Evans wasn’t developed in his short time in Blacksburg. The Hokies’ offense worked only if Evans’ legs made it work, and if the Hokies could run play-action off of those looks. Evans finished with a passer rating of 153.1, far outpacing many of those who came before him.
Josh Jackson: After a respectable 2017 campaign and a solid start to 2018, Jackson’s broken leg ended his career at Virginia Tech. It’s hard to gauge whether or not Jackson had seriously improved after his freshman season.
Ryan Willis: The former Kansas transfer was a more than capable backup — Willis threw 24 touchdowns in just 12 games in 2018. However, Willis’ penchant for turnovers cost him and he later lost his job in 2019 because of it. Willis was the same quarterback he was when he arrived in Blacksburg — above average arm talent and below average football IQ.
Hendon Hooker: Hooker’s insertion into the lineup saved the 2019 season. Virginia Tech has employed a similar offense to the one Evans utilized in 2016 — heavy on the quarterback runs and light on the traditional passes. Hooker is a highly efficient passer when asked to do very little, but his weaknesses show when he slings it around the yard. The Hokies have asked Hooker to do more in 2020, and as a result he’s thrown more interceptions in fewer games and seen a decrease in his yards per attempt.
Braxton Burmiester: The Oregon transfer was given the reins of the offense for far too long in 2020. Burmiester completed 45 percent of his throws in his three starts, throwing one touchdown and one interception. The hype did not translate into on-field production, even after a redshirt year of learning the offense.
Quincy Patterson: If Fuente ever wanted clay to mold into his ideal quarterback, Patterson was it. The tall, strong, intelligent and charismatic four-star prospect came into Blacksburg with as much as hype as anyone. Patterson flashed brief moments of stardom, but never developed under this coaching staff. Patterson was never handed keys to the real offense, instead being given training wheels in the form of consistent running and fade routes.
Fuente’s quarterbacks simply haven’t reached their ceilings, or even come close. Evans arrived as a star and Jackson played the game manager role his entire time as the starter. Willis regressed before being tossed aside. Burmiester looked like the same quarterback Oregon benched for Justin Herbert. Patterson was used more as a running back than a quarterback.
Of all these quarterbacks, Hooker is the only one to have shown real signs of growth, and even he has never started a season as “QB1”. Fuente waited until Week Five in 2019 and Week Four in 2020 to finally start him.
Fuente and Brad Cornelsen‘s inability to evaluate and develop their hand-picked quarterbacks is impossible to ignore. They’ve pulled in multiple quarterbacks with serious tools, only to end up using them in limited capacities. None of Fuente’s quarterbacks have developed into polished passers.
That’s not to say Fuente hasn’t elevated the level of quarterback play at Virginia Tech. His quarterbacks have consistently outperformed those that came before him and after Taylor. Here’s each season’s starting quarterbacks passer rating, starting in 2011, with the top three ratings in bold…
- 2011 – Logan Thomas: 135.5
- 2012 – Logan Thomas: 115.9
- 2013 – Logan Thomas: 123.1
- 2014 – Michael Brewer: 117.4
- 2015 – Michael Brewer: 137.9
- 2016 – Jerod Evans: 153.1
- 2017 – Josh Jackson: 135.2
- 2018 – Ryan Willis: 138
- 2019 – Hendon Hooker: 165.8
- 2020 – Hendon Hooker: 153.4
Putting Fuente’s quarterbacks’ performances in context is important. It’s undeniable that his signal callers have been better than many of those who came before him. Virginia Tech has seen a revival in the passing game under Fuente and Cornelsen’s leadership.
But one of the cornerstones of Fuente’s resume has been his supposed quarterback development, and too many of his own quarterbacks have failed to grow and develop. For a coach who’s firmly on the hot seat, Fuente needs to show a plan for progress if he’s to justify retaining his job as head coach.