Ever since Tyrod Taylor collected 2010 ACC Player of the Year honors and wrapped up his college career, quarterback success has been hard to come by at Virginia Tech.
The once-promising Logan Thomas experiment mostly trended downward after a respectable 2011 campaign. Then, Michael Brewer showed flashes after taking the reins under center in 2014, but he never evolved into anything more than a middle-of-the-pack ACC signal-caller. Brenden Motley saw opportunities of his own last fall when injuries sidelined Brewer, but the Hokies went 3-3 in the games he started.
There’s a new coach in Blacksburg this season, and with him comes a new quarterback. Justin Fuente named junior college transfer Jerod Evans as the starter late last week, and Virginia Tech will find out soon whether or not better days are to come at the most important position the field.
When sophomore Dwayne Lawson transferred earlier this month, the writing was on the wall that Evans was in line for the No. 1 spot. The coaching staff was high on Evans from the beginning, as one of the first things Fuente did after taking the job was convince the Trinity Valley Community College product to commit to the Hokies.
It was at Trinity Valley where Evans made a name for himself. He completed 62.4 percent of his passes last year for 3,164 yards and 38 touchdowns to only three interceptions. On the ground, he added 414 yards and four scores on 5.4 yards per rush.
That play earned the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder the No. 1 JUCO ranking for a dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports composite index. From the day he committed, he was the prize recruit in the Hokies’ 2016 class.
Junior college and Division I football are different animals, though, and Evans still needs to prove he can make a successful transition to the ACC. He’ll be getting help from a coach who’s no stranger to grooming top-notch quarterbacks.
Fuente is the man responsible for developing Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals (while at TCU as an offensive coordinator) and Paxton Lynch of the Denver Broncos (while at Memphis as a head coach). He’ll have two years to work with Evans, and it shouldn’t take long for the results to show.
In 2015, Memphis attempted 72 more passes than Virginia Tech. The Tigers’ quarterbacks also completed 66.7 percent of their throws, compared to the Hokies connecting on 56.6 percent.
Not only were Memphis’ passing numbers better across the board a year ago, but Lynch showed considerable improvement in each of his three years. His completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns increased each season, while his interceptions decreased every year.
Unlike Lynch, Evans won’t be stepping into the starting role as an inexperienced freshman. While he may not immediately replicate the jaw-dropping numbers he posted at Trinity Valley, his play at the JUCO level indicated that the potential is there for him to shine at a Power 5 program. Fuente won’t be starting from scratch when working with his new toy.
Another plus for Virginia Tech’s passing game is that the team returns a pair of proven targets. Despite poor quarterback play, receiver Isaiah Ford thrived in 2015 on his way to becoming the school’s first 1,000-yard pass-catcher. In addition, tight end Bucky Hodges possesses NFL size and tools, while junior Cam Phillips is a reliable No. 2 wideout.
The Hokies’ passing attack will be tested early this autumn. Three of the team’s first five opponents — Tennessee (t-No. 21), Boston College (t-No. 19) and North Carolina (t-No. 15) — ranked in the nation’s top 25 in yards allowed per pass attempt last season, which presents a challenge for Evans and Co.
That being said, the ingredients are there for Virginia Tech to take a step forward in an area where it has been mediocre-at-best for most of the last half decade. If the Fuente-Evans combination proves to be a perfect match, the fans in Lane Stadium will be cheering for a lot more than their lunch pail defense in 2016.