Succession seems smooth for Tech offense

Photo by Casey Gomez

For the first time in three years, a new season of Tech football ushers in a new quarterback: TaQuon Marshall. While Marshall has only started in two games so far, many fans are already wondering what to expect out of him. Will he lead the Jackets to a bowl game? Can he be as good or even better than Justin Thomas? While these questions are hard to answer definitively this early in the season and in Marshall’s starting career, his early returns merit taking a look at how Marshall matches with Justin Thomas’s physicals and game performance thus far.

Physically, Justin Thomas and TaQuon Marshall are similar. Both quarterbacks are a similar height (5’11’’ and 5’10”, respectively) and weigh in at 185 pounds. They both are built like running backs, which allows them to excel in run-heavy offense. They come from slightly different positional backgrounds; Justin Thomas turned down an offer to play defensive back for Nick Saban at Alabama, while Marshall played A-back in a pinch in 2015.

Under Coach Paul Johnson, Tech has traditionally relied on the triple option, a system wherein the quarterback makes a split-second decision after the ball is snapped to hand the ball off to a running back, keep it and run themselves, or pitch it to a nearby receiver. Because this scheme requires a quarterback who is fast and durable when they do keep the ball and run themselves, it makes sense that Tech’s last two quarterbacks are physically fit for the job. As Justin Thomas thrived in this style of offensive play, TaQuon Marshall’s physical similarity to Thomas is promising in his potential to succeed as the cornerstone of this triple option offense.

Although TaQuon Marshall fits the bill physically to follow in Thomas’s footsteps, physical build is just one of many factors necessary in leading a Jackets team to victory given its Division 1 standing. What is much more important to look at are the intangibles such as dexterity, decision-making on the field and, of course, accuracy when Tech needs to throw the ball — typically in third and long situations. The list goes on and on for skills a quarterback needs to possess, but the best way to judge a long-term outlook for Marshall is game performance, and more specifically how Marshall’s first couple game performances compare to Thomas’s first couple game performances and season overall.

Justin Thomas was the starting quarterback for Tech beginning in his sophomore year. That season, he came out strong, leading Tech to a 2-0 start to their season in contests versus Wofford and Tulane. In those two games, he passed for a total of 297 yards with an interception and rushed for a total of 141 yards. On the other hand, Marshall is the starting quarterback now as a junior. He led the Jackets to a 1-1 start to their season, albeit against tougher teams than Thomas opened against in his debut season. In these two games, Marshall has thrown for 232 yards with zero interceptions and rushed for 274 yards. Statistically, Marshall matches up quite well with Thomas on the passing front with less yards but also less interceptions and surpasses Thomas on the rushing front.

While a quarterback is normally judged for his passing ability, the rushing stats are actually more telling of Marshall’s success given that he plays in a run-heavy offense rather than a traditional pass-heavy one. It is important to note that simply using statistics from two games is not enough data to draw an accurate conclusion for how the rest of this season may play out or how Marshall will end up comparing to Justin Thomas, but it is promising that Marshall has performed very well, statistically speaking. In fact, it could be argued that his games have come against more rigorous competition.

Unlike quarterback Matthew Jordan, who acquitted himself admirably in a start at Virginia Tech last season but starts the season as the primary backup, Marshall looks remarkably comfortable throwing the ball downfield. Though Head Coach Paul Johnson quickly quelled any notion of the Tech offense involving more throws on a weekly basis with a terse “no” following the Jacksonville State game, the Jackets certainly have a credible aerial threat.

Justin Thomas ended up finishing his first starting season leading Tech to a very successful 11-3 campaign. He improved on his first two games’ performances as the season continued and he accumulated more experience under his belt. Given the great athlete TaQuon Marshall is, there is reason to be hopeful.