Unique Challenge For Gibson, Mountaineer Defense Against Tech

QB Run Game A Key For Hokies’ Offense

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A new quarterback, first game jitters, an offense replacing seven starters.

What’s the game plan? Run the ball, run the quarterback. That expects to be the take from Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente, who has embraced dual-threat signal callers in previous stops at TCU and Memphis. In this case, he’s dealing with redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, who has never taken a live game snap at the collegiate level.

The easiest way to shake early anxiety? Get Jackson a keeper early, get him hit and into the game. Quarterbacks – and this was true of West Virginia’s Skyler Howard last season – typically settle after that, and the ebb and flow of play begins to overtake the emotions. But running Jackson serves another purpose, one Fuente and Hokies’ offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen will utilize throughout the game behind an interior line starting two seniors and a junior, all of whom average 6-foot-3, 308 pounds.

It lessens WVU’s ability to freely blitz and pressure the pocket. The risk of Jackson slipping past the initial surge, or finding a crease in an unmanned gap assignment is significant, and that’s magnified by his speed and athleticism. With pure pocket passers, far lesser risk exists. Slip the blitz, get to the second level and the gain is five yards. With Jackson, it’s a boatload of yards or time to hit pay dirt for a score.

West Virginia defensive back Derrek Pitts loses the ball during a security drill

“The thing that scares you about these guys with quarterback run is trying to pressure and they find a seam,” WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “So we will see how they want to attack us and we”ll know by the end of the first quarter what we are going to do and kinda what their plan is.”

Tech could also use back-up quarterback A.J. Bush, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior. Bush played in 10 games a season ago at Iowa Western at the junior college level and threw for 602 yards and three scores. The Alpharetta, Ga. native originally signed with Nebraska, then transferred after his initial season. He amassed 265 yards on the ground at Iowa Western, along with five touchdowns.

“They’re going to play two or three quarterbacks, I anticipate that,” Gibson said. “Are they going to try to make a living running Jackson? I don’t know. We’ll be prepared for it. Are they going to run Bush? We’ll be prepared for it. I think that’s a big part of their offense even going back and studying them at Memphis with (Paxton) Lynch. He was a guy that would run at times.

“We’re going to have to be prepared for that. That’s going to be something a little different for us. Not a lot of people in the Big 12 are running quarterbacks. We have a lot of work to do and we’ve been cheating here the last couple of weeks of doing walk-throughs and just getting ready for some quarterback run stuff.”

The other issue is guarding against players being overly emotional. The rivalry might not resonate as a huge deal for them, as the two teams have zero history with any players on the current roster. But the opener always brings added energy, and the fact that both teams are ranked in the Top 25 and it’s a night kick on national television (7:30 p.m. ABC) adds juice to the neutral site affair.

“They”ll be excited,” Gibson said of his defense. “The biggest thing we have to do as a staff is make sure we are controlling their emotions early and not get outside the defensive scheme of what we want to do and how we want to do it. Make sure they are playing within the system and not let the emotions of this big game get to them. With so many new guys that’s going to be a tough.”