Well, look what other college team in our midst has a little quarterback question brewing. Not yet a full-blown controversy, but it certainly has the makings of a very spirited discussion.
Oh, joy. Fire up the engines of social media and let the fun begin.
With starter-in-residence TaQuon Marshall held out with the dreaded “upper body injury,” Georgia Tech turned Thursday night to redshirt freshman Tobias Oliver. Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech defense is still trying to put two hands on him.
Oops, there Oliver goes again, blasting through a crack in the line like water through a firehose.
What Oliver had shown in brief flashes this season – he did average seven yards for each of his 64 carries in backup duty – he extended over nearly the full length of a resounding 49-28 victory over Va. Tech this night. He rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns, ran the show like a veteran ringmaster and provided just the tonic for a team that can’t beat Duke but now can’t lose to Virginia Tech (that’s three wins in a row over the Hokies, and four in the last five meetings). Go figure.
So, did the kid earn a little more time on the field, even after Marshall’s upper body catches back up with his lower?
Shockingly, Paul Johnson did not lay all his cards on the table in response to that question. And I asked so nicely.
“I have no idea,” the Yellow Jackets coach said. “We’ll see if TaQuon gets healthy; we’ll watch him practice. TaQuon was a starter for a reason. He had one practice last week. My way of doing things, it’s not fair to the guy practicing all the time not to let him play.”
And Oliver showed as much poise handling the ticklish question of where he might fit in these next few weeks as he did running a quite rudimentary Tech attack that was blunt-instrument effective.
“TaQuon will have two weeks off; I wouldn’t be surprised if he went back to starter. He’s earned it. He’s a senior,” Oliver said. “But then again, I want TaQuon to know that at the end of the day, he doesn’t need to kill himself. If he needs to come out for a couple drives, I got him.”
Oliver comes from Northside High in Warner Robins, where his biggest rival happened to be a program named Houston County and a fellow quarterback named Jake Fromm. For the record, over the three years that Oliver started, he was 1-2 against Fromm and the fightin’ Bears. Might they meet again some coming Thanksgiving weekend, and give Oliver a chance to even the score?
Fromm, of course, is involved in his own little QB kerfuffle with Justin Fields across the way at UGA. Again, that’s not so much a controversy as it is a constant rumble in the background from those fans who always will side with their own imaginations of what the freshman can be. And let the Bulldogs lose a game – which they recently did – and the discussion only gains wings.
And before we get carried away with Oliver’s showing Thursday, we should remember that we basically saw the same game nearly three weeks ago – on the road, on a weekday night – at Louisville. And it was Marshall leading that bludgeoning.
“This year it has been good Georgia Tech/bad Georgia Tech. (The Hokies) got good Georgia Tech,” Johnson said. Such a trend as yet has no one face.
Any infant Marshall/Oliver debate figures to follow a much different course than that centering on Fromm/Fields. In Georgia’s case, partisans of one or the other can get behind obviously different skill sets. With his legs, Fields brings something that Fromm doesn’t. With Fromm’s arm and experience, a lot of trust flows his way.
In the case of Tech’s two quarterbacks, they are going to run the same stuff (only Marshall may run a few more riffs off that common base line). Oliver is the more imposing runner, at 6-foot-2, 182 pounds, he does the reckless abandon thing a little more convincingly than the 5-10 Marshall. But both are capable of carrying great loads.
It’s not like with Oliver, Tech is going to introduce a new aerial array. He attempted but a single pass Thursday, and it was spectacularly ugly in its incompletion.
What Oliver did was step up and be brilliant when his defense left him no choice to be otherwise. Virginia Tech went for touchdowns on its first three drives of the game – the first two in shocking suddenness (going 73 yards in 1:34 and 70 yards in 58 seconds).
Each time Oliver answered. He never buckled under the weight of his slow-to-rouse defense (it eventually did).
“I got a lot of confidence in Tobias,” Johnson said. “We can play that way with Tobias. He’s quick, fast and hard-nosed. He can run all those follow plays and all those keeps, and he played his tail off.”
The answer he provided was a simple one. With Oliver running the offense, the Tech playbook shrinks even more. There wasn’t a whole lot of triple to Johnson’s triple option. It was Oliver running left, running right, with the occasional pitch and inside hand-off for variety.
He ended up with 40 carries, more than he can ever remember toting a football. “If they don’t stop it, I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Oliver said.
“Tomorrow morning, I’ll feel it.”
Wondered his fellow redshirt freshman Jordan Mason, a B-back, “I don’t know what kicked into him. I don’t know if he had some weenies before, or something. I don’t know what he had, but my boy was showing out tonight.”
Allow me to interpret for those over 50: Oliver was really good.
Now comes the fun part, trying to divine how many more times Oliver likely will carry a football this season for the Jackets.
This team is 4-4, just 2-3 in conference. This is just the kind of little issue needed to pique interest while Tech is deciding if it’s going to be a bowl team. Hey, a low simmer is better than no heat at all.