Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson instructs Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall (16) in the second half Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Paul Johnson explains approach with TaQuon Marshall, Tobias Oliver

The play of Georgia Tech quarterback Tobias Oliver against Virginia Tech has earned him playing time going forward. But coach Paul Johnson laid out Tuesday why he isn’t rushing to change the depth chart for the Yellow Jackets’ matchup Saturday at North Carolina.

“Tobias played a really good game against Virginia Tech,” Johnson said at his weekly news conference. “Some people have short memories. TaQuon played a really good game against Louisville. TaQuon was pretty good against Bowling Green. He’s been pretty good in a lot of games.”

On social media and on message boards, fans have called for Oliver to take over the starting job, pointing to his play against the Hokies but also in other games such as South Florida (18 carries, 97 yards, three touchdowns) and Louisville (eight carries, 103 yards, two touchdowns). He has led the Jackets to 15 touchdowns in 23 full possessions (not including drives that ended halves).

Against Virginia Tech, Oliver ran 40 times for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the Jackets’ 49-28 upset victory. By Tech’s record book, only six Jackets players have run for more yards in a game.

“I base it off what we see in practice every day, I base it off of experience,” Johnson said. “Are they both very capable? Absolutely. I like both these guys. I wish we had the same kind of depth at every position that we have there.”

Marshall had started 18 consecutive games dating back to the start of the 2017 season, but left the Duke game with an upper-body injury, which limited his practice time leading up to the Virginia Tech game. As a result, Johnson gave the start to Oliver, the first start of the redshirt freshman’s career.

Marshall’s play this season has been effective at times and less so at others, not unlike the team as a whole. Early in the season, Johnson said he thought that Marshall was trying to do too much. After the loss to Clemson, Johnson became more involved in coaching the quarterbacks to improve play at the position. After that, Marshall was highly productive against Bowling Green and Louisville before the entire offense misfired against Duke.

From the Louisville game: TaQuon Marshall’s directive: Just play

From Steve Hummer after the Virginia Tech game: Yes, Georgia Tech has a two-quarterback thing going now, too

Johnson made clear that Oliver will play, as he has in seven of Tech’s eight games, although the first six were in situations when the game’s outcome had been determined or Marshall had to come out of the game.

“But I’m not going to take a senior captain on the team who’s a starter and set him down because Tobias played really great against Virginia Tech,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said that, while both have strengths, Oliver is “still a redshirt freshman” and doesn’t have Marshall’s experience in identifying defenses and making checks. He added that Oliver has improved markedly since the start of the preseason, when he was the No. 3 quarterback behind Marshall and Lucas Johnson, who suffered a season-ending foot injury during the preseason. Johnson praised Oliver’s elusiveness as a runner and his quickness in turning downfield.

“He’s got a lot of things going for him, too,” Johnson said. “Like I said, it’s not denigrating one over the other. They both can do some things that are positive. If you asked us before the season started, ‘Who’s your three or four best players on the team?’ I don’t think anybody would have left TaQuon out, right? And Tobias has pushed himself up to the point where he’s played really good. So it’s a good problem to have. You’ve got two good players.”

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