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2015 Virginia Football Previews: The Quarterbacks

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The Hoos are down to 1 QB this year, after the departure of Greyson Lambert. Matt Johns is the only QB on the roster with any playing experience, and he'll be the unquestioned starter all season long, barring injury. But whether or not Johns will be successful is largely up to Steve Fairchild, Mike London and the rest of the coaching staff.

Matt Johns is the unquestioned starter for the Hoos this year.
Matt Johns is the unquestioned starter for the Hoos this year.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There's a pretty good chance that anybody reading this already knows what Virginia's QB situation has been like for the past decade or so. The last time the Hoos had a QB they could really count on was Marques Hagans in 2005. Also, Hagans also played WR for the Hoos, and was briefly a WR in the NFL. He's also currently the WR coach for the Hoos. The last time the Hoos had a QB they could count on who was actually, you know, a QB, was Matt Schaub.

Hagans was also the last QB for the Hoos to finish in the upper half of the nation in passing efficiency. In 2002, Schaub finished in the top 10. Even more impressively, from 1987-1992, Virginia's QB finished in the top 20 each year. To say that it has been a dry spell at QB for the Hoos would be quite the understatement. Below is a helpful chart to show you just how bad the Hoos have been at passing the ball in the Mike London Era.

Year

QB(s)

Yardage (Rank)

QB Rating (Rank)

2010

Marc Verica

3186 (25)

126.7 (77)

2011

Michael Rocco

3090 (55)

121.6 (90)

2012

Rocco/Philip Sims

3216 (37)

124.9 (82)

2013

David Watford

2542 (81)

96.1 (119)

2014

Geryson Lambert/Matt Johns

2837 (57)

118.9 (87)

(Note: Both yardage and QB Rating are total for the team, and the Ranks are team rankings nationally. Stats courtesy ncaa.org and sports-reference.com.)

With the exception of 2013, when the Hoos were led by David Watford, who was just terrible, the Hoos have been in the top half of the NCAA in passing offense each year under London. However, the Hoos have never been in the top half in passing efficiency. In most years, they barely even reached the top 75%.

Here's another chart, showing the number of pass attempts that the Hoos have had over the past 5 years, and with a few extra years thrown in.

Year

QB

Pass Attempts

Pass Completions

Comp %

2010

Verica

443

262

59.1%

2011 (13 games)

Rocco

443

255

57.5%

2012

Rocco/Sims

474

276

58.2%

2013

Watford

506

277

54.7%

2014

Lambert/Johns

432

248

57.4%

1990

Shawn Moore

284

173

60.9%

2002 (14 games)

Matt Schaub

448

306

68.3%

2005

Marques Hagans

363

224

61.7%

(Stats courtesy virginiasports.com and sports-reference.com.)

Here is one final chart, showing the Hoos pass attempts versus rush attempts during the same set of years.

Year

Pass Attempts

Rush Attempts

Record

2010

443

417

4-8

2011 (13 games)

443

491

8-5

2012

474

415

4-8

2013

506

484

2-10

2014

432

443

5-7

1990

284

519

8-4

2002 (13 games)

448

473

9-5

2005

363

442

7-5

(Stats courtesy virginiasports.com and sports-reference.com.)

There is something very wrong with the above chart. In 5 years under Mike London, the Hoos have thrown the ball more than any time in the previous 126 years of Virginia football. Obviously, much of that is due to changes to the game. Many teams are throwing the ball more now than they were in the past. But the Hoos have been terrible at it. Even with Shawn Moore, Matt Schaub and Marques Hagans under the center, the Hoos ran the ball more than they threw it. Then, with David Watford under center, the Hoos set a record for pass attempts in a season. That just defies logic.

The other thing that stands out in this chart is that the team has been much more successful when running the ball more than throwing it. Last year, the Hoos ran the ball a bit more than they threw it, and were just a few plays away from reaching a bowl. Perhaps a few more runs, and a few less passes would've gotten the Hoos to the post-season.

You would think that a head coach and offensive coordinator with nearly 60 years of combined experience would understand that running the ball more leads to more success. They might also realize that continuing the throw the ball all over the place, while being bad at it is not a recipe for success. Perhaps I'm expecting too much from our football coaches.

This year, the Hoos are back to having a single QB. Matt Johns, who shared snaps last year, is the only QB on the roster with any playing experience. His primary backup will be Corwin "Turtle" Cutler, who hasn't taken a meaningful snap in 3 years due to injury, a prep year, and a redshirt year. Turtle, even after the major knee injury (torn ACL, MCL, PCL and Meniscus), is still very athletic. He's also got a strong arm, decent mechanics and good touch. He's the complete package at QB, but it remains to be seen where he is following the injury.During his prep year at FUMA, he threw just 1 pass, and completed it for a 60 yard TD (see below, beginning at around time 0:48).

Cutler is the future for the Hoos, so it would be nice for him to get some snaps in live game action, just to get him acclimated. However, expecting him to contribute to the team after basically 3 years off is overly optimistic. If Johns needs to miss any time, the Hoos are in trouble.

Along with Cutler is true freshman Nick Johns. Nick, though no relation to Matt, is a similar player. He's nowhere near as athletic as Turtle, probably doesn't have quite as big an arm, although he is perhaps a more accurate passer. Nick is an intriguing prospect at QB, but should not be allowed anywhere near the field this season.

If, for some reason, both Matt Johns and Turtle Cutler aren't available, the emergency QB will likely be TE Brendan Marshall. Marshall was a QB for his first 2 years in the program, and still has some potential there.

Yes, Matt Johns is the man at QB for the Hoos this year. Below are all of Johns' numbers from last season, the first action of his career.

Comp

Att

Comp %

Yds

Yds/Att

TDs

INTs

QB Rating

89

162

54.9%

1109

6.8

8

5

122.6


Johns is also a good runner for a QB, so here are his rushing numbers. Keep in mind that rushing numbers in college count sacks.

Rush Att

Rush Yds

Yds/Rush

Rush TD

22

107

4.9

1


Johns didn't have enough pass attempts to qualify, but it he had, he would've ranked 80th in the nation in QB rating, and about the same in yards per pass attempt. Those rankings aren't very good, although they are both better than Lambert's.

So what does that mean? Is Johns a bad QB? Are the Hoos screwed again? Maybe, maybe not. Last year, he was just a redshirt sophomore. As much as I've discussed Matt Schaub, let's remember that Schaub split time at QB as a sophomore and wasn't very good, with numbers not all that dissimilar from Johns' (58% completion, 6.4 ypa, 118.9 QB rating). So there is certainly precedent for a QB to come on during his junior year.

Also, let's be honest, last year was a tough situation for anybody. Lambert entered the season as the starter. Then Johns came on in relief during the opener and nearly led the team to a comeback win over then #7 UCLA. And then he was back on the bench to start the next game. He started three games during the season while Lambert was hurt, and won 2 of them. He also spent 3 entire games on the bench, including the Hoos 30-13 win over Miami. Wahoo fans have seen before that sporadic playing time for a QB can wreck havoc on a player. And on a season. That UCLA game was his best performance of the season. Perhaps he thought he had won the gig. Perhaps he should've.

Johns was a good prospect coming out of the Philadelphia area. He was a consensus 3 star recruit. At 6'5" and 210, he certainly looks the part of a QB. He's got a good arm, if not great. He's also a good runner for a QB. He's not going to win many foot races, but he's fast enough to buy time and pick up some yards here and there. Check out the highlight below (beginning at time 3:20) to see just how good a runner Johns can be, as he picks up 42 yards against Kent State. He throws a good deep ball, and he's willing to take chances downfield. The second highlight below shows his performance in the UCLA game (beginning at about time 4:15). The first three throws shown by Johns are all sideline routes down field. All three throws are perfectly placed, where the result is either a catch or an incompletion.

The potential is there for Johns to be successful. But he's not the type of QB who should be winging the ball all over the field all game. Another season with 400+ passing attempts will likely not result in a bowl game, and will likely spell the end of the Mike London era. The Hoos need a more balanced offensive attack. The coaching staff has given lip service to that during the offseason, but we've heard that before. Time will tell if it actually comes to fruition.

Late edit:

As has been noted in the comments, I neglected to include Connor Brewer in this piece at all. Total breakdown on my part. I keep a local copy of the roster and I never added him to it when his transfer was announced last month. So when I began writing this, he never popped into my head. My bad.

Brewer is a transfer from Arizona (by way of Texas) who is eligible to play this year, as he's already graduated. Brewer was a 4-star recruit out of Scottsdale, Arizona and was seen as one of the top pocket passer recruits in the nation. He redshirted as a freshman, and then promptly transferred to Arizona, where he spent a transfer year and then sat for a year. Brewer has potential, but he hasn't played in a live game in 3 years. He's also undersized, has a bit of an unorthodox throwing motion (3/4 release). He's mobile, probably about as much as Johns. He does have very good arm strength, probably the best of any QB on the roster.

As we saw last year, arm strength isn't all that great if you don't know where to throw it. Greyson Lambert has elite arm strength, but either wasn't willing or wasn't able to throw the right passes to the right people. While Brewer is eligible to play, he has a lot to learn about playing QB at the college level and he's only been in the Virginia program for about a month.

Clearly, Brewer will get snaps before Brendan Marshall. And, if Johns is out for an extended period of time, Brewer may be the guy ahead of Cutler. He's older and he's more like Matt Johns, requiring less changes to the offense. But his presence on the team does nothing to change Matt Johns' status as the leader of the offense.

Finally, right or wrong, you simply have to question a guy's commitment when he's playing on his 3rd team in 4 years. How is he going to handle it if things go poorly? If Matt Johns plays well and keeps the job, is Brewer going to take off for greener pastures again?