On Monday, Maryland revealed that graduate transfer quarterback Josh Jackson had earned the starting job over Tyrrell Pigrome as the team prepares to take on Howard in its first matchup of the 2019 season.
“After an extremely tight camp battle, we felt that Josh earned the starting role,” coach Mike Locksley said in a statement. “Josh and Piggy (Tyrrell Pigrome) pushed each other throughout the summer and into camp. We are excited about the talent in the quarterback room and strongly feel that we can win with both guys. We’ll find ways to utilize each of their talents, but are confident with Josh leading the team.”
Jackson, who was named the No. 39 FBS quarterback by Pro Football Focus earlier this month, transferred to Maryland after three years with Virginia Tech. After a redshirt year in 2016, he nearly won ACC Rookie of the Year in 2017 after completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for 2991 yards, 20 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He started three games of the Hokies’ 2018 campaign before suffering a season-ending leg injury.
Here is an in-depth look at Jackson’s game while leading Virginia Tech, and what Maryland fans can expect to see on Saturday.
One of Jackson’s most positive traits is his ability to change pass trajectories in order to aide his receivers in making plays. Many quarterbacks focus simply on throwing the ball the right distance and location, but Jackson takes things a step further and is able to make things easier due to a ball’s path.
As seen here in Virginia Tech’s third game of the 2017 season against East Carolina, Jackson takes a short drop out of the shotgun and lofts a ball to the back shoulder of his receiver. The high trajectory allows his receiver to drift over to the sideline and position himself so that defender has little to no chance of making a play on the ball.
Not only is Jackson able to loft the ball up, but he also makes great decisions when throwing the ball on a line. As seen below against Boston College in 2017, Jackson does a great job threading the ball through the defense on a line to hit another Maryland transfer, Sean Savoy, in open space.
Having a quarterback who is able to shape its throws like Jackson helps an offense run as smooth as possible because it puts less work on the receivers and lowers the chance of turnovers via interception.
Playing the Fake
A key skill to have at quarterback when running a run-pass option (RPO) offense like Locksley did at Alabama is being able to make defenses bite on fakes. The offense is designed to draw defenders in to what is happening in the backfield, just long enough that the quarterback can make a decision to keep the ball, hand it off, or pass.
As seen against ECU in 2017, Jackson does a good job of playing the handoff to his running back, which forces the linebackers and slot corners to stay keyed into the backfield, while the central safety over the top focuses on the slot receiver. This slight fake creates enough room for the outside receiver running a post route to beat his man on the inside and allow room in the end zone for Jackson to throw over the safety and into his receivers hands.
Not only does it keep defenses focused on the backfield, but it potentially leads to a defense starting to try and guess where plays are headed as the game wears on.
As seen in his debut against West Virginia in 2017, Jackson runs a simple RPO set with a bubble screen out to his left. By keeping his eyes on the far receiver behind the line, this allowed the slot receiver to fake his block and escape down the sideline since the slot cornerback tried to jump the screen route. Jackson read this breakdown easily despite selling the fake and was able to hit the open man in space.
Locksley’s offense is designed to slowly chip away at yards on each drive, but as the game wears on, having a commanding quarterback like Jackson opens the door for sneak plays to speed things up and take a bigger chunk of yards, or even score.
Many fans are often used to a quarterback with rushing abilities being of a smaller stature and mainly gaining yards by scrambling out of the pocket and turning up field with track speed. While Jackson is not quite a track athlete, his 6’2, 218-pound frame allows him to be a physical north-south rushing threat.
His hard-nosed rushing adds another layer to the Maryland offense that opposing defenses must respect. Flashing back to Virginia Tech’s matchup with East Carolina, the Pirates made a note to not let Jackson bully them on the ground, opening the door for a fake quarterback dive that left the streaking running back open down the middle of the field.
When an RPO offense can flex a powerful and smart running quarterback with skilled running backs, it keeps opposing defenses guessing and opens the door for wide receivers to make plays in space.
Arm Strength and Rolling Out
In the college ranks, quarterbacks often struggle with controlling distance, accuracy and making good decisions when rolling out, whether by design or being forced out of the pocket. Jackson naturally exhibits great arm strength and puts the ball in the right spot for his receivers, even when on the move.
Whether it is rolling out to the right or left, Jackson consistently puts the balls in spaces for his receivers to make grabs.
The Bottom Line
Jackson has exhibited the perfect skill set to run Locksley’s offense at Maryland. Even with a skill position player such as Jeshaun Jones getting injured, Jackson naturally has a commanding presence and is able to help put his teammates into positions to make plays.
As Locksley mentioned when naming Jackson the starter, there will be times and sets for Pigrome to come in and play a role in the offense as well. Jackson leading the charge will simply provide the full package of positional skills for the Maryland offense to be successful in 2019, and his return on a new stage could help him rekindle the personal successes he had in Blacksburg.