In year one under Skip Holtz, the quarterback situation at Louisiana Tech was a bit rocky, and the starting job bounced between Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young and a not-ready-just-yet redshirt freshman Ryan Higgins.
Since then, however, the Bulldogs have employed a senior starter for three straight years, all of which produced nine wins and a bowl trophy. In 2014 and 2015, we saw graduate transfers Cody Sokol (Iowa) and Jeff Driskel (Florida) take control, and then in 2016 Ryan Higgins made his return to the starting job as a senior.
But now, there will be no senior signal callers on Louisiana Tech’s 2017 roster. For the first time in a while, it appears La Tech will have a steady quarterback for the next few years. So what will it look like?
As it currently stands, the quarterback job doesn’t officially belong to J’Mar Smith yet. Skip Holtz has yet to name a starter for 2017. But he’s getting a majority of the first-team reps, so I think it’s safe to say it would be a huge surprise if Smith wasn’t named the starting quarterback.
J’Mar Smith will be a redshirt sophomore next year, and has the advantage of already getting some playing time in 2016. He appeared in five games, including one start when he played the entire season opener against Arkansas last year. Let’s take a look at his 2016 stats:
Passing: 30/43 (69.8%) for 412 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He averaged 9.58 yards a pass with his longest completion going for 89 yeards. Smith was sacked four times. His QB rating was 160.9.
Rushing: 17 attempts for 62 yards (keep in mind this includes sacks). His longest run was for 26 yards. He scored two rushing touchdowns.
Now, let’s take a look at some of his highlights from high school:
It’s no secret that Smith is a dual-threat quarterback, and that’s easily shown above. But he doesn’t always scramble to run. In this video, we see him on several occasions scramble to buy time, and he is still accurate throwing on the run. He even ran some designed sprint outs.
However, just because he can throw on the run, doesn’t mean he can’t gain yards with his feet. We saw him scramble for a big gain, as well as follow a lead blocker on a designed quarterback run. He even caught a throwback pass for a touchdown!
As far as strictly throwing goes, we see him comfortable throwing bubble screens and the like, something that Tech has made a living on. I’ve heard some concerns on his ability to throw the deep ball, but we saw him connect on one or two in this video.
Here’s a pair of videos showing a few highlights from the Arkansas game:
Considering he was a redshirt freshman making not only his first career start but taking his first career snap on the road in hostile territory against an SEC opponent, this wasn’t a bad performance. It wasn’t enough to win that particular day, but it should be enough to give Bulldog fans plenty of comfort that the quarterback job is in good hands. And after what quarterback guru Tim Rattay was able to accomplish with Ryan Higgins, I think it’s fair to say that J’Mar Smith should only get better over the next few years.
The big question is this: what will Louisiana Tech’s offense look like with a dual-threat quarterback? Will Skip Holtz and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch continue what they’ve been doing, or will they adjust the play-calling to fit Smith’s strengths?
I expect that we’ll see some adjustment, but I don’t think it will be vastly different. Remember, although we don’t traditionally think of Driskel and Higgins as dual threat running quarterbacks, both could make a play with their feet. We’ve seen the read option used with them, so I think it’s fair to expect to see it possibly used a bit more.
We’ve already seen Smith on designed runs in his time in Ruston, and an offseason with him as the first string QB should allow for more customized plays to be installed. We should continue to see bubble screens take a prominent role, as well. With both Jarred Craft and Boston Scott returning to the backfield, along with a sure-to-be-uber-motivated Jaqwis Dancy, the run game should only improve next year and take some pressure off Smith.
If Tech loses anything, it might be the deep shot since Carlos Henderson is gone, but that could be a blessing in disguise. Those plays are explosive and exciting, but they also get the defense back on the field faster, and unless the Bulldog defense improves dramatically in 2017, more time to rest and make adjustments could be very helpful.
Again, although he is the expected starter, the job isn’t officially Smith’s just yet. He’s going to have to compete with junior Price Wilson and redshirt freshmen Jon Randall Belton and Jack Abraham. And although he’s not expected to miss any spring practices, playing baseball this spring could provide a minor distraction. However, these things could (and should) motivate him to work even harder in the offseason, which will be good in the long run.