With the glorious era of Justin Thomas now regrettably gone for good, it is time to turn our sights to the quarterback of the future — whoever it may be. As it stands now, there are four guys vying for the job: heir apparent Matthew Jordan, converted A-Back Taquon Marshall, and a pair of explosive freshmen in Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones.
If there’s anything we’ve learned since 2008, it’s that there are no handouts in the kingdom of Paul Clayton Johnson. Whoever wins the job will win it because they’ve proven themselves to be the most reliable option, not necessarily the most dangerous for opposing defenses. This will be an interesting battle to watch.
Tales of the Tape
Let’s start it off with Matthew Jordan, the only player with any considerable snaps at quarterback in a true college game. The following are highlights from Tech’s impressive victory over No. 14 Virginia Tech last season, Matthew Jordan’s first and only start at Tech.
Jordan was excellent filling in for Justin Thomas on short notice. He proved why Paul Johnson had relied on him as a goal-line threat and second-stringer all season long, making good reads and guiding a vintage ground-and-pound attack with plenty of grinding and minimal finesse. He was limited by the coaching staff on both passing plays and on pitches, neither of which were strong points in his game as of last season. That limits the offense significantly, but I will say that foregoing the perimeter entirely is a bold way to deal with Bud Foster’s strategy of stringing out the option by forcing the ball to the sideline. Up yours, Bud.
Jordan is the expected week one starter without a doubt. He’s the safest bet by a mile and has the mettle to run Johnson’s offense with the tenacity and strength that Justin Thomas was simply not physically capable of. The big plays may decline, but a Matthew Jordan offense would unquestionably showcase a triumphant return of the death march.
Poor Taquon Marshall was just getting comfortable at A-Back last spring when Paul Johnson decided that a move back to quarterback was in the cards for the rising junior. He saw very limited action as a third-string signal caller in 2016 (puzzlingly limited, in fact — I remain unsure about why Paul Johnson elected to burn his redshirt) but seems to have moved up the depth chart this season. He has more experience than either Jones or Johnson but less than Jordan, meaning that he’s likely the second-safest play. His game has striking similarities to that of former quarterback and current graduate assistant Tevin Washington: slippery and strong at the same time with a somewhat questionable arm.
Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones are largely cut from the same cloth as far as a potential impact is concerned. Neither have had ample opportunity to showcase their skills outside of practice, so anything I can say about them would be pure speculation. They are both incredibly quick and athletic and feature strong arms, but Paul Johnson has been historically reluctant to run a true freshman at quarterback for any extended period. Jones and Johnson are the ultimate boom-or-bust candidates for this fall; they each have an incredibly high ceiling but would have plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. The safe bet is that one will likely redshirt barring an incredibly impressive showing over the coming months.
Paul Johnson was none too pleased with the performance of his quarterbacks during the spring game. Matthew Jordan was a no-go after suffering an injury shortly before the game, meaning that Taquon Marshall -- his backup -- was elevated to starter for the contest. He had a quiet game overall, leading the offense on some successful drives and making nice reads overall. Johnson clearly trusts Marshall a bit more than either of the younger options, at least at this juncture.
Both Jay Jones and Lucas Johnson got significant playing time during the spring game, with predictably mixed results: both went for runs of 50+ yards, but both had ball security issues that troubled Johnson. He had the following to say in this piece from the AJC after the game:
That seems to indicate that Jones’ ball security issues may have been an aberration, but turnovers in a possession-reliant offense like Johnson’s are killers. On the topic of Lucas Johnson, coach remarked on his calmness.
That sounds very Justin Thomas-esque. Paul Johnson loves a level-headed quarterback, and Johnson seems to fill the bill from what we saw in limited spring game action.
What to Expect
Matthew Jordan should have the keys to the offense for week one against Tennessee. Starting a guy with real experience in week one is a huge advantage, particularly against a team like the Volunteers which will be breaking in a new quarterback of their own in the wake of Josh Dobbs’ departure. It’s entirely plausible that any of the other three candidates could overtake him at some point in the season, but Paul Johnson values stability and Jordan is by far the most stable option for week one. Perhaps another guy will gain some ground on him by playing will during the cupcake game or perhaps Jordan’s play against Tennessee will warrant an earlier change, but he’s earned the start. Could be even see a dual-quarterback system? Absolutely, if the situation permits it. I’m all for two breakouts instead of just one.