It’s a new era of Georgia Tech football, and with it we have a new series here at From the Rumble Seat. “Player Focus” is our new weekly film breakdown article that focuses on a single Georgia Tech player, highlighting that player’s contributions to the team so far this season and how they can improve going forward.
This week we’ll look at Tobias Oliver, the redshirt sophomore who got the nod as Tech’s starting quarterback against Clemson. Seeing Oliver take the field first was a surprise for the majority of Tech fans; most felt that Lucas Johnson was best suited to run the Jackets’ new “balanced” offense since Johnson is generally considered the best passer on the roster. Regardless, Oliver was the guy on Thursday night, and while his performance wasn’t the easiest to watch, it’s tough to say that any quarterback could look good against a Clemson defense that held Alabama to just 16 points nine months ago.
For anyone who watched Georgia Tech last season, it’s no secret that Oliver is a great runner; in 2018 he rushed for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns while splitting time with TaQuon Marshall as the Jackets’ starting quarterback. On more than one occasion against Clemson, it looked like Oliver might be even faster and more agile than last year.
The play above is Oliver’s best run of the night, which came on a read option with running back Jordan Mason from deep in Georgia Tech territory. As he takes the snap, Oliver reads Clemson defensive tackle Tyler Davis (#13) who commits to pursuing Mason. Oliver keeps the ball, shoots through the gap, and makes a defender miss on his way to a 39-yard gain. It’s clear that Oliver has big-play potential when running the ball, which is likely one of the reasons head coach Geoff Collins named him the starter.
Another strength Oliver exhibited last year was his ability to lower his shoulder and pick up tough yards when necessary. On the play above, Oliver puts his body on the line to get the first down and pops right up after taking a massive hit from preseason All-American linebacker Isaiah Simmons. I think I speak for all Tech fans when I say we’d rather see our quarterback avoid these kinds of hits, but there’s no doubt Oliver is out there giving everything he’s got.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many positives to talk about when it comes to Oliver’s passing performance. He was never a strong passer, and while he’s proven it’s possible to win a game without completing a single pass, everyone knows that’s not a viable long-term strategy. As the Jackets move on to a new offensive scheme, it’s absolutely essential that they find a quarterback capable of consistently hitting open receivers, and I don’t think Oliver is that guy.
One of the biggest issues with Oliver’s passing game is his poor throwing mechanics. On the 3rd & 5 play above, Oliver correctly targets an open Malachi Carter, but the pass is abysmally outside and short of Carter’s outstretched arm. Every quarterback misses throws sometimes, but what’s particularly troubling about this play is Oliver’s footwork. On most throws (and especially on an out route), the quarterback needs to plant his back foot into the ground and then drive through the throw while stepping toward the target, like so:
In this clip of Trace McSorley throwing at the NFL Combine, you can see his weight transfer from the back foot to the front foot as he steps into the throw. It’s not quite a perfect comparison since McSorley is taking a 5-step drop, but Oliver could have easily utilized similar footwork on a 3-step or 1-step drop. Instead, he disregards any attempt at proper footwork and just kind of falls away from the throw while letting his arm do all the work. Unless Oliver considerably improves his footwork, he’ll continue to have accuracy issues all season.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about Oliver’s first interception of the game, which came on 4th & goal part way through the 2nd Quarter. From the Skycam angle, it’s clear that wide receiver Jalen Camp has all the space in the world in the back of the endzone. Oliver’s pass is low and behind Camp, allowing it to be tipped by a Clemson defender. While it’s not the easiest throw ever, that play should result in a touchdown every time.
Out of all of Oliver’s throws on Thursday night, his second interception was the most concerning. From the Skycam angle, it’s obvious that Oliver stares down tight end Dylan Deveney for several seconds, completely unaware of the lurking Clemson linebacker. There was nothing special about the coverage, Oliver simply never bothered to look anywhere else before throwing the ball. Clearly this is something the coaches need to work on with him if he’s going to have any success in the passing game this year.
All in all, Tobias Oliver is exactly who we thought he was - a great athlete who runs the ball with tremendous speed, agility, and toughness, but struggles immensely at throwing the ball. As the season progresses, I’d like to see Lucas Johnson and James Graham take more snaps at quarterback since the Jackets desperately need to establish a reliable passing game. I don’t, however, think Oliver should be taken off the field completely; I think he could fill a Taysom Hill type role for the Jackets, coming in for certain run-heavy packages and trick plays. He’s too good of an athlete to not have on the field, but he’s not a strong enough passer to line him up at quarterback on every snap. I’m rooting for Oliver to succeed this season however the coaching staff decides to use him, but I think his greatest value to the Jackets might be at a position other than quarterback.