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Film room: Analyzing Virginia Tech Quarterback Ryan Willis

<p>Leonard Johnson and the Blue Devils' secondary will need to create turnovers against Wake Forest to spark the offense.</p>

Leonard Johnson and the Blue Devils' secondary will need to create turnovers against Wake Forest to spark the offense.

Beyond the obvious disappointment following Virginia Tech’s stunning loss to Old Dominion last week, the Hokies received even more bad news last weekend—the team’s starting quarterback, Josh Jackson, will miss an extended period of time due to an ankle injury, and starting defensive end Trevon Hill was kicked off the team last Sunday. 

Replacing Jackson will be Ryan Willis, who, despite having thrown just seven passes in a Virginia Tech uniform before last Saturday, has extensive game experience, mostly from his time at Kansas. Willis started the Jayhawks’ last eight contests of the 2015 season and led the offense to less than savory results. Behind the 6’4” signal caller, Kansas lost every game, and put up an anemic 11.9 points per game. 

Obviously, this 2015 Jayhawks team had problems running much deeper than its quarterback. Opponents outgained Kansas by 229.3 yards per game, and the Jawhawks lost all 12 of its games, including its season opener to South Dakota State. However, Willis’ extensive experience cannot be ignored entering his first start for the Hokies, coming this Saturday against Duke. 


The Jawhawks’ abomination of an offense is on full display here—the play call is for an out route of about eight yards, despite it being third-and-18. Willis’ first and only read actually has some space, but he throws it directly to a Longhorn defender instead. Concerningly, Willis seems to be completely set on where he is throwing it before the ball is even snapped, demonstrating a rigidness that does not bode well for his future outlook. 

Three years later, the former transfer is certainly in a better position to succeed with his new team. In 2015, the Jayhawks yielded an astronomical 3.3 sacks per game, the seventh-worst mark in the nation. A capable Virginia Tech offensive line should provide Willis with a bit more time in the pocket.

Here, Willis shows some surprising athleticism, given that he rushed for -79 yards in his time at Kansas. Yes, that is a negative sign. Nonetheless, an awful offensive line was a major contributing factor to Willis’ lack of running prowess. He looks fast coming around the edge following a fake hand-off, and accelerates for 23 yards and a first down.  

The veteran quarterback should be a capable dual-threat option, as Jackson has, who ran for 324 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. 

The back shoulder throw is one of the hardest to make in college football, and Willis does not inspire confidence with what he does in this crucial situation. As he did in the first throw we looked at, Willis completely telegraphs this ball, allowing for the Old Dominion cornerback to nearly pick the ball off, and showing his occasional laziness at times in making reads. 

For the Blue Devils to expose a Hokie quarterback making his first start in two seasons, they will need to pressure Willis in the pocket and jump on his sometimes careless throws. 


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