Jackson, offense may need to carry load for No. 20 Hokies
Josh Jackson has been getting ready since January, watching film of No. 19 Florida State’s defense in preparation for Virginia Tech’s opener on the road Monday night.
That’s good news for the No. 20 Hokies, who may need the offense to carry the early load in Tallahassee, Florida.
With defensive coordinator Bud Foster looking to replace eight starters on defense, Jackson and co. will need to be on point from the start as the defense matures. The redshirt sophomore and son of a football coach will also have his own inexperienced weapons to nurture along.
Cam Phillips, the Hokies’ career receiving leader, has moved on to the NFL, and the returning players with the next most receptions — sophomore Sean Savoy (39 catches, 454 yards and four TDs) and junior Eric Kumah, 28-324-2 — essentially have one year each of game experience.
Jackson threw for school freshmen records of 20 touchdowns and 2,991 yards last season, but 71 of those completions went to Phillips, for 974 yards and seven touchdowns.
That’s a lot of production to replace.
Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen thinks Jackson is ready to take a step forward.
“Josh has become more aggressive and that’s one thing that we have talked about,” he said. “As a freshman, he really took care of the ball well. His composure and ability to manage the game as a freshman was really incredible.”
Being more aggressive, Jackson said, means letting his experience be a guide.
“When the plays are there, I try and make them,” he said, noting that that can mean taking more shots down the field, but also checking down to second and third options when he recognizes the big plays aren’t available.
“Obviously, having last year under my belt, that helps,” he said. “And now, it’s just more knowledge of the game and knowing more defenses, coverage, blitzes. Everything like that really helps slow things down.”
While expecting Savoy, Kumah and several other young receivers to step up their games, Jackson and the Hokies will have the benefit of a return to health of running back Steven Peoples and another year of experience for redshirt sophomore Deshawn McClease, who ran for 524 yards and finished strong with 124 yards in the Hokies’ 30-21 bowl loss to Oklahoma State last year.
Jackson was third on the team with 324 rushing yards last season and he ran for six touchdowns. The team also has high hopes for redshirt junior Coleman Fox, who averaged 5.7 yards, but on just 39 carries in a crowded backfield a season ago.
“It’s nice to have three guys back that took a lot of carries last year, but it’s a group effort,” Cornelsen said. “It’s the offensive line and the tight ends,” and blocking by the receivers on the perimeter.
Jackson, for his part, likes the idea of helping several players emerge as playmakers.
“Last year, everybody knew our main guy was Cam,” he said, noting that the coaching staff hopes to rotate as many as eight receivers into the lineup. “This year, we’re going to have maybe two, three ‘main guys,’ and I think that’s very important.
“I think that’s going to make me a lot more comfortable when I’m dropping back.”