It’s been 31 games since Derek Carr went on to the NFL and Fresno State has used seven different quarterbacks in the three seasons to attempt to replace him. Meanwhile, UNLV trotted out a first-time starter in redshirt freshman Dalton Sneed who led the Rebels to 45 points in their win over the Bulldog last Saturday.
Fresno State starting quarterback Chason Virgil managed just 16 completions on 45 attempts in the same game.
In result, Fresno State Head Coach Tim DeRuyter fielded a fair flurry of questions about the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback position on Monday.
Though DeRuyter said that there is always competition, he specified, “Chason is our quarterback and we’ve got to continue to progress him. There is no plan [to split reps].”
After five games the redshirt freshman has completed only 47.1 percent of his passes, 88 of 187 - one of the worst among FBS starters. He has turned those numbers into 1,169 yards and 8 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions, however.
There are only eight FBS teams in the nation rushing for fewer yards per game than Fresno State’s 104.6 average. Virgil has also taken 15 sacks in the five games. Only six quarterbacks in the nation have been sacked more times this year.
“Anytime you have a freshman quarterback going through Division I football for the first time, it’s a process,” DeRuyter said. “You’d love to have 100 percent protection where he can feel confident in the pocket, I don’t know if you’re ever going to have that anywhere.
“He’s doing a better job. He’s got to be able to feel comfortable in there to stand in and make throws. I think part of his accuracy issues are he is sensing that that’s not getting done, but I do feel he’s making progress.”
The combined factors of an absent running game and relatively poor pass protection must be taken into account for when criticizing Virgil’s passing percentage. While there have been throws that skipped into the turf or flew over receivers’ heads, having one of the nation’s worst complementary running attacks and pass protection means the Bulldogs are constantly in low-percentage passing situations or scenarios where the ball must be thrown away.
The struggles at the quarterback position appear to go much deeper than the position itself in 2016. In recognizing that, making a quarterback change could be a mistake based on completion percentage alone. But as one question to DeRuyter was phrased, “What do you have to lose?”
This weekend’s trip to Reno is the team’s last chance to make a stand in 2016 in our minds. A loss means the Bulldogs fall to 1-5 followed with a Friday night home game versus one of the conference’s best in San Diego State. This team could have to win its final five games just to become bowl eligible. Any change after Saturday may be irrelevant.
“It’s not being stubborn or saying this is our decision and we’re going forward,” DeRuyter said. “When you’re trying to develop a quarterback, you have got to have some leeway because when you see it for the first time it’s going to be difficult. Whether we switch quarterbacks if there is pressure, I don’t know that Zach would do any better than Chason would… We all believe in Chason and if we got to the point where we didn’t think he was effective in leading our team, we would have to make a change.”
The possibility of sticking with Virgil has even been discussed as damaging to the young quarterback, comparing Virgil’s supporting cast to what David Carr endured with the Houston Texans. Could the young quarterback benefit more from time on the sidelines? Just when the Bulldogs finally stick with one quarterback - they just can’t seem to win.
Regardless, DeRuyter has doubled down on Virgil for the immediate future.
“When you put that quarterback in that position where he’s looking over his shoulder, that’s not a great position to be in," DeRuyter said. "Sometimes you’ve got to look at changing things up, and we’ll look at that in practice, but as far as splitting reps with the ones, Chason will get his normal reps and Zach will get his normal reps.”
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