Marek Warszawski

To remain Fresno State’s QB, Chason Virgil can’t pass on running for the hard yard

To be fair to Chason Virgil, there wasn’t much he could’ve done.

Not with Alabama linebacker Jamey Mosley, all 6 feet 5 and 248 pounds of him, cutting off the edge and squeezing Virgil toward the sideline.

Facing third-and-1 and nine yards from the end zone, Virgil’s choices were limited. He could pick option a) lower his shoulder pads and plow into Mosley head on, despite giving away more than 50 pounds; or b) attempt some sort of finesse move and dive for the yard sticks.

Instead, Virgil chose c) the exit route. He gave Mosley a half-hearted pump fake and ran out of bounds for no gain.

Fresno State’s 41-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama certainly didn’t hinge on that or any particular play. But if Virgil manages to gain a yard, perhaps the Bulldogs cap that drive with a touchdown instead of a 27-yard field goal to make the score 14-7 instead of 14-3.

And in the big picture, maybe the sophomore’s grasp on the starting quarterback job feels a little more secure.

“(Mosley) played me good, but I allowed him to do that,” Virgil lamented three days later.

“If I get the opportunity again, definitely got to make a move and cut back inside. Just attack him more. Put him on the spot. … We get seven points on the board, there’s no telling what confidence we have.”

Through two games, against defenses as disparate as you can find in college football, Virgil has been solid. He’s completing passes at a career-high 58.7 percent rate despite five drops against Alabama, including one coach Jeff Tedford called “a beautiful ball” that “should’ve been caught for a big play” by receiver Jamire Jordan.

From Week 1 to Week 2, by his own coach’s estimation, Virgil also made strides in reading coverages and reducing his number of errant throws.

Not bad when you go from facing an FCS team that has surrendered 122 points in two games – Incarnate Word – to the nation’s best defense for the better part of a decade.

Still, it hasn’t been enough for Virgil to be declared the starter – not even for Saturday’s game against No. 6 Washington at Husky Stadium, though I strongly suspect he gets the nod – or to prevent the faithful from clamoring to see more of transfer Marcus McMaryion.

“We’ll see how the week of practice goes,” Tedford replied when asked if Virgil would start Saturday and continue to receive the majority of the snaps.

“Practice is big. How they handle the game plan. What the game plan is. Again, Marcus has only been here a short amount of time. … (He) is still learning what we’re doing.”

I haven’t seen enough of McMaryion to say he’s a better passer than Virgil or possesses a more accurate arm.

That’s still up for debate.

But what I have seen, both in mop-up duty this season and during McMaryion’s time at Oregon State, is more of an aggressiveness and willingness to run the football. Even if that means putting his own body into harm’s way.

Unlike what we saw from Virgil on that third down.

There will eventually come a time, in a more important drive, in a game Fresno State can actually win, when the Bulldogs will need their quarterback to gain that hard yard.

After seeing that play, you wonder. Can Virgil be counted on to be that guy?

There’s more here than just toughness. Virgil is listed at 6-1 and 192 pounds. Pretty slight for a quarterback. During each of the last two seasons, he’s sustained season-ending shoulder injuries. Is it smart for him to take on a 250-pound linebacker?

Kalen DeBoer shook his head.

“When it came down to that moment, we don’t want him to just (thuds his hands together),” Fresno State’s offensive coordinator said. “We’re probably going to lose that battle if we go one on one. But let’s try to do everything we can to get that one yard by making the guy miss in space.

“We’re a NASCAR, and he’s a semi truck, right?”

Virgil agreed that using a cutback or trying to juke is his best option. But even the pancake approach has its benefits.

“Me going at him at least gives the team an, ‘All right, our QB is a warrior. He’s going to try to get that yard,’ ” he said. “So whether I get that yard or not, trying to run him over or trying to make a move, just me giving that effort is way better than doing what I did.”

So far I like how Tedford and DeBoer have handled the quarterback situation. They’ve left Virgil in the game long enough to taste success and build confidence, lifting him both times after he’s thrown a touchdown pass.

Which is way better than creating a nervous atmosphere when everyone is looking over their shoulder each time they make a mistake.

It’s easy to look at completion rates and arm strength when judging quarterbacks. Both are certainly important. But whether Virgil keeps the job, or eventually gets usurped by McMaryion, may hinge on how hard he’s willing to run for it.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee