The first major personnel decision of his Fresno State coaching tenure is on Jeff Tedford’s doorstep.
Stick with Chason Virgil as starting quarterback, or roll out Marcus McMaryion?
Tedford’s answer to that question will go a long way toward shaping Year 1 of this rebuild.
Any logical scenario that has the Bulldogs stepping toward a respectable record begins with beating Nevada on Sept. 30 coming off their bye.
A victory gets the ball rolling toward an October slate with winnable games against San Jose State, New Mexico and UNLV, the last two at home.
A loss to a Wolf Pack outfit that will probably be 0-4 when it enters Bulldog Stadium raises the specter of a 2016 repeat among the faithful while putting a crimp on ticket sales.
No avoiding it. This is a huge game for Fresno State. Tedford and offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer must choose the quarterback they believe gives them the best chance to start 1-0 in the Mountain West.
“How the week plays out next week will tell what we do,” said Tedford, not giving anything away. “We still have to put the game plan together.”
Virgil or McMaryion?
Not so much a controversy as it is a quandary.
The Virgil we’ve seen so far is pretty much the same guy we saw last season. While able to smoothly execute plays, his passing accuracy remains erratic along with a continuing reluctance to run.
He’s also been unlucky. On plays where Virgil gets to utilize one of his best attributes – making something out of nothing – his receivers often don’t make the catch.
Still, Virgil’s completion percentage of 58.7 is on pace to be a career best. So is his efficiency rate of 118.0, seventh in the MW. Something worth pointing out since two of those starts came on the road against top-10 opponents.
Chason Virgil played better against Alabama, at Bryant-Denny Stadium, than he did against Incarnate Word at home.
But here’s where Virgil’s inconsistency bites and baffles: The sophomore played better against Alabama, at Tuscaloosa, than he did against Incarnate Word at home.
“I did play better against ’Bama,” he agreed.
One thing I like about Virgil is his attitude. A few days before the Washington game, Virgil told me improving his accuracy was his No. 1 goal for the rest of the season.
“My accuracy helps us stay on the field,” he said. “I’m accurate downs one and two. Get to down three, that’s where I mess up more and we’re off the field.”
By all accounts Virgil shows leadership, works hard and wants to get better. Tedford and DeBoer must decide if the level he’s playing at right now is good enough to win games against MW opponents.
Or else hand the reins to McMaryion, the transfer from Oregon State who arrived during the second week of fall camp.
It’s hard to know what to make of McMaryion’s 2017 statistics, since a lot of them came against second- and third-stringers at the back end of blowouts. So let’s not.
From what I have seen, both in games and scrimmages, McMaryion and Virgil are pretty comparable as passers. Neither is the strong-armed prototype quarterback who can pick defenses apart with short and underneath stuff before torching them deep.
What McMaryion brings is a dynamic element. He’s more willing to scramble downfield, even if that means exposing himself to hits. That’s one advantage of being 204 pounds, compared to Virgil’s 192.
When my time gets called, it gets called. I’m excited. Hopefully there’s no looking back from there.
There’s also a question of how well McMaryion knows the offense. During a recent news conference, Tedford praised Virgil’s game-management skills: how he worked through the shifts and motions of all the different formations and threw to the right spots.
Later on, Tedford gave an answer to a different question that implied McMaryion still has work to do.
“Marcus has only been here a short amount of time,” Tedford said. “It’s just not the base offense. Marcus is still learning what we’re doing.”
The following day I asked McMaryion what percentage of the offense he feels comfortable running.
“I can run 100 percent of the offense at this point,” he replied. “I’m pretty confident I could run the whole offense. Go out there with the 1s or the 2s, it doesn’t really matter.”
McMaryion would certainly be the fans’ choice. He’s from Dinuba and he’s the new guy while the Texas-born Virgil serves as a reminder of the old coaching staff.
Tedford won’t let that dictate his decision, but he’ll definitely consider how a switch would impact the locker room. Virgil is one of the team leaders and has spent more time building rapport with the receivers.
The bye week gives everyone a chance to step back and assess the big picture.
If Tedford and DeBoer feel a change is necessary, now’s the time to designate McMaryion. If they feel Virgil remains the best option, throw every ounce of support behind him.
Even while suffering consecutive blowouts to national powers, Fresno State has a real chance to rack up five or six wins and exceed my predicted record of 4-8.
Provided Tedford starts the right quarterback in the season’s most pivotal game.
NEVADA AT FRESNO STATE
- Sept. 30: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 1-2, Wolf Pack 0-3
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600); no TV
- Of note: Mountain West Conference opener for both teams. … Nevada has a date this Saturday at No. 18 Washington State. … Fresno State has a bye after playing No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Washington in consecutive weeks.