FAYETTEVILLE - From the Sept. 3 season opener against Louisiana Tech to Thursday’s Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech in Charlotte, N.C. it seems Arkansas’ defensive coaches say the same about nearly every opposing starting quarterback.
“They have got a big quarterback that can run,” Arkansas linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said. “Again. Here we go again, right? A big quarterback that can run and some really good skill guys.”
Other than Florida, no coincidence Arkansas’ best defensive game against the seven opponents nationally ranked when the Razorbacks played them, defensive coordinator Robb Smith, D-line coach Rory Segrest, defensive backfield coach Paul Rhoads and Hargreaves have said the same things about those quarterbacks plus Nick Fitzgerald of unranked Mississippi State and J’mar Smith of unranked Louisiana Tech.
This particular Hargreaves reference before the Razorbacks completed their on campus bowl practices in Fayetteville, regarded Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech’s 6-3, 238 starting quarterback. Evans not only leads the 9-4 Hokies in passing (247 of 389 for 3,303 yards and 27 touchdowns agains seven interceptions) but rushing, too.
Even subtracting 192 yards in sacks Evans net 759 net yards on 182 carries with 10 touchdowns.
“He’s got it all,” Hargreaves said.
From his days coaching Miami Hurricanes linebackers, Hargreaves said he’s accustomed to Virginia Tech quarterbacks having it all.
“ I was at Miami all those years,” Hargreaves said. “So trust me I know what they are all about. I played them when they had Michael Vick. So I remember that back in that day.”
New Hokies Coach Justin Fuente capitalizes on Evans’ talents much like retired Hokies coaching icon Frank Beamer capitalized on Vick’s talents.
“They have got all kinds of different runs for him kind of like the Mississippi State quarterback (Fitzgerald),” Hargreaves said. “We have got to be ready to defend that and defend him. And he can also throw it. He’s got some good weapons on the edge so we will have our hands full for sure.”
Evans certainly provides a focal point for Smith coordinating the defense.
“ I tell you he makes them go,” Smith said. “I think he’s an excellent passer in their RPO (run, pass option) game. He is a runner. By all means they do a great job in the scheme for him. They formation you a lot to try to thin you out in the box. A really good football player. We are certainly going to have to bring our A-game to stop him.”
Segrest said his linemen must apply pressure yet always be aware that in an instant what appears to be a pass can turn into a big run.
“In the pass game you've got to account for him pulling it down and scrambling,” Segrest said. “I would say like Fitzgerald as well as the guy at Texas A&M (Trevor Knight).” I mean he's obviously fast and break tackles. He can throw the ball. He does a little bit of everything.”
Rhoads most likens Evans to Fitzgerald, the quarterback against which Arkansas won the game, 58-42 had to wonder how with Fitzgerald accounting for 459 yards, 131 rushing on 17 carries including four touchdowns, and 23 of 33 passing for 328 yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions.
“Fitzgerald would be the first guy to come to mind by comparison,” Rhoads said. “ My first exposure was the ACC championship game (the Hokies played College Football Playoff No. 3 Clemson to the wire before losing 42-35) that I watched on television and I saw how fast his release is and the velocity of the ball getting from point A to point B. He's got a big arm and he's a dangerous runner. He can go.”
Arkansas senior defensive end Deatrich Wise also compared Evans to a Mississippi State quarterback but not Fitzgerald.
“ I don't know if I should say this ... but he’s a little Dak (Prescott) in a sense,” Wise said of the former Mississippi State quarterback starting for the Dallas Cowboys. “He’s agile and can run and pass. He's like a big statue, hard to take down. We've gotta make sure we affect him most of the game.”
Most of these run-passers the Hogs have affected the Hogs more than the Hogs have affected them.
But the Hogs didn’t have the prep time for them that they have had before this bowl game.
“It's been a struggle for us (against dual threat quarterbacks)” Arkansas senior middle linebacker Brooks Ellis said. “But we've been practicing really hard against it. So I think we'll be ready.”
The Razorbacks started their bowl week practices Sunday in Charlotte with their most physical session of the week and practiced again Monday at the Charlotte Latin School.
On Sunday in Charlotte Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema announced that third-year sophomore walk-on offensive guard Johnny Gibson of Dumas will begin the spring semester in January on a football scholarship.
At the Belk Bowl Gibson is set to start his fifth consecutive game at right guard.