On September 3, 2016 Louisiana Tech almost beat an SEC team with a starting quarterback that had never seen the collegiate field before. J’Mar Smith had a stellar game and set the bar that Ryan Higgins had to beat to solidify himself in the starting QB role.
When Higgins struggled early following his suspension, fans wanted to go back to the QB that almost beat Arkansas and chanted “We Want J’Mar.”
WE WANT J'MAR! 👏👏..👏👏👏
— Kevin Richardson (@ItsKrich) September 17, 2016
If you want to relive some of this controversy, just go check out the BBB thread full of hot takes about it. Oddly enough, some people even tweeted at the University President with their recommendation, for some reason:
But how good was J’Mar in the Arkansas game? Tech only lost the game by one point, but was this because of J’Mar, or in spite of him?
Passing: 19/31, 212 yards, 1 INT, 45.5 Raw QBR, 51.2 Adjusted QBR
Rushing: 9 carries, 10 yards, 1 TD, 1 Fumble Lost
Raw and Adjusted QBR describe ESPN’s advanced metrics used to determine the performance of a QB in a particular game. The point of the stat is to include a QB’s running ability into the equation. The Adjusted QBR also takes into account the opposing team’s defensive rank.
J’Mar received praise for his performance because he wasn’t just playing a normal opponent. It was against an SEC defense. So the Adjusted QBR is more indicative of this performance than the Raw score.
The highest possible QBR is a 100. To get an impression of how good J’Mar’s QBR was, here is a chart of the rest of the season from Ryan Higgins:
I don’t want to spend too much time comparing J’Mar and Higgins, but its worth a quick look. Higgins received a lot of criticism for his play against SC State, but his adjusted QBR was practically the same as J’Mar’s against Arkansas. So, according to this one statistic, their overall performances were similar. Higgins only had two games worse than this performance, against Texas Tech and USM.
We don’t know how good J’Mar will be this year. But we can look at the Arkansas game to see what we can expect.
After an Xavier Woods interception on Arkansas’s opening drive, Tech took over at their own 38 yard line. J’Mar went 4/6 for 48 yards and finished the drive off with a 9 yard QB draw play.
J’Mar benefited from a blitzing Linebacker, but he also showed off the vision he has running the ball, but I’m thinking Arkansas got caught off guard by the playcall. Without any collegiate tape on J’Mar, they aren’t sure what to expect from him. This is the first time J’Mar ran with the ball. I give credit to Holtz for the good play-calling to wait to dial this play up until there was a chance to score.
Drives Two and Three
These two drives both ended in three and outs. Both times Tech came out trying to complete short passes with occasional run by Craft or J’Mar. Tech was able to gain a couple yards on both drives, but on both a ‘4th and 4’ and a ‘4th and 2’ Holtz elected to punt.
Drive is in quotes because it lasted one play. This is the play:
This is proof that the “when in doubt, throw it to Trent” mentality doesn’t always work. It’s hard to tell from the TV angle, but it seems that Trent Taylor had a step on the defender, but the ball was underthrown. Trent tries to reach back for it, but the ball never gets to him.
The pass rush got to J’Mar. This is a problem that repeats later in the game. Both defensive ends were only a couple steps away, so J’Mar threw it before he was ready. He had a check down receiver in the right flat, but he didn’t have time to look that way. Maybe a more experienced QB is able to check it down (or maybe just takes the sack), but this was definitely the kind of mistake a freshman QB makes in his debut.
This was the drive that showed J’Mar off the most. He had two passes of over 19 yards and a short run. Here is the first; a post route to Trent Taylor:
Two plays later:
This second clip was simply good play design. Henderson lines up in the slot and runs a short curl. This draws the CB forward to cover the speedster, allowing the pass to go over the top to Gaines before the safety could get to him.
Finally, the drive concluded with a read option sneak TD by Craft:
This play may as well have been run out of the wildcat formation. The defense doesn’t know if J’Mar or Craft have the ball, so they have to split the difference and go after both. These are the kind of plays you can expect when you have a QB that can run.
The first of the missed FGs. With the half about to end, Craft is able to put Tech into FG range to attempt a 54 yard FG that went wide right.
Drive Seven and Eight
Both of these drives ended in FGs and were filled with short passes by a Tech team that was sticking to the gameplan. The only notable play was on the eighth drive, where J’Mar completed a pass in the flat to Craft, who turned it up field for a gain of 26:
This play really shows off Craft more than J’Mar, but it is still worth showing.
Like the previous two drives, Tech was able to drive down the field with runs and short passes to set up a FG attempt. Unfortunately, Barnes was able to hit from 43 and 20, but not from 39.
This was the last time that Tech got the ball on offense. Needing a score, J’Mar was able to get Tech to midfield. Then, on a 3rd and 10, this happened:
There was very little J’Mar could do. Both defensive ends got to him in just over one second. Tech had to punt and never saw the ball again.
J’Mar played a good game. He outperformed expectations and kept Tech in the game that was expected to be difficult for a veteran QB. He made some mistakes, but not any that were egregious enough to be cause for worry for this season. The strategy in this game from Holtz was a good one: keep the play-calling simple to minimize mistakes. The downside to this is that J’Mar never really got to show off. His longest completion was for only 26 yards.
Like with many P5 vs G5 games, the overall depth of Arkansas kept Tech from succeeding late in the game. You can see this disparity on that last clip. Tech’s O-Line was fatigued and could do little to stop the better rested Arkansas pass rushers. But despite this, J’Mar put Tech in a position to win the game.