2019 Conference USA QB Preview: Louisiana Tech
Since 2000, Louisiana Tech has had three quarterbacks drafted. Louisiana Tech football fans will remember all three; Tim Rattay, Luke McCown, and Jeff Driskel. That is a good number of quarterbacks taken in that time span, regardless of the conference the school plays in. Just to put that number into perspective, the school that La Tech opens the 2019 season against has the exact same number of quarterbacks drafted in that time span. That school is the University of Texas. Just to put it out there, these numbers only include quarterbacks drafted, not guys who signed undrafted free agent deals.
La Tech’s current starting quarterback, J’Mar Smith (senior), will be entering his third year as the Bulldogs starting quarterback. Smith will be looking to have a big senior year in hopes of becoming the fourth Bulldog quarterback drafted since 2000. Smith started his first college game as a redshirt freshman in 2016 against Arkansas. The Bulldogs ended up losing that game 21-20, but Smith showed that he was going to do some good things at the quarterback position for the Bulldog program down the road. 19 for 31 passing with 212 yards through the air and 1 rushing touchdown with 1 interception was not a bad start at all for a freshman playing against an SEC team. Smith became the starter the following year, which was his sophomore year, and has been the leading passer for the Bulldogs in every game since. The now senior has a combined 26 games of experience over the last two seasons. He has all the tools to take the next step as a quarterback and help the Bulldogs take the next step this season, which would be to get back to the C-USA Championship game. The Bulldogs last appearance in the championship game was in 2016 and their chances of getting back this year ride largely on their experienced quarterback, which is what every quarterback wants, to be the guy the team relies on.
2018 QB Performance
- Smith threw for 3,160yds, 15 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 57.3
- 3rd in conference in passing yards
- Added three more touchdowns on the ground
- Passed for over 300 yards in a game 4 times
- Arguably his best game came against LSU. He had 330yds passing and 3 passing touchdowns against a tough defense.
Baring a big surprise J’Mar Smith will be the starter for the Bulldogs. I want to spend most of this preview going over some of the things he does well as a quarterback, but before I do that I want to briefly talk about the improvements I think he will make this season, as well as the depth behind him. Redshirt Junior Weston Elliott and Redshirt Freshman Aaron Allen seem to be the main guys behind Smith competing for the back-up position. While it would have helped to have a spring game to see the quarterbacks in action (the spring game was cancelled due to weather), all quarterbacks supposedly had a good spring practice and will continue competing on through the fall. La Tech also has incoming freshman Jackson Thomson coming in that will provide depth.
Watching film of Smith, it is evident that he has all the tools he needs to take the next step in his development as a quarterback. He has a smooth delivery, strong arm, mechanically sound, good feet in the pocket as well as the ability to escape the pocket, he has everything you would want in a quarterback. With two years starting under his belt, he has the experience every coach wants. He has seen every type of defense thrown his way. He improved slightly in completion percentage as well as yards in 2018 compared to 2017, but his interceptions doubled going from 5 to 10.
The biggest improvement I think he can make this season to increase his chances at the next level as well as increase La Tech’s chances to play in the CUSA Title game is consistency. Improving consistency looks different for each quarterback, and it is not all on Smith, but on La Tech’s offense as a whole. Per film, Smith tends to get in trouble or get out of rhythm when he tries to force throws that aren’t there. His arm strength allows him to make throws a lot of other quarterbacks can’t, but also can lead to ill-advised throws. Knowing the situation, staying patient, taking what the defense is giving you can all lead to more consistent play and more consistent drives. This will also lead to higher completion percentage. Sustained drives and completions go hand in hand. Three and outs and incompletions also go hand in hand. If Smith can get his completion percentage to the 60 and above range as opposed to the 56,57 range, I think that will make a huge difference for him. With that said, that is not all on the quarterback, that has a lot to do with play calling, routes being ran correctly, receivers catching balls they are supposed to, etc. Taking what the defense gives you and trusting the big plays to naturally come will help the Bulldogs offense put together complete, sustained drives, as well as a higher completion percentage for Smith. With all that said, I still think Smith is an underrated quarterback with the potential to have a big year. Let’s look at a few clips and see what makes Smith a good quarterback with a bright future.
*Below is a clip that demonstrates Smith’s arm strength. Smith has the tools to make any throw on the field. While some may argue that you don’t want to get in the habit of throwing it up like this, it is an impressive throw nonetheless. Three defenders coming his way, can’t get all his weight into his throw, falling back and the ball still goes over 55 yards in the air. I dig the throw, trust your receiver to catch it or knock it down.
*Below is a clip of Smith climbing up in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield and delivering a strike down the middle of the field.
*Below is a clip of Smith standing in the pocket and taking a shot while delivering a good ball to an open receiver. Watch Smith look off the safety at the start of the play that helps the receiver come open. Good job against a Cover 1 Man Under defense.
*Below is a clutch throw from Smith that helps La Tech put away FAU in the 4th. I believe La Tech was down by 10 in the 2nd quarter in this game. Experience playing in close games like this is beyond valuable to have.
*Last clip, a throw that looks simple, but tougher than it looks. Defense is playing a man under concept and the corner has good coverage on the receiver. Smith makes a great throw between the corner and the safety.
As mentioned multiple times above, Smith has the tools and potential to lead La Tech to a big year. While the depth behind Smith is relatively inexperienced, they are talented guys who have had a chance to learn and grow and would be ready if need be. Could Smith have a big year and potentially be the next NFL drafted quarterback from La Tech? I don’t know that answer, but I will be pulling for him regardless.