“T.J. Yates is going to be the starting quarterback for the James Madison game,” Davis told a large media crowd following practice. “…At this point, we feel like that T.J. gives us the best opportunity to play the best we can offensively for Week One. Right now, all I’m really concerned about is the first game.”
For Yates, the thought of starting a college football game was far from his mind only a few years ago.
“Having this [happen] feels really good,” Yates said. “...Back in high school I was pretty much thinking I'd be playing basketball in college, so this is probably the last thing I thought that would ever happen."
Davis highlighted several reasons that Yates got the nod, including his ability to consistently capitalize on big-play opportunities. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder’s command of the offense, as well as his game management, provided further explanation as to his winning the starter tag.
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“Throughout the spring, throughout training camp, T.J. has gotten better and better every single practice,” offensive coordinator John Shoop said. “That’s really been encouraging. He really understands what we’re asking the quarterback to do, and he’s been working like heck, just like all of the guys are, to tighten up their game in every area.”
Davis has made it clear throughout training camp that earning the starting position at quarterback right now does not mean the decision is finalized.
“Just because you have earned the opportunity to be the starter now, doesn’t mean that it’s etched in stone [or] that it will stay that way forever,” Davis said. “That we expect you to continue to grow, to study, to learn – your performance, your mechanics, your technique, the execution of the offense, the grasp of the offense…If you ever hit a plateau and think that you’ve arrived and that you’re as good as you’re going to get, be careful because there is going to be people chasing you down, trying to get that opportunity.”
Yates beat out senior walk-on Ben Johnson, sophomore Cameron Sexton and freshman Mike Paulus for the headliner role, but Davis wants those quarterbacks to use this announcement as motivation.
“As I told the other three quarterbacks, I would be extraordinarily disappointed if all of them don’t accept that as a challenge,” Davis said. “And I told T.J., I would be disappointed in those guys if they don’t try to beat you out, and try to take that job away from you.”
Yates’ strong showing in the spring, culminating in a 10-of-15 passing performance for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, earned him his front-runner status heading into fall camp – a position he never relinquished.
Yates is far from a finished product, and Shoop indicated that his new starter needed to work on his ability to manage the game from the pocket.
“That’s one of the things that we identified as he really needs to improve on,” Shoop said. “Sitting in the pocket, keeping your eye level up and looking downfield – that’s not always something that you can emulate in practice. Sometimes, game time exposure is the only way you get those [experiences].”
Davis indicated earlier in camp that he hoped his top-two quarterbacks would share the snaps in practice at a 70-30 split. The first-year coach has now adjusted his thought process, however, telling the media that most likely three quarterbacks will see snaps heading in the first game.
“The starting quarterback will probably take somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 to maybe 80 percent of the practice reps during the course of the week,” Davis said, noting that the pecking order after the No. 1 QB has not yet been established. “The other one will probably get 20 percent, and the third quarterback will probably get five percent of the reps -- maybe with the first group -- in preparation for the game against James Madison.”