Former Saline all-state quarterback Josh Jackson is off to an outstanding start as the redshirt freshman starting quarterback of the No. 12 Virginia Tech Hokies.
“It’s definitely been an exciting season and things have been going well so far,” Jackson told The Detroit News during a phone interview after practice Tuesday night. “We have a big week coming up.”
A big week, indeed. Defending national champion and No. 2 Clemson visit Blacksburg to play the Hokies Saturday night with ESPN’s College GameDay on board.
The last time the teams played, Clemson came away with a 42-35 win in the ACC championship game. The Tigers went on to defeat Alabama in the national title game.
Jackson has helped Virginia Tech to a 4-0 start, opening the season with a 31-24 win over West Virginia, throwing for 235 yards and a TD and running for 106 and a score.
Jackson carried that momentum into wins over Delaware (27-0), East Carolina (64-17) and Old Dominion (38-0), engineering an offense that has averaged 40 points and 507.3 yards of total offense.
Jackson has completed 65.2 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,127 yards and 11 TDs with just one interception.
Jackson’s go-to receiver is senior Cam Phillips, who is second nationally in receptions (34) with a nation-high 523 receiving yards, along with five TDs. Phillips had 12 catches for 92 yards and a TD in last year’s ACC title game.
“I think it was really important for us to start out strong and carry that into (the Clemson game),” said Jackson. “I couldn’t say I’d thought that this is how it would go (his start), but I have good coaches and good teammates so I’m not completely surprised.
“Our success comes from taking care of the ball and taking it away from people and staying away from penalties.”
Virginia Tech has forced seven turnovers while turning the ball over just two times for a plus-five turnover margin.
Jackson watched and learned during his redshirt season, taking in Jerod Evans’ brilliant season where he completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 3,546 yards and 29 TDs (eight INTs) for a 10-4 record, including a Belk Bowl win over Arkansas.
“I learned a lot,” Jackson said of the 2016 season. “I took in the atmosphere of games, watched Jerod play and learned from him. I think I improved from predicted outcomes and knowing what’s going to happen, also being able to get the ball out faster.”
As for Phillips’ contributions, Jackson said, “He’s just is an all-around great receiver. He can make me look good; even when I throw him a bad ball he catches it. He has a great work ethic and is a great person too.”
Jackson says the Blacksburg campus is buzzing with the national champs and College GameDay coming to town.
“Everybody’s excited for the game, but at the end of the day it’s just one conference game and we’re going to try and get a victory,” said Jackson. “We have to take care of the ball, stay away from penalties and try to take the ball away from them.”
Clemson will be Jackson’s biggest test, coming in with the nation’s No. 3 ranked defense (227 total yards, 9.3 points), giving up just four TDs all season.
Clemson has a school-record seven straight wins over ranked opponents, passing two tests this season with victories over Auburn (14-6) and Louisville (47-21).
Jackson is thrilled his parents get the opportunity to watch him play. His father, former longtime Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, is now head coach at Ypsilanti Community High School.
“It’s awesome,” said Jackson, who led Saline to a Division 1 state title game appearance his junior year in 2014. “My mom was always able to come to my games, my dad not so much. So him being able to drive down and see the games is really nice and I really enjoy it and appreciate it.”