For only the second time in his sixth season in Blacksburg, Justin Fuente knew who his starting quarterback was entering fall camp.
Braxton Burmeister, who transferred from Oregon in 2019, battled with Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson for the starting role last season. He shared the reps with Hooker, and when the other two left at the end of the 2020 season, the job was his.
The backup quarterback role, though, was up for question. Knox Kadum, a redshirt freshman who played against Clemson last season, was the only other returner. He ended up winning the backup job. Connor Blumrick transferred in from Texas A&M, and true freshman Tahj Bullock arrived in the summer.
Against Middle Tennessee last Saturday, Kadum was thrown into the game in a pinch when Burmeister was injured, while Blumrick played five snaps. Both quarterbacks took advantage of their opportunities.
Blumrick wasn’t on the field much, but he impressed quickly. Midway through the second quarter with the ball inside MTSU’s red zone at the six, Tech threw Blumrick into the game. He rushed for three yards on first down and on third and two, the former Aggie punched it in for his first Virginia Tech touchdown.
“Playing for the first time and scoring in Lane Stadium like that, it’s a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Blumrick said. “It was really special.”
Later in the game in the fourth quarter, Blumrick entered the contest again with the ball in Middle Tennessee territory. On first and ten from the 34, Jaden Payoute came around on a rocket motion, to whom Blumrick faked a pitch, and he kept the ball for a 33-yard run that took Tech down to the MTSU one-yard line.
Wide receiver Tayvion Robinson had a fantastic block downfield on the play, which is part of the reason why he graded out at Tech’s best run blocker, per PFF, with a grade of 90.8.
“It was a little fake reverse, the defense bit for it and I was just running as fast I could,” Blumrick said. “I kind of blacked out, but it was exciting. To hear Lane get like that and to see the fans, it was really special.
“We had been practicing stuff like that kind of all week. They like to put me in to run the ball. I didn’t know exactly when I was going to go in, but Coach Corn and Coach Fu had been telling me all week to stay ready.”
The Pearland, Texas native finished with three carries for 38 yards and a touchdown, third-best on the team.
Knox Kadum took advantage of his opportunities, too. When Burmeister left the game in the first quarter with an injury, Kadum stepped right up to the challenge. He played 18 snaps and completed three-of-four passes for 17 yards while running for 13 yards on two carries.
“Trust me, I’ve been a backup plenty of times and it’s the hardest job,” Fuente said. “Doing all that work week in and week out not knowing if you’re going to play one snap or 100 snaps, but you’re also one twisted ankle away from being the guy, is really difficult mentally. And difficult emotionally. Because the key is to not be satisfied being the backup.
“You don’t want the guy to be satisfied with it, but you also need him to not be an issue with it, and then you need him to prepare his tail off, and many times he goes and watches the whole game and gets on the bus and goes home. And so it is difficult, and I think that’s part of the reason I brought him up. I just thought there was nobody that was like, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do?’ It was like, ‘OK, Knox jump in there and let’s go’ and he didn’t miss a beat.”
After taking a knock early last week, Burmeister returned and played the majority of the game, though Kadum ran the offense on the last two drives. While it was against Middle Tennessee, Tech can feel a little bit better about its backup quarterback position now. Kadum will continue to get reps as the season moves forward, and Blumrick provided a unique weapon off the bench.
Burmeister still seems hesitant to slide, but should a similar injury situation occur again, Tech is in a better situation. Blumrick and Kadum both seemed comfortable, which is important. Of course, Burmeister is still a crucial player. However, if the Hokies needed to go to a quarterback in an emergency situation, there seems to be less of a drop-off now.
“He [Blumrick] is a capable passer,” Fuente said. “I just think he brings us an element of size and speed and courage to run the ball effectively. And his plays, he did. … I feel good about not having an issue with putting him in the ballgame.
“To me, the thing is Knox. Connor did a great job when he was in there, but Knox, at a moment’s notice, was forced to go into the game and operate at a high level, and that’s exactly what he did. Whatever they were statistically, probably unimpressive, but in terms of readiness and ability to understand what they’re trying to get accomplished, he was pretty good.”