After taking a week off of Making the Leap to prepare for our big finale (and because the writer desperately needed a break) we're finishing off the offensive side of the ball with a choice that may seem a bit odd, but I think is someone that a lot of people are sleeping on: senior quarterback Joe Licata.
Career Review/Why He's Here
Licata was the pride of Western New York coming out of High School, and chose to play for his hometown Bulls and hasn't looked back since taking the reins during the final four games in his redshirt-freshman season. After ending what was a disastrous year on a positive note, expectations and hopes were high entering his sophomore season.
Licata and the team lived up to those expectations and ended up 8-5, with a trip (albeit unsuccessful) to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the program's second bowl since UB rejoined Division I in 1999. Licata passed for 2,824 yards, and threw for 24 touchdowns, one shy of the UB single season record; he also threw for 497 yards in a narrow loss to Toledo when he put the team on his back in the second half. Then, last season, though his worst as a starter (5-6), was his best statistically throwing for 2,647 yards and a school single-season record 29 touchdowns. He also broke the school career touchdown record, reaching 60 career touchdowns.
Joe's on this list because he's one of the MAC's most under-rated passers - snubbed from both the 2014 All-MAC Teams and 2015 Phil Steele preseason All-MAC Teams. A new offensive scheme that will allow him to let loose earlier in games rather than waiting for the team to be down by an exorbitant amount will help showcase his talent as a quarterback who can thrive in situations where he isn't playing against the opponent's 2nd or 3rd string defense. He's shown a penchant for being able to rack up big yards and Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki's pro-style scheme will also help better prepare Licata for the pro game. I'm sure I'll be writing more about that as the season progresses.
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More Making the Leap
- New Offensive Scheme - Just as it could be a boon to Licata's development and his statistical output, the new offensive scheme could present some challenges for the senior signal caller. Learning verbiage, protections, route timing, etc. is difficult for a quarterback, even more so when the quarterback has been sidelined during spring practices. Licata will have a lot of homework to do to make sure that he is fully up to speed in the new offense.
- New Offensive Line - The quarterback is the most important position on the field, but a quarterback will tell you that the most important positions are the big fat guys that keep the quarterback's head on top of his shoulders. That being said, Licata is losing three offensive linemen to graduation and there is a lot of youth and uncertainty in front of him, and if the offensive linemen don't gel quickly then Licata may have a little more dirt on his jersey than he's used to.
Expectations are sure to be high during Licata's senior season. Licata was recently named to the Manning Award Watch List; however, he's been a notable snub from the All-MAC teams. Like I said earlier, Licata is underrated among MAC quarterbacks and has showed some great potential over his three years in Amherst, and with a fresh offensive scheme that is pro-style will help Licata expand his repertoire as a passer and leader on the field.
However, with the new scheme there are a few questions surrounding Joe that will need to be answered as the season progresses; chief among them being his and the offensive line's adjustment to the new offense. While he is a technically sound passer, there are some areas of Licata's game that he will need to work on, especially if he wants to get NFL looks as the season progresses.
One of the biggest knocks on the Licata is his tendency to "float" deep balls which can result in interceptions if the defensive back is positioned correctly. But he also has excellent game management skills, makes good decisions, and in short-to-medium range throws, Licata has a laser and displays good accuracy. For a good example of how Licata looks really really good watch the video of his touchdown to Ron Willoughby against UMass below.
Let's also not forget the treasure trove of weapons that Licata has returning from last season. An ensemble cast on offense gives Licata so much range and depth with what he can do on any given down. Anthone Taylor and the running back stable is extremely deep, and Taylor himself is coming off of a 1,400 yard season; being able to balance run and pass will allow Licata to take advantage of the play-action pass more often. The receivers and tight ends give Licata the options of big, possession-style targets (Ron Willoughby, Matt Weiser, Mason Schreck); smaller, speedier targets that can take the top off of a defense (Jacob Martinez, Collin Lisa, Jamarl Eiland); and guys that can do a little bit of everything (Marcus McGill, Devin Campbell, Kendall Patterson). Licata's supporting cast will be a major help to the senior in his quest for a MAC Championship ring before his time in Amherst is over.
I think when all is said and done, Licata will further cement himself as the greatest quarterback in UB history. He already has all the tools to do so and with a new offensive scheme I think that Licata will rise up to the occasion and put on a show that will make Phil Steele and the rest of the pundits regret not putting him on their All-MAC Teams.
Seeing as the new Leipold regime favors a pro style attack that will maximize the effectiveness of the cast surrounding Licata, I think we'll finally see Joe blossom into an even better quarterback than he already is, leaving his mark as one of the best to ever suit up in the Bulls' blue and white.
Prediction: 280-420, 3,250 yards, 32 TD, 11 INT
Oh, you were probably expecting some sort of prediction on the NFL Draft weren't you? Well, keep an eye out for a post later on down the line.