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October 10, 2013

Joe from The Key Play — a proudly independent Virginia Tech blog and tremendous community — and I did what I hope will continue to be our yearly Q&A exchange for the weekend’s Pitt-VT game. My answers to his questions are over here.

1. Whatever happened to the Virginia Tech running game? Take out the 1-AA Western Carolina game and the Hokies are getting under 105 yards/game on the ground. Is it with the O-line? Has it been the players. Has it been a case of Jay Paterno Syndrome at the Running Back Coach?

Well you’re right, we’ve struggled to run the ball consistently since 2011. David Wilson was a first round pick after that season, and no combination of backs have been able to replace his production. 2012 was an anomaly though. Former offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring and play caller Mike O’Cain tried implementing a wonky pistol offense that resulted in Stiney’s demotion and O’Cain’s termination. Both scheme and talent were issues two years ago.

New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffer has preached a commitment to the run from the minute he was hired last winter. However, opposing defenses have also been determined to stop Tech from rushing, forcing Logan Thomas to win games. Thomas has gotten much better at working through his progressions, and Loeffler has designed good underneath routes that exploit a loaded box, pick up good yards per catch, all while controlling the clock.

Both the o-line and tailbacks have made mistakes and left yards on the field. Tech’s running about as multiple (in every sense of the word) offense as possible. One week it’s rushing from the next spread, zone, power, inverted veer, veer, triple option, etc… I expect the rushing game to strengthen as the o-line and tailbacks become more familiar with the system, different techniques, and all the nuances.

2. Logan Thomas remains a tremendous enigma to me. Three year starter who really was impressive in his first year, but simply looks lost at times two years later. He still terrifies me simply on the potential of what he could do throwing or running — especially in the last two games. Conversely, he still seems to terrify VT fans every game. Is there an explanation? Is there confidence that he is just getting more comfortable in the offense and keep improving?

Well, like you said Logan’s played very well his last two games. Statistically he’s passed for 514 yards (71.95%), 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He’s also been involved more in the ground game. Virginia Tech is much harder to defend when opposing defenses need to account for Thomas throwing and running. Is there an explanation? I’m sure every Tech fan you asked would give a different answer. In 2011, he had weapons around him: Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin out wide, David Wilson behind him, a veteran o-line protecting him in the pocket. Logan, and the new faces around him in 2012, never got on the same page, and the lack of a running game was damning for a team struggling to pass. The offense last season was downright terrible.

At the start of this season, Logan had his share of bad throws, but the receivers didn’t bail him out, and they dropped more balls than the average D-I player. However, the receivers have gotten much better these last couple of weeks, which is encouraging because almost all of them are young. The old guy of the bunch, redshirt senior D.J. Coles, missed all of 2012 after knee surgery following 2011. He came into spring ball, and August camp rather heavy, and his lack of athleticism was noticeable. As the season has progressed, he’s gotten more fit, and has been a scoring machine (5 touchdowns). His only 2 catches against UNC were touchdowns. As the players around Thomas have gotten better, Logan’s numbers have trended upward. Also, Logan’s been much more poised in the pocket this year, with improved mechanics, a result of Scot Loeffler’s coaching.

3. Once more the Hokie defense is the strength of the team. What are the particular strengths and weaknesses of this group?

Through 6 games they haven’t showed many weaknesses. The starting unit struggled a bit against teams running the read option, but that’s really it. This is nitpicking, but defensive depth at linebacker and rover could be issues. Starters Jack Tyler (LB), Tariq Edwards (LB), and Kyshoen Jarrett (rover) have all played brilliant, and while their backups are talented, they’re raw.

Overall this defense has been a pleasure to watch. They attack up front and really depend on some of the guys in the secondary to play on an island. Those guys on the back end have been ballhawks and lead the nation with 13 picks. It was a bit unnerving in August to think about two true freshman starting against Alabama, but Brandan Facyson (corner) and Kendall Fuller (nickel) have been dynamite. The d-line is in the discussion for the best in the nation. Even though the starters get most of the praise, they roll 2-deep across the front-four, and Bud rotates them throughout the game. It’s fun watching a defense pin their ears back with no regard for what might go wrong.

4. The limestone rock helmet? Really? It reminded me of  a car that has been custom wrapped to promote Nature Stone flooring solutions.

It’s Hokie Stone, something special and unique to Virginia Tech. Look, if Pitt put The Wanstache fishtailing in a Camaro because he lost a handle on his Primanti Bros sandwich on the side of its helmets, I wouldn’t hate.

5. Frank Beamer is two years younger than Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim. Have the regular, “are you thinking about retiring” questions from every member of visiting press started happening to him yet?

I guess you were obligated to mention something about basketball in a discussion between two ACC blogs. That question doesn’t come up often, but when it does, Frank’s standard answer is something along the lines of, “As long as I have a good quarterback, I’m going to coach.” He believes he has that in Thomas. Also, I don’t expect him to retire before the 2016 game at Bristol Motor Speedway. He’s a NASCAR enthusiast.





Two things worry me about this game, we have not played well against strong defenses, and secondly we have trouble with QB’s that can run.

Last year we won with turnovers and a strong running game, we need the same formula this year. I hope Logan cooperates and the O-line and Conner are up to the task.

Let’s hope that Vinopal has turned a corner and did not just look good against a slower team. Also need a strong performance from Price.

Comment by gc 10.10.13 @ 7:34 am

Really looking forward to this game. I’ve been to every VT/Pitt game since 1997 (Dad is from Penn Hills). Your fans have always been friendly and welcoming and I think this game will be a great ACC rivalry for years. Two very similar programs with similar blue-collar roots and fans. Hope some of you make it to Blacksburg Saturday!

Comment by VT_MikeO 10.10.13 @ 8:02 am

Backing up gc’s post, here are the stats from last year .. and note the 3 Ints and ground game:

Virginia Tech C/ATT YDS AVG TD INT
Thomas 14/31 265 8.5 1 3

Pittsburgh C/ATT YDS AVG TD INT
Sunseri 19/28 283 10.1 3 1

Rushing Leaders
Virginia Tech CAR YDS AVG TD LG
Thomas 7 28 4.0 0 11
Scales 4 16 4.0 0 10

Pittsburgh CAR YDS AVG TD LG
Shell 23 157 6.8 0 29
Graham 24 94 3.9 2 12

Receiving Leaders
Virginia Tech REC YDS AVG TD LG
Davis 4 129 32.3 1 85
Roberts 2 53 26.5 0 44

Pittsburgh REC YDS AVG TD LG
Shanahan 5 111 22.2 1 40
Street 4 73 18.3 1 33

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 8:02 am

From a VT perspective, this is going to be a fun game this year and for years to come. Playing teams like Pitt was something I truly missed when we left the Big East. At the same time, this game truly terrifies me because we can’t beat you for whatever reason. I can’t imagine any other Pitt opponent hates Walt Harris for his consistent success against us quite like we do. And Vick’s injury the last time we beat you cost us the Miami game the following week and our shot at the national title that year. So even when we win, we lose.

Nonetheless, good luck, hope it’s a good game but the IC Light is drunk in sorrow afterwards, not in celebration.

Comment by TheFifthFuller 10.10.13 @ 8:16 am

@@@@@@@

This game is going to be a huge challenge for Pitt. In
addition, it has the potential to be a blowout unless
Pitt can run the ball. Would love a W however a fall
back position would be to play VT close and earn respect/confidence. Still predicting 5-2 going into the GT game. The final 5 games will define the season.

Comment by JR 10.10.13 @ 8:18 am

We were talking about the Tight ends being a disappointment. I would say the biggest disappointment has been Bennett. He was supposed to be our numero uno running back. He may be injured but so far nothing, he can’t break a tackle and he has no lateral moves. I would rather see the walk-on Brown get his carries, or Ibrahim if he is an up and comer, but he needs a hole to run through.

Defensively, Galambos made a difference last game, you are not supposed to lose your position because of injury, but I would pay close attention to this. We cannot let Logan beat us with his feet.

Comment by gc 10.10.13 @ 8:26 am

gc, contest 2 points

– TEs are not necessarily a disppointment if they are not thrown to …. read Reed’s recent post on the previous blog (What the Hokies Are Doing)

– while Galambos played well, not sure the UVa offense provided a challenge. But a bigger point is that I’m not sure every coach abides by the thought that a player can’t lose a job due to injury .. or should they. I will provide 2 examples:

– Lou Gehrig replacing an ill Wally Pipp (Gehrig went on to start the next 2130 games)
– Tom Brady replacing an injured Drew Bledsoe

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 8:36 am

Joe form Key Play’s anser about their defense playing so well kind of scares me. However, last year, we punched them right in the mouth (so-to-speak) especially in the 2nd half when Shell seem to be bowling over tacklers.

With the exception of their opener with Bama, it appears that VT may not have played a physical OL. UNC and especially GT runs more of a finesse ground game as opposed to staright-ahead smashmouth .. something I think PC loves to do. However, it’s important that we get a lead

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 8:53 am

I’m not worried about an early lead, now that we have a QB that can go “down the field”.

Comment by alcofan 10.10.13 @ 10:04 am

wbb, I am not disappointed with the Tight ends, but was expressing the topic of the discussion.

Good to point out the exceptions to the rule. I think Jack Lambert was another of those cases.

Agree on Galambos and raised the issue with Vinopal.

We will see how much we have improved on D this week. The good news is that VT has not been a good passing team.

Comment by gc 10.10.13 @ 10:06 am

Sorry I know this is a football thread but Jamie Dixon has offered 7’0 260lb C Satchel Pierce, and I REALLY hope this kid picks our panthers: link to espn.go.com

Comment by MikePITT 10.10.13 @ 10:29 am

“if Pitt put The Wanstache fishtailing in a Camaro because he lost a handle on his Primanti Bros sandwich on the side of its helmets, I wouldn’t hate.”

Hey, if Smilin’ Steve did that, I would not hate on him anymore either. In fact, I would declare him to be the greatest man who ever lived.

Comment by 2$Chuck 10.10.13 @ 10:55 am

certainly would be better than Dynocat

Comment by wbb 10.10.13 @ 10:59 am

I agree that Bennett has underperformed to this point in the season. I think that he is still affected by his knee injury from fall camp. Hopefully two weeks to rest up will show us a rejuvenated Sir Issac for Saturday’s game.

We speak about Savage as though he is a veteran NFL player entrenched in his tendencies that he’s developed over years in the NFL. Remember this is a kid that is actually playing his first year of active college football in the last three years. He strikes me as a guy who wants to be coached and is striving to become a more complete QB. His inadequicies are there for sure, but they are aspects that can be improved upon with good coaching. With Bollinger, Rudolph and Chryst at his disposal, givng him the coaching required to address these issues, I expect to see a different QB come the ND and Miami games than the one that started the season.

This VT game is another test for the Panthers at just the right time in their schedule, IMO. But it is not an insurmountable challenge in the least. I really think that we have the edge on this game with the extra week of preparation that we’ve had. Plus, we are the dogs in this one, so we have little pressure on us “not to lose”. Then on the other hand, we have a bunch of young studs who are finding their confidence and are ready to earn some respect in their new conference.

I think that this game could be won by the team who plays a full 60 minutes. It could come down to turnovers if it stays close and that is where Savage comes in with improved play this week, keeping himself out of interception trouble with solid, smart play.

Our Ace in the hole is that we have consistently been starting off strong at the beginning of games. If we are able to do that same thing again in Blacksburg, then that could take the home crowd out of it early and then the home team advantage evaporates also.

We are in for a great contest, I think. Can’t wait for the game!

Comment by Dr. Tom 10.10.13 @ 11:48 am

I didn’t make the connection of the ‘stache on the cathedral to Wanny. That ‘stache was far too symmetrical to be his.

Comment by dinosaur 71 10.10.13 @ 5:54 pm

Pitt loses by 14. Pitts offense has struggled against any type of defense and this is by far the best offense our defense has seen all season. Also, this is the most complete team Pitt has faced all season. I hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t see a Pitt victory. Anyway you slice it this game is a true test of how far Pitt has come and how far they have to go.

Comment by Sam 10.10.13 @ 9:44 pm

Re: Bennett. His injury is still affecting him yet he has a 4.5 ypc average and two TDs. Conner’s rise has helped put Bennett on the bench also but I’m as disappointed as others. Ibrahim might turn out to be the #2 RB in the near future but I’m not counting Bennett completely out yet.

Dr. Tom – I know it seems like I’m dishing it out on Savage a lot but you also have to remember that he is a 23 year old QB who has been in BCS programs for four years and played two season, starting 14 games before he came to PITT. He’s not some young, impressionable kid who can take coaching and change his play. That hasn’t happened with Savage since he reported aboard and won’t in the future. What we see is what we are going to get with him.

If you read what RU fans said about Savage when he left that program and then when he landed at PITT you’d see that he is doing the same things now that he did back in 2009 and 2010. Interestingly enough he had two sterling WRs back in 2009 with Tim Brown and Mohammed Sanu as he does now with Street and Boyd. He played OK back then and has played OK now. IMO we don’t have a better option than Savage and, bottom line, we are winning games. I’d like to see Voytik get some real action though because I’m afraid of what might happen if Savage gets injured.

I’m not real optimistic about Saturday’s game but I think we certainly can pull it out if we keep the game from being a shoot out and are close going into the 4th quarter. That is the big positive with Savage’s talents – if it is a close score are he has the ability to put six points up on one play and with Street and Boyd he has the receivers to accomplish that.

VT’s defensive backs scare the hell out of me though and I’m keeping my fingers crossed they don’t keep their INT streak going, but I feel like they probably will especially if Savage has to throw over 25 passes. This is the type of game where we can’t afford to blow any series at all nor give that offense any extra chances. It would be nice if our QB could put up a good completion percentage in this game to give our defense more time on the bench.

Comment by Reed 10.11.13 @ 6:55 am

I wish it was a home game though.

Comment by Reed 10.11.13 @ 7:02 am

Limestone Rock Helmet:

link to cbssports.com

Comment by Reed 10.11.13 @ 7:03 am

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