It was certainly not the start the Tech offense wanted facing Western Carolina, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent that has now not won a game against a Division I football opponent since Oct. 2, 2010 (a span of 28 straight games), in its home opener Saturday.
The Hokies rushed for two yards on two carries, and despite two completions on four attempts for 25 yards to open the game, quarterback Logan Thomas ended the second drive with an intercepted pass in the end zone.
However, a Detrick Bonner 37-yard interception return for a touchdown – Tech’s first defensive touchdown since the 2010 ACC Championship Game –spotted Tech a 7-0 lead, and more importantly, maybe relaxed the offense a little.
“I liked it,” head coach Frank Beamer said of the play. “We’ve had a bunch of them around here, and I hope it’s the first of many this year. We’re going to keep working on our kicking game to get some blocks and get some returns.
“Usually, when we’re scoring a lot, it’s not just our offense. It’s our defense and our special teams that are doing it, too, so that’s something we’re going to be working on improving.”
On Tech’s very next offensive possession, a very methodical 16-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that took 6:27 and spanned the first and second quarters put the team up 14-0 on its way to a 45-3 victory – as Beamer improved to 24-3 in home openers.
“I think that touchdown certainly helped, but we [the offense] weren’t in any kind of panic,” said receiver Willie Byrn, who led Tech with four catches for 58 yards. “Coach [Scot] Loeffler [Tech’s offensive coordinator] stressed that, in these games against FBS opponents, if things don’t go exactly as planned right away, don’t freak out. So we all still had a pretty good head on our shoulders before we started to click it into gear.”
The funny thing about Tech’s third offensive series of the afternoon was that it appeared the Hokies were off-kilter at the beginning of it. After a Trey Edmunds six-yard carry, Tech used a timeout, facing a second-and-4 from its own 19-yard line. And the leader of the offense, Thomas owned up that it was his mistake.
“I had called the wrong play. It was an easy mix-up,” he said. “I’ve just got to get better with it.”
There was no mix-up the rest of the drive as Thomas led the Hokies on their longest drive, in terms of plays, since a 16-play drive that covered 61 yards [7:38 time of possession] against Michigan in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3, 2012. They used a balanced attack of seven runs all by Edmunds and nine passes from Thomas.
The Hokies also converted on all four of their third-down situations, the longest of which was a third-and-6 that opened up the second quarter. On that play, Thomas found Byrn on a sideline route that went for nine yards, the first of two receptions for Byrn in the drive. The second was a 13-yard catch and run that placed the ball at the 1-yard line.
“Naw, my knee was down, but I was trying to get in,” Byrn said about whether he scored on the catch-and-run. “I tried my hardest, but [the defender] was holding me back. If I was two inches taller, maybe, but it’s the story of my life.
“But I wanted it real bad. I got hit at like the 4, and I was trying to spin in, but as long as we get in … I think I’ll get one or two of those, maybe, down the road.”
Thomas was 6 of 9 in the drive for 63 yards and distributed the ball to four different receivers. Joshua Stanford caught two passes for 23 yards, while Demitri Knowles and Kalvin Cline each hauled in one pass, both for nine yards.
“Obviously, we heard all the stuff talked about us over the past week, and we definitely didn’t have our best game last week,” Byrn said, a reference to the drops that plagued Tech’s receivers in the Alabama game. “But we made it a point to come out and prove that we could all catch the ball and get open, and on that series especially we did that.”
“It’s good to see our offense move efficiently and executing the way we know we can execute,” said Stanford, who also caught four passes for 46 yards. “Drives like that … we hope to put every drive together like that. We had some drives that we went three-and-out, but drives like that certainly do build our confidence in our offense.”
It was Edmunds, though, who was called upon on the first-and-goal play from the 1, and he didn’t disappoint, as he smashed his way into the end zone for the first of his two touchdowns on the day. In the drive, Edmunds rushed for 24 of his 26 first-half yards before ending the day with 68 yards on 15 carries.
Two more notes on the scoring drive – the 87 yards covered the longest drive since a 93-yard drive (six plays, 2:29 time of possession) at Miami on Nov. 1 last season and the time of possession was the longest since a drive took 7:12 (14 plays, 52 yards) at North Carolina Oct. 6 of last year.
Later in the game, sparked by a 76-yard touchdown run by Chris Mangus, the Hokies added another scoring drive of 80-plus yards, marking the first time since the Duke game last year that Tech had two touchdown drives of 80 yards or longer in the same game.
“Moving forward, I think we actually have to look at the times we didn’t put up yards and the drives we didn’t execute,” Stanford said. “Western Carolina has some talented guys and are well coached, but we are going to play stronger opponents, and we are going to need to be better when we play those teams.”
Tech is trying to break in a new offense with new offensive coordinator, and the day at Lane Stadium may have not started the way Loeffler had wanted. But almost three hours after the opening kickoff, it should have him feeling a bit better about his side of the ball.
“We started slow, and then as the game progressed, [the offense] settled down,” Loeffler said. “We need to have a faster start, but we improved in some areas. We have established that we have the ability to run it. We have got to keep continuing with our young receivers to get Logan and that unit aligned.”
In week one, Tech faced arguably one of the best teams in college football. In week two, not so much, and both results on the offensive side reflect that. Next Saturday at a 2-0 East Carolina squad should be the true barometer for where the offense stands going forward as it closes in on ACC play.
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