Like you, I’m excited about the start of another college football season, and this year, that excitement comes with the usual hopefulness, but a bit of anxiety as well. We’re excited because of the fresh faces at key positions for Virginia Tech’s team. We’re eager to see the impact that Tech’s new coaches will have on this team on both game day and on the recruiting trail. And everyone is eager to see a new-look Lane Stadium, with a new mammoth video board. But the anxiety exists because there are more questions than normal for the Hokies as the season opener against top-ranked Alabama nears.
Here are some questions – and a few answers – that will prove to be key for this year’s team:
How will Virginia Tech’s offense be different in 2013? Tech head coach Frank Beamer brought in three new assistants on the offensive side of the ball: coordinator Scot Loeffler, receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, and line coach Jeff Grimes. Their job is to help ignite a Tech offense that struggled too often in recent years for Beamer’s liking. Twelve months ago, when the Hokies kicked things off against Georgia Tech at Lane Stadium, their offense was multiple. We saw the pistol. We saw the no-huddle. We saw four-wide sets. We saw the I formation.
“We won’t see that,” Beamer said.
Instead, the head coach wants something simple and effective.
“I look at Alabama’s offense in recent years,” he said. “And I look at Stanford. They run the ball well. They’re physical up front. They can pass the ball, and pass it great, but they control the line of scrimmage and play powerful football.”
Expect the 2013 Hokies to “play to their strengths,” as Beamer said. They may lean to the more conservative side of things, particularly early in the season, and that’s likely the smart strategy with so much youth at key positions on offense.
“Throwing the ball away and punting sometimes isn’t a bad play,” Beamer said. “We’d rather him [Logan Thomas] throw it away, and take our chances with our defense getting the ball back in three plays than forcing balls in there. Interceptions are killers.”
“I went back and looked at the last 60 games Virginia Tech has played and won the turnover battle,” Loeffler said during one of our recent Hokie Club stops. “Do you know what Tech’s record was in those games? 54-6. Virginia Tech is 54-6 when it wins the turnover battle. Our goal is to create offensive advantages through our personnel groupings. We want to confuse the defense.
“In terms of run and pass, we want to be balanced. You have to be balanced, and that’s what we’re going to be. So we’re going to throw the ball probably half the time and run it half the time, and having a veteran quarterback in there who has been around for five years helps.”
What Logan Thomas will we see in 2013? Tech’s quarterback was great as a sophomore and not so great as a junior. Loeffler has worked over and over on Thomas’ mechanics – everything from his throwing motion (ball, arm and shoulder should line up over the hip) to his footwork at the moment of release (step at the target, don’t open up).
Thomas threw 16 interceptions last season “which is far too many,” Loeffler said. “He’s going to be a senior quarterback. We need to get him down to about six interceptions for the season. That’s not an unreasonable number for a fifth-year senior quarterback.”
Thomas has an NFL skill set and the leadership and poise that any coach would love to have. In the past, the Hokies have excelled when they’ve had a fifth-year senior taking snaps, as we know. That’s a big part of the optimism in Hokieland this year.
Who is going to run the football? For the second year in a row, this is a key question heading into the season. Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds is solid (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) and quick (4.37 in the 40-yard dash), but will be making his collegiate debut against Alabama in the Georgia Dome. He has a lot to learn, but so did Ryan Williams and he had his breakout game against Alabama in the 2009 game in Atlanta. Hopefully, Edmunds can do that and solve one riddle that really hampered the Hokies’ last year: the inability to convert on short-yardage situations.
Edmunds has the size and leg drive that could lead to some really critical 1- or 2-yard gains. While those aren’t as thrilling as 25-yard gallops, over the course of the season, converting short-yardage situations will be key for the Hokies.
J.C. Coleman is Tech’s most experienced back, and while he did have a big game against Duke, he didn’t gain more than 50 yards in any other game. This year, expect Coleman to have some explosive plays for the Hokies. He’s a big-play guy. He may not be a 20-carry-per-game tailback, but he’s an explosive kid who will be important in 2013.
Will the offensive line be improved in 2013? One of the most often-asked questions over the summer at the various Hokie Club tour stops was about Tech’s offensive line. At many places, the offensive line lives in obscurity and anonymity, but not for savvy Hokie fans who know that, when Tech has a solid offensive line, it usually wins a bunch of games. And when it doesn’t? The wins are tougher to get.
“I want us to be the toughest, most physical offensive line in the ACC,” Grimes said.
Preseason is a key time for the line. Grimes did like what he saw out of early enrollee Jonathan McLaughlin, who rose to the top of the depth chart by the end of spring ball. Starting a true freshman at left tackle in his very first game against Alabama causes many Tech fans (and likely Thomas) to gulp a bit, and there’s no assurance McLaughlin will be the guy.
If Tech wants to run the ball better this year, it needs good play up front. Andrew Miller’s ankle injury last year required season-ending surgery, and that had a catastrophic effect on the offensive line. Miller is now healthy and will certainly emerge as a leader up front.
The Hokies will rely more on zone blocking this season. “You’ll be able to see the difference,” Miller predicted. “We’re going to work better together. We’re blocking in spaces better. We have the cohesiveness and toughness.”
That’s just what Grimes wants to hear, and what Hokie fans want to see. You can sense an immediate change in the culture of Tech’s offensive line since Grimes’ arrival from Auburn earlier this year. Five commitments from high school offensive linemen have made people take notice, too.
Does Tech have receivers who can stretch a defense? They’re going to have to prove it against Alabama. Get used to names like Josh Stanford, Demitri Knowles and Charley Meyer, who all join veteran D.J. Coles at the receiver positions. How will they handle a guy like Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and other really good defensive backs this season? It’s going to be a learning experience, for sure, but it’s a group that needs to really improve as this season progresses. This is one area where you assume someone, or two or three will emerge. The question is who?
How good will Tech’s defense be? Last year, the Hokies finished 18th in total defense (333.15 yards per game), tied for ninth in tackles for loss (7.62 per game), fifth in third-down conversions (28.2 percent), and tied for 19th in sacks (2.69 per game). It marked the eighth time in nine seasons as a member of the ACC that Tech’s defense was ranked in the top 20 in total defense. And this year’s defense could be even better.
Why? In the last six games of last season, the Hokies recorded 27 sacks and played with tremendous ferocity and discipline, and that has coordinator Bud Foster excited. The Hokies don’t have the overall depth on defense we’re use to seeing, but boy, do they have some playmakers up front and on the back end. Linebacker Tariq Edwards is a dynamic player, and expect newcomer Kendall Fuller to contribute as well during his true freshman season.
The CliffsNotes version:
Any time you combine a fifth-year senior quarterback with an elite defense and an outstanding kicking game, you have the chance to have a very special season. In Thomas, placekicker Cody Journell, punter A.J. Hughes, and that defense, the Hokies have a fantastic base.
But … inexperience at receiver, tailback and along the offensive line raise serious question marks. Will this offensive unit have the ability to run the ball, stretch the field and be consistent, or will it be a stutter-and-putter group that struggles in the red zone, in short-yardage situations, and have turnover issues as it did last year? Does this team truly have enough talent to win at the highest level?
The attitude and work ethic around the program has been encouraging, and the fresh faces around the offices and on the practice field have brought with them a contagious enthusiasm. The Hokies have a chance to have a really nice season this year if things come together. We’ll get our first look at them at the Georgia Dome.
Tech Talk LIVE! Details
Our weekly radio show, Tech Talk LIVE!, begins on Monday, Aug. 26 and originates from Bull & Bones at the First and Main Complex in Blacksburg. The show airs from 7-9 p.m. Here are the guest lists for the first six weeks:
Aug. 26: Jim Weaver, Bud Foster Jack Tyler, Logan Thomas, Frank Beamer
Sept. 2: Jim Weaver, Scot Loeffler, D.J. Coles, Antone Exum, Frank Beamer
Sept. 9: Jim Weaver Charley Wiles, Andrew Miller, Kyle Fuller, Frank Beamer
Sept. 16: Jim Weaver, Shane Beamer, Cody Journell, J.R. Collins, Frank Beamer.
Sept. 23: Jim Weaver, Lester Karlin/Mike Gentry, Tony Gregory, Tariq Edwards, Frank Beamer.
Sept. 30: Jim Weaver, Torrian Gray, Derrick Hopkins, James Gayle, Frank Beamer.
Virginia Tech Sports Today
Our weekly television show, Virginia Tech Sports Today, makes its season debut on Sunday, Aug. 25. We’re excited to announce that we’re producing and distributing the show in high-definition this season, so you’ll notice a big difference when we hit the airwaves. Virginia Tech Sports Today can be seen each Sunday on these stations:
Roanoke, WDBJ 7, 11:30 a.m.
Roanoke, MY 19, 11:30 a.m.
Bluefield, WVVA 6, noon
Bristol, WCYB 4, 9:30 a.m.
Harrisonburg, WHSV 3, noon
Norfolk, WAVY 10, noon
Richmond, WRIC 8, noon
CSN Washington, 10:30 a.m.
Re-airs Saturdays at 11:30 a.m.
FSN South, 9:30 a.m.
We’re excited to be partnering with both Comcast SportsNet in Washington and FoxSporth South to carry Virginia Tech Sports Today again this season. As a result, we’re able to reach fans from Baltimore to Birmingham, Atlanta, and the Carolinas and everywhere in between.
Would like to get your impression of the recently announced ACC football schedule rotation. As a season ticket holder, I am completely disappointed in the prospects of playing Atlantic Division members every six years (12 years between home games). For example, we will play Florida State in 2018 and 2023. Heck, recently we have played Alabama more frequently than we will play FSU. All this to try and preserve forced rivalries for certain Florida and Carolina teams.
I realize your job is to broadcast the games we are handed, but you have always been straight with your audience. Do you see anything positive about this schedule arrangement? Joe Collins, (’72) Apex, N.C.
One of the disadvantages of a 14-team conference is the lack of a true round-robin schedule. Add Notre Dame into the mix – the Irish will play five ACC teams each year starting in 2014 – and the schedule gets even tighter.
The league had planned to play a nine-game conference schedule, but those plans were scrapped when the Irish were added. I agree with you. I’d like to see the Hokies play the Seminoles more than once every six years. But the divisions are set on competitive balance (not for any North Carolina-centric favoritism), and while the AD’s have discussed tweaking the divisions, “We keep coming back to the same alignment,” Commissioner John Swofford said in his annual address in July at the Grandover.
Why do we always seem to play ECU at their place or at a neutral site (e.g., Charlotte)? Why doesn’t Virginia Tech ever require them to come to Blacksburg? Thomas Harriman, Suwanee, Ga.
I’m not sure what you’re looking at for a point of reference. The Hokies have faced East Carolina 17 times in school history. Eight of those games have been played in Lane Stadium (1987, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2007 and 2010). Seven of the games have been in Greenville and just two were played at neutral sites (in 1956 and 2008). In the current series, ECU will visit Lane Stadium four more times (2014, 2016, 2018, 2020), and the Hokies will visit Greenville four times (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019).
Here is how the divisions should look – North: Boston College, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, Virginia Tech, UVa and Miami; South: UNC, Duke, NC State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State. This makes sense to me because you preserve rivalries and the north looks similar to the old Big East. I also believe its important for the schools between Carolinas and Tallahassee to be in the same division. I am eager to hear your opinion on this. Chris Judd, Stewart, Va.
As I mentioned above, Commissioner John Swofford said the leagues’ AD’s looked at this and discussed various revisions, but basically came to the conclusion that the current setup works best, all things considered. And in 2014, Louisville will simply slide into Maryland’s slot in the league’s Atlantic Division. I’m like you. I’d like to see more Tech vs. Florida State games, or Georgia Tech vs. Florida State. But the divisions are based on competitive balance, not on geography, and they’ve done their best to maintain rivalries. Having Notre Dame in the mix changes things, and I think our schedules will all be enhanced in the coming years.
Do you think Kendall Fuller will be on the field this year with his brother, Kyle? I know he’s a true freshman, but it would be neat to see another set of brothers playing together (like we had with Kyle and Corey last year, and with the Hopkins’ brothers.) Rick, Richmond.
Absolutely. Baring any surprises in preseason camp, I think Kendall will be out there for Tech this season. He’s been coached well over the years and is really advanced.
Give me one player on offense who you think will really step up this season and one guy on defense. You know these guys. Give me insight! I’m going with Trey Edmunds on offense and Desmond Frye on defense. He showed real speed in the spring game. I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Matt, Alexandria.
I’m with you on Edmunds and Frye. Good kids. Good players. I asked Coach Beamer that exact question at the Virginia Beach kickoff dinner. His response: Demitri Knowles on offense and Kendall Fuller on defense. It’s hard to argue with those two players either.
But two guys whom I think will be really important for Tech are Ronny Vandyke and Edmunds. I’d be surprised if Ronny isn’t one of the biggest playmakers on the field this year for Tech. Offensively, the Hokies have to run the ball better this season. If we get into the situation where Logan Thomas has to carry the football 29 times – as he did last year against Virginia – that’s a bad sign. It’s hard to envision the Hokies having a good running game without Edmunds being a major part of it.
Do you think this team is “tough” enough? I wonder sometimes. Ron, Martinsville, Va.
You weren’t around for “T Time” during spring practice, were you? The Hokies have question marks in terms of depth and experience (as do many college teams) and talent at some playmaking spots. But toughness? Hmmm … ask the Rutgers quarterback what he thinks.
How do you pick which coaches are on the radio show each Monday? Randy, Roanoke.
There’s a rotation set in July for all 20 weeks of the football season. We try to get all the assistant coaches on there at least twice. I give Coach Beamer a list, and he tweaks it (for example, asking that we go with Lester Karlin and Mike Gentry as guests when there’s a short week before a Thursday game), and we run with it.
How come no love for punter A.J. Hughes? Nobody EVER talks about the punter. Skippy, Blacksburg.
You’re not listening closely! We’ve raved about A.J. Tech doesn’t win the bowl game in Orlando without his great work (11 punts in that game for a 42.2-yard average, and he pinned Rutgers inside its 20-yard line four times). I’ll say it here: if he continues to work hard and improve during the next couple of years, Hughes will be an NFL punter.
Picking your brain here. The next president at Virginia Tech will be
a) In a private box at the Georgia Dome for Virginia Tech vs. Alabama
b) On the field at the Georgia Dome for Virginia Tech. vs. Alabama
c) Watching the game on TV somewhere in the USA
d) Completely oblivious that Tech is even playing
Neat question. Here’s my “politically appropriate non-response:”
Having no idea which way the committee to replace Dr. Steger is thinking, I have no idea. However, I would hope it’s not “d.”
And, in the event it’s “a” or “b,” we should all be very polite and cordial to everyone we meet. Just in case, right?
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