This is something new I’m trying the day after games. I’ll give five thoughts that stick out to me on the game. Again, I might tweak the formula over time, so we’ll see how this works.
1. That was the real Logan Thomas at the end of the game, not the first three quarters.
Thomas was apologetic after the game for his performance, which was lackluster for three quarters but spot on at the end. Whether it was opening-night nerves, getting used to all the new starters on offense or the defense thrown at him by Al Groh, Thomas didn’t look anything like himself for most of Monday’s game, sailing errant throws high and wide of his receivers early on. I’m sure it made plenty of people around the country seeing him for the first time wonder what all the hype was about.
But when the Hokies needed him most, he was on the money. The 42-yard touchdown pass to Demitri Knowles couldn’t have been put in a better spot. And it’s hard to argue with the way he moved the team 51 yards in 44 seconds to get the game-tying field goal by Cody Journell at the end of regulation. Thomas’ final stats were just OK (21-for-38, 230 yards, 2 TD), but he was 9-for-12 for 140 yards in the fourth quarter, which looked a lot more like the Logan Thomas from the end of last year.
2. The receivers are deeper than anyone thought.
The consensus heading into the season is that Tech would be OK in the receiving game with seniors Marcus Davis, Dyrell Roberts and D.J. Coles, with little mention of the rest. But after Davis and Coles both left for parts of Monday’s game with injuries, the Hokies have to feel good about how Corey Fuller and Knowles stepped up. Fuller is the overlooked one of his brothers, a Kansas transfer who used to run track and had mostly been an afterthought. He had a few big scrimmages in the spring, but also had drops. He made big catches in big spots Monday, though, hauling in passes of 22 and 23 yards on Tech’s game-tying drive at the end of the fourth quarter, the second coming on a slant on fourth down that he cut up field after shucking a tackle to get the ball into field goal range. He also wisely jumped on a Davis fumble at the end of long gain to help the Hokies keep possession.
We’ve all heard about Knowles’ speed, and quite honestly, that might be enough for him at this point. The redshirt freshman ran a go route on his touchdown grab and the Georgia Tech defender couldn’t keep up with him. He made a nice catch while being dragged down in the end zone, a big deal, since the penalty only would have only been 15 yards. The Hokies obviously hope that there’s nothing seriously wrong with Davis and Coles (and if my memory serves me correct, they both returned to the game). But now they know that they’re a little deeper at receiver than first thought.
3. The offensive line and running game will be a work in progress.
It’s hard to judge this group after a game against a Georgia Tech defense that looked like it was playing very well. The positives? Thomas was only sacked twice, and the run blocking looked OK at times. The negatives? The consistency wasn’t there, as you’d expect. The Hokies finished with 96 rushing yards, their lowest total in a win since the Nebraska game in 2009. The misplayed snap on the punt lost 23 yards, skewing the numbers. Take that out, and Tech averaged 3.5 yards a carry. Not great, but not the 2.7 that shows up on the stat sheet. Michael Holmes looked OK at times (the overtime especially) and you’d figure his comfort will grow with time. Same for the offensive line, which went with the same five the entire game, with Michael Via at right guard. It’ll be interesting to see if Brent Benedict rotates in now (I’d imagine that’d be the case against Austin Peay) and just how that operation will work moving forward, but I think the coaches have to be encouraged with the way the group handled itself in the opener, even if it wasn’t pretty at times.
4. The defense is legit.
I think everyone expected the defense to be strong, but that was a pretty good opener. The Yellow Jackets had their fewest total yards (288) and rushing yards (192) against the Hokies since Paul Johnson took over as coach. Only once last year — against Miami in October — did Georgia Tech have fewer rushing yards than it did Monday night, so Bud Foster and his crew did their homework in the offseason. One demerit for that touchdown drive at the end, when Georgia Tech beat the Hokies in the air of all places. But you couldn’t have asked for much more out of this crew, particularly linebacker Jack Tyler (17 tackles), whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (11 tackles) and defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins (11 tackles), who all had career highs in tackles. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett answered a lot of the questions about his physicality, finishing with nine tackles and a TFL, and bringing some pop on a few plays. I thought end J.R. Collins had an active game, with six tackles and 1.5 TFLs. For a game in which the defensive preparation is different from anything they’ll see this year, the Hokies did a commendable job.
5. Beamerball still isn’t right.
Even the TV announcers began criticizing Virginia Tech’s special teams play Monday night, and with good cause. The dropped snap by punter A.J. Hughes was the sort of thing you’d expect to happen to a freshman on the big stage for the first time (although he was OK otherwise, with three punts downed inside the 20). The return game didn’t provide major highlights, although J.C. Coleman showed some burst on a 34-yard return to start the game. And Tech missed an opportunity to down a punt inside the 5-yard line on one occasion. Journell shook off what could have been a devastating 38-yard miss to hit the game-tying field goal from 41 yards out at the end of regulation, then hit a chip shot in overtime. That might have been just what he needed to get back into the right frame of mind. Hughes could be OK, but still, the special teams lacked the game-changing plays that defined the program over the years.