Quarterbacks coach and play-caller Mike O’Cain wasn’t pleased with Virginia Tech’s offensive performance Saturday in a 35-17 loss at Pittsburgh, but given the number of offensive starters the team replaced, the feeling-out process has been close to what he thought it would be.
“There’s uncertainty there still,” he said Monday night after practice. “I said this after spring practice: it may take us four or five ballgames before we know what we can do on offense and what we can do well.
“And you don’t replace the number of people that we did, the production that we lost, like that, unless you’re fortunate. Now, if somebody had stepped in and just picked up right where Danny Coale left off or Jarrett Boykin or David Wilson, [OK], but that hasn’t happened yet.
“I think that has had a little bit to do with it. Not all of it.”
There are questions abound about the Hokies’ struggling offense through three games. Tech finished with only 324 yards against Pitt, with only 59 coming on the ground. Quarterback Logan Thomas completed just 14 of 31 passes and was picked off three times.
For the season, Virginia Tech is tied for 79th nationally in scoring offense (26.3 ppg), 89th in total offense (356.3 ypg) and 96th in rushing offense (114.0 ypg).
“I think you recognize the task at hand,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “And it’s not an overnight venture that you go through that all of a sudden the next day you’re there.”
“We’re not overhauling the offense after three weeks, but you look at what are we doing well and what gives us a chance to be successful,” running backs coach Shane Beamer said.
Some of the offense’s problems have been because of Thomas’ struggles, but that’s not all on him. A lot of which has to do with the offensive line’s blocking. Two of his interceptions Saturday came on passes on which he couldn’t follow through, because Pitt defenders had pushed back the line.
With new faces at almost every position, coaches admit that he has to be sharper to make up for some of that inexperience around him.
“Now it’s magnified,” O’Cain said. “You miss that same throw last year, you had some guys that could overcome it. Right now, Logan has to be very good because we have to be, I don’t want to use the term perfect on offense, but we have to be pretty close to perfect on offense for things to work well.”
He hasn’t had much help in the running game. The only game last season in which the Hokies had fewer rushing yards than the 59 they had Saturday was when they ran for only 56 yards in the ACC championship game loss to Clemson.
“It hasn’t been one area. It hasn’t been one position,” Stinespring said. “It’s just been a multitude of things that have gone against us in the running game. We’ve been a little bit of our own worst enemy in terms of that.”
Right tackle Vinston Painter said watching film of Saturday’s game left a “sick feeling in his stomach.”
“As a unit we took a step backwards,” Painter said.
The team wasn’t pointing fingers at each other. Stinespring said Monday’s practice was upbeat. Coaches and players agreed.
“It’s not a blame game,” O’Cain said. “It’s just, sometimes you don’t block them as well. Sometimes you don’t throw it as well. Sometimes you don’t catch it as well. You learn from it, get better from it, but move on. You can’t dwell on what you didn’t do. You’ve got to correct the things that we aren’t doing well.”
Here are some more notes and quotes from Monday’s post-practice interviews …
- I’ll have some more on Thomas tomorrow, as soon as we get him on the podium at the press conference, but here’s one last thing from O’Cain on him: “He probably had as tough a game Saturday from a physical standpoint as he’s had since he’s been here. People in his face, I don’t know how many times he got hit. He kept coming back. Never wavered one bit.”
- Left guard David Wang‘s chances of playing this week don’t sound so good. I saw him in the hallway of the rehab room during practice, although he wasn’t wearing a boot or anything on his foot, which coaches at first feared was broken. It’s not. It’s only a sprain. Still, Stinespring told a reporter that Wang won’t play this weekend. Beamer later said on Tech Talk Live that a decision hasn’t been made yet, but it looks pretty clear where things are heading.
- If Wang can’t go, expect either Matt Arkema or Michael Via to play in his place. Arkema is technically the backup left guard, but Via is a utility man up front and can play anywhere. When Wang left Saturday’s game, Arkema took his place.
- Wide receiver Marcus Davis was blunt about Tech’s shortcomings at Pitt: “We were just kind of sleepwalking, and they hit us in the mouth. … Playing a good team like that, you can’t really afford to do that.” Davis thinks that’s a failure of leadership by the seniors, which includes him. “We took them lightly and they showed us that they are a good team,” he said.
- I’m writing something on the running game for Wednesday’s paper, but Painter took the blame on behalf of the line. “The running backs are doing their job,” he said. “Our job is going to make their job a lot easier. The more we help them out, the better they’ll be.”
- Shane gave his thoughts on what ails the ground game. “I know the fans don’t want to hear it, but as bad as it looked on Saturday, it’s frustrating because you’re just so close on some things,” he said “A couple of runs where if we get a guy blocked on the backside and it’s a long run. A couple of runs where we get a run where we make a little better blocking inside, we have a chance to pop it. That’s every Saturday, you’ve got a chance.”
- Much has been made about Virginia Tech not establishing a featured back. Running back Martin Scales thinks a by-committee approach can work, though. “If you watch the NFL now, it’s a two- and three-back league because running the ball, the backs take a pounding,” he said. “And I believe with four backs, all of have different running styles. The defense, it gets confusing. I’m bigger. I might pound ‘em. J.C. [Coleman] is smaller, so you’ve got to do that. And Tony Gregory is fast as lightning. Mike [Holmes] is elusive. We have a spot for all of us. It just depends on the call.
- Shane doesn’t sound like he’s backing away playing all four. “We’re going to do what gives us a chance to be successful,” he said. “If that means playing all four, great. If that means playing two of those guys, great. To answer your question, I think each week is kind of its own deal.”
- He did say that he’d like to play Scales more. The senior looked as decisive as any of the backs Saturday, running four times for 16 yards. He reeled off a 10-yarder between the tackles on one carry but didn’t get a whole lot more time after that because the Hokies were in a hurry-up mode, when they wanted to have receiving threats out of their running backs.
- Tech has lost a game in September five times in the last six years, yet it has been able to bounce back. Painter says it’s the mood of the team that makes that possible. “The thing that I notice with our teams when this happens is we don’t ever have a group of guys that hold their head down and gloom over the loss,” he said. “We always have a lot of guys that bounce back from it and get tougher instead of falling down from it. So that’s basically what’s going on with this group. We’ve just got to pick ourselves back up and get tougher and hit harder and take over the rest of this season.”