Quarterbacks coach and play-caller Mike O’Cain said Monday night he thought Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas was feeling a little more pressure this year, being the featured piece of Virginia Tech’s offense with few proven play-makers around him.
O’Cain would like for him to put it out of his mind.
“The one thing that I told Logan, he can’t go out there and try to play perfect,” O’Cain said. “You need to play mentally perfect, but you’re not going to play physically perfect. Never had one to do that. So you’re going to miss a throw every now and then. …
“You can’t get frustrated. The best in the business, the guys that are playing on Sundays, the same thing happens to them. You forget about it and you go on to the next day.”
Whether that extra pressure has affected Thomas this year or not, something has been off with the junior signal caller so far.
Thomas is 50-for-92 for 707 yards this season, with five touchdowns and three interceptions. That’s a 54.3 percent completion percentage, slightly down from his 59.8 percent last year. The three interceptions he threw Saturday at Pitt were uncharacteristic of the quarterback who was very precise the latter half of last season.
“I feel fine,” Thomas said. “I don’t have a problem with [the pressure] at all. Honestly, I think I had a little pressure on me just because it’s up to me to put the pieces together, I guess, and get everybody flowing in the right direction. So I guess that’s the reason I have pressure on me.”
Teammates were quick to defend their quarterback, who is usually a focal point for the blame when things aren’t going well offensively.
“Nothing’s changed from the very beginning of the season,” Thomas said. “They’ve all got my back just like I’ve got theirs. They understand that it’s not all on the quarterback’s shoulders. Obviously I put a lot of pressure on myself, I guess. At the same time, I have to let some of that pressure go because it’s not always my fault.”
The offensive line has struggled to protect him. Two of his interceptions against Pitt were with defenders right in his face.
“It wasn’t all on Logan,” right tackle Vinston Painter said. “I take the blame for the unit. We should have protected him a little bit better, let him feel more comfortable, more confident back there in the pocket. And definitely that wasn’t his fault at all.”
The stagnant running game, meanwhile, has provided next to nothing, making it easier for defenses to key on pass plays.
“Obviously the running game opens up the pass game,” Thomas said. “It does make our job a little tougher when they’re not even paying attention to play fakes to the running back. But at the same time, like last week, I have to take care of the ball when we do throw it.”
Hokies fans can take heart in the fact that Thomas broke out after a slow start last year too. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes against Appalachian State and East Carolina (granted, those were his first two starts as a collegian). In his fifth game, he struggled against Clemson, completing 15 of 27 passes for 125 yards and being picked off once.
He turned it around the following week in a breakout performance against Miami, when he completed 23 of 25 passes for 310 yards and accounted for five touchdowns, the beginning of a hot streak that lasted through the end of the regular season.
The problem this year is that Virginia Tech — lacking David Wilson, Jarrett Boykin or Danny Coale as play-makers – needs Thomas to be sharp all the time for the offense to work.
“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.”
Here are a few more notes and quotes from Tuesday’s press conference …
- Cornerback Kyle Fuller (shoulder) did some work at practice Monday and looks like he’ll be a participant this week, a big boost to the secondary. “He seems OK,” safety Kyshoen Jarrett said.
- Other help might be on the way. Beamer’s website tweeted that defensive coordinator Bud Foster expects injured linebacker Tariq Edwards to dress for the first time this season. Edwards has been working his way back after having knee surgery in August to remove a screw that was causing discomfort following offseason leg surgery.
- Thomas was a little dinged up after taking some hard hits in the Pitt game. “I took two of probably the hardest hits I’ve taken since I’ve been here, probably in my football career,” he said. He added that he’s good to go this week, though.
- Part of the offensive problems might be a lack of identity. O’Cain said he thought it would take 4-5 weeks for the group to find one. Beamer agreed. “I said before the season started that as many young guys, new guys that I think we have the makings of being a good team,” he said. “We’re not a great team right now and I think we’re continuing to work on that. I think it’s yet to be determined where this team goes.”
- Thomas was asked about the offensive identity too and couldn’t really give an answer. “I guess it’s not really up to me what the identity of the offense is,” he said. “I guess it’s up to the coaches. We’re just pieces of the puzzle, what they want us to do. We’ll just do what they ask of us. They’re not going to have any complaints of what we do.”
- Beamer changed the tenor of the discussion quickly when asked why Virginia Tech has suffered early-season losses so frequently in the last decade. “Well, you know the other side of it is we finish pretty strong,” he said. “I say this, this is a tough business. Most people you go out there and play, they’ve got good players, too. Each week is, you’ve got to be ready to play. I think to try to get through a season without a loss, it’s hard. And to have 10 wins each of the last however many years it’s been, that’s hard. So I think you’ve got to be ready to play every week.”
- The running game (which I’ll be writing about for Wednesday’s paper) has struggled enough that Beamer said the staff will revisit how they’re going to do the running back rotation from here on out. Running backs coach Shane Beamer said Monday that he still sees a four-man, by-committee approach working. Frank made it sound like that will be a point of conversation the rest of the week. Whatever the decision, Frank reiterated that freshman Trey Edmunds will still redshirt this year. “I think still at this point in time it’s what’s best for Trey,” Frank said.
- Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins didn’t mince words about the Pitt game. “We’ve never looked that bad,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. We just wasn’t ready to play. We weren’t really talking or working as a team. We were just playing.” Hopkins thought the d-line wasn’t as physical as it normally is, which led to a stalemate up front. The defense wasn’t getting off any blocks to make plays.
- Communication on the back end was also a defensive issue. Jarrett said the communication broke down in the secondary when Fuller went out. “For future references I feel like a lot more guys are going to step up,” he said. “Even though we’re young, including myself, I could definitely step up and take charge and be more vocal for everyone else.”
- Jarrett’s 94-yard punt return for a touchdown was the longest he’s had in his career. It wouldn’t have happened without a key block from Ronny Vandyke, who took out two Pitt defenders at the same time. “I wasn’t really able to see it as I was running, but I definitely heard the sideline go pretty crazy,” Jarrett said.
- Thomas didn’t necessarily put the Pitt game behind him Sunday. “I guess it’s something you don’t really want to forget,” he said. “It’s something you want to have stick with you so you can do better in the next couple of games, the rest of your games.”
- For those worried about the missing “T” on the Lane Stadium sign, it has been returned. Along with an apology from Georgia Tech’s president.