Usually, you’d do one of these midseason reviews at the midway point of the season. But the bye week presents a natural break, so I’m using it to take a look at both sides of the ball the next two days, pointing out some highs and lows.
Feel free to agree or disagree with my selections. The comments section is open for it.
The offense is up first …
** Rushing offense: 175.0 ypg (72nd nationally, 5th ACC)
** Passing offense: 242.0 ypg (52nd nationally, 9th ACC)
** Total offense: 399.0 ypg (66th nationally, 9th ACC)
** Scoring offense: 29.0 ppg (58th nationally, 6th ACC)
High point: They have been few and far between, but the Hokies’ offense has had some moments. Probably the best they’ve looked was the final three-plus quarters of the Duke game. Tech scored 41 unanswered points and finished with 525 yards. It got long touchdowns from running back J.C. Coleman (45, 86 yards) and wide receiver Marcus Davis (42, 47 yards) and ran the ball as well as it has this year, finishing with 269 yards on the ground. At one point, the Hokies scored on seven of nine possessions.
Also considered: 4th quarter/overtime vs. Georgia Tech, 4th quarter vs. Cincinnati, passing game at North Carolina
Low point: Plenty of candidates here, but considering the talent of the opposing defense and the number of opportunities missed, we’ll go with the Clemson game last weekend. The Hokies managed only 17 points and 406 yards against a Tigers defense that was allowing 37 points and 523 yards a game against ACC foes. What pushed this one to the top is that the defense played a game that was probably good enough to win, and the offense couldn’t capitalize, frequently putting the D in unfavorable situations field position-wise.
Also considered: All of the Pittsburgh game, 1st half vs. Cincinnati
Biggest surprise: When D.J. Coles went down with a season-ending knee injury, it was a blow to Virginia Tech’s receiving corps. But Corey Fuller has stepped in to have a big season. The senior has 25 catches for 503 yards, both second on the team to Marcus Davis. He’s tied with Davis for the team lead with four touchdown receptions. And he’s come up big in big spots. He had two clutch catches on the tying drive against Georgia Tech, then jumped on a fumble to help Tech maintain possession. And he had what everyone thought was going to be a game-winning 56-yard touchdown catch in the final two minutes against Cincinnati.
Also considered: Coleman, Vinston Painter
Biggest disappointment: It has to be the running game as a whole. The Hokies didn’t have a 100-yard rusher until the seventh week, when Coleman burst onto the scene. The Hokies have had some big rushing games, but not consistently and not against the best competition. Tech ran for 96 yards against Georgia Tech, 59 against Pittsburgh and, worst of all, only 40 against North Carolina. It’s not all on the backs. The blocking has been inconsistent and, at times, non-existent. The Hokies are scrapping the four-back rotation this week. Frank Beamer says four is too many, but many fans are wondering why it took the staff eight weeks to come to that conclusion.
Also considered: Logan Thomas, the interior line, wide receiver drops/poor blocking
Offensive MVP: Davis has been good. He has 643 yards and is on pace for the school’s first 1,000-yard season by a receiver if the Hokies play 13 games. But he disappears at times and is uninterested in blocking most of the time. I’ll go a different route, then: left tackle Nick Becton. Nobody hears much about him because he’s a quiet, unassuming guy and plays a position that doesn’t garner a whole lot of attention. But he’s been consistently good. You don’t hear much about him, which for a left tackle, is a good thing. Tech has stopped posting individual grades after each game, but when it was putting them up, Becton was consistently the highest-rated lineman. Pass protection has been an issue at times this year for the Hokies, but it hasn’t been coming from Thomas’ blind side.
Also considered: Thomas, Davis, Coleman
Telling stat: Virginia Tech has 118 plays of 10 yards or more (tied for 28th nationally), 41 plays of 20 yards or more (tie for 16th nationally), 20 plays of 30 yards or more (tied for 13th nationally) and 14 plays of 40 yards or more (tied for fourth nationally). Yet the overall offensive stats are still lagging, showing just how inconsistent and reliant on the big play the Hokies’ offense has been.
Telling stat, Part II: Thomas has 10 interceptions through eight games, two of which have been returned for touchdowns. He had 10 in 14 games last year.
Telling stat, Part III: The Hokies are 3-for-13 on fourth downs this year. Their 23 percent success rate ranks 112th nationally. Eight times they elected to run on fourth down. Only twice did they convert. Their quarterback is still 6-foot-6, 250 pounds.
Outlook: Tech has had moments where it looks like a fully-functioning offense and then others where it looks completely lost. Some of this had to be expected, having had to replace the school’s two all-time leading receivers, four linemen, a tight end and an ACC Player of the Year-caliber running back. Add in injuries to Coles, a receiver expected to have a big role, and Andrew Miller, the only returning starter on the line, and it’s not crazy to see why this group has taken a step back.
But there are still enough flashes of success to drive the fan base crazy when things don’t come together consistently. Thomas hasn’t been as sharp as last year, although he’s being asked to do much, much more than last season. Consider this: for a 13-games season, he’s on pace to pass for more yards (3,103) and throw for more touchdowns (21) than he did a year ago, while putting up similar rushing numbers. He just hasn’t been nearly efficient, which is partly due to his supporting cast.
There’s no White Knight riding in to save the Hokies this year. The offensive line, particularly with a patched-together interior group, has its limitations, which affects both the passing and ground games. The running backs, as of now, don’t have a difference maker the caliber of David Wilson or Ryan Williams or Darren Evans. The receivers have been plagued by too many drops. And the play-calling, as many fans have fixated on, has been underwhelming a lot of the time. Add it together and it has made for a long year.