The Hokies are going to a bowl game after Saturday’s 17-14 win against rival Virginia, which extended Tech’s winning streak in the series to a record nine games. You can read all about the game here.
1. It was not a thing of beauty and will only get the Virginia Tech to a lower-tiered bowl, but the benefits are tangible.
As frustrated as a lot of fans have been, you don’t turn down wins against your rival or a bowl trip. The Hokies, despite being far from perfect this year, have won nine straight against the Cavaliers and 13 of the last 14. As much as the coaches say that doesn’t have a real tangible effect on recruiting, I have to believe there’s got to be some benefit. Nobody wants to be on the losing side of the state rivalry, particularly when it’s become as lopsided as this one. It’s got to be something of a recruiting tool for coaches to go into a high school and be able to say that they almost always have beaten their rival in the last decade and a half.
As for the bowl, I’ve seen plenty of disenchantment from blog commenters about not even wanting this team to go to a bowl after such a down year (and yes, I realize that’s not exactly a cross section of the fan base that’s always the most level-headed about its opinions). But getting to a bowl game, even a lower-tiered one, is a benefit. For starters, it gives this team something to do over the next month instead of stewing over a sub-par season. The December practice time is always valuable for young players, particularly the redshirts, who don’t usually get a ton of reps. And for seniors like Bruce Taylor and the rest, you always like to see them get a fitting ending to their career, not have it end with a loss in November. The fans might not be excited about a bowl trip for this team, but I guarantee you the players and coaches are.
2. Logan Thomas had a gritty performance, but there are throwing issues that can’t be overlooked.
First things first: Virginia Tech does not win that game without Logan Thomas. He struggled passing the ball and had a costly fumble that UVa turned into a touchdown, but he put the running game on his shoulders, grinding out 89 yards on 29 carries and scoring the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Don’t believe me? Here’s what Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid said after the game: “I think anybody who plays Virginia Tech would say the same thing, It’s Logan Thomas. And, everybody who says that is exactly right. Gosh, I just think he’s magnificent. … You’d have to send me away if I didn’t say he was the difference in the game.”
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t larger issues to address with Thomas’ game. If he sticks around for his senior year (and I’d say the chances of that are very good), his passing, which took a step back this year, needs to be addressed. I’ve seen it mentioned that the offseason quarterback camp messed with Thomas’ mechanics. That seems like a red herring. Three days of a few drills on the beach cannot explain a full season of struggles, particularly when you consider that if this were true, he had all of spring, summer and fall to correct whatever missteps were made. (Plus, George Whitfield has coached Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and more. I think he knows what he’s doing.)
But something is off. The weather was horrible for passing yesterday, but he still went 18-for-38 for 129 yards, often missing low with his passes, a change from a season-long issues of throwing high. He’s had bouts of inconsistency all year, looking lost at times and sharp at others. You can see the potential there. Perhaps a chance to clear his head this offseason will help. Perhaps having his complementary parts get another year of experience will help. And perhaps (and this is pure speculation) he might have different coaching his senior year. But I don’t think anyone can deny that something didn’t look right with Thomas all year. And the Hokies need him to be sharp if they are going to get back to a Virginia Tech-like level next season.
3. The running game needs a jolt.
It says something about the running game that when the Hokies needed tough yards and wanted to move the ball with any kind of consistency on the ground, they called Thomas’ number over and over. That’s never been the case. Tech has always had some kind of power back that can move the chains and get extra yardage after contact. Even David Wilson, although he wasn’t huge, had a knack for breaking tackles and getting extra yardage. But there’s clearly nobody on the roster right now that can do that consistently and be the dynamic back that the Hokies need. Martin Scales is a power guy, but he’s limited in what he can do as an everydown ballcarrier. J.C. Coleman is shifty, but there’s only so much someone who is 5-8, 185 can do running into the heart of the line. Tony Gregory is fast but probably not as rugged as Tech needs. And Michael Holmes, once the heir apparent in the ground game, didn’t come close to preseason expectations.
This issue is not limited to the running backs. The line needs to block better to open some holes. And with Vinston Painter, Nick Becton and Michael Via graduating, who knows what that group will look like next year? But some fresh faces in the backfield could help. Drew Harris, who went to Fork Union this fall, is still expected to sign with the Hokies this offseason. He’s a 220-pounder who, just from seeing him in person, seems like he could be a workhorse. Then there’s Trey Edmunds, a two-way player who started at running back but redshirted this year. Frank Beamer doesn’t throw out comparisons to Kevin Jones casually, so the fact that he did earlier this season tells you Edmunds is pretty impressive. In practice, we got a front-row look at Edmunds stand Scales up on a few one-on-one drills. He’s powerful. You’d have to imagine with the way the ground game lacked that type of runner this year that both Edmunds and Harris would get a good, long look in the backfield next season. It’s not a cure-all, but it would certainly help.
4. If the defense had played like this earlier in the season, the Hokies would probably be in the ACC title game.
This is not to pin Virginia Tech’s shortcomings on the defense. Some of those early-season loses, particularly Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, were total team failures. But the Hokies’ defensive performance ever since the debacle against North Carolina has been commendable. Since the Tar Heels put up 533 yards, Tech has allowed the following yardage totals — 329 to Duke, 295 to Clemson, 347 to Miami, 311 to Florida State, 296 to Boston College and 217 to Virginia. That’s 299.2 yards per game, which, had they been doing it all season, would rank 10th nationally. (Some of those big-point games like Clemson and Miami were more a function of field position than poor defense.)
Now, I know it doesn’t work that way. You can’t take away your worst outings and say what could have been. But it’s encouraging after the early struggles that Virginia Tech could right the ship on defense, and it bodes well for next year. Taylor, Antoine Hopkins, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Alonzo Tweedy are the only seniors in the group. Taylor is obviously a leader, but Jack Tyler has played well and could step in at mike if Tariq Edwards can return to form after what was essentially a lost season because of a shin/leg injury. Hopkins was a part-time player at a position where the Hokies have depth. And while Gouveia-Winslow and Tweedy leaving hurts the depth at whip linebacker, Ronny Vandyke has always been considered the future of the position. If guys like James Gayle, Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller stick around for their senior year, this could be a pretty strong defensive unit next season.
5. The Hokies’ bowl picture is muddled but cleared up a little bit last night.
Tech won’t know for sure what its bowl destination is until after the ACC title game, but everybody in the league moved down a peg once Clemson lost to South Carolina last night. That’s because the Tigers probably have no shot at an at-large BCS berth, which pushes everyone down in the bowl pecking order to the usual ACC slots.
This is what we know. The ACC order of bowl picks is this: Orange (Miami), Chick-fil-A (Atlanta), Russell Athletic (Orlando), Sun (El Paso), Belk (Charlotte), Music City (Nashville). The bowl eligible teams in the league right now are: Florida State (10-2), Clemson (10-2), N.C. State (7-5), Georgia Tech (6-6), Virginia Tech (6-6), Duke (6-6). That’s it. North Carolina (8-4) and Miami (7-5) have postseason bowl bans.
That would seem to put the Hokies in the range for the Russell Athletic, Sun, Belk and Music City bowls. What really matters is how Georgia Tech is treated. Because of all the postseason bans, the Yellow Jackets, despite being .500, are in the ACC title game against Florida State. Lose that and they’ll be 6-7, which would technically be ineligible for a bowl. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm wrote about the pecking order for 6-7 teams that lose their conference title game. With 72 bowl-eligible teams for 70 spots right now, that would seem to leave Georgia Tech on the outside looking in if it loses to FSU.
But, the ACC has a rule that the title game loser can’t be selected lower than the Sun Bowl. Joe Giglio of the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer tweeted that Georgia Tech is trying to file a waiver to be bowl eligible even if it’s 6-7 (something UCLA did last year, although it seems like the NCAA’s legislation changes this offseason was written specifically to address that situation). Perhaps it has something to do with the league trying to fill all of its affiliations with bowls (something the ACC won’t come close to doing this year). It’s unclear at this point how that will play out. Either way it goes, it will likely impact where the Hokies go for the holidays.
I’ll have more on this during the week. In the meantime, here’s Palm’s projections for the bowls. It has Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl playing Rutgers.