It’s back to the grind after a travel day yesterday. Here’s my follow-up story in today’s newspaper about what now for the Hokies’ offensive coaching staff.
I usually do this post the day after the game, but it was a late one Friday night, so I pushed it back to Sunday. Here are five thoughts following the Russell Athletic Bowl …
1. The shakeup to the offensive staff doesn’t appear to be a matter of if, but when.
Kevin Sherman sounds all but gone to Purdue. Curt Newsome appears to have a future at James Madison. Mike O’Cain was briefly a candidate for the Appalachian State gig. And Bryan Stinespring may or may not have interviewed for a position at Auburn (he said he didn’t). But what’s important other than the specific locations of those potential jobs is the mere fact that these offensive coaches are looking. You can deduce from that that a significant overhaul is probably coming on the offensive side of the ball.
The bowl game, in which the Hokies gained only 196 yards, did nothing but underscore the offensive problems with the current group. It’s not just that Tech had trouble blocking for Logan Thomas or that it couldn’t run the ball at all against Rutgers’ front seven. But the Hokies again didn’t seem to have a cohesive plan of attack against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights showed an early ability to get to Thomas, yet Tech didn’t alter anything to keep him upright. Rutgers proved it wasn’t going to give up any yards on lateral runs, yet the Hokies continued to call plays that ran East and West, even late in the game.
Frank Beamer has continually praised the continuity of the coaching staff for being a big reason for the current 20-year bowl streak, but with the 10-win streak finished and Tech suffering its worst record in 20 years, I think it’s clear to even a coach as loyal as Beamer that something needs to be changed.
2. Logan Thomas going pro seems like a bad idea. But that doesn’t mean he won’t consider it.
Let me first say that I think Thomas will come back. That’s a hunch. I haven’t been told one way or another. I don’t think any pro scout could reasonably have watched his performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl and given him a draft grade that would be anywhere in the first two rounds. All the problems that persisted with Thomas this year — off-target throws, interceptions, trouble with pressure — were on display in the bowl. Still, he did break his own school record for total yardage (3,500) and became the first quarterback to lead the Hokies in rushing since Bobby Owens in 1965. If that doesn’t show you the lack of help he had on the offensive side of the ball this year, nothing will.
On the face of things, it would seem crazy for Thomas to turn pro. His stock isn’t high at all and even he admitted that he wouldn’t be able to step in and play right away. But looking at things from his perspective, his position coach (O’Cain) and the coach who recruited him (Stinespring) both face questions about their job status. Would a departure by either or both help push Thomas toward the NFL? Or would he be reinvigorated by the possibility of someone new coaching him? It’s why Beamer has to make a decision one way or another about the coaching staff soon. Thomas has a Jan. 15 deadline to declare for the NFL draft. The Hokies need to let him know their intentions for the 2013 offense well before that.
3. The running game needs a total reboot.
The stat has been mentioned several times in the aftermath of the bowl game, but here it is again: the Hokies averaged roughly 3.4 inches per carry Friday night. That’s 3 yards on 32 carries if you are not a fan of math. Only twice has Virginia Tech rushed for fewer yards under Beamer (-14 vs. Miami in 1994; -1 vs. Syracuse in 1987). There’s plenty of blame to go around. The line didn’t do a good job of blocking all year. The backs each had their limitations. Shane Beamer would be the first to admit that he could have done a more effective job of splitting the workload throughout the year. And if you gave Frank Beamer a dose of truth serum, he’d probably say he wishes he hadn’t redshirted promising freshman Trey Edmunds this year.
Help appears to be on the way. It seems like Edmunds, who has looked impressive physically in the short time we reporters have seen him in practice, could step in and play a big role next season. Drew Harris, who spent this year at Fork Union, is awaiting word from the NCAA Clearinghouse before hoping to join the team this winter (how that will turn out is anybody’s guess). Those are two pretty physically impressive players right there. Put them in with J.C. Coleman and that’s a young, diverse group of backs. Obviously, they need some holes to run through, so the offensive line’s makeup will be important, but getting the run game back on track will be the No. 1 priority of Beamer and Co. this offseason.
4. The linebackers might have been the biggest reason for the Hokies’ second-half defensive surge.
This might be oversimplifying things. The defensive line started playing its tail off and the secondary began to settle into their new positions, both of which played a big part in Virginia Tech’s defensive success in the final seven games. But I don’t know if any group played better down the stretch than the linebacking trio of Bruce Taylor, Jack Tyler and Alonzo Tweedy. Against Rutgers, that group combined for 26 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, a quarterback hurry, two pass breakups and a sack. That seemed to be the norm from the Florida State game to the end of the year, once Tweedy was inserted into the starting lineup.
It’s impressive considering Taylor played out of position all year, Tyler was in his first year as a full-time starter and Tweedy didn’t do much more than play special teams until those final four games. Antone Exum might have earned MVP honors in the Russell Athletic Bowl with his interception in the fourth quarter that set up the game-tying touchdown, but Tweedy had a solid case too. Three of his eight tackles came on punt coverage, a key part of this offensively-challenged game. He was one of five players with at least 1.5 TFLs and one of three with a sack. All in all, it was about the best way for Taylor and Tweedy, who finished as the team’s top two tacklers in the bowl, to finish out their college careers.
5. It gets lost because these kind of performances have become commonplace, but Bud Foster’s crew rose to the occasion once again.
Maybe fans are numb to these kind of performances because they happen so frequently. Maybe they just have a blind rage about the offense that they can’t think of anything else but to voice their displeasure for the play-calling. But there usually comes a time in every game where Hokies fans will stop, look at the larger picture and have to remind themselves that, hey, Bud Foster’s D really came to play today. That was certainly the case Friday, even though Rutgers wasn’t exactly the New England Patriots out there. Quarterback Gary Nova looked overwhelmed most of the night and the Scarlet Knights didn’t look comfortable doing much of anything. But Foster’s defense was a big reason for a lot of that discomfort. It was tough against the run (67 yards), relentless in harassing Nova (3 sacks and 4 hurries, although that second figure sounds low) and forced two turnovers. It was the second straight year Foster’s defense held a bowl opponent to fewer than 200 yards (Michigan had 184 in the Sugar Bowl).
If James Gayle and Exum choose to come back for their senior year (and Tyler is already lobbying for both, plus Thomas, to do so), the Hokies have the potential for a very strong defense next season. Yes, there’s a danger in projecting these kinds of things — this year’s group was declared by such fools as myself to be potentially one of the all-time greats at Tech — but losing only Taylor and Tweedy as starters and having Tariq Edwards and Ronny Vandyke waiting in the wings means that, at the very least, it will be a veteran group, which always helps. If Gayle and Exum return, the only player in the first 11 who wouldn’t have at least a year of starting experience under his belt is Vandyke at the whip. The Hokies allowed only 284.4 yards per game over the last seven games, which would have ranked sixth nationally if done over the entire season. Tech can only hope that late-season success carries over to 2013.