Virginia Tech’s first-team offense had just run Michael Holmes into the line three straight times against the starting defense with little luck. Holmes was stuffed on all three occasions in the goal line drill.
Instead of going back to that well on fourth down, quarterback Logan Thomas faked a handoff, rolled out to his left on a naked bootleg and out-raced a defender to the pylon, diving headfirst into the end zone for a score on the final play of Saturday’s scrimmage at Lane Stadium.
New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler liked the touchdown, just not the way the offense had to get it.
“We’re down there and we need to pull the ball and run it naked with Logan? That’s not our mentality,” Loeffler said, still stewing somewhat in interviews afterward. “We want to line up and we want to knock people off the ball and we want to run the ball into the end zone. So that needs to improve.”
It was thematic of the Hokies’ second full-scale scrimmage. While Tech didn’t have much goal line offense installed before Monday’s scrimmage, this time it had several periods where the offense started with the ball at the 10.
The first-team offense and defense squared off twice in those scenarios. The offense didn’t punch it in on either occasion.
“[If] the defense has 11 guys up there in a game, I think we probably spread it out and throw it a little bit,” running backs coach Shane Beamer said. “But I think it was a mindset: ‘Hey, we’re going to run the football in.’ And to not get that done was disappointing.”
It was a season-long problem last year. Beamer rattled off from memory several short-yardage failures — against Pittsburgh, Clemson and Virginia — that proved costly, calling them “embarrassing.”
It was one of the major reasons Frank Beamer made offseason changes to the coaching staff, wanting to get back to the smashmouth running game that has served the Hokies so well in the past. New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes’ “tip of the spear” comment about his group in January invigorated the fan base.
But the spring has proven that it still remains largely a work in progress. Grimes, who is working to ingrain that tough mentality with his players, continues to shuffle offensive linemen around to find the best five.
Shane Beamer, meanwhile, is still trying to determine a pecking order at running back among J.C. Coleman, Holmes, Trey Edmunds and others, something he admits might not happen by the end of spring.
What is clear from the coaches’ comments is that although it’s tempting to use the 6-foot-6, 257-pound Thomas as a runner, the Hokies don’t want him shouldering such a big rushing load this season, especially in short-yardage situations, where he takes an additional pounding.
“No. 1, it’s ridiculous that our leading rusher was our quarterback last year,” Shane said. “At a place like Virginia Tech, as the running backs coach, that can’t happen.
“Second of all, we know what a great player Logan is. And the New England Patriots aren’t going to run Tom Brady 30 times a game. And the New Orleans Saints aren’t going to run Drew Brees 20 times a game. …
“We’ve got to do what we do to win football games, but if we can hand it off to that running back and he can get that first down, we would like to do that every single time.”
Loeffler admitted he sounded like a “Negative Nancy” after the scrimmage, begrudgingly pointing out some positives as well, but he wants Tech to have an urgency with a week left in spring.
“We have to have a mentality that we’re against the clock,” Loeffler said. “We play in 100 and some odd days and we’ve got to go.”
I had a separate blog post for the stats from Saturday’s scrimmage that you can get to here. Now for a few more notes and quotes …
– Thomas’ final numbers (6-for-16, 119 yards, TD) were not indicative of how he played Saturday, especially when you factor in the four or five drops, primarily by the tight ends. The senior was sharp, showed good footwork and put the ball on a rope a few times, hitting Demitri Knowles in stride for a big gain early and a touchdown late. He also zipped a pass in the right spot to hit a sliding Charley Meyer near the goal line.
Loeffler, who thinks Thomas has made leaps in his mechanics this spring, said after reviewing the tape from Monday that the quarterback’s rhythm and footwork were “horrendous” in that scrimmage. Not so Saturday.
“Taking the right footwork, tempo, I thought he was outstanding,” Loeffler said. “For the most part, if I remember correctly, there might have been two that he didn’t go to the right place with the ball. We’ve just got to clean up the details and start executing better as a unit.”
Thomas had a touchdown pass late to Knowles, hitting him in stride on a 35-yarder after the receiver had gotten past Kyle Fuller. Overall, Loeffler continues to be very complimentary of his quarterback.
“He’s going to get better and better and better and better and better and better,” Loeffler said. “The guy reminds me of the guys that I’ve had that play in the NFL. He picks things up fast. You don’t correct things for a month. You tell him once, he gets it and moves along.”
– Thomas dove for the pylon to get the touchdown near the end, which you’d think the coaches might not have liked in a scrimmage. Not so, apparently.
“They love it,” said Thomas, who did slide earlier on a run up the middle. “Competitors compete. Y’all have never known me to take a play off or walk out of bounds. That’s not who I am. You might have seen y’all’s first slide today but that’s because it was a scrimmage.”
– Loeffler, as mentioned in the story above, was not as pleased with some of the other things the offense did — the aforementioned drops and short-yardage failures, turnovers (two INTs and a fumble) and penalties. He tried to mention the positives in interviews afterward but seemed hung up on the negatives.
“He’s a quarterback. And quarterbacks strive for perfection,” Thomas said. “We’re the same way. Obviously I’m encouraged. It’s our third week of practice together underneath this new staff and the things we’re doing. He wants things to be perfect right out of the gate, and so do I, but I know also that it takes time. He knows it as well. But that’s just how it is.”
– The defensive star of the day was defensive end Dadi Nicolas, who got first-team work in place of an injured James Gayle and had a team-high six tackles to go with 2.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
“He’s got a lot of athletic ability, and he has fun when he plays,” Beamer said. “A big guy like that with long arms, he’s good as far as blocking kicks, he’s got a knack for that as well. He’s valuable in a lot of ways. I think he’s progressing quickly.”
Nicolas remains off limits to media for interviews after last summer’s arrest and brief suspension for stealing a bike on campus, but Beamer has seen growth in the sophomore.
“I think you learn from the situation and understands that you’ve got to do what’s right,” Beamer said. “I think from that standpoint, he did learn. I think anytime you’re not on the football field and missing practice opportunities, you’re hurting yourself as a player. … What I’m interested in is the final product, and right now, our final product is looking pretty good.”
– On the injury front, there were plenty of guys in blue today. Gayle was one of them, for reasons unspecified, although I don’t think it was anything serious. DE Tyrel Wilson (foot), WR Kevin Asante (unknown), RB Tony Gregory (ribs) and FB Riley Beiro (shoulder) also didn’t go today.
Linebacker Jack Tyler took a pop on one play and stayed down, getting his right arm looked at. No update on his condition afterward.
Coleman took a shot on his hip and took limited reps.
– The Hokies did a different toughness drill today that more similarly mirrored an Oklahoma Drill. Frank insisted on still calling it “T-Time” afterward, however. It involved having three blockers and a ballcarrier on offense and three down linemen and a safety on defense. They simulate a snap and everybody collides.
Edmunds got stood up by Fuller a couple times, but the highlight was probably the last play, when receiver Joel Caleb trucked Josh Trimble, running through him and to the end of the field.
– It was a good scrimmage for Caleb. After making the tough run in the drill, he made a nice diving catch on a fade pattern in the end zone from Brian Rody with the third team. It went for 24 yards and a touchdown.
“I think he’s coming along,” Beamer said. “He’s looked better here lately. Mentally, it’s tied him down a little bit. But when he’s been able to get out there and go, he’s shown some quickness. He’s shown he’s got more speed than you saw in the fall. The more he gets knowing exactly what he’s doing, the faster he’ll play. That’s going to be good enough, I think.”
Loeffler thinks Caleb, a redshirt freshman, is making a tough switch, going from quarterback in high school to receiver in college.
“There’s times that you’re over-thinking, over-assessing, but he’s made some headway,” Loeffler said. “He was playing really, really slow, and I think the more that Joel learns, the faster he’ll play. He’s got to get in great shape, as he knows. We’ll see where that goes. We’ll see.”
– Other touchdowns included a 4-yard run by Holmes (who led the backs with nine carries for 23 yards) and an 8-yard pass from Leal to tight end Zack McCray on play-action. More on Holmes and the running backs tomorrow.
– It was another nice day for freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson, who had a pass breakup early and jumped a Mark Leal pass for an interception.
“He does things naturally,” Beamer said. “He’s tough with his tackling and I think he and [Der'Woun] Greene have been two guys in the secondary that have kind of gotten your attention here this spring.”
– Greene, by the way, wins the Admonishment Award for getting dressed down by defensive backs coach Torrian Gray after not getting deep enough and biting on a pump fake that nevertheless fell incomplete. I can’t repeat some of the words used on this blog.
– Former Virginia Tech and NFL star Bruce Smith was in attendance, standing on the sideline. His son, Alston, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, had a sack.