Yesterday’s spring game was hardly the triumphant offensive unveiling that many Hokies fans would have hoped for, especially with the first-team offense going up against a defense made up of not exclusively backups but also some third-teamers. But it was, after all, a spring game, which is anything but a finished product.
Think it’s unique to Virginia Tech? It’s not. Alabama had nine turnovers in its spring game yesterday, and Nick Saban was in midseason form with his displeasure.
Here are a few more odds and ends to come out of interviews with Hokies head coach Frank Beamer and players …
– Most of yesterday’s game story was about quarterback Logan Thomas‘ struggles. The rising senior threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Neither Beamer nor Thomas seemed too concerned about an off day, though.
Two of the three picks are probably on Thomas’ shoulders. He tried to squeeze the first one in near the goal line to Demitri Knowles and Der’Woun Greene stepped in front of it. Later, he overthrew D.J. Coles down the seam, an pass reminiscent to his high and low struggles last season.
Receiver Josh Stanford took the blame for the second pick, saying he didn’t cut off his route short enough, allowing cornerback Donovan Riley to make a break on the pass.
“I think it was some good defensive plays but plays that probably shouldn’t have occurred offensively,” Beamer said.
Thomas still finished 16-for-29 for 217 yards, numbers not aided by a number of drops, what seemed like a persistent problem this spring. Although his spring didn’t finish the way he wanted, he still thinks his mechanics are better. Certainly, Thomas didn’t have as many of the blatantly errant high or low throws in Saturday’s spring game, his primary issues last year. He just made a couple bad reads that had dire consequences.
“The ball came out of my hand great all day,” Thomas said, who said that mechanically he feels better.
– The offense was somewhat hamstrung by a limited playbook, bringing up questions afterward about if the defense knew what was coming and therefore could more easily jump passing routes.
Offensive players estimated that maybe a quarter of the playbook has been installed at this point. Stanford said even then, they didn’t use the full scope of plays at their disposal, at least not as much as they had in other practices earlier this spring.
“Yeah, the [defense] has been going up against us a lot,” backup quarterback Mark Leal said. “But in practice the coach will tell the defense that we’re going over here, stop it, and we still do. Whether they knew it or not, I don’t think it really made a difference.”
Beamer wasn’t buying into the excuse that the offense was limited in what it was doing, though.
“You’ve got rules in a spring game, and the rules defensively was really pass rush of no more than four, so it worked both ways,” he said.
“We don’t have much of the offense in, but that’s no excuse for it,” tight end Ryan Malleck said. “We should have been driving the ball down their throat.”
– The first-team group did score one touchdown. In the third quarter, Leal bought some time by rolling out and hit Malleck, who had gotten behind the defense, for a 30-yard touchdown.
“To tell you the truth, that play, 99 percent of the time, I don’t even get looked at,” Malleck said. ‘It’s like back side and I’m chipping for a release, and he rolled out because he got pressured and I was wide open in the corner.”
Leal, who entered the game for Thomas to a Bronx cheer, finished 3-for-8 for 60 yards and a touchdown.
I’m sensing a lot of “give Leal a chance” sentiment in the blog comments, which I’ll attribute to the universal fascination with backup quarterbacks. I’ll just say this: it’s a spring game. I covered one where Cam Newton went 3-for-8 for 80 yards when his backups put up huge numbers. It clearly had no bearing on the actual season.
– Other parts of the offense struggled too, particularly the running game. The two teams combined for 23 yards on 41 carries. None of the first-team running backs did much of anything. Michael Holmes had seven carries for 24 yards (3.4 avg.), Trey Edmunds had eight carries for 11 yards (1.4 avg.) and J.C. Coleman, who was probably still feeling the effects of his ankle injury, had two carries for minus-1 yards.
Edmunds probably still looked the best of the three. He had a couple decent runs negated by penalties. That included a 41-yarder wiped out by a Laurence Gibson hold.
“I just tell [the fans], just keep watching,” Edmunds said. “We have a lot to put in. We haven’t put in a lot. So what we ran today was very minimal, so it’s kind of hard to judge our whole entire offense for the whole fall off of just today. We made some mistakes but I thought we did some good things as well, so I just tell them to keep watching.”
Those running game struggles obviously originated with the offensive line, which didn’t open many holes against a second- and third-team defensive line. Gibson, in particular, struggled against redshirt freshman end Ken Ekanem.
Taking out the sack plays, the first-team running backs had 17 carries for 33 yards, hardly the tough-nosed running game the Hokies have wanted to return to all offseason.
– Thomas appears to have a good rapport with Stanford and tight end Zack McCray. Stanford caught three passes for 86 yards, including a 57-yarder on a quick slant on the opening drive he took down to the 4-yard line. (He said he should have scored but he was tired from having been on the Pride and Joy special teams unit right before that).
Stanford thinks the summer will be crucial for he and Thomas to build chemistry.
“Even later on, I think it was the fourth quarter, it was a go route, I had one of the corners beat, but we didn’t have the timing because we haven’t had time to work together over the winter,” Stanford said. “The field is covered, it’s cold outside, it’s Blacksburg, but the summer, there’s going to be no excuses, so I feel like the summer is the time to work with Logan and get on the same page.”
Thomas and McCray, a converted defensive end, have a built-in chemistry. They’re cousins and former high school teammates at Brookville. McCray, who missed part of the spring with a concussion, finished it with four catches for 65 yards Saturday, although he had a drop on fourth down on the last play of the game when the first team was driving.
“I thought he did a great job,” Thomas said. “I was very proud of him. He had a couple of good catches, a good catch and run. I thought he did a good job in the run game as well. In my eyes, it’s always good to see family do good. I was the first one to give him a hug and tell him good job. I hope he keeps progressing, keeps getting better. Obviously, I’d love to see him on the field with me and throw him a couple of passes. It’s just nice to have family out there with you.”
– Beamer wasn’t pleased with all the drops. He referenced Ernest Wilford‘s dropped two-point conversion against Miami in 2001 as an example of a play that motivated a player to put in hard work in the offseason, hoping this spring’s struggles would similarly motivate this group.
“We’ve got some guys that need to catch about 100 balls a day,” Beamer said. “Because they’ve got talent. We just need to be there every play and not be good one play and not so good the next.”
Thomas knows the onus is on him to lead the summer workouts, when coaches can’t give on-field instruction to players.
“It’s going to be pretty difficult,” Thomas said. “Honestly, we’re going to have be perfect on what we know now. And once the fall hits, we’re going to have to grind. It’s going to be like no other fall we’ve ever had. With a coaching change and a playbook change, we’re going to have to know the ins and outs. I guess when camp comes around, we’re going to have to be in our playbook at all times. The days are limited before we have to take the field.”
– All of the talk after the game has been about the offense, but the defense looked pretty sharp. The first-team group, as you’d expect, dominated the reserves, which mustered only 87 total yards, was 2-for-11 on third downs and managed just four first downs.
The Orange team also go on the board thanks to the defense, which got a safety on a botched handoff between Connor Jessop and Maurice Taylor. Defensive tackle Kris Harley was credited with forcing the fumble.
– Beamer was encouraged by the showing of some of the White team defenders. Greene and Riley both had the pick sixes.
Greene, who bounced back and forth between offense and defense last year, has settled in at free safety behind Detrick Bonner. He had good positioning on his interception.
“When he threw it I was kind of surprised,” Greene said. “But he threw it and I made a play on it. … I knew from then that I had to take it to the crib.”
Riley started the spring atop the depth chart at the cornerback spot vacated by Antone Exum‘s injury, but coaches said his performance stalled a little bit. Relegated to the second team, he made a strong break on his interception and a nice return up the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown.
“What I found out is maybe some of those second team guys need to be first-team guys,” Beamer said.
– Other second-team defensive standouts included linebacker Deon Clarke, who had a team-high nine tackles in addition to a half a tackle for a loss. Linebackers Josh Eberly and Josh Trimble had six tackles apiece and linebacker Devin Vandyke, who has been limited by injuries all spring, made a nice stuff of Edmunds near the goal line on the Orange team’s opening drive.
Defensive linemen Matt Roth and Jarontay Jones both had sacks. And option quarterback-turned-safety T.J. Shaw had a big day, finishing with two tackles, a sack, a TFL and an interception.
– There were plenty of former Hokies stars in attendance, including Tyrod Taylor, Kam Chancellor, David Wilson, Jayron Hosley, Brandon Flowers, Andre Smith, Jason Worilds and Will Montgomery.
– Attendance estimates are tough. Virginia Tech doesn’t keep an official number. I’d say at its peak, the stadium was probably a little bit less than half full. The West side was close full and the East side was about 2/3 full at one point (and remember, fans weren’t as tightly packed as a game). But one end zone section was completely empty and the other very sparse.
If Lane Stadium seats 66,233, I’d estimate about 30,000 or so were in the stands.
– Lastly, here are the award winners from the spring, which were announced at halftime:
Paul Torgersen Award (top newcomers)
- Offense – OT Jonathan McLaughlin
- Defense – CB Brandon Facyson
President’s Award (outstanding leadership in offseason workouts)
- Offense – RB J.C. Coleman
- Defense – CB Kyle Fuller
Dr. Richard Bullock Award (most improved)
- Offense – OT Laurence Gibson
- Defense – DE Dadi Nicolas
Frank O. Moseley Award (most hustle)
- Offense – RB Trey Edmunds and WR Charley Meyer
- Defense – ROV Kyshoen Jarrett
Coaches Award (exceptional spring)
- Offense – TE Ryan Malleck
- Defense – FS Detrick Bonner and DT Luther Maddy
George Preas Award (MVP)
- Offense – QB Logan Thomas
- Defense – DE James Gayle
Don Williams TEAM UNITED Award (puts team first)
- Offense – C/G Andrew Miller
- Defense – DT Derrick Hopkins