– Game story: Thomas, defense lead Hokies to 17-10 win at Georgia Tech
– Notes: Freshman Facyson looks right at home
– Aaron McFarling column: Virginia Tech’s supporting cast steps up to help Thomas
Here are five thoughts following the Hokies’ win against the Yellow Jackets …
1. Bud Foster and the defense keep one-upping themselves.
I led with Logan Thomas in the game story and post-game wrap and will get to him here, but the defense deserves its share of kudos after a game like that. Foster set out to one-up the 192 rushing yards the Hokies held Paul Johnson‘s option offense to last year. Virginia Tech demolished that mark, holding the Yellow Jackets to only 129 yards on the ground on 42 carries. That’s the fourth fewest by a Johnson offense at Georgia Tech. And the Hokies last night were the only team to hold the Jackets to under 200 rushing yards on a short week.
Here are the Yellow Jackets’ worst rushing games under Johnson and the numbers of days the opponent had from their previous game before taking on the option offense:
- Gardner-Webb, Oct. 11, 2008 — 79 yards (7 days)
- Miami, Sept. 17, 2009 — 95 yards (7 days)
- BYU, Oct. 27, 2012 — 117 yards (7 days
- Virginia Tech, Sept. 26, 2013 — 129 yards (5 days)
- Miami, Oct. 22, 2011 — 134 yards (7 days)
- Iowa, Jan. 5, 2010 — 143 yards (1 month)
- Virginia, Oct. 25, 2008 — 156 yards (7 days)
- Boston College, Sept. 6, 2008 — 162 yards (7 days)
- LSU, Dec. 31, 2008 — 164 yards (1 month)
- Florida State, Dec. 1, 2012 — 183 yards (7 days)
- Virginia Tech, Sept. 3, 2012 — 192 yards (all offseason)
There are too many plaudits to throw around after a game like this. Tech’s defensive line played a whale of a game. Tackle Derrick Hopkins had seven tackles and blew up a fourth-down play, even though he didn’t get credit for a tackle. Tyler had six tackles, although Georgia Tech was scheming so he didn’t have a huge game. Kyle Fuller embraced that whip role like he did two years ago and came up big. The cornerbacks, especially Brandon Facyson played well (and I’m writing a follow up story on him for tomorrow.) If not for a rough coverage night by safety Detrick Bonner, who got burned on passes of 40 and 41 yards, and a penalties/missed opportunities near the goal line, Georgia Tech might not have scored a touchdown.**
** Quick tangent: how interesting is it going to be once Antone Exum returns from injury? The coaches have said he’ll start at corner, but Facyson and Kendall Fuller have played lights out. Kyle too. I can’t imagine Exum returning to safety after working so hard to get back to corner (and having not played safety for what’s approaching two years). Again, file this under “good problems to have” for a football team.
The Georgia Tech game doesn’t really give you any indication of how this defense will perform the rest of the year. The scheme is so unique that, unless the Hokies play Navy, they won’t really use much of this down the line. But the ability to switch from Marshall’s pass-happy attack to Georgia Tech option on short notice shows you how versatile and locked in this defense is. Tyler said it could be one of the best defenses Virginia Tech has had. Those kind of statements are usually best made after a full season of games, but the Hokies are certainly trending in that direction.
2. Anyone doubting Logan Thomas’ leadership abilities will be pretty quiet this week.
One of the questions in my live McChat on Wednesday was about Thomas’ leadership ability and how one fan, at least, didn’t think he saw any from the senior quarterback. I roundly dismissed the idea, and Thomas certainly proved me right Thursday night. When you hear a coach say someone is a great leader but his stats aren’t great, the default is to think that the coach is making excuses for him, trying to trump him up. Thomas’ stats haven’t been great to start the year, and it’s not like last night’s line is going to vault him into the Heisman race, but I think you have to look at the workload a team puts on a guy’s shoulders. Tech put everything – everything – on Thomas’ back Thursday, and he delivered. The only stat you need to know is that the quarterback finished with 279 total yards. Virginia Tech finished with 276. Yes, that’s possible.
What’s more impressive is that he did it while dealing with a painful abdominal strain that the Hokies kept quiet all week. (Seriously, if he didn’t practice much, how is he not on the injury report? What’s the point of having it if you can just lie on it?) Thomas’ running, considering his injury, was clutch. The Hokies put the rushing load on his shoulders and he delivered, with 58 hard-nosed yards on 16 carries. But to throw like he did was a nice step forward. He went 19-for-25, a 76 percent completion rate. That’s the second-highest mark of his career, trailing only the Miami game in 2011, when he was an astonishing 23-for-25. After low completion percentage games for as long as most can remember (he hadn’t hit 60 percent since last year’s Duke game), many wondered if Thomas could be an accurate passer. VT helped him out with some nice grabs and high percentage play calls, throwing underneath early and often. But Thomas stepped up and made some big throws too.
He and Loeffler appear to be getting on the same page in terms of play-calling. Thomas got sacked a couple times, but he at least looked like he was staying in the pocket and going through reads, settling for checkdowns when stuff isn’t open. I only remember one really bad pass, when there was pressure and nearly threw an interception when Virginia Tech was in field goal range. Usually that number is up around three or four a game. If he can continue to cut down those mistakes and complete a high number of passes, the Hokies’ offense can be effective.
3. Thomas’ supporting cast was better, but the Hokies still need even more help from them.
Admittedly, Thomas got some help. The receivers made a bunch of nice catches Thursday night. Sam Rogers made a one-handed snag. Demitri Knowles hauled in a deep ball with a defender draped on him. I remember a D.J. Coles catch on a ball thrown behind him. Willie Byrn (4 catches, 44 yards) and Kalvin Cline (3 catches 28 yards) continue to be frequent targets for Thomas. These were the type of catches this group wasn’t making earlier this year. Perhaps the JUGS work is paying off?
The running game, on the other hand, has some work to do. To be fair, it didn’t appear to be a huge part of the game plan Thursday night. Trey Edmunds had only six carries for 1 yard. Chris Mangus had two for negative-2. J.C. Coleman didn’t even get a carry, as Thomas shouldered the load. That might have been due to Edmunds’ hip and Coleman’s lack of practice time the last few weeks. And certainly Georgia Tech, like teams before it, loaded up against the run. But eventually the Hokies are going to need to run the ball. And on the rare occasions that Tech handed the ball to the running backs Thursday night, there had no room to run. Virginia Tech did so well clearing holes against Alabama in the opener. ECU was a struggle, but the Hokies ran the ball for 200 yards against Marshall. The Hokies will need to find more consistency there as ACC play continues, if for nothing else, Thomas’ health.
4. Something is still in Cody Journell’s head.
Journell lined up in a tough spot and drilled a 39-yard field goal to give the Hokies a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. All of his kicking woes seemed behind him. That is, until he lined up for a 25-yard chippie that would have put the game away that he yanked wide left. It was a big miss in a big spot, considering how tight the game was. And for a kicker who was coming off a one-game suspension and missed a handful of kicks at East Carolina the week before that, it didn’t do anything to ease the minds of the Hokies fan base.
Journell had made all 17 of his career field goal attempts from within 30 yards prior to the kick, so for as much as both he and Beamer want to say that the senior just missed it by a little bit, any kind of miss from that range is concerning. As last week showed, Virginia Tech doesn’t have any other viable options in the kicking game, so it’s going to have to rely on Journell to work through his issues. It’s clear that the Hokies aren’t going to blow out many — if any — teams this year. So the kicker is going to matter in a lot of those contests. They need Journell to fight through whatever is bothering him as soon as possible.
5. It might be time to re-evaluate expectations for this team.
The win was huge, just in terms of the ACC standings. Georgia Tech was already 2-0, with a head-to-head win against North Carolina. If the Jackets win that game last night, they’re 3-0 in the league with a head-to-head tiebreaker on UNC and Virginia Tech. At that point, probably only Miami has a shot at stopping them. It’s only one game for the Hokies, but it was a big one — a road win against a division rival that was probably going to factor into the Coastal mix at the end of the season. The difference between starting ACC play 1-0 vs. 0-1 cannot be overstated, although as last year showed, it’s not everything.
But in a bigger picture look, this seems like a team that might be able to make the leap to competing for that Coastal Division crown again. The Hokies are on the cusp of the Top 25. I’m not sure if that win gets them in — so much of the polls this early in the season depends on who loses ahead of you — but that was a primetime win that a lot of voters saw. And it came against a team that hadn’t lost this season.
I predicted 8-5 for the Hokies before the season. And while this team is not a finished product by any means, every game that’s left on the schedule is a winnable one. Pittsburgh might be better than expected, and Maryland certainly is. But Virginia Tech is too. The North Carolina game next week will be huge in the division. If the Heels lose that one, it’s going to be awfully tough for them to claw their way back in the race at 0-2 in league play. So they’ll be properly motivated coming into Lane Stadium.
Beyond that, the Miami Nov. 9 game looms large in how the Coastal could play out. But Virginia Tech proved last night that it’ll be a factor in the division. That defense is good enough to keep the Hokies in any game. And the offense, while never a work of art, seems to be doing at least a little bit better every week. It has by no means arrived, but there’s something to be said about a group that can grind out a win like that, doing just what it needs to get by. I’ve heard people say winning close games is a skill. And although there’s certainly a luck element that’s involved (a bounce goes this way or that), some teams are just comfortable playing in tight situations and don’t crack under pressure. So far, this Hokies team certainly fits that bill. Frank Beamer said he wanted this team to be the most mentally tough group he’s had. It sounded like a coaching cliche at the time, but right now, after three games in which Virginia Tech easily could have lost if it wilted down the stretch, that work appears to be paying off.