1. It’s still unclear whether or not Antone Exum will start at cornerback.
Foster was like the other coaches this week: he wants to see how Exum holds up through a full week of practice before making any decisions about playing time (I wrote about this more extensively in the paper today). Head coach Frank Beamer said earlier Wednesday that the decision about how much Exum will play will be made Thursday night after practice.
Foster knows this: he needs Exum to be going 100 percent.
“If he’s not 100 percent, I’m hoping he’d be man enough to tell me,” Foster said. “Because that’s the bottom line when it’s all said and done: we need everybody out there going 100 percent full speed and being at the best of their ability to go compete.”
Foster said both Exum and Brandon Facyson should play this week at corner. He might dish out playing time Saturday based on “whoever the hot guy is.”
2. Like everyone else on the defense, he’s very aware of what UNC did to the Hokies last year.
He didn’t call it a “pounding” or a “hammer job” like Beamer has all week, but Foster remembers the final result, mentioning the 339 rushing yards Virginia Tech gave up.
“They rushed for 350 yards or whatever it was, which is uncommon around here,” Foster said. “Some teams it takes about 350 for half a year, on a good year. It really has sometimes. But we’ve got to make sure they can’t have success running the football.”
Foster said the biggest killer last year was the perimeter runs. He said some of that was due to Virginia Tech’s defensive backs still getting adjusted to their run fits so early in the season. But he also credited North Carolina for being good, and thinks, despite the Tar Heels’ 1-3 record this year, that they’re still a dynamic offense.
“I think they’re every bit as explosive, if not more, than Alabama,” Foster said. “They’ve got a dynamic tailback. They might have the best tight end in America. You’ve got outstanding receivers. Really good football team. Very capable of attacking you in a lot of different ways.”
3. Pace will be something to watch this week.
We’ve heard this before, but Foster thinks it will really be an issue this week. Neither East Carolina nor Marshall, two up-tempo teams, ever really cranked up the pace. Part of that was due to the Hokies preventing them from moving the chains, which is really when teams get going. Part of it is due to Virginia Tech possessing the ball for so long.
But Larry Fedora‘s offense at UNC is based around moving quickly.
“It’ll be a race to try to get back to the line of scrimmage and go again,” Foster said. “I hope it will help us a little bit, going into this game, playing the no-huddle teams that we’ve played. But this will be the fastest that we’ve played.”
4. North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron presents a huge challenge.
Foster called the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Ebron a “receiver in a tight end’s body,” someone who can “out-athlete” a linebacker in coverage and “body up” a defensive back. And he’s got good hands. Needless to say, he’s impressed.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s not the first tight end taken next year. What is he, a junior?” Foster said. “He needs to go. I’m going to tell him. He’s a really special kid, though, I think.”
Virginia Tech had a unique way of mimicking him. The Hokies used 6-foot-6 quarterback Bucky Hodges as a scout team tight end to get used to Ebron’s size, while using 6-foot-2 receiver Austin Jones in other plays to simulate his speed.
Foster said it was nothing permanent, although he did say Hodges looked pretty good there.
“Bucky did a great job,” he said. “Caught the ball well. Athletic. He’s run about a 4.6 himself. Big kid, big target.”
5. The Hokies expect UNC to try some gadget plays.
Fedora is known for dialing up some trick plays. Foster said the Hokies worked on defending about eight different ones at practice Wednesday.
“They’re a gadget team,” he said. “That’s part of that offense: making it fun, I’m sure. But you’ve got a lot of quick screens, quick screens and gos or quick screen with the double pass. You’re going to get those kinds of things with that offense.”
1. Quarterback Logan Thomas is practicing more this week.
He’s still dealing with an abdominal strain and had a mild foot sprain that required him to be in a walking boot earlier this week, but Thomas has done more work this week and feels better, Loeffler said.
“I’ve done that injury. It’s not fun,” Loeffler said of the ab strain. “Especially whenever you throw. It’s not an easy injury to overcome as you’re using all those muscles when you throw. He’s practiced a little more than what he did last week, which is a huge positive.”
Loeffler said Chad Henne went about six weeks at Michigan where he didn’t practice because of a shoulder dislocation but played in the games. It has an effect.
“He was in the system for four years. It ends up catching you in the end,” Loeffler said. “There’s only so long you can go without that practice.”
2. Thomas might have seemed more confident against Georgia Tech, but Loeffler said that hasn’t wavered at all this year.
Thomas’ stat line looked much better (19-for-25, 221 yards, TD, 0 INT) against Georgia Tech, but he’s been the same player, Loeffler said.
“I think he’s been confident the entire time,” he said. “There hasn’t been a lack of confidence with him at all so, no, I wouldn’t say that it’s any different than it’s normally been.”
Loeffler did point out that it helps when the receivers are making good catches on passes that weren’t great, specifically mentioning the one-handed Sam Rogers snare in the first quarter. He also singled out Demitri Knowles and Josh Stanford as making nice catches in big spots too.
3. He still doesn’t want Thomas to be the team’s leading rusher.
“Still feel the same way,” Loeffler put it succinctly.
Running back Trey Edmunds leads the team in rushing by a significant margin (353 yards to Thomas’ 128), but Thomas has shouldered a big rushing load the last two weeks, running 39 times for 116 yards and three touchdowns.
“Obviously there’s certain times when you’re able to outnumber them in the box because of him being used as a runner,” Loeffler said. “But I still believe the same way. There’s times we’re going to run him. There’s times that we’re not. And that’s just how we’re going to do it.”
The Hokies haven’t looked like the same offense from week to week. Sometimes they throw it a lot. Sometimes they run it a lot. Loeffler said that’s based on matchups, not on trying to fit the offense to look like his idealized scheme.
“If we can run the ball 50 times a game, because they’ll give it to us, we’ll do it,” he said. “If we have to throw it 50 times, we’ll do that too. …
“What we’re trying to do right now is take our players that are here right now and do the very best with them and give us a chance to win games. So vision? We’re visioning from day to day. We’re visioning from week to week. We’re trying to give our kids the best chance of success.”
4. Facyson moonlighting as a receiver doesn’t sound like it’ll be anything major, if anything at all, this week.
Loeffler didn’t expound too much on what the Hokies might try with Facyson as a wide receiver, which still sounds like dabbling more than anything.
“We’re just playing around with him in a few route combinations,” Loeffler said. “But it’s nothing of significance right now. Nothing for us to even talk about right now.”
Loeffler said he wasn’t sure if Facyson would be out there Saturday at receiver. (Note: if the Hokies’ goal is to confuse opponents about personnel, they’re probably accomplishing that.)
5. The tight end group keeps getting depleted, but Loeffler sees improvement out of Kalvin Cline.
Ryan Malleck went out for the year with a shoulder injury in the preseason. His replacement, Duan Perez-Means, left the team for personal reasons last week. It leaves Virginia Tech light at the tight end spot, where Cline is the new starter, followed by Darius Redman and Zack McCray.
Cline, a true freshman, has progressed, but he’s still raw. Loeffler noted that he’s only played about 15 career football games. Cline was a basketball player until his senior year of high school, so he’s far from a finished product.
“But he’s improving. He’s getting it,” Loeffler said. “There’s some times that he looks like he’s been around. … [But] you ask if he’s getting the full package? No, not yet.”