It’s essentially the midway point of the season for Virginia Tech, even though it has played seven games. Five regular season game remain and a bowl game. The question is whether the Hokies can make it back to the ACC title game.
I’ll address that at the end of this post. But first, since it’s the bye week, this is as good a time as ever to hand out some midseason grades and superlatives. I’ll do it by position groups, then hit on some of the highs and lows of the season afterward.
Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments section, as if this blog crowd ever needed prodding.
Quarterbacks: Logan Thomas‘ stats do not jump off the page at you (1,451 passing yards, 9 TD, 6 INT, 157 rushing yards, 3 TD), but he’s been a consummate leader and has had to carry an offense that lacks a running game. His numbers aren’t markedly better than last year, but he’s definitely improved. Grade: B
Running backs: The Hokies’ stated goal coming into the year was to be a physical running team. Save for a few glimpses, they haven’t done that. Trey Edmunds leads the team with 393 yards but only a 3.7-yard average. J.C. Coleman has been hurt most of the year. The team is averaging 3.3 yards per carry, nearly the lowest total under Frank Beamer. Grade: D
Receivers/tight ends: If you would have graded this group after the Alabama opener, it would have been a clear-cut “F.” But the receivers and tight ends have actually turned into a pretty good group. D.J. Coles (11 catches, 5 TD) is a red zone specialist. Demitri Knowles (346 yards, 2 TD) is a speedster who can stretch the field and is rounding into a complete receiver. Willie Byrn (25 catches, 349 yards) and Josh Stanford (19 catches, 257 yards) have been pretty good possession guys. And tight end Kalvin Cline (15 catches, 164 yards) has exceeded everyone’s expectations as a true freshman. Grade: B-
Offensive line: It’s been a banged up group, which has probably added to its inconsistency. And many of the run game problems can be put on this unit. The Hokies’ 117.6 rushing yards a game would be the second lowest average ever under Beamer. Yet the pass blocking has been decent, allowing 12 sacks in seven games. Right guard Andrew Miller has probably been the consistent player up front. Grade: C-
Defensive line: This group has played so well that’s it’s tough to figure out who has been the best performer. It’s switched every game: James Gayle vs. ECU, J.R. Collins vs. Marshall (Luther Maddy played pretty well that game too), Derrick Hopkins vs. Georgia Tech and Dadi Nicolas vs. Pitt. Everyone in that group has at least three sacks, which is as big a part of the defense’s success so far this year. Grade: A+
Linebackers: It’s set up the way it’s supposed to be. Jack Tyler leads the team with 57 tackles, adding seven tackles for a loss and three sacks. Tariq Edwards, who is definitely back from last year’s leg injury, is third with 38 tackles, five tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. The whip has been an underutilized position, mostly because of the kind of personnel Virginia Tech has faced this year, so it’s hard to even factor in a grade for Josh Trimble. Grade: A
Defensive backs: Brandon Facyson, who leads the team with four interceptions, is technically the Hokies’ third cornerback, and could be No. 4 once Antone Exum returns to full speed. That should tell you how deep this group is. Kyle Fuller (10 PBU, 2 INT) has been the senior leader of the CBs, although his freshman brother Kendall (28 tackles, 2 INT) hasn’t been overwhelmed. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett is second on the team with 42 tackles. Detrick Bonner has had some coverage issues, but not enough to drag down the overall grade. Grade: A
Special teams: This is a tough group to grade, because there are so many individual parts. Punter A.J. Hughes (45.3 avg.) has been great. Kicker Cody Journell (7-11 FG) has been hit or miss. But the biggest demerits come from the return games, which have been non-existent, and the coverage teams cost the Hokies’ dearly in the opener against Alabama. Grade: D.
Coaching: Bud Foster is doing one of the better coaching jobs of his career. Yes, he has an experienced group, but he’s also getting it to perform at a high level. Scot Loeffler‘s offense isn’t putting up big numbers, but given the tenor of some of these games, it’s doing enough for the Hokies to win. Beamer has managed the team well in some of these closes contests. Grade: B
The offense has been built around Thomas, so it’s not surprising that he’s the pick here. The QB has been especially good in ACC play, throwing for 250.6 yards per game, with five touchdowns and no picks. He’s shouldered the rushing load on a few occasions (vs. Marshall and at Georgia Tech). And he’s done so while dealing with injuries that have kept him out of practice for most of the last three weeks.
Honorable mention: Byrn, Knowles, Miller
It’s tough to pick any one player from this group, so I’ll probably pick Hopkins. Foster thinks the defensive tackle is having an all-league kind of year, holding down the fort in the middle. That’s usually a thankless job. But he’s doing more than eating up space. He has 32 tackles in seven games, 6.5 tackles for a loss and what’s already a career-high with four sacks.
Honorable mention: Collins, Gayle, Tyler, Jarrett, Kyle and Kendall Fuller, Facyson
Newcomer of the Year
I know that Facyson gets more of the attention, since interceptions will do that for a player, but Kendall Fuller is still ahead of him on the depth chart for a reason (in base packages, it’s the brothers Fuller as the starting corners). Coaches rave about his intelligence. And he’s really playing a couple of positions — the regular CB spot and the nickelback. That means he’s going up against receivers on some plays and tight ends on others. And he’s somewhat quietly done that extremely well.
Honorable mention: Facyson, Cline, Sam Rogers, Jonathan McLaughlin
In hindsight, this may not have been the biggest win of the year, but the 17-10 win at Georgia Tech was the first time I think this team started to be taken seriously. It was a road win on a Thursday night (never something easy to do), and it was a game in which the Hokies’ defense all but shut down the Yellow Jackets’ option offense. The only time Georgia Tech got in the end zone was on a drive with several penalties and after the Hokies missed a chance to jump on a fumble.
Undoubtedly is has to be the 35-10 loss to Alabama in the opener. And it’s mostly because the defense gave the Hokies a good enough chance to stay in the game. Tech out-gained Alabama 212-206, but a pick six, two Alabama special teams touchdowns and about 10 drops sabotaged any chance the Hokies had of competing.
Second half prediction
This team wins the Coastal Division. The defense is good enough to get the Hokies there. It likely will come down to the Miami game, and the ‘Canes look a lot more beatable after struggling on Thursday night and needing a late touchdown to win at North Carolina. The Tech-Miami game in Sun Life Stadium on Nov. 9 will play a major role in who wins the division. Miami might come into that game limping, however, with a game at Florida State the previous week. The way Virginia Tech is playing, there are no gimmes on a schedule that also includes Duke, Boston College, Maryland and Virginia. But the Hokies should be favored in all of those games.