First, read all of our coverage from yesterday:
Here are five thoughts the day after the Hokies’ loss to Boston College …
1. At the risk of releasing the hounds on myself, I still think Logan Thomas is the best option for this team at quarterback.
It’s going to be an unpopular opinion with this blog crowd, but I don’t care. And this isn’t kowtowing to the coaches or making excuses for Thomas’ play. I still truly, honestly think that Thomas, despite eight turnovers the last two weeks, gives Virginia Tech the best chance to win these games. And I say it for a few reasons:
A) As Aaron wrote, not everything that went wrong Saturday was his fault. Sure, he was to blame for some of it. But I remember the running backs contributing next to nothing on the ground. I remember the offensive line giving up six sacks and lots of pressure. I don’t remember too many mistakes by the receivers other than their odd habit of tipping misplaced passes into the air for the other team. You can try to pin the blame on Thomas, but it just doesn’t work like that. I’m not saying keep Thomas in the game because he threw for 391 yards. Sometimes those stats are empty, the byproduct of having to play catch-up. But there was a point Saturday when Thomas was 17-for-23 for 256 yards, a touchdown and a pick that probably wasn’t his fault. It’s not like he never had it Saturday. He did. He just lost it.
B) I see the “Play Mark Leal” crowd has returned in full force. I don’t know if having a player make his first start on the road at Miami in a must-win game to stay alive in the division is the best idea. Here’s my other thought on this: if you put in Leal for Thomas, there goes your running game. Leal doesn’t run like Thomas. And Thomas is shouldering almost the entire rushing load right now. And enough of this notion that Tech needs to start thinking about 2014 with its quarterback. This isn’t the NFL. You’re not thinking about draft position. There are still very attainable goals in front of the Hokies. Teams that are 2-8 right now are the ones already thinking of next year. Not ones that are 6-3.
C) I’ve seen comments on here to the contrary, but I don’t believe Thomas’ coaches and teammates backing him 100 percent is an act. You could draw the conclusion that it could be by Frank Beamer, who as a coach, is adept at talking in that kind of manner. I don’t think it is. And I can guarantee you it’s not from guys like Josh Stanford, who was most emphatic in the post-game about Thomas giving this team the best chance to win. Stanford is a well-spoken, thoughtful interview who doesn’t say things just to say them. He meant every word of it.
2. Like everyone has said all season, the difference between winning and losing in this game is turnovers.
I don’t think this is any big secret. Tech limited turnovers in its first three ACC games and still won somewhat close contests. The Hokies have committed eight turnovers the last two games, and naturally have lost both to teams they were favored against. Saturday’s were particularly back-breaking, considering Tech seemed to do make them at the most inopportune moments. The first pick came when the Hokies were up 10-7 and driving for a two-score lead. The second came when they were up 17-10 and starting a drive that could have made things very difficult for BC. The third came in a tie game and directly led to points for the Eagles. The last was just a function of trying to get some extra yardage, but those first three are ones that you simply can’t make, not if you expect to continue winning close games like Virginia Tech has.
Obviously, a lot of that is on Thomas. I still haven’t seen a replay of his first pick, so I’m not sure exactly who to lay blame on for that one, but his pick six thrown up across the middle in a 20-20 game on third down late was among the worst throws of his career. A veteran quarterback has to understand that situation, understand what his defense is capable of and throw the ball away — away from anyone who would remotely have a chance of picking it off. Even a sack there is better than handing BC the ball. It was a more egregious mistake than the interception in the end zone against Duke that took points off the board. That said, Thomas has had stretches where he’s played turnover free this year. It’s on Scot Loeffler and Co. to get him back to playing like that and protecting the ball. If you don’t turn it over, you don’t overstress your defense with short fields and — as much as everyone tires of hearing this — probably win a game that you should have.
3. Josh Stanford showed that he can be a big-time receiver.
Somewhat lost in the outcry about the quarterback was the fact that Stanford, a redshirt freshman receiver, had a big-time day. He caught six passes for 171 yards, routinely getting open down the field and — just as important — catching every ball that came his way. His 69-yard catch and run, a ball he had to go up over a defender to grab (not an easy catch), was among the better catches a Hokies receiver has made this year. When Willie Byrn went down late with an injury, Stanford was Thomas’ most-reliable target, finding a knack for settling down in BC’s secondary.
Many thought that Stanford would be the Hokies’ breakout receiver this year. I predicted at the beginning of the season that he was my darkhorse candidate to lead the team in receiving yards. (That, obviously, didn’t account for the out-of-nowhere emergence of Byrn). He didn’t have the quickest start to the year, with some dropping issues. He never had more than four catches in any of the first seven games or more than 59 receiving yards. But he sure looked in sync with Thomas Saturday. And that’s the biggest thing you like to see from a receiver. D.J. Coles is never going to be a full-time guy because of his knee. Byrn has gotten dinged up a little lately, including near the end of Saturday’s game when he appeared to do something to his back. And every time Demitri Knowles seems like he’s turned that corner to being a big-time receiver, he has a couple of quiet games in a row like he’s had lately. Stanford still might be the best bet to lead this team in receiving yards by the end of the year.
4. Bud Foster’s defense isn’t as invincible as many thought.
There were several moments the defense was put into Saturday that was out of its control. Thomas’ first pick gave BC the ball at the Hokies’ 15. The defense held the Eagles to a field goal. The fumble a few drives later gave BC the ball at the Hokies’ 17. The Eagles got a touchdown there to tie the game at 17. It’s hard to fault the defense when it was giving such lousy field position in those two situations.
But late, when Tech needed a stop that this group has provided all season, the Hokies didn’t fare so well. After the Hokies punted, Andre Williams ran for a 62-yard touchdown, scoring in one play. The running back ended up going for 166 yards on the day, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Even taking out the 62-yard run, that’s a 100-yard day for Williams, who leads the ACC in rushing and is a load to take down, especially with how the Eagles run the ball.
BC didn’t throw for a lot of yards, but it didn’t make any mistakes. It protected Chase Rettig well and put him in situations to throw safe, mostly short passes. He went 11-for-14 with no picks. He wasn’t sacked. So part of the Eagles’ success was due to a solid game plan by Steve Addazio and his staff to not expose Rettig to any punishment. But Tech has faced those kinds of situations already this year and still found a way to get to the quarterback, or at least force turnovers (or, for that matter, incompletions). The Hokies did none of that Saturday. That’s not to say that this isn’t still a strong defense. It just didn’t have a particularly strong day, at least not in the vein that Hokies fans have become accustomed to this year.
5. Who knows what’s going to happen in the Coastal Division now.
This kind of performance isn’t necessarily a confidence-builder for the Hokies heading down to Miami next week. But who knows the kind of mindset the ‘Canes will be in after getting trucked by Florida State 41-14 and losing star running back Duke Johnson to a broken ankle? (To be fair to Miami, I don’t know if anyone, outside of Alabama or Oregon, is going to be able to hang with the Seminoles this year.) There’s nothing from the last two weeks to suggest that Virginia Tech is in a good position heading into this Coastal Division matchup. If you can lose to Boston College and Duke in consecutive weeks, you can lose to anyone in the conference. But just when you think you’ve got the Hokies figured out, you don’t. So I’m not really sure what to think heading into next week’s game. I don’t think Tech will win, but I’m not certain that Miami is in good shape either, other than being at home.
Given Johnson’s injury, the Coastal is back to being pretty open. Miami’s in first with a 3-1 ACC record. Georgia Tech, once thought to be done, is now 5-2 (but with losses to Miami and Virginia Tech). Duke is 2-2, with a game against Miami still remaining. And, of course, the Hokies are 3-2. A win next week would throw the division into even more disarray. This is a Tech team that has shown it can compete in stretches, even against good competition. Getting that for a full 60 minutes, even against lesser competition, is what has proven difficult. It’s why it’s hard to forecast from week to week. If Miami had Duke Johnson, I don’t know that the Hokies would have much of a chance. Even a Miami without him will be a tough game, but it won’t be an impossible one.