The quarterback was dejected, coaches said, his head down in a towel following a 30-12 loss to Miami on Thursday, a game in which he ran for a career-high 124 yards and threw for 199 but also had three crucial turnovers and several off-target passes in big spots.
“It hurt him deeply,” quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said. “Logan is a tremendous competitor. You guys don’t see that side of him. Takes tremendous pride in how he plays. Wants to be good very, very badly. … I think he might have felt like he was the reason we didn’t win that ballgame.”
It’s the reason the normally media-friendly quarterback chose not to attend post-game interviews, despite being requested, a first for the junior. Honestly, he didn’t know what he would have said.
“I didn’t really have anything to say to you guys,” Thomas said. “You all were going to ask the same questions y’all ask every single game after a loss. It was going to be the same answers. I think you could have just said, ‘Logan Thomas said …’ and it would have been the same as every other game.”
“I guess I just took this game a little harder than the rest.”
Perhaps because it was such a significant game. Miami became the clear frontrunner for the ACC’s Coastal Division title with the win, moving to the front of a crowded field in the Coastal Division, a game and a half ahead of Virginia Tech in the standings (although whether the ‘Canes self-impose a bowl ban and take themselves out of the running for the division title remains to be seen).
Thomas knows he didn’t play his best. A few plays proved critical. He threw a pick on the opening drive at the Miami 11 on a pass intended for fullback Joey Phillips up the sideline.
“I didn’t even see the guy,” Thomas said. “He was stacked behind another one and he popped up when I moved to throw.”
A fumble proved costly on a third-and-goal from the Miami 1-yard line when Tech trailed 20-12 in the third quarter. Instead of getting some kind of points, the Hokies gave the ball away.
“There was a little bit of flinch by the center [Caleb Farris], and it’s one of those areas of the game that we all take for granted,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “Logan felt the flinch and started to back up a little bit to get the play started. It’s a fine line.”
With it still an eight-point game in the fourth quarter and Tech facing a fourth-and-one from the Miami 39. The Hokies had a solid play-call, play-action faking it to the running back and having Phillips wide open coming out of the backfield. Thomas overshot him by several feet, a crushing incompletion that took the wind out of the Hokies’ sails. They were never close after that.
“Sometimes when you get a guy so wide open, you have a tendency to kind of, I use the term, ‘feather’ it out there,” O’Cain said. “You just want to touch it. The one thing you don’t want to do is miss him. And then you do. I’ve seen it over and over and over. … You don’t throw it naturally. You don’t just throw it as the same motion.”
“I let some guys on the team down,” Thomas said. “I want to play great every time I go out. It just happened that — I wouldn’t say I played poorly — but I didn’t play to the best of my abilities.”
Thomas normally lets plays or losses roll off his shoulders. Coaches have noted that he’s been good about not dwelling on mistakes throughout his career. But this game was different, probably because of what was at stake.
“I went up to him after the ballgame and I always, win, lose or draw, go see him and pat him on the back, hug him around the neck, whatever you do,” O’Cain said. “And he wasn’t in a mood to be talked to. Not that I talked to him, that’s not the right word. But I just let him go.”
“We expected to win,” Stinespring said. “We didn’t. It crushed us all.”
Now the challenge is bouncing back against a Florida State team that’s ranked No. 1 in the ACC in every major statistical category on defense.
Thomas has still done plenty of good this year. He’s thrown for 2,109 yards and 13 touchdowns, adding 422 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Nobody on offense has made as big of an impact as him. But he hasn’t quite been as sharp as last year, completing 53.3 percent of his passes, down from 59.8 last year. His 12 interceptions were tied for the third-most nationally entering Saturday.
O’Cain is mildly concerned about the interceptions, but not as much as he thinks he could be.
“The thing that worries me more was if he was forcing the ball,” he said. “If that was the reason he was throwing interceptions, I would be overly-concerned. … But I don’t think he’s had an interception this year where he’s forced the ball. It’s been a high ball, it’s been a low ball or whatever it may be. … So I’m concerned, but not overly-concerned.
“It’s just a matter of going out there and playing and just throwing the ball like it’s practice. I know it’s more pressure on you, more heat on you and all that, but try to throw it like it’s practice.”
Thomas is simply trying to move forward. Teammates have told him they have his back, even in tough times. That’s what he considers important.
“You can’t do anything about the past,” Thomas said. “You can only focus on the future. People can say what they want, but they’re not inside the program. That’s OK with us. Coach O’Cain and coach Stiney, they always say we’re the three most talked about people around town. That’s fine. It’s cool with me. People can say what they want. But I’m not going to listen to it. [O’Cain and Stinespring] aren’t going to listen to it. Everything is within this program.”
Teammates think he’ll bounce back.
“I think if you look at, for instance, Michael Jordan’s career, and everybody talks about the big plays he made, but they never bring up the ones he didn’t make,” said tight end Zack McCray, who is Thomas’ cousin. “Sometimes you don’t make that big play or sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you want it to. But I just feel when you fall down, it just makes for a better comeback. I just think it’s a lesson to learn at the end of the day.”
Here are a few more notes and quotes from Saturday night’s offensive interviews …
- That last quote is correct. McCray is a tight end now. The redshirt sophomore from Brookville, the same high school as Thomas, made the switch today. The move has been discussed before. McCray, who has been buried on the depth chart at defensive line — a little too small to be a true tackle, a little too slow to be a true end — initiated it. “I think this move is going to be great,” he said. “It has me motivated to go out there and be better at something. I’m really, really passionate about this to go out here and just work and make the team better in some way.”
- Stinespring noted that Tech is losing three senior tight ends after this year — Eric Martin, Randall Dunn and George George. The move gives the Hokies some depth at the position, with Ryan Malleck, Darius Redman, Dakota Jackson and Duan Perez-Means, another converted defensive lineman, playing there. “We like being able to play two [tight ends] if we can, and with us losing three, again, knowing Zack in high school and recruiting Zack, I think he brings something to the table for us,” Stinespring said. “We felt like in the spring we would do it. So right now, why not get a jump start on it?”
- McCray said he’s actually played tight end longer than he has defensive line, going back to his middle school days. In fact, he was recruited as both by most schools. Tech was actually one of the only ones who recruited him on defense only. A large reason McCray chose that route was because Thomas, who was a year ahead of McCray in school, was also recruited as a tight end coming out of high school. After Thomas graduated, McCray, who was the No. 5 recruit in the state in 2010, continued to excel on defense, but also did more on offense as a senior, playing tight end, receiver and even some H-back. He caught 44 passes and had two touchdowns as a senior but was used mostly as a blocker. He described himself as a balanced tight end in that sense.
- The biggest challenge McCray thinks he’ll have is learning the playbook. He’s realistic about not being able to digest it in the final three weeks of the season. “If the next three weeks works out, it’s good,” he said. “And if it doesn’t, my feelings aren’t going to be hurt by it.” Physically, he thinks the transition should be no problem. At 6-foot-5, 256 pounds, he was always on the lighter side for a defensive lineman, continually trying to keep on weight. On offense, he’s about the same size as Martin, one of Tech’s bulkier tight ends. “I think defensive end, I think that’s going to help the physicality of stuff,” McCray said.
- Thomas had a career-high 22 carries against Miami, one more than he had against Clemson. He also took some shots, getting up slowly after one run near the goal line. “That’s why we lift,” he said. “That’s why we condition as much as we do. So I feel fine physically. Obviously, you have your bumps and bruises that you need to heal up, but I feel good.”
- Coaches have mentioned failed execution as being the biggest reason for the offense’s — and really the team’s — struggles this season. But they’re having a tough time putting their finger on why that’s the case. “You can’t,” O’Cain said. “If you did, you’d get it corrected right now and it’d be over. Sometimes the ball bounces right and sometimes it doesn’t. And if you start saying, well it’s this or this or this or this, then it sounds like you’re making excuses.”
- Stinespring pointed out some possible reasons, though. “There’s time when you’ve had to revamp your line a little bit,” he said. “We haven’t communicated some things as well as we did earlier in the year. Some of it has to do with perhaps a little bit of youth at times. … There’s a lot of little things that add up that have prevented us from having consistency and the success that we believe we should be having. We’ve been productive. It just hasn’t been consistent.”
- That’s not the best thing to have happening with Florida State coming to town Thursday. As mentioned before, the Seminoles lead the ACC in every major statistical category on defense — rushing (72.9 ypg, 3rd nationally), passing (154.2 ypg, 6th nationally), total (227.1 ypg, 2nd nationally) and scoring (12.0 ppg, 3rd nationally). “[They have] very few weaknesses,” Stinespring said. “I haven’t found any.”
- How do the Hokies go about attacking the kind of defense that’s solid across the board? “You really have to focus yourself on what you’re doing and how well you’re doing it,” Stinespring said. “If we have a lack of execution and you’re having those problems, then you’re really putting yourself behind the 8 ball. We’ve just got to really make sure, whatever is in the game plan, we’re going to be as precise in what we’re doing and as coordinated in our attack as we can possibly be. You need to play as close to perfect as you can possibly play to give yourself a chance for success.”