To preview this weekend's matchup we spoke with Gobbler Country, SBNation's Virginia Tech blog. Let's see what they have to say about Logan Thomas, the defense, and the Hokies new offensive coordinator.
BC Interruption: That was an awful loss last weekend to Duke, and certainly must have been one of the low points of the season for the Hokies. Can you talk about some of the highpoints?
Gobbler Country: Of the season or of the game? Because there weren't many highlights of the Duke game from a Virginia Tech perspective. Of the season? Just how the defense has played has been a pleasant surprise. Granted, coming into the season, this was more or less the expectation for this group. But there was a season-ending injury from fall camp that knocked out a starter, a former starter who quit the team and who is now redshirting and of course Antone Exum's elongated recovery from his injury (he expected to be back at the start of the season and played his first game last week), which thrust two true freshmen into the starting lineup. Given those developments, I would say that the defense has actually exceeded expectations. If you're looking for individual game, I would say the way the Hokies' defense played Alabama that proved that they were legitimate for those who doubted them after last year's so-so performance. Offensively, I would have to say the first half of the North Carolina game was the highlight. Otherwise, it's been on a drive-by-drive basis.
BCI: Many people thought Logan Thomas would be a Heisman candidate, can you talk about what kind of quarterback he really is, and whether or not he has a future in the NFL?.
GC: After last year, I was honestly nowhere near that level of hype for Thomas, though as you will remember there was a time I was very high on him, and for good reason. After all, he put up what was quite possibly the best season for a Virginia Tech quarterback in school history in 2011, and certainly the best one for a first-year starter. But despite hiring Scot Loeffler, renowned quarterback guru, as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, I had tempered expectations about how he would perform. In reality, Thomas has been nowhere near as bad as his stat-line suggests, but that doesn't mean he's necessarily been good. He has been inconsistent for sure, which has been the story of his career at Tech. Consider these things though: Since the Alabama opener when Trey Edmunds rushed for 132 yards, Thomas has led the team in rushing (factoring out sack yardage, and nearly would hold that title without having to do so).
In the passing game, AT LEAST four of his 10 interceptions were partly the fault of his receivers (and I'm being very generous to said receivers, both in the numbers department and how much blame I'm assigning him). Last week alone, Thomas threw two interceptions that were deflected off of his receivers, and another one exactly one play after throwing a touchdown in which the receiver who caught the ball was flagged for illegal motion. Speaking of the Alabama game, here comes the kicker: when Thomas went 5-26 for 59 yards and a pick six, one of the worst stat-lines I've EVER seen. But, his receivers dropped 9 balls, let one fall incomplete by stopping their route for no reason and allowing the pick six by again stopping their route, giving the defender a free and uncontested path to the ball. After re-evaluating that performance on film, we came to an approximate stat total for him as a staff given all those catches were made (a little perfect world I know, but it was done to illustrate how much different things would've looked), Thomas would've been 16-26 for 199 yards. That effort may have been the worst by his receivers all year, but I guarantee you, it's not the only time they have let him down. Just guessing, I would estimate that receivers have dropped around 40 of his passes to this point. Think about that relative to the number of passes, and...we're talking about drops on almost 1 out of every 7 passes he's thrown. He just doesn't have anyone around him to help him out, including on the offensive line, which has been better in pass protection, but absolutely TERRIBLE in the running game. There is NO run game without Thomas. Consequently, as inefficient as he's been statistically, he's the entire offense, and without him right now, this team may have one win, as good as the defense is.
Scouts tend to think he still has a chance to be a pro QB, but the returns are more widespread than ever, as Todd McShay suggested yesterday, saying that some scouts still give him a first round grade because they believe he has the potential to be great, but that he's been coached and handled incorrectly at Virginia Tech. That much is undeniable. But the range is now from that first round grade by a few scouts/GM's to a late round grade as McShay pointed out. I think he'll still go pro and probably be drafted, but I don't know if he'll ever regain the confidence he had in 2011 again, which would be necessary to have any kind of sustained pro career.
BCI: Good lord your defense is stout, who on the Hokies defense should BC fans be on the lookout for on Saturday?
GC: It's essentially a pick your poison ordeal. The defensive line has been tremendous, helping the Hokies to the second-most sacks per game nationally, at 3.5, one that fell from 3.86 last week without perhaps the best defensive lineman on the team this year, J.R. Collins, on the field due to suspension. He will be back in this one, as far as we have been told. Dadi Nicolas played in place of him against Duke, but he may be better at the whip linebacker spot, where he played against Pittsburgh and recorded three sacks. Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy are immovable in the middle, and are some of the top defensive tackles in the nation. James Gayle has had a good game or two, but he is having another down year statistically after posting a team-high 7 sacks in 2011. He is rated the highest of the defensive linemen by NFL scouts, possessing around a third round grade according to Todd McShay on Wednesday. The bottom line is, Tech's defensive line is among the very best in the country, perhaps the best overall. They don't lose a lot when they rotate in their backups either.
The linebackers, Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards, are no slouches either, as both are multiple year senior starters and have made plays all year long. If the defensive line can free them up, they will make it difficult on an opposing team all game long.
Due to a pre-season injury at whip linebacker, Kendall Fuller, perhaps the Hokies' most-touted recruit ever, has started most of the games, but is a corner at heart, as he showed last week, picking off three passes in his first start there. His injured brother Kyle, who is regarded by many as the top cover corner in America, will be back this week barring unforeseen circumstances. Brandon Facyson, who missed last week with a concussion, is another true freshman who has four interceptions already and has played about as well as any other freshman in the country at any position. Antone Exum, an all-conference corner from a year ago, who just returned from a leg injury suffered in January, just returned to action last week and re-assumed his starting role. All four players will see time. At rover, Kyshoen Jarrett has been good, if not all-conference level like he was a year ago (though he was the Hokies' second-best defensive player, he was not named to an all-conference team). Opposite him at free safety, Detrick Bonner has been a liability in the passing game, though an asset in the running game. He may be the Hokies' only weakness defensively, and I'd expect Boston College, like most teams the Hokies have played, to try to exploit that.
GC: It has been very vanilla, yes, but overall, I think the play-calling has been an improvement from last year. We're seeing more mid-level routes, different kinds of wrinkles (most good) and for the most part, correct use of players relative to the play that is being run, down and distance. As for why he has struggled? Well, 1. as I mentioned above, he just doesn't have the playmakers at his disposal. But, 2. I would say that his offense isn't ever going to be a juggernaut. It's just not that kind of attack, and Beamer is too conservative to let his team eclipse 400 yards each week. As a head coach, he's probably the biggest impediment to the offense other than the opposing team's defense. Also as I said above, the highlights have been few and far between. It will be on a drive-to-drive or quarter-to-quarter or half-to-half basis. Tech has not played one complete game offensively this year.
BCI: Okay, put on your prediction cap. Saturday, what have you got?
GC: It's on, but it doesn't make this one any easier. I heard a lot of talk from the Hokies about how badly they felt about losing to Duke and rebounding this week, but until it shows up on the field, that's all it is. I would like to think Tech would come out seeing red and back up those claims, like they did against ECU in 2010 after consecutive losses to Boise and James Madison, probably their last loss in that category, but there's no guarantee that the offense is capable of doing much better, which is scary. I would pick BC for the upset, especially as it's being played in "COLD BAHSTAN" as Frank Beamer has continually referred to it, but I think the Tech offense will scrape together JUST enough offense against a less than stellar Eagles defense to offset what BC's offense will do against Tech's defense, which I'm guessing, won't be much.
If I have to go all scoreboard on this, I'm shooting low. Let's call it Tech 16, BC 13.