Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 27, 2014

Spring Gobblers: Defense has upper hand at Va. Tech spring game

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A.J. Hughes got plenty of work.

The fact that the punter was busy was good news for the Virginia Tech defense, but certainly not for the other side of the ball.

As expected, the Virginia Tech defense was the star of the Maroon and White spring game, but the Hokies still have a ways to go before selecting a starting quarterback for the 2014 season.

Still, Frank Beamer likes what he has seen from his team, which combined for just 10 first quarter points and 306 yards on offense.

“I really like our football team,” Virginia Tech’s head coach said. “I like the way we practiced this spring, I thought the effort was good today, when you divide a team up you don’t have that execution a lot of times that you want.

“I think we are an up and coming football team, we are going to go through some growing pains probably here next year, but I think we are going to go through growing pains full speed, that is the kind of kids we have got. I like that.”

With Logan Thomas now waiting to hear his name in the NFL draft, the Hokies continue the search for his successor, with senior Mark Leal and redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley from Christiansburg getting most of the reps in front a sizable crowd on a sunny and windy Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium.

All 10 points came in the first of four 10 minute quarters. Joel Caleb scored on a 27-yard touchdown run for the White, while the Maroon team’s lone score came on a 28-yard field goal by Erik Kristensen.

The White team won 7-3.

It was the Virginia Tech defense which starred, recording a combined 15 tackles for loss, five sacks, five pass breakups and a pair of interceptions, which definitely hampered the Hokies’ from showing the improvement the Hokies’ fan base wanted to see.

“You always have positives to pull out of there,” Virginia Tech defensive lineman Corey Marshall said. “If the offense does bad, that means the defense is doing great so hopefully they saw that and they understand our offense is definitely taking their steps.

“There are going to be some lumps along the way, those guys are going to come along. We have got full faith in those gays.”

Leal, who replaced an injured Thomas during the Hokies’ loss to UCLA in the Alamo Bowl, was 10-for-18 for 90 yards and an interception for Virginia Tech, while Motley, who is from Christiansburg, was 6-for-11 for 72 yards, a pick and was sacked four times. He had a 19-yard scoring run nullifed by a holding penalty.

In addition, true freshman Andrew Ford was 3-of-5 for 17 yards and lost a fumble.

Those five sacks by the Virginia Tech defense were touch plays with all three signal-callers wearing yellow jerseys.

Beamer made a late decision for them not to be ‘live’ and open to contact with Leal (knee) and Motley (ankle) both hampered by injuries.

That trio will be joined in Blacksburg this summer by freshman Chris Durkin and incoming transfer Michael Brewer from Texas Tech, all of whom will be part of a wide-open quarterback competition that Beamer hopes to answer early in fall drills.

“I think we have got to take a position pretty quickly in the fall,” Beamer said. “I think we need to take a direction and move in that direction. I don’t think we can take long.

“It is one of those deals that whoever it is going to be needs to get a lot of reps in preseason practice and whoever is second needs to get a lot of reps.”

Virginia Tech was able to make a few big plays to bring cheers from the crowd, starting on the opening possession when speedy receiver Demitri Knowles took the ball on an end-around, dashing 52 yards to the 23. Two plays later, Caleb broke through a huge hole and ran 27 yards to the end zone. Remington Henshaw followed with the extra point, with the White taking a 7-0 lead.

Caleb, who came to Virginia Tech as a receiver, led Hokies’ running backs with 43 yards on six carries. Knowles ran for 50 yards on the ground. True freshman Marshawn “Juice” Williams had 11 yards on six attempts.

"I love playing running back, I feel like I am a natural runner,” Caleb said. “I am pretty used to running the ball and carrying the ball so it is a position that I understand. I feel like I made the transition to running back well this last fall and I am just trying to improve with every opportunity I get.”

The Maroon squad scored its lone points on its second possession on Kristensen’s 28-yard field goal, a drive highlighted by a 21-yard end-around run by receiver Carlis Parker.

Kicker is another position the Hokies are trying to fill. Two incoming freshmen will arrive in Blacksburg in the fall and will also be given a chance to win the spot.

Virginia Tech attempted one other field goal, a 48-yard attempt by Michael Brant-hover, but it sailed wide right.

“None of them have separated themselves and that is what I was hoping would happen,” Beamer said. “All of them have had their moments, all of them are good kickers, but none of them have separated themselves and we have two guys coming in here that I can’t talk about.

“We will give them a chance to separate themselves and that is another position I feel like if a kicker has it, he can come in there and play quickly...”

Perhaps the most spectacular play of the contest was a 39-yard one-handed catch along the right sideline by Willie Byrn on a pass from Leal that wound up with the senior receiver falling out of bounds at the 2.

Virginia Tech tried four plays from that point, but couldn’t push it in the end zone. Byrn was pleased with the catch, but recalled a throw earlier in the game that just slipped off his fingertips.

“The first one, it was more of a ball skills thing, I was thinking it was going to be on the sidelines so I kind of faded to the sideline when it was out in front of me, I really wish I had that one back, it is killing me,” Byrn said. “I am glad I kind of made up for it, but that was a great ball too by Mark.”

Hughes proved to be one of the busiest players for the Hokies, serving as punter for both teams, averaging 37.8 yards on eight punt attempts.

Defensively, Sean Huelskamp led all tacklers with nine stops, along with 2 1/2 tackles for loss. Chuck Clark and Detrick Bonner had six apiece, while Jeremy Hayes has 1 1/2 sacks, with Dadi Nicholas, Laird Gardner and Dewayne Alford adding one apiece.

Kendall Fuller and Donovan Riley had interceptions, while the much-improved Deon Clarke recovered Ford’s fumble.

Marshall, Clarke and Luther Maddy were all defensive stars, and all picked up spring awards that were presented at halftime.

Fuller and Nicholas are also expected to be key contributors for the Hokies.

“Both of them (Marshall and Clarke), they both showed up a bunch,” Beamer said. “Corey has been exceptional, Luther has been very good, Dadi has just taken another step, a dynamic guy, and Deon, he is where he is playing fast ...

“It is one of those cases where when you start knowing what you are doing and you are confident in it, then it allows you to use your abilities and he has got great ability, and he has good size too.”

Virginia Tech will open its season on Aug. 30 by hosting William & Mary. With four months to prepare before then, the Hokies have plenty of preparation to do this summer before fall drills being in August.

They’re ready to work.

“This summer is huge,” Byrn said. “Summer is when those teams separate themselves from championship teams and 8-5 teams.”

Beamer, who will be at Fincastle on the Mountain on Wednesday for Virginia Tech’s Orange and Maroon Caravan, is his usual optimistic self about these Hokies.

“We had a couple of great plays there today,” Beamer said. “We still have some questions with certain parts of our football team that need to get better, but I think we are going in the right direction.”

Marshall was chosen as the Hokies’ most valuable defensive player for the spring. Joshua Stanford, who suffered a hamstring injury in the game, earned the same honors for the offense.

— Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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