By HANK KURZ Jr.
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Quarterback Logan Thomas knows his last game at Lane Stadium will be emotional.
Thomas and 11 other seniors will trot onto the turf for the last time on Saturday when struggling Maryland (5-4, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) arrives, and it’s a game the Hokies can’t afford to lose.
The Hokies (7-3, 4-2) played their way back into the Coastal Division race last weekend with a 42-24 victory against No. 24 Miami in a complete performance. It pulled them even in the loss column with Duke and Miami, and if they win out against the Terrapins and Virginia, a loss by the Blue Devils against the Hurricanes, Wake Forest or North Carolina would send Virginia Tech back to the ACC championship game.
“We still have a chance to get to our goal — ACC championship, a good bowl game, BCS bowl game,” senior defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins said this week. “We just want to go out there and play hard.”
Playing like they did against the Hurricanes would give them a great chance.
Thomas threw for 366 yards and a touchdown, and Trey Edmunds ran for four scores in the victory, which came after close losses to Duke and Boston College gave them no choice by to find their groove again.
“I feel like it all just kind of clicks and this past week, we ... as a backfield and an offensive line kind of meshed together and everything and it turned out well, so hopefully we can keep going,” center David Wang said, calling the performance a confidence booster that can carry the Hokies forward.
The Terrapins, meanwhile, are in the midst of a tailspin that has seen them lose four of five games after a 4-0 start, and they have three chances remaining to get one more victory for bowl eligibility. After the Hokies, they play at home against Boston College and finish the year at North Carolina State.
Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart expects the Hokies to be at their best.
“They are playing well, they are a physical team, and they can both run and throw the ball,” he said. “They have young offensive linemen that are doing an excellent job. Offensively, they have a good quarterback. Logan is a big kid, and there are a lot of quarterback runs that he is pretty good in, and he can toss the ball. He can hang in there because he is so big, and he can wait for guys to clear.”
Thomas and the Hokies’ seniors hope to do all those things in their final home game.
Here are five things to watch for when Maryland plays at Virginia Tech:
OFFENSE CLICKING?: The Hokies had everything working against Miami, and it was the first time in a long time that was the case against a quality opponent. If the line can give Edmunds room to run, that gives Thomas more opportunities in the passing game, and that makes them a dangerous unit.
PASSING FANCY: Maryland ranks 33rd nationally in passing offense at 273 yards per game, and the Hokies are banged up in the secondary. If C.J. Brown can shake out of his recent slump, and the Terrapins’ line can keep the Hokies’ stout pass rush at bay, one breakdown here or there can produce quick points.
EMOTIONAL CONTROL: Thomas has been the starting quarterback for three years marked by plenty of ups, but also plenty of downs. He figures to get an enormous “thank you” from fans when introduced before the game, and keeping the magnitude of that moment secondary to the task at hand will be essential.
WALK-ON KICKER: With the dismissal of senior PK Cody Journell from the team this week for a violation of team policies, coach Frank Beamer not only lost a kicker who’d made 44 of 58 FGAs in his career, but he’s turned to a walk-on who was added to the team in September. Freshman Eric Kristensen says he made a 46-yarder in a game, and a 63-yarder in practice in high school. The Hokies need him to make PATs.
IGNORING THE NUMBERS: Virginia Tech has had a tendency in recent seasons to think it had things figured out after a solid performance, and to come out flat for a game the oddsmakers think should be a cakewalk. Beamer said last week’s victory means nothing if they don’t finish THE string. He’s right.