By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
As the losses piled up and preseason goals became unreachable for Virginia Tech last season, the frustration mounted.
The Hokies, after all, had won at least 10 games eight straight seasons, the longest streak in the country, and eventually found themselves needing to win their last three games just to qualify for a bowl and possible winning season.
“That was unacceptable by any means,” center turned right guard Andrew Miller said.
The Hokies closed with a bowl victory against Rutgers, and then coach Frank Beamer made changes. Three offensive coaches left, long-time offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring was reassigned and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, line coach Jeff Grimes and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead were brought in to infuse the staff with some fresh ideas.
“Sometimes you need change for change’s sake,” Beamer said.
Beamer, entering his 27th season, sees plenty of reasons to expect big things, starting with the return of quarterback Logan Thomas, who decided a year under Loeffler’s tutelage would be to his benefit.
“I think he understands, hey, this is his team,” Beamer said of Thomas, who has been more assertive than ever this summer and preseason. “I think he’s more take charge. I think Logan handles things real well, and how he handles taking charge, I think he handles it in a good way, a very natural way.”
Thomas needs to rebound from a season in which he barely completed 50 percent of his passes and had 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, and do it while bringing along an inexperienced set of skill players.
Beamer hopes it’s a recipe for getting the Hokies back to those double-digit victory totals.
“I think what happened last year is we understand there’s a real thin line between being OK and not being OK, that you’ve got to play every play, prepare for every team,” he said, adding he was proud that his team fought to the end.
“We gave effort at Boston College and the last two ballgames, so I think there are some things on both sides of it, positive and negative, that we can learn from it,” he said. “I think we have. I think if you ask any kid, we have.”
Here are five things to watch as keys to Virginia Tech’s season:
1. LOGAN THOMAS: Expectations have always been high for the 6-foot-6, 254-pound Thomas, and this is his final chance to put it all together, Loeffler tweaked his mechanics with an eye on better accuracy, and also schooled him on leadership. The result was a more assertive — Beamer said “aggressive” — Thomas over the summer, one not afraid to call a teammate out for running the wrong route in players-only practices. The Hokies can only hope that Thomas is ready to finish his career with a flourish.
2. OFFENSIVE LINE AND RUNNING GAME: Grimes has moved players around on the line, and the result could find a true freshman playing left tackle, and thereby guarding Thomas’ blind side. A meager running game last season limited Thomas’ ability to be effective in the running game, too, and it had a paralyzing effect on the Hokies’ ability to move the ball. In redhsirt freshman Trey Edmunds and bulked up sophomore speedster J.C. Coleman, the Hokies hope they have a solution to that stagnant ground game.
3. THE EMERGENCE OF A GO-TO RECEIVER: Loeffler loves using the tight end, and the Hokies have a good one in Ryan Malleck, but the receiver spot is still uncertain. Fifth-year senior D.J. Coles can’t seem to shake the injury bug, and speedy Demetri Knowles is unproven as a go-to guy. Freshman Carlis Parker could have an impact here, as could redshirt freshmen Joshua Stanford and Charley Meyer.
4. KENDALL FULLER’S IMPACT ON DEFENSE: Defensive coordinator Bud Foster says he’s not sure he’s ever had a freshman arrive on campus as ready to play as the fourth and final Fuller brother, who is already penciled in as a starter at cornerback. He’ll surely get tested in the opener against No. 1 Alabama.
5. THE KICKING GAME: Beamer loves his kickers, and has good ones in placekicker Cody Journell, who won three games with field goals last season, punter A.J. Hughes and kickoff specialist Mitchell Ludwig.