Column by BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It wasn’t the type of performance that would excite the masses, but spring games rarely do.
The defense was stingy, the kicking game wasn’t bad, but the crowd of 25,000 to 30,000 to see Virginia Tech’s Orange-White spring game on Saturday wanted to see improvement from the offense.
They didn’t see it. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer saw many of the culprits.
“We have got to get more consistent, we have heard that before in catching the ball,” Beamer said. “If you drop a ball it kills a drive, the blocking up front, I can tell you there is more to our offense than we showed today.
“We also started out trying to get a good foundation and I think we have done that.”
At least Virginia Tech won’t play a game that counts until Aug. 31 when the Hokies play Alabama in Atlanta. There is plenty of time to get better.
“We definitely have a lot of work to do, but I know as for me and some of the other guys, we are going to be here every day,” Virginia Tech redshirt freshman receiver Joshua Stanford said. “We are going to be working and grinding in the summer so when August 31st comes we will give it our best shot.”
Spring game rules are set up for the defense to succeed, and they certainly did in this one.
“I think that is kind of where our football team is,” Beamer said. “What you saw today is kind of where we are right now. I think a good defense, a good kicking game and an offense that has got to function better.”
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, who made the very wise decision not to enter the NFL draft a year early, was quick to point out how difficult it was to be ‘landlocked’, with little of new coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense having been installed in the previous 14 spring practice sessions.
It appeared that two of his three interceptions — both of which were returned for touchdowns — were from trying to get passes in tight spaces, while the third was an overthrown ball.
Sanford, who had three receptions for 86 yards, including taking a short pass and dashing 57 yards on the first offensive possession of the game, said he made the mistake on the second pick that led to the score, and felt he should have scored instead of being stopped at the 4 on the long pass play that was soon followed by a pick-6 98 yards in the other direction.
“I know for a fact two of them weren’t at the fault of the quarterback,” Sanford said. “The second one was actually my fault…That is one example how it is not Logan’s fault, Logan took a step, the offense protected, he put the ball where it was supposed to be and I just need to come underneath when I supposed to come underneath.
“We have faith in Logan entirely, he is going to be our guy. He is our guy, we believe in him…As young receivers we need to get on the same page as our quarterbacks.”
That will happen with an offseason dedicated to getting better, with Thomas in the lead.
“I think we are going to do a lot of stuff as an offensive unit,” Thomas said. “We are going to go out there and kind of have like a mini-practice run by me. I just have got to get these guys going in the right direction so we won’t have those small mistakes like running the wrong route.”
Beamer was quick to credit the defense and kicking game, but spoke of how the offense needs to show more consistency, something that unit has struggled with in recent years.
Yet, Beamer feels the time is there to be much better in the fall when it actually matters.
“We have some guys that need to catch about 100 balls a day because they have got talent, we need it to be there every play and not be good one play and not so good the next,” Beamer said. “Some of them are young, and another thing I will say, the team we were today, it is not important where we are today, it is important where we can get to when we line up against Alabama.
“That means a whole summer of working and getting stronger, conditioning, catching the balls. We won’t have to be the same group when we line up against Alabama as we were today.”
Thomas will be the quarterback when the Hokies play the Crimson Tide, and Beamer thinks Thomas has shown improvement in the spring with the tutelage of Loeffler, despite the shaky effort in the spring game.
“I think he is further along, he had a great day a couple of days ago (in a scrimmage) and he had a couple there early on that probably weren’t such good throws, but I think Logan always gives you the ability that he is going to be right back,” Beamer said. “He is not an up and down guy, even good golfers have bad shots sometimes, but (it is) how you react to those shots, how you do after those shots and in my opinion Logan will always be back here.
“He might not be perfect, I have a strong belief in Logan, when the fourth quarter comes I think he will be good.”
Beamer also didn’t see any signs of Virginia Tech’s patented running attack in the spring game. The Hokies managed just 23 yards on 41 carries, led by Michael Holmes, who had all of 24 yards, and was then arrested later than night on a malicious wounding charge and — in abiding by team rules — has been suspended from the team.
Trey Edmunds did show promise, with a long run of 41 yards that was called back on a penalty by an offensive line that included true freshman Jonathan McLaughlin starting at one tackle slot.
“I thought there would be more running plays that would pop for more yardage, it is going to be interesting to go back and look at this video and see who did what and how they did it and so forth,” Beamer said. “We have got to function in a more (as a team)…and part of that is evaluating talent.
“You ended up with a lot of guys out there today, but there are not a lot of guys that are going to line up against Alabama. We have to determine who are those guys and let’s get better and play more consistent.”
Virginia Tech used a ‘running back by committee’ approach last season, but none of those four backs ever got over 500 yards on the season. Don’t expect that to happen again.
“I think we can evaluate, I think we have a more clear idea, we have got a long personnel meeting on Monday and we are going discuss all this,” Beamer said. “I think it is very clear that you have got to get a couple of guys some work and we are going to get there.”
Beamer preached ‘toughness’ during the spring after the Hokies flirted with their first losing record last season in 20 years. The four months ahead will be used to help improve that approach as well, with strength and conditioning coach Mike Gentry chief among those responsible for that improvement.
“I don’t really question our physical toughness, I think sometimes the mental toughness has to get in there too,” Beamer said. “That affects you at the end of a ball game, how you play in the fourth quarter, but I think we will continue to work.
“We have to get coach Gentry in there and we will continue to emphasize things in the preseason next fall and I think it show up in different parts of our game next fall. If you have got a lead in the fourth quarter, you want to hold onto the lead so I think it will show up.”
Sanford knows the audience at Lane Stadium on Saturday probably wasn’t thrilled with the lack of offensive production — and paid close attention to Thomas’ three interceptions — but he knows how to change those perceptions.
The spring game doesn’t matter, the games in the fall do.
“Fans will do that, but when fans see touchdowns and when fans see wins and when fans see performance in the fall, they don’t care about this,” Sanford said. “Fans want to win, we want to win so we just need to hard over the summer and get on the same page so we can perform and win football games.”
Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org