Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

October 6, 2013

Traditional Virginia Tech football

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech has long been known for a stingy defense and solid running game.

They didn’t get either last season, and it showed in a 7-6 record, the worst mark in 20 years for the Hokies.

They got one of those in Saturday’s 27-17 ACC victory over Pittsburgh on homecoming Saturday at Lane Stadium.

One season ago, Logan Thomas seemed to regress from his sophomore campaign, but there were few such signs of problems on this day, completing 19-of-28 attempts for 293 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

He couldn’t have done it without his receiving corps, and he used all of them against the Tar Heels, completing passes to nine different receivers as the Hokies continue to improve in an area that was a question mark prior to the season.

“Last week (at Georgia Tech) we only had one drop and today we only had had one or two,” Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “There’s no question we’ve improved from the opening game and our passing game as a whole is much improved.

“We’re coming around, we’ve got a lot of kids that work really hard and some great offensive linemen.”

How young are the Virginia Tech receivers? D.J. Coles, who had two touchdowns, is a senior, and Willie Byrn, who had four receptions for 113 yards _ including an 84-yard reception late in the second half _ is a junior.

All the rest that caught the ball on Saturday are sophomores _ Demetri Knowles (4-57, 1 td) and tailback J.C. Coleman _ and the other five were freshmen, including Joshua Stanford, who had three catches for 59 yards.

“I think we are a pretty confident group,” Stanford said. “Logan has confidence in us and we are confident and just going out there being as good as we can be.”

While the receivers seem to be showing signs of progress, the running attack for the Hokies is still searching for answers. Thomas actually led Virginia Tech last season, but while Trey Edmunds is the leader this season, the redshirt freshman had just 27 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown against the Tar Heels.

“We tried, we tried to make some adjustments in the third quarter, but we lost the fullback,” said Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler, whose Hokies had just 64 second half yards and just a net 48 yards on the ground. “We had to run out of some sets that we didn’t want to, but we had to adjust.”

J.C. Coleman, who was the leading running back in rushing yards last season, had 26 yards on eight carries.  

Just don’t give up on Edmunds yet.

“There is a lot of football to play,” Edmunds said. “Each week we come out here and play hard and I just feel like we are going to keep progressing as the year goes by.”

Virginia Tech was able to use play-action effectively in building a 21-7 halftime lead on three touchdown passes from Thomas, which is part of what Beamer likes about Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s philosophy since taking that position after last season.

“We are never going to give up on the run, but you have got to be smart,” Beamer said. “You have to be aware how they are playing you. You have to determine how many people they have got in the box and then whether it is to your advantage to throw the ball or to your advantage to run the ball.

“What we have got is a quarterback that can really handle that. He knows what is going on out there, he changes plays at the line of scrimmage and he is very mature. I really see us continuing to get better and better and taking advantage of how they play us.”

What didn’t please Beamer, Loeffler or the Virginia Tech faithful was the second half, in which the Hokies managed just 64 yards and one late touchdown that was set up by a fumble recovery on special teams.

 “They made some adjustments and we just couldn’t get anything done,” Loeffler said. “We didn’t run the ball the way we wanted to. We’ll evaluate the third quarter. I’m not so sure I didn’t help us.

“That third quarter was disappointing and I’ll never apologize for winning. I thought our kids played really hard and I thought Logan played excellent. He is really coming into his own, and that’s what a fifth-year quarterback is supposed to do.”

The defense did its job, even if the Tar Heels did gain 376 yards against a unit allowing just 241.2 yards a game. Much of that came on a late drive, but the Hokies forced three turnovers _ one on special teams _ and gave up just two touchdowns and a field goal to a team that scored 38 on them last season.

Virginia Tech did that without knowing until quarterback Marquise Williams took the field that North Carolina starter Bryn Renner was out with an injury.

“We held them to 10 points until the end,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who recruited Williams and knew of his ability as a dual threat quarterback. “Bottom line, it was all our kids…I am proud of my kids. I can’t ask any more of them. They played well to the very end and they came up with some big plays.”

That includes three turnovers, including a fourth quarter pick by Kyle Fuller that basically ended any hope for the Tar Heels. Virginia Tech continues to start two freshmen in the secondary, Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, who combined for nine tackles.

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora, whose Tar Heels dropped to a surprising 1-4 on the season, was quick to point out that Virginia Tech did what his squad needed to do to be successful.”

“Logan is doing what they are asking him to do,” said Fedora, whose Tar Heels had three turnovers to none for the Hokies. “They are managing the game with him and they win with defense. They had a game changing play against us. We put the ball on the ground and we gave them a touchdown.

“Anytime you play great special teams, great defense and take care of the ball on offense, you’re going to win games.”  

Foster later echoed the sentiments of Beamer in assessing the win by Virginia Tech, the fifth in a row for the Hokies since the opening game loss to Alabama.

“It’s not always pretty how we do it, but I’ll tell you, our kids have shown a lot of not just physical toughness, but I like our guys showing some mental toughness,” Foster said. “We have good leadership on our team. We beat a good football team.”

— Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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