After half a season of play, I am pleasantly surprised. I was honestly pessimistic about this season because of how poorly the offense did in the spring game, but by the time summer camp got rolling, my confidence in the offense grew, but only at a cautious pace. The last time my confidence soared, I was served a reality check when the Hokies lost to Pittsburgh, and lost five more games to finish the season with a 7-6 record, and a much needed makeover on the offensive staff was accomplished.
Yet, being cautious has made me appreciate the success the offense has had this fall, sitting 6-1, and leading in the Coastal division, making them a prohibitive favorite to perhaps punch their ticket to Charlotte, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Perhaps the biggest improvements have been made than the retooled offensive line, shepherded by Offensive Line Coach Jeff Grimes and graduate assistant Ryan Pugh. The biggest change, though, was moving long-time guard and oft-injuried David Wang to center, and what a move it has been. David Wang was a lightning rod of criticism last season for having poor blocking technique and being beaten again and again, but this season has been a revelation. I tip my hat to Wang for his willingness to change, and I think Grimes nailed it with his decision to name Wang the starting center. Here's to hoping that Wang's shoulder heals nicely because we are going to need him for the last five regular season games and beyond.
Not to be outdone by Grimes, Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead has made his debut season a memorable one so far. Ever since he has endeared himself to Hokie Nation by challenging Antone Exum in his introductory press conference to a very public tirade to his receivers at the August 15th scrimmage, Moorehead has turned around the wide receiving corps. After an embarrassing showing in the dome, Moorehead's charges have steadily improved each week, and the use of the JUGS machine has paid dividends in spades. Not only has Knowles improved, but D.J. Coles, being severely limited by his knee, has turned into a red-zone specialist, hauling in 5 touchdowns, and the emergence of Willie Byrn has helped back up Moorehead's challenge. Let's not overlook Joshua Stanford, who is proving to be reliable on third down and hanging onto some tough balls being sent his way.
While the running game has clearly gotten bogged down, Shane Beamer has to be somewhat pleased his running backs are not giving up. Trey Edmunds clearly is an every-down back and excellent in pass blocking, while J.C. Coleman is still coming back to form after suffering high and common ankle sprains. Chris Mangus and Joel Caleb have shown promise they can be useful in the future as pass-catching running backs. Yet, I believe that Beamer would like for his running backs to improve, and especially being more patient in showing vision to hit the hole being formed elsewhere on the line instead of hitting pre-designated hole.
Finally, the best and biggest improvement has been Logan Thomas. Look, folks, he may not win any awards by the season's end, but give the man credit for sticking around and showing gigantic improvement. Yes, he has thrown six interceptions, but in the last three in-conference games, he has thrown none and thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions on the season. He is managing the offense very well, and it has made a world of difference when the offense is moving and receivers are catching ball. Those things coming together make this offense somewhat fun to watch, even if it gives us fans heartburn.
Not to overlook the defense, but give Bud Foster and all the defensive assistants tons of credit. They have overcome key injuries at key play-making positions and they are not slowing down. The secondary, which was a question mark coming into the season, has actually become a cornerstone of the defense with an always angry defensive line anchoring the unit. Steady play-making by linebackers Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards has helped to make this defense feared.
If quarterbacks have not learned it yet, it is not wise to try to pick on Tech's freshmen cornerbacks, because both Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller are playing their balls off, showing maturity and playing beyond their class standing. Not to be forgotten, Kyle Fuller and Kyshoen Jarrett along with Detrick Bonner are ball-hawkers who can be right there to clean up.
Let's also give a Gobbler Country round of applause to J.R. Collins. If you have not learned it by now, Collins was a man who was nearly kicked off the team, but re-dedicated himself to his craft, and it has shown on the field. He is becoming a terror in the defensive end spot opposite James Gayle, while bookmarks Luther Maddy and Derrick Hopkins have teamed to make a nasty front four. If that's not enough, add in Dadi Nicholas, Tyrel Wilson, Woody Baron, and Nigel Williams, and it is a recipe of sleepless nights for opponent's offensive coordinators.
While special teams does not get enough recognition these days, it should go without saying that it is nice to see BeamerBall played once in a while. Cody Journell has shook off his early kicking struggles and A.J. Hughes has remain a consistent punter capable of pinning opponents deep in their own territory, which has helped redefine BeamerBall to one thing now: field position. Also, let's give credit to Coach Beamer's willingness to switch up the special teams units after the Alabama game and the senior players for being willing to play on those units.
Overall, this season has been one of revelations, and the hope from here is the team will continue to move forward and not rest on their laurels. With the new offensive staff who have breathed some new life into this team, they are sure to make sure the players stay focused and properly motivated. The ACC slate for the second half will not be as easy.
Duke has always given the Hokies fits. Remember last season when at one point it was 20-0 in Duke's favor before the Hokies batted down the hatches and came back to win it in stunning fashion? Let's not have a repeat of this, please. Miami is ranked within the top-10 and publications have proclaimed they are back. The fight for the Coastal will be on the line in Florida in November so long as the Hokies TCB. Boston College seems to have rediscovered their swagger under their new head coach Steve Addazio and his mustache. Maryland has been a surprise, but are showing signs that they're not as good as advertised. Finally, Virginia is just a team that is still in search of identity, and that makes them dangerous.
The prognosis is looking good. However, we as a fan need to stay focused, and treat every game as a test. As a fan, I cannot wait to see how well the Hokies will do in the second half, when historically, they have been flat-out dominant.