For this staff roundtable, I decided to ask the staff a tough task. I asked them to describe whether or not this year's Virginia Tech football team was better than last year's. Specifically, I asked, "In your opinion, how improved is this team over last season? Given play on the field, wins and losses against certain teams, overall record, talent and coaching. Don't be over reactionary coming off a loss, either!"
Don't be over reactionary? Is that even possible? I guess we'll find out...
As far as play on the field goes, I don't think there's any question the team is better than last season. Logan Thomas has improved his mechanics, which has led to a bit more consistency, though still clearly not as much as most fans would like. The running back situation has hit an upswing lately with Trey Edmunds finding the endzone six times in the last five games. The wide receivers have improved, the blocking has been somewhat better, and the defense has been...well...a Bud Foster defense.
However, not everything that glitters is gold. There are still some gaping holes in this Virginia Tech group. It starts with special teams, a collective that helped shape Virginia Tech football under head coach Frank Beamer. This group has gone from great to woeful over the past five or six years. Seeing as Beamer is the special teams coach, the blame has to fall on him. Teams have been gashing the Hokies' kickoff unit for big gains, including some crushing touchdowns. The kick returners haven't really sparked any big runs outside of one Demitri Knowles kick return that was stopped short of the endzone. The kicking situation has gone from bad to worse with the expulsion of Cody Journell. Not even #Punterswag can redeem this group as a whole. It sounds weird to say, but special teams play has held this Virginia Tech team back. Who would have ever thought?
The win against Miami on the road was awesome, but it was followed up promptly by a stinker against Maryland at home. That about summarizes this year's team in a nutshell. Tech has lost three out of its last four games, but by a combined 13 points. It's not like this team is getting blown out. There's simply a lack of finishing touch to this group right now, especially with some key injuries in the defensive secondary.
I think the new offensive coaching staff has done well getting the most out of what was left from the previous regime. I'm a firm believer in Scot Loeffler not only as a quarterback's coach, but as an offensive coordinator. I've seen more things out of the offense that I have liked this year than many years prior. Have there been some questionable decisions here and there? Of course. No one calls a perfect game. I think most players would tell you that the gameplans have been solid, but there has been a lack of execution late in games. Outside of quarterback, this is a pretty young offensive group, so I have no doubt things will improve moving forward as the other skill positions.
I think Virginia Tech fans need to take this season in stride and look at it for what it is - a rebuilding year. Virginia Tech could still back its way into the ACC Championship Game, too. Not bad coming off the school's worst season in 20 years. The losses to BC and Maryland sting, but it is what it is at this point. The Hokies have a big bye week and will prep to battle in-state rival Virginia, far and away the worst team in the ACC. With a win over UVA and a bowl victory of some sort, I would consider this season a success. Perhaps not a rousing one, but a success nonetheless.
The team as a whole has improved, but marginally. The defense has absolutely improved, but the offense (stop me if you've heard this before) is still the weakest link. Bud's group has done it with an abundance of players that were inexperienced at the collegiate level or playing in new roles and they're still tearing it up. I've had no worries about them since we saw the performance against Alabama. The offense has been inconsistent to say the least and it is somewhat expected with the new coaches on that side of the ball. There are a lot of growing pains for the offense right now and it shows. The run game is ineffective and the offense is, once again, carried by Logan Thomas. When's he on, the offense can move the ball and score points. When he's not, there's not much left to rely on. It's a simple as that. Special teams? Yeah, I don't have the patience to talk about it right now. So in the end? A little better. A little.
Trevor S. Greene
Overall, I think things could have been better in the win/loss columns. Since coming off the first bye week, Virginia Tech is now 1-3. In my opinion, the team somewhat overachieved before the first bye week, but then for some reasons, just slipped backward before finding their footing again against Miami, the only win post-bye week. The biggest improvement I have seen is the play calling on offense overall. While Loeffler may have made some questionable play calls, overall, I think his offense philosophy is much better than the grab bag of offense we had seen under Stinespring and two seasons of O'Cain's play calling. The offensive line, I think, is a huge improvement. Yes, like last season, they are serviceable in pass protection, but struggle in run blocking (the Miami game being more flukey now), yet they fight to the whistle, something that was not seen last year. One of the biggest things is accountability. The coaches aren't going to tolerate loafing on plays unless the players are gluttons for punishment, and I think that has been a huge turnaround from last season.
While I'm on the subject of accountability, I think Beamer drove home that point when he finally dismissed Cody Journell, a player that Beamer has defended, sided with and stuck by throughout the slump amidst fans howling for Journell to be benched, before whatever it was that Journell has done to get the boot. For the record, I have no inside or any knowledge of what Journell has done to earned the wrath of Beamer, and I refuse to engage in idle speculation. I think it shows that even someone like Beamer, who is either too loyal or stubborn, has a limit on tomfoolery and that should send a message to the rest of the team to imperil your privilege of playing for him at your own risk.
Chuck Workman (Flyers13)
People are going to look at this 8-4 team and say it's improved, and it probably is: slightly. In my opinion, besides the additions in the secondary of Facsyon and Fuller, the team isn't that much more talented than last year. The defensive front seven is a veteran group, and we knew that would be a strength. Honestly, the defensive personnel is playing great in spite of Bud this year. His failure to involve a third LB against run heavy packages, and mobile QBs is a primary cause for our losses to BC and MD, and the struggles against Marshall. Cheating with the extra DB has been murderous, particularly when we are taking wide angles to the QB with the DEs already. We wind up creating ready-made running lanes, essentially handing Cato of Marshall, and Brown of MD a blueprint for success, and we never adjusted. The RB on BC is a beast, and we could have used some bulk to stop him, as BC's line was its typically gargantuan self. I was disappointed in Gayle the last two seasons. He is a presence but he never turned into the sackmaster I envisioned. Collins was having a career year, but as a smallish player he can never hold up physically. Jack Tyler, is, well he's Jack Tyler. Very solid, but still a step slow at times, and we relied on him too heavily this year with no viable backup. He needs to come out on 3rd downs. He's a hero to all of us "walk-ons" in life but i have to say his tackle numbers inflate his reputation. He isn't an NFL player in my eyes. He's no Ben Taylor.
Logan Thomas has once again been a colossal disappointment when you measure him against his hype. He had two good games this season, and interestingly enough, both were on the road against two of the tougher opponents: Georgia Tech and Miami. Is Logan pressing at Lane? The MD and Duke games suggest that he is. He knows there is nothing he can do to win our collective heart back, and he's chasing: like a degenerate gambler down to his last chip in Vegas.
The fact that his O-Line let him down in both of those dismal home losses is a point of no small import. But I don't blame this on Jeff Grimes, our OL coach, because he is doing the best he can with a limited group. I have just felt that we continue to operate with too large a playbook (I mockingly compare it to The Cheesecake Factory Menu), and it obfuscates our ability to run with any effectiveness. The line play doesn't mitigate the fact that Shane Beamer isn't getting it done with our young stable of backs. If "Buckin Bronco" Logan is still our best run option at this point in the year, we need to rescind scholarships or make a coaching change, or both. Our RB heritage is too proud to endure two consecutive seasons like this. Simply unacceptable.
The young WRs have been great. It's a shame Coles can't play every down. Aaron Moorehead has been our best coaching add, I fear he won't be long for Blacksburg as he climbs the ladder. This is a unit that will be counted on to help the new QB out next year. Let's hope it remains as it is, with some nice additions expected.
All in all Loeffler has been a little bit better than Stiney, but not by much. He still needs to condense the playbook some and get his OL in a 3-point stance and stop running the ball out of the shotgun so much. With so many similarities in the offensive scheme, I am wondering if it's just Loeffler waiting for Logan to move on so he can implement his scheme without any remnants of the old. One more season before I pass full judgment.
Finally, the special teams coach needs to be canned without prejudice. It's a damn embarrassment. It's gotten progressively worse, and we all wait with bated breath for our units to blow games for us. This is completely independent of the Journell situation, it's all about Frank. For us to admit that we've decided to take several years off from our punt block mentality, and immediately get a block upon playing starters on that unit, is a forehead slapper that makes you want to add two more shots to your drink. I can't stress it enough, Beamer needs to swallow his pride and get some help. Either that or relinquish the head job and work full time on STs.
Final Verdict: The schedule was soft, the ACC is weaker than ever, and we should be about 10-2 even with a low level (by our standards) of talent. We shouldn't be in need of help to win the Coastal. We don't REALLY deserve to win the Coastal. I'm disappointed in the results, but I'm even more disappointed if people qualify this as a true improvement on last year. Improvements are possible if we just explore them. But the typically stubborn leadership isn't willing to admit that we are anything less than what we should be. Until that happens, we won't improve.
Chris Hatcher (ChicagoMaroon)
I think this team IS improved over last year's version, but in very minute ways. I'll try to explain as best as I can.
Firstly, the defense is much improved over a year ago. Although down the stretch in 2012, when they hit their stride, Tech was one of the best defensive teams in the nation. This year, however, depth is twice as good at every position minus safety. Even with the absence of Antone Exum for most of the season, the defense didn't miss a beat, relying on two freshmen cornerbacks who more or less replaced Exum's presence or even improved upon it. For certain, the defense is more explosive than a year ago, able to make more big plays, both in the secondary and on the defensive line. Even though they've had a few letdowns in critical moments, it's hard to blame much if anything on the defense as well as they've played this year.
Offensively, where do I start...I think the unit overall has taken a step backwards. Even in finding perhaps more reliable receivers going forward, there isn't the playmaking talent there was a year ago with Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller manning those positions. I think Logan Thomas has improved his play quite substantially this season, even if the stat sheet suggests that he has only improved marginally. He has, believe it or not, had LESS help this year than even a year ago, putting up a staggering percentage of the team's offensive output. While there has certainly been a higher upside from the running back corps, quite often the output was commensurate with the level a year ago. When it's worked, it's looked about as well as can be imagined, but when it hasn't, which has been much more often, it has been just as ineffective as last year=NO running game. The offensive line has, for the most part, been better in the passing game, allowing Thomas more time to find open receivers or just stay upright (minus last week). The run blocking has been nearly as bad as it was in 2012 though.
As for special teams, what can I say? Outside of A.J. Hughes, EVERY single facet of the unit has been WAY down from where it was a year ago. The Hokies have been one of the worst special teams units in the entire country.
So again, overall, I think there has been a SLIGHT improvement from last year to this year, but only when considering that:
1. The Hokies have played an easier schedule than a year ago (minus Alabama of course). There's no 2012 Clemson, Florida State or UNC on it, and these Hokies, like the team last year, would certainly have lost to those teams as well.
2. Cumulatively, Logan Thomas and the defense playing better only represents just greater than a draw over the poor play of the offense as a whole and the special teams.
3. Tech has managed to avoid many of the errors that tripped them up last year, which has prevented them from losing more games than they already have. Though it wouldn't appear to be the case from their losses, when Tech has done the little things this year, which more often than not, they have done, they've been able to eek out victories. When they haven't held onto the ball, gotten key stops or taken advantage of their opportunities in the special teams' department, they've lost.