It's hard to take much away from a win over a bad FCS-level opponent. Even though the score reads like a blowout, with the Hokies winning 45-3, the play on the field was not as dominant as the score would indicate. Specifically, the struggles of Logan Thomas still stand out.
Thomas played better statically against Western Carolina, but that's to be expected given the expansive gap in skill between Alabama and the FCS foe. Thomas completed 17 of 31 passes for 200 yards and one touchdown. A fine stat line until the two interceptions are factored in.
Some interceptions are more telling than others. A pass that is intercepted by a diving linebacker from five yards away is more easily forgiven because it was an outstanding play by the defender. The two interceptions thrown by Logan Thomas on Saturday are hard to forgive.
Both throws were to the end zone with the target being the oft-criticized Demitri Knowles. On both throws Thomas was trying to hit Knowles in stride over his outside shoulder, just outside the range of the defender. On both throws, however, Thomas underthrew the ball and put Knowles in a 50-50 play for the ball. Knowles is a speedy receiver, but has shown an inability to go and make a play on the ball in the air. Perhaps Knowles should have fought harder for the ball on both throws, but regardless the throws were poor by Thomas. Thomas was in the game until part way through the fourth quarter. It's pretty telling, and perhaps worrisome, that Scot Loeffler still feels like Thomas needs the reps to build a rapport with his receivers against an FCS opponent.
The good news in the passing game is that Willie Byrn, Joshua Stanford, and Kalvin Cline, a freshman tight end, seemed to all have some sort of semblance of chemistry with Thomas. Hopefully these are relationships that continue to improve as the season progresses.
The defense was stout, and the running game is solid. I don't feel like I need to touch on those much. Special teams continue to be a stain on the once pristine reputation of "Beamerball." Punt returns, specifically, were the glaring flaw against Western Carolina. Kyshoen Jarrett can makes some plays on special teams - no one is doubting that. What I'm beginning to question is the risk-reward factor to his fielding of punts. Jarrett was responsible for Western Carolina's only points of the day by touching the ball after calling for a fair catch, but not fielding it.
Against a team like Western Carolina, perhaps Jarrett was feeling overconfident. Perhaps he felt like he could field anything without any potential for disaster. Against Western Carolina, he can get away with plays like that and not have it throw the outcome into question. If Jarrett is reckless against a team like Miami or UNC, you can guarantee that Beamer will pull the plug on his return duties. He had multiple instances against Western Carolina where he could have muffed the punt by not taking a fair catch, and one instance where he did (as mentioned above).
All of this still tells me that there's plenty of work left to do with this team. This is still far from a finished product, and these next two games will go a long way to seeing what time of group Virginia Tech really has.
Chris Hatcher (Chicagomaroon)
I think it's too soon to tell anything substantive about the Hokies based on this game. It felt like they had it pretty much on cruise control the whole time. Not to knock their effort, but offensive line-wise, there was very little push for the running game. That said, there were also zero yards lost in the running game, so it's hard to call them out after the backs gained so much yardage without losing any. But stats aside, looking at their performance against Alabama and against WCU, it did feel completely different. Guys weren't driving their opponents off the ball and the holes just weren't there, which is why a lot of Edmunds' yardage came by the repetition of just pounding it up the gut and dragging defenders and why guys like Mangus and Coleman found the greatest success of the day alone in space to the outside where they could make a move.
I said it after the Alabama game, that if the line played like that all year, we would win a lot of games. But there is the possibility that they were just up for the Alabama game or down for the WCU game. I think as a team, you could make the argument for both of those cases as well. Tech needs to make sure to play at the same level for all games, so as to not fall victim to a team with talent enough to surprise them if they're just messing around.
As for Logan Thomas, he played better against WCU (though his adjusted stat line against Bama showed he didn't play that bad), but still threw two picks and a couple of ugly balls. I don't know about his mechanics until I watch the tape back later today, but it appears there's still too much going on. His two picks were his worst two throws of the day, both times throwing them to the wrong place (deep and back corner balls thrown short and to the front corner respectively).
It looks like Kalvin Cline could be a real pass catching option, which is good considering the tight ends really lack that ability right now. It also looks like Willie Byrn could play the part of a possession receiver in this offense, something it sorely needs until D.J. Coles gets right.
Defensively, the Hokies were stout once again, but I was worried by how much success WCU had in read looks. Perhaps it's just playing down to their competition, but there were some runs that took way too long to be diagnosed and tracked down for my liking. The secondary was superb, and looks like it's going to be a real strength of this team.
As for special teams, it was obviously better, but I am absolutely uncomfortable with the returners taking the ball off hops as many times as I saw on Saturday. At some point they're going to muff/fumble those balls, or it's going to end up hitting them like it did Jarrett on Saturday, and it will be someone other than WCU who might be able to really capitalize off those errors.
Despite the significantly easier opponent on Saturday, the Hokies still weren't as sharp as you'd hope. They struggled to get any real, consistent push on the offensive line until much later in the game. You'd hope that a lot of it was overlooking the opponent rather than an indication of skill, but there were certainly some problem areas.
But I'm an optimist and I think the best thing to take away from the game was that we found our top two guys at receiver. Stanford and Byrn were both consistent at creating enough separation and pulling in the passes that came to them. I think their roles as more of possession receivers than burners is what Logan needs right now. If he knows he can trust them, his confidence will grow.
I think we also have a very solid stable of running backs; and though the competition against which Chris Mangus and Joel Caleb began to shine was much easier than they'll face the rest of the year, they showed what they can do. One last note is that Kendall Fuller's athleticism is just something else. He made several plays on Saturday that he had no business making.
Trevor S. Greene
Offensively, I think Loeffler called a pretty conservative game. He seemed to be using this game as an opportunity to do some fine tuning - to mix and match some personnel groupings before heading down to Greenville to take on ECU. The running game should continue to improve and has become a focal point of the Hokies' blue-collar approach to the game. Trey Edmunds, in my mind, is the clear starter with maybe J.C. Coleman as a change of pace running back, and pass catching threat out of the backfield. Chris Magnus and Joel Caleb figure to be in some plays, perhaps on option plays where Loeffler could use the speed and power to get upfield like we saw with Mangus' 76-yards touchdown run.
Sam Rogers, a true freshman fullback, is going to be a playmaker. The kid has balled since he first arrived on campus and made his name known. I think that with Rogers' ability to pave the way in run blocking and pass catching, it gives Loeffler more flexibility to stretch the defense. My biggest concern is the vertical game. Demitiri Knowles allowed himself to be dictated by defensive backs and never appeared to fight for the ball. I have been told that Knowles lacks the size to battle, but I have played basketball at close to 6'2" and have taken on guys much taller and heavier than me. The point is, as a receiver you've got to fight for the ball, otherwise, it's just an easy pick for the defensive back.
I thought Thomas' throws, outside of two interceptions, incidentally targeting Knowles, were pretty much on the money. Willie Bryn and Joshua Stanford should continue to make strides to become an outstanding receiving tandem. D.J. Coles' benching may have lit a fire under his butt, as he hauled in that beautifully placed ball by Thomas in an extremely tight window that should make NFL scouts drool. Kalvin Cline (don't you just love that name?) has emerged as a legitimate pass-catching threat. He had a chance to reel in a touchdown pass and dropped it, but the fact that he stepped in without playing like he was "green" is a testament to his intellectual prowess and skills. I think that Cline is going to become a big time playmaker as he continues to develop.
Defensively, I think Foster has completely trusted his defensive line to create havoc pressure, but the read-options have given them fits. The secondary had a busy day, snaring three interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, and limiting big plays on the ground. I think that Detrick Bonner has quietly developed into a solid defensive back. Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson both simply do not look like freshmen out there. They have been wherever the balls are. The linebackers are solid all-around. It's hard to try to nitpick Foster's "lunchpail" defense because they appear to carry on the tradition of excellence that has long been the standard under Foster. I do expect to see the defense being tested by a quick-striking ECU offense, where they will try to overload one side of the field and isolate their receiver.
The special teams units had a better showing. I wasn't completely sure if Beamer actually used the veterans on special teams the whole game, but overall, I think they did better. The only thing I'm worried about is Jarrett being a bit reckless with punt returns, as he tried to make something out of nothing with bounces, and he was fortunate the defense held WCU to just 3 points after allowing the ball to hit his leg. I am still not sure why Beamer insists on trying high hanging time on kickoff instead of just kicking it out of the opponent's end zone. I think the days of blocking field goals and punts are done. I don't know why folks keep doing the "block the punt" wave anymore, as I think Beamer is more interested in flipping field position.