Herd next to key on Hokies' ground game
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Virginia Tech's offense is an equal opportunity struggler - it scored one touchdown against Alabama and two against East Carolina.
The Hokies rushed for 53 yards against the Pirates last weekend in a 15-10 win. ECU often sneaked an extra defender or two for run support, allowing Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas to throw for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
But 27th-year Hokies coach Frank Beamer thinks his team should be able to run it even if the opposing defense puts everyone in "the box."
"Still, we can get hats on people; it's just a matter of executing a little better," Beamer said. "I think the other side of that, if people are going to commit eight people in the box, you've got to be able to throw it, and we did a fairly good job of that.
"I'd like to think we'll get to the point where we get a hat on everybody, and we've got a shot at picking up some yards [rushing]."
Marshall will be the next opponent to try to stop the Virginia Tech running game and dare Thomas to throw often when the teams do battle Saturday at Lane Stadium.
Maybe the Thundering Herd won't succeed as well as ECU did, but one figures the Marshall defense will not allow the Hokies to run for 444 yards, as it did in 2009.
Believe it or not, MU defensive coordinator Chuck Heater has yet to play or coach against Virginia Tech. He did coach alongside Tech's new offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler, while at Florida, and appreciates the challenges the Hokies' unit faces this season.
"A little bit of a revamped offensive line. Their tight end got hurt on them early in camp," Heater said. "They lost some pretty talented running backs along the line, so that's some of those issues."
Tech has had some mobile quarterbacks (Michael Vick comes to mind), but it's not ideal for Thomas to lead the team in rushing, as he did a year ago. As a junior last year, he ran for 524 yards and nine touchdowns, both team highs.
At 6-foot-6, 254 pounds, the former tight end is a beast to get to the ground. "I just hit him, drive my feet and hope for the best," said MU linebacker Jermaine Holmes.
Thomas, already a graduate with a degree in human development, has 6,573 career passing yards, 1,027 rushing yards, a school-record 513 career completions and has accounted for 60 touchdowns - 20 by land and 40 by air. He is expected to make his 31st start.
His passing has been lacking, but the opener against Alabama had something to do with that - he went 5 of 26 for 59 yards, with one interception.
For the young season, Thomas has more picks (four) than touchdowns (three), his completion percentage remains under 50 percent and his passer efficiency rating is just 92.33. (100 is theoretically "average," but really it's mediocre.)
NFL scouts still seem interested, as Thomas does have the physical profile and a great arm. His erratic throwing should send him down to the lower rounds of the 2014 draft, though. ESPN's Todd McShay has him in the "third tier" of candidates, eighth on the list.
"No QB in this class produces more varied opinions," McShay writes. "Some scouts still love him, and some scouts have written him off."
Dmitri Knowles (30-yard TD catch vs. ECU) is the speed receiver with a team-high 12 catches for 122 yards; Willie Byrn has 11 catches for 121 running underneath routes. Trey Edmunds, redshirt freshman and son of former NFL tight end Ferrell Edmunds, leads the team in rushing with 242 yards, including a 77-yard dash against Alabama.
Thomas is from Brookville High in Lynchburg, Va., while MU defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow is from nearby Bedford, Va. Alas, Sparrow has an injured ankle and likely won't get to chase Thomas around.
"I know I played him for two years [in high school], and I played him basketball," Thomas said. "I think he started when we went to Marshall [in 2011]. I saw him this past summer. It was good to see him and it was good for somebody from the hometown having success.
"I wish him good luck, except for this week."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.