The Bearcats have one of their premier games of the season coming up this weekend. Some of us have watched Virginia Tech play, but we don't really know them like someone who is a die hard fan and writes about them does. That's where my new friend Ty Hodges comes in. He writes at the website Fighting Gobbler. He's on twitter @STH_Hokie. I recommend giving him a follow on Saturday afternoon.
Ty and I cover a lot in the following questions. We talk about Logan Thomas and the weight of expectations, the Hokies pass defense, the fact that Virginia Tech has never had a 1,000 yard receiver and more. There is a pretty shocking answer to one of the questions. It actually caught me off guard when I read it earlier today. Instead of me talking about it, let's take a look.
Questions in bold.
Logan Thomas is the main offensive threat for the Hokies. Can you tell us a little about how he's compared to your expectations so far this season?
I think it’s safe to say that Logan Thomas has been somewhat of a disappointment so far this year. It’s not that Thomas has been outright bad, per se, but he just hasn’t lived up to the pre-season hype that surrounded him (Heisman hopeful, top-5 NFL Draft pick, comparisons to Cam Newton). Granted, all of that hype was way overblown and mostly not warranted, but Thomas’ play has still been very hit or miss this year. Early in the season he had problems with his footwork and mechanics, and because of that kept missing his receivers high and wide. He seemed to not be going through his progressions properly, and frankly just seemed out of sync with a mostly new core (or at minimum a much more inexperienced group than last year) of receivers.
Thomas has been a major part of the Tech running attack in 2 of the 3 wins. He had 65 yards last week. How many carries do you expect him to get on Saturday?
It’s hard to put a number on something like that because most of Thomas’ designed runs come on plays where you have one or two yards to get a first down or a touchdown. I’ll throw out a well-rounded guess of 10 carries on the day with eight of those being draws, misdirection, or read-option, and the other two being on QB sneaks in short yardage situations.
The rest of the Hokie running attack has been spread out. What one of the backs do you think could step up and give the Bearcats trouble?
A couple of days ago I would have told you Tony Gregory after his showing against Bowling Green, but it appears that he is injured and his status for the Cincinnati game is now in question. I continue to think that true freshman J.C. Coleman is a guy that can swing the momentum of a game, but the coaching staff doesn’t seem to think that he’s ready to be a featured back yet, so the carries probably won’t be too large in number. That being said, Coleman has ridiculous speed and, because of his size, is hard to get a hold off. When he came into the game against Georgia Tech he really provided a spark and caught the Yellow Jackets off guard. If the coaching staff decides to give him a workload against Cinci, I think he has the potential to be a guy that does a lot of damage.
Outside of Pitt, no one has thrown on Virginia Tech. 2 of the opponents have under 90 passing yards. What makes the pass defense so extraordinary?
It’s funny you ask that, because I’m not sure Virginia Tech’s pass defense is all that extraordinary. In fact, in large part, I would posit that most times it’s very average. Kyle Fuller is an elite cornerback and tackler, and is one of the best in the nation bar none. Antoine Exum moved down from safety to corner in the off-season but has struggled to adjust to the position, getting beat by receivers from Austin Peay, Pittsburgh, and Bowling Green. Kyshoen Jarrett has proved to be his safety net over the top of Exum, and is emerging as a great weapon at safety. Detrick Bonner, at rover (the other safety), has also struggled of late, which has given way for Michael Cole to get some reps at that position. Outside of the secondary though, injuries to starting backer Tariq Edwards have caused problems for pass defense. Starting mike linebacker Bruce Taylor moved over to backer and backup mike linebacker Jack Tyler is starting in Taylor’s old place now. Jack Tyler and Bruce Taylor are great linebackers when it comes to stuffing the run, however, both are liabilities in pass coverage. Against Bowling Green the Hokies had two or three instances where wide receivers were running untouched 20 yards downfield. A better team with better quarterback play, and better wide receivers, would have punished the Hokies. Take into account poor passing teams, with a team that doesn’t pass often like Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech’s pass defense statistics are a bit inflated.
Jack Tyler has been flying around the field, averaging over 10 tackles a game this season. What can you tell us about him and the rest of the defense?
As I touched on a bit above, Jack Tyler just has a nose for getting to the ball carrier. He has great natural instinct and ability to cause havoc at the point of attack. That being said, he is horrid in pass defense and is slow off the ball in those situations. Luckily the mike linebacker position has few pass responsibilities in Bud Foster’s defense, so this is rarely an issue. As for the rest of the defense, expect an increase of speed along the linebacking group this week with the change at whip linebacker. Redshirt freshman Ronny Vandyke will be replacing senior Jeron Gouveia-Winslow after a great game against Bowling Green. Vandyke is more physical and speedy than GW, which makes him a better play against the spread of Cinci.
Va Tech has 26 tackles for loss, but has given up 26 tackles for loss. How big an issue is the offensive line?
Offensive line play has been, in large part, horrid for the Hokies so far this year. An injury to the starting left guard David Wang has really put Virginia Tech in a bad position. Matt Arkema, his replacement last week against Bowling Green, constantly gave up pressure and got beat on a majority of plays. That was against Bowling Green. Michael Via is very mediocre at right guard, and Brent Benedict is a great run blocker, but is very weak in pass protection. The Hokies have had snapping problems at center between starter Andrew Miller and backup Caleb Farris. As a group they’ve shown problems getting a push up front during running plays, putting added pressure on the running backs to make something out of nothing. If this group doesn’t get a push early on, the Hokies’ gameplan is essentially shot (setting up the play-action pass with Logan after establishing the run).
Frank Beamer has never won at FedEx Field. Does this worry you?
Frank Beamer and the Hokies have struggled in NFL stadiums in general. It doesn’t really worry me though. I think it makes an interesting tidbit, but doesn’t hold much importance. If anything, that symbolizes that the Hokies have usually been playing in big games (save the Pittsburgh game two weeks ago), thus causing a poor record in these stadium.
Does it get annoying when everyone yells BEAMER BALL when something good, or bad, happens on special teams?
Absolutely not! Beamer Ball is a sense of pride for Virginia Tech fans, and it’s something that gave way for Virginia Tech’s success in the late 90’s. The success of Beamer Ball has certainly tapered off in recent years, but nothing gets out fans more excited than a clutch special teams play.
How many Tech fans do you think are going to fill up the stadium Saturday?
I’ve heard bad estimates about overall attendance from the people at FexEx Field, so I’m not optimistic about the turnout. The loss to Pittsburgh really affected the ticket sales from the Virginia Tech base, so it’s hard to say what it will end up being. I would say that Virginia Tech will travel about 25,000-35,000 people if I had to take a guess.
I'm sure you are going to pick Virginia Tech to win, so how do you see the game playing out? I'm expecting a defensive battle.
Like you, I’m expecting a low scoring game. Virginia Tech’s offense isn’t efficient enough to play in a shootout game, and the defense is good enough to slow down the Cinci spread. Being brutally honest though, I’m not confident that Virginia Tech wins this game. I still have major questions about Virginia Tech’s offense, and until I see success against a defense not named Austin Peay or Bowling Green, I’ll continue to be skeptical.
Bonus question: How has Virginia Tech never had a 1,000 yard receiver?
Because of a heavy focus on a run-first offense, combined with good, but not great quarterback play, and a history of great running backs, it’s easy to see how that could happen. Virginia Tech has had a couple 900 yard receivers though, so that’s close enough, right? That’s the ACC’s motto in general.
A million thanks to Ty for taking the time to answer my questions. I really appreciate it. Be sure to visit Fighting Gobbler and to follow Ty at the links given above and right here. And for the love of god, someone give those girls tickets.
Virginia Tech girls picture via