Something happened last year in Blacksburg that Virginia Tech football fans are not accustomed to. The Hokies had their worst season in 20 years, going just 6-6 in the regular season, and ending an eight-year streak of ten or more wins. The Hokies had to win their last two games just to attend a bowl game, which ended in a 13-10 OT victory over Rutgers, a less than thrilling way to cap off a disappointing season. This year however, Virginia Tech fans are hoping that with a solid defense, a capable quarterback, and an offensive overhaul, the Hokies can bounce back to their usual form.
Virginia Tech’s defense will be something to fear this season. Last year it took a while for everyone to become comfortable in their positions, but looking at the last five games, this group found their rhythm and with nine starters returning, the Hokies defense could be the best in the ACC, and top five in the NCAA. The team struggled early on, but they showed that they are a capable group, holding Florida State to just fifteen rushing yards at a time when the Seminoles were leading the country with more than 234 per game. Led by one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, Bud Foster’s defense will be relentless.
The front seven will be led by senior DE James Gayle, a monster athlete who possesses all the skills to be an all-American this season. He will be playing alongside a defensive line loaded with talent, which might even be able to shut down Alabama in the season opener in Atlanta.
The only question on defense is the health and recovery of senior cornerback Antone Exum. Exum turned down the draft to play out his senior year, but suffered an ACL injury playing basketball during the offseason. While his return date is up in the air, there is decent depth to the corner position. One possibility is that Virginia Tech’s newest 5-star recruit, Kendall Fuller, will be starting opposite his brother Kyle. Either way there is little the Hokies need to worry about on the defensive side of the ball.
The biggest question mark for the Hokies is definitely the offensive line. Last year, the offensive line shared a large part of the blame for lack of production out of QB Logan Thomas. The group up front was constantly being rotated, making it hard for them to develop as a unit, which is instrumental in having an effective line. With both of last years starting tackles graduated, this year’s group, led by senior center Andrew Miller, will be challenged to perform better than last’s.
Besides the offensive line, Virginia Tech is in good position to make up for last years woes. JC Coleman will most likely be the primary ball carrier with Trey Edmunds backing him up for short yardage situations. Coleman finished the season with 4.5 yards per carry, but only racked up 492 total yards for the season, due to a four-man rotation at tailback. This year, running backs coach Shane Beamer has already said there would be a set primary tail back, which will lead to consistency and an improved offense.
This team is only going to go as far as Senior QB Logan Thomas can take them. Last year some projected Thomas as a number one overall draft pick, but his stock fell quickly as the season progressed. He threw 18 touchdowns with 16 interceptions, and failed to complete key passes to keep drives alive. He still managed to break his own school record of total offense, and although he led the team in rushing, that isn’t a quarterback’s job and it’s not a good way to win championships. If Thomas’s receivers can step up, and the offensive line can protect their quarterback, LT3 will return to his 2011 form, and finish his season with an ACC Championship.
For the first time in over a decade, head coach Frank Beamer made changes to his coaching staff. Hokie fans have been demanding a new offensive coordinator for years, and after a 7-6 season, even Beamer knew it was time. Long time OC Bryan Stinespring was demoted to tight ends coach and head of recruiting, and was replaced by Scott Loeffler, former Auburn OC who groomed Tom Brady to an NFL player, and worked with Tim Tebow as he won a National Championship for Florida. He brought with him from Auburn receivers coach Aaron Moorehead and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. Loeffler and Logan Thomas say they have great chemistry, and Thomas is quoted as saying he learned more from Loeffler in three days, than his past three years at Virginia Tech.
The pieces are all in place for the Hokies to have a bounce-back season, and if everyone performs to his potential, this team could be one to remember.