October 14, 2013

Final Grades: VT Over Pitt

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The Virginia Tech defense snuffed out much hope Pittsburgh had Saturday, with eight sacks in a 19-9 win. Having seen replays and thought it over, here's publisher Jason Stamm's exam of Virginia Tech's win:

Again, senior quarterback Logan Thomas got it done with his arm. The bad thing though, is much of what Thomas was able to accomplish came on his first drive of the game, the only time the Hokies' offense was humming. That drive went 71 yards in eight plays, capped with a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kalvin Cline. The good news is that Thomas got a few drives going. The bad news is that he and the offense faltered in or near the red zone, settling for five field goal attempts. Thomas is still getting the offense going, but he has to be able to finish consistently.


A few times on Saturday, the running game looked like its same, predictable self from last season: let Thomas keep the ball and pound it up the middle. For whatever reason, the running game is in a funk. And no one seems to have a reason for it. Virginia Tech gained just 76 yards rushing the ball and 27 of that came from 16 carries by Thomas. Whatever bit of momentum redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds had earlier in the season is gone. He had just nine carries for 19 yards against Pittsburgh. Unless the Hokies can take advantage of the bye week, it'll like last season, be tough sledding for their ground game. Of course, Duke was where they found some ground last season.


Sophomore Demitri Knowles continues to show progress each week. But what was great to see against the Panthers was that the Hokies got Kline far more involved. Kline had four catches for 65 yards and the lone touchdown for Virginia Tech. He seems to get more comfortable each week. The bad news is the rest of the receivers, including senior D.J. Coles, aren't really showing up.


Yes, the pass protection is there for the most part and that's something to build on. But Thomas was sacked three times and the running game is still non-existent. It's tough to pinpoint one area as a cause for the lack of productivity, but something has to change. The bye week comes at a great time for this group too, just to be able to find something in order to kick start the running game.


I know that officially, Virginia Tech might not be ranked No. 1 in total defense, but this defense, particularly the defensive line, is the best in the country. Like I hoped he would, sophomore Dadi Nicolas is finally putting it all together and playing a bit more disciplined. And Saturday was the result, with a team-high seven tackles, three sacks and at least a few other sacks he just missed. The guy is a monster, though he still had to be directed a few places pre-snap, going as a down lineman or up as a linebacker. Combined with the plug up the middle in senior defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, who had two sacks, good luck to opposing offenses the rest of the season.


Senior Jack Tyler has been a tackling machine all season and against Pittsburgh, he again rose to the occasion. He finished tied with Nicolas with seven tackles, a sack and one that somehow, Panthers quarterback Tom Savage got away from. Nicolas also added a different element on the snaps where he stood back as a linebacker, certainly confusing Pittsburgh. The only negative here is that while not bad, senior Tariq Edwards never really got going, finishing with just one tackle.


Earlier in the week, senior Antone Exum announced again that he would be sitting out to further prepare himself for a return from January's torn ACL. The Hokies though, even with Exum's uncertainty for the past few weeks, haven't missed a beat. Junior safety Kyshoen Jarrett had five tackles, while senior cornerback Kyle Fuller had three pass breakups. The hope is that Exum will really add something when he returns, but Virginia Tech's secondary has been pretty dominant in his absence, allowing the Panthers just 187 yards passing.


It looks like senior kicker Cody Journell has finally regained his groove. Yes, Journell missed a 33-yard field goal, but he connected on his other four, of 48, 37, 42 and 23 yards. And with the lack of offense, that was big. Punter A.J. Hughes has a cannon for a leg. He boomed four punts for a 52.8 average. The downside is still the lack of any return game, on punts and kickoffs. On seven punts and two kickoffs, the best the Hokies could do was a 17-yard return by Chris Mangus. That has to improve.


Mixing Nicolas between a down lineman and linebacker looks to be a stroke of genius by defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Yes, Nicolas needed some guidance, but he still dominated. And overall, the defense was suffocating. Offensively, coordinator Scot Loeffler continues to get production from Thomas, but he can't continue to leave as many points on the field as he did by settling for field goals. It's not overly alarming, but it's no secret what Loeffler will be working on over the bye week.


As always, Lane Stadium was rocking before the kickoff. A light rain, wind and early start didn't help matters though and probably contributed to the Hokies falling about 700 short of a sellout. Still, it was a great atmosphere, considering a game short of offensive fireworks. That showed in the third quarter with a lengthy wave started by the student section, which always happens when fans get a little bored.



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