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Tech's receivers refocus after Saturday's loss
Written by Ryan Durham   
Tuesday, 03 September 2013

 

Following Virginia Tech’s practice on Tuesday, wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead wasn’t done with his unit. The coach pulled out a JUGS machine and had players stand ten yards away. For thirty minutes, the coach launched balls at 40 mph, an obvious response to the six drops that occurred during Tech’s 35-10 loss last Saturday.

“I just gave them a little prelim today,” Moorehead said. “They have been doing that [catching from the JUGS machine] during the summer and we got away from it. So I thought it was a good idea to get back to it. I thought about it this morning and we’ll do it for a while. It’s something we really need to do year-round and that’s the joy of the JUGS machine.”

This week’s theme for the receivers is “move on,” but not just from the balls put on the ground. Moorehead said the mentality of the group also has to progress, specifically when things don’t go their way during a game.

“I think that they just went out there and initially things didn’t go exactly the way they thought they were going to go and I just think they never recovered,” Moorehead said. “Some of the guys were out there battling the whole game and some guys reacted in a way that I wish they wouldn’t have. But when you have guys that haven’t played in big games like that, sometimes that happens. It’s unfortunate and you never want that to happen, but we’ve got to learn from it, move on and go into the next game.”

DJ Coles, who has the most game experience out of the unit, echoed his coaches thoughts.

“It was a rough game out there for us as a group,” Coles said. “But it’s going to stop. We can’t have every game like that and every throw isn’t going to be like that. So the main thing is we’ve got to get back to focusing and looking the ball in.”

Moorehead and Coles admitted on Tuesday that the redshirt senior felt rusty playing his first game in a year. Coles, who only had one catch, said that Saturday was not how he wanted his comeback to go.

“But I just have to continue to work and get better,” Coles said.

Perhaps no individual had a worse game Saturday than Demitri Knowles. The redshirt sophomore led the team with two receptions, but also led in dropped balls. Moorehead protected Knowles from the media after Tuesday’s practice, but was equal parts critical and optimistic that his player will improve from Saturday.

“Demitri had a rough game, there’s no doubt about it and you look at it and he didn’t play his best,” Moorehead said. “You’re disappointed for the kid because he really had a good camp. But at the end of the day he is a competitor. He’s not a guy who’s going to let stuff drag on. And he was the first guy out on Sunday just wanting to get past it and he went out and he put two days of practice together and has been pretty good.”

It did not seem like Moorehead was too steamed during the game when his unit was not making plays. Moorehead said he kept telling himself that it was going to stop when witnessing the continued dropped passes and that there was no “panic mode” reached within the group during the game. The coach is relying on this optimism and extra work to snap his unit out of a funk.

“These guys have worked hard these last couple of days,” Moorehead said. “They’re going to continue to work hard and we’re going to continue to catch footballs. Good things are going to happen for this group and I’m confident in that. We have a saying in our group that I’ll keep to ourselves, but at the end of the year this is going to be a different conversation.”

 

 
The play that could be Tech's key ground play
Written by Ryan Durham   
Sunday, 01 September 2013

Over the course of Virginia Tech’s 35-to-10 loss versus Alabama , many people expressed their frustration with the debut of new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s unit, scratching their heads as to what exactly Tech was trying to do. Many of the same criticisms of ex-Hokies offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring were expressed toward Loeffler, amplified by Tech’s defensive unit being a complete dichotomy to their offensive brethren.

The offense started by running speed option plays with quarterback Logan Thomas and wide receiver DJ Coles during the first two series, which went nowhere. The offense also exclusively used pistol and shotgun formations during this stretch. Perhaps the idea was to rely on the combination of these spread formations and option plays to create space and negate Alabama’s athleticism by making them think instead of simply reacting. Either way, the Tide were simply too smart to be fooled, resulting in those plays being all but thrown out after the second offensive series.

I highly doubt that Loeffler uses those plays as a cornerstone to his offense. And whatever that cornerstone is, it has been established since Thomas said after Saturday’s game that the entire offense was installed. But for those puzzling for an identity with the ground game, Saturday could have revealed an answer.

Tech’s offense was extremely successful on the ground against the Tide, sparked by runningback Trey Edmunds’ 77-yard sprint in the first quarter. In addition, the unit continued to use pistol and shotgun formations for the entire game (I counted only one snap where Thomas was under center) along with numerous meshes and option plays. But within all of that, there was one play that was consistently run by the Hokies offense: the wide zone.

The wide zone is the same play that is the benchmark of Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak’s rushing attacks in the NFL. Football guru Chris Brown (who was one person who criticized Loeffler’s offense during the game) has a formal explanation of the play, but this was what was run when Edmunds consistently had holes to burst through, including the 77-yard touchdown run.

It makes sense that this offense would want to utilize this play because the personnel on the line and Edmunds’ running style fit what’s necessary for it to work. The offensive line, even with a solid debut, is still not the most talented or biggest unit out there in the FBS. And, as it has been mentioned before, the starting unit consists of five players who never started a game at their respective positions until Saturday.

Therefore, when dealing with inexperience and a lack of top-line talent, running simple, effective plays allow players to do what they do best. For the lineman, it’s hitting, being nasty and having responsibility for one area and any defender who dares enter it. For the runningback, it’s all about finding the hole and hitting it without hesitation. See it, burst through it and take what’s there. No fancy footwork or improvisation necessary.

It also makes sense to incorporate the option elements that Shanahan has done with Robert Griffin III in Washington considering Thomas is an effective runner that opposing defenses have to respect. Many of the plays run by the Hokies offense on Saturday incorporated a mesh or run-option element. Doing this allows the quarterback to make simple (there’s that word again) and quick decisions. It’s either this, resulting in that or that resulting in this.

This isn’t to say that Loeffler is equating Thomas’s running ability with Griffin III’s or that there will be a repeat of last season when Thomas was the team’s leading rusher in both yards and carries (even considering sacks Thomas would have led the team in carries). A common misconception about these plays is that if there is a mesh, it’s automatically an option. Not true. It can be a complete dummy mesh in place of a traditional handoff. This can be deadly if the quarterback is running effectively because it completely freezes the linebackers’ read steps, increasing the time and space to cover in order to stop the play. That means bigger holes and more opportunities to break arm tackles for the runningback.

But there is also so much option in today’s passing game. Often times quarterbacks aren’t reading a defensive end but are reading the coverage pre-snap or a space during the live mesh. If it’s open, the quarterback will pull and look to pass in that space. If it isn’t, the quarterback will hand off to the back. And just like dummy meshes can be used in place of traditional handoffs, they can be used in place of traditional play-action fakes.

Again, like everything being written about Saturday’s loss, it is only one game and there are very few conclusive things that can be said about Virginia Tech’s football team based off that small of a sample size. For a new offense and a coordinator that will likely not give many or even any confirmations to how his offense works, the water is even murkier. But given the frequency and effectiveness of its use on Saturday, and the possibilities of what it can open for an offense in a game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more of the “wide zone” play run from the pistol and shotgun formations with the option incorporated.

 

 
Bama rolls Hokies in 2013 opener
Written by Ryan Durham   
Saturday, 31 August 2013

Heading into Saturday, Virginia Tech was more than a 20-point underdog against defending national champion Alabama. But hopes of pulling a major upset to kickoff the Hokies 2013 campaign were thwarted due to special teams play and a stagnant passing offense as Tech fell 35-10.

Following a Tech three-and-out to open the game, Alabama’s Christion Jones scored the first points of the game with a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. Jones wasn’t finished putting up highlights, spinning out of tackles and returning a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to put Alabama up 28-10 heading into halftime. It was the first time under head coach Frank Beamer that the Hokies gave up both a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown. Jones also was the first player in Alabama history to score two returns or non-offensive touchdowns in a single game.

“When you start playing a lot young kids and you play them on special teams that’s where it shows up,” Beamer said. “But it’s no excuse. We’re going to evaluate our personnel.”

The passing game never got going as quarterback Logan Thomas went 5-for-26 with 56 yards and an interception by Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri that was returned for a touchdown. Thomas wasn’t helped by his receivers, who dropped multiple balls over the course of the game and never got separation from Alabama’s secondary.

“We’ve just got to correct some stuff,” Thomas said regarding the dropped passes. “They [the wideouts] can be as good as they want to be. We’ve just got to push the right buttons and get them going. Once they do, we’ll be a dangerous offense.

“I don’t think it’s up to me to say anything,” Thomas said regarding what buttons needed to be pushed. “The coaches will get them right and whatever happens, happens.”

As for his performance, Thomas remained positive about how he threw the ball and his comfort level out on the field.

“I felt pretty good,” Thomas said. “I didn’t try to put the “S” on my chest. Like coach said I just went out and played as well as I could.”

Beamer also was not down on his quarterback and reaffirmed his belief in the third-year starter.

“Logan’s fine,” Beamer said. “He’s a smart guy, competitive and the leader of this football team. We just have to help him out a little bit.”

Despite the score, Virginia Tech’s defense never allowed Alabama’s offense to get going. The squad allowed only 14 offensive points and held Alabama’s offense to 216 total yards. In addition, the defense racked up 12 tackles for loss including four sacks and Kyle Fuller picked off Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.

“We worked all summer," linebacker Tariq Edwards said. "Even from last January on, we knew we had to come out and play at a high level starting off from start to finish. I think we started up really well.” 

Another positive from the game was Trey Edmunds, who had about as impressive a debut as he could. Edmunds scored the Hokies first touchdown on a 77-yard burst up the middle in the first quarter and wasn’t touched. He netted 106 rushing yards by halftime and finished with 135 net yards on 20 carries.

Edmunds became the thirteenth runningback since 2005 to net 100 or more yards against Alabama and only the eighth to do it in head coach Nick Saban’s tenure. Edmunds 135 net yards ranks third amongst those backs.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised [by my performance],” Edmunds said. “But just to go out and do it to the team that we did it to, it speaks volumes in itself.

Edmunds described the offensive line blocking as “wonderful” and said “they blocked their butts off and made it easier on me.”

Despite the questions surrounding the offense and passing game, head coach Frank Beamer and his players were upbeat about the future of the season.

“I think there are some positive things to take out of this game,” Beamer said. “The points that we gave them shouldn’t happen in a ball game. Those were critical. But I firmly believe that what was wrong tonight can be corrected and we can be a good football team.”

Virginia Tech will play its home opener this Saturday against Western Carolina. Kickoff is at 1:30 pm.

 
New Tech cornerbacks up to Saturday's task
Written by Ryan Durham   
Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Left tackle isn’t the only position that will have a true freshman start in Saturday’s season opener against Alabama. Starting opposite of senior cornerback Kyle Fuller will likely be his younger brother Kendall, Tech’s top-ranked recruit in last year’s class.

“I say sometimes [I] feel like a freshman because every new thing that [I] do is kind of like a new experience,” Fuller said. “But being on the field and starting to see stuff and learn stuff more, I feel like I’m becoming less and less of a freshman.”

At 5-11, 193 lbs., Kendall Fuller matches up physically well with Alabama’s wide receivers and showed flashes of his ability in the US Army All-American Bowl.  Fuller also does not lack confidence heading into his first career start, telling the media on Saturday that he was “not gonna shy down from” his opponent namely wide receiver Amari Cooper. That has not changed over the past few days.

“I’m very eager,” Fuller said. “I don’t think any big time player wants to shy away from competition so I’m excited for it. I’m not going to shy down from it whether I’m a freshman or a senior and I know none of us are going to shy down. We’re going to give them a good battle.”

While saying that, Fuller still knows he’ll have to adjust to the speed of FBS play and it will be no easy task doing so against Alabama.

“The way I think about it is that it’s the first college game against the number one team in the country and from this point on it can only get easier,” Fuller said. “So I’m just trying to prepare for the best.”

Fuller is not the only freshman defensive back expecting to see significant time as Brandon Facyson will likely man the nickel back duties in Saturday’s game. That package may be used often Saturday due to the season-ending injury to whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke and Alabama’s depth at wide receiver. But like Fuller, Facyson is ready for the opportunity.

“You ever get that feeling where something is just so far away and you just get closer and closer to it and it doesn’t set in quite yet?” Facyson said. “It’s going to set in. I think its working its way into my mind. We’re preparing for this game and we think it’s going to be a great one. We’re not going to be surprised and if we do we’ll adjust and that will be the end of it.”

Facyson said that he and Kendall, who are suitemates and close friends, have talked often about their position and assignments heading into Saturday.

“We talk about [the game] a lot and go over our play calls and everything almost every night,” Facyson said. “We think we’ll be alright.”

Like all the other coaches have stated, defensive backs coach Torrian Gray knows that Saturday will be a major test for the two future cornerstones of Tech’s secondary.

“I’m anxious and excited to see how ready they are,” Gray said. “We’re going to prepare them great this week and I think they’re going to be ready and up to the task. They’re freshmen, they’ll probably do a freshman thing here or there. But I honestly believe for the most part they are going to hold up.”

Injury Notes

Earlier Tuesday, Virginia Tech named Kyshoen Jarrett as its punt returner while Demitri Knowles and JC Coleman will man the kickoff return duties. Jarrett practiced in blue today as he nurses a hamstring injury, but barring any setbacks he’ll play.

As for Coleman, the announcement was taken by some as a sign that perhaps he will play Saturday. However, Coleman’s status is still unknown, but the prospects are much better according to runningbacks coach Shane Beamer. Beamer said he did not expect Coleman to play until noon today when he saw how healthy the sophomore back looked. Coleman’s playing prospects should be clearer on Thursday.

Head coach Frank Beamer openly praised how well wide receiver DJ Coles looked health wise on Saturday. Tuesday, Coles echoed those thoughts, saying he feels like he is getting back to his old self over the past couple of practices and the knee feels good. Coles thinks his health will be at 100 percent on Saturday.

 

 
Starting offensive line announced for Alabama game
Written by Ryan Durham   
Saturday, 24 August 2013

After weeks of mystery, Hokies offensive line coach Jeff Grimes announced his starting unit for the upcoming game against Alabama.

Two players who are making their first career starts will man the tackle positions. Redshirt junior Laurence Gibson gets the start at right tackle while freshman Jonathan McLaughlin will start at left tackle. McLaughlin is the first true freshman to ever make a start at tackle in head coach Frank Beamer’s tenure.

“Anytime you are playing a young guy you don’t know for sure how he will respond,” Grimes said. “That applies to anybody who hasn’t really played before [such as] a guy like Lawrence [Gibson] that really doesn’t really have much real game experience you don’t know how he’s going to react either.

“It’ll be a challenging environment for all those guys but at the same time I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jon [McLaughlin’s] mentality. I think he’s a competitor and I think he will rise to the occasion. I think he will play as well as he can.”

Redshirt junior David Wang will man the center position after starting 10 games last season at left guard. Redshirt senior Andrew Miller, who started 21 games at center over the past two seasons, moves over to right guard. Junior Caleb Farris, who started five games at center last season after Miller’s season-ending injuries, will start at left guard.

“Having three guys who have played center in the past in the inside of the line can really help us out,” Farris said. “We can all make calls together. Dave [Wang] will make the call initially but if he messes up, [Andrew] Miller and I are there to help him out if he just miscounts the backers or this and that. We can step up and say something and roll with that.”

Beamer acknowledged that the inexperience not just on the offensive line but also throughout the roster is going to be a challenge when facing Alabama. Tech will have 10 true freshmen and 17 redshirt freshmen dress for the Alabama game according to the head coach.

“That’s a lot of guys who have never been in a game and certainly have not been across from a team like Alabama,” Beamer said. “But we have to start somewhere and see where we are and then build from there.”

Other tidbits:

Virginia Tech is shaking up their weekly schedule this year. Players and coaches will have their film and review sessions on Sunday in addition to a practice. Monday is a day off for the players while the coaches will begin their game planning.

“What we used to do is we meet with the players Monday morning and go through the video, have a team meeting in the afternoon, have kicking video after that, and then do our scouting report and then go work out,” Beamer said. “What I like about this is that you try to get the game behind you on Sunday. And then we’ll have all day Monday for our coaches to gameplan.” 

Grimes openly praised Brent Benedict, saying the redshirt junior made tremendous strides. While Grimes said he’s still figuring out the two-deep on the line, it certainly seems as if Benedict will be towards the top of that rotation.

“[Benedict] had a great summer and has really worked hard and has been a guy who’s been in the mix all along the way,” Grime said. “I think he’ll figure into helping us in a significant role this year. I don’t know exactly what it will be or how much it will be but he’s a great kid and a big part of our depth and I think where we’re headed.”

Beamer said that wide receiver DJ Coles “looked like his old self” in today’s scrimmage. Coles is returning from a torn PCL that kept him out almost the entire 2012 season.

“He looks like a guy who can catch it and juke,” Beamer said. “He was playing at a very high level before he got hurt and I thought he got closer to that today.”

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said stopping Alabama’s ground game, which led the SEC last year in yards (3,171), will be the primary goal for the Hokies defense. Foster said the run sets up everything Alabama’s offense does and cited their success last season against Michigan and Notre Dame as examples of what happens when it gets going.

Lastly, walk-ons Josh Trimble, Willie Byrn, Derek DiNardo and Charley Meyer all received scholarships today. Sam Rogers will also receive a scholarship at a later date according to Beamer.

 

 

 
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