Virginia Tech counting on big year from Thomas
MAY 08, 2013 8:43p ET
Play a word association game with Virginia Tech football, and the most common answers would probably be “dominant defense” or “great special teams”. With the occasional exception of a Michael Vick reference, offense doesn’t come to mind. Unless it’s in a negative light.
The Hokies haven’t traditionally needed an explosive offense. But in the last few years, fans grew impatient with the consistently bland offense under former coordinator Bryan Stinespring, who held that role from 2002-12. In his tenure, the Hokies were top 3 in the ACC in total offense just once and ranked sixth or lower in five of his final seven seasons.
Last year, though, the Hokie offense hit a low point. Quarterback Logan Thomas, in his second year as the starter, struggled. He threw 18 touchdowns with 16 interceptions and completed just 51.3 percent of his passes, which was by far the lowest percentage of the top 10 ACC quarterbacks in yards per game.
He wasn’t alone, though. Nothing about the Virginia Tech offense worked. The Hokies were ninth in the ACC in total offense, ninth in passing offense and 11th in pass efficiency. They were fourth in red-zone percentage (87.8) but even that is somewhat misleading. Just 58.3 percent of their red-zone scores were touchdowns, which was 11th in the league. And they scored touchdowns on just over half (51.3) of all trips to the red zone, also 11th. Out of 12 teams.
As a result of both the sputtering offense and the overall record (Virginia Tech was an uncharacteristic 7-6 last year), Stinespring was demoted to recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach, and head coach Frank Beamer brought in Scot Loeffler to run the offense. Loeffler, 38, was the offensive coordinator at Auburn under Gene Chizik last year (his only season there) and that ended in just three wins and Chizik’s dismissal.
But he had a good track record before Auburn. He coached Tim Tebow at Florida, and helped Tebow prove himself enough as a passer that he went in the first round of the NFL Draft. As a quarterbacks coach at Michigan, he worked with the likes of Tom Brady and Brian Griese.
Logan Thomas had a good track record entering last season, too. In 2011, his first year as the starter, he earned Second Team All-ACC honors and completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, throwing 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was already getting positive NFL Draft buzz before the 2012 season began. All that, seemingly, was out the window with one bad season. But it doesn’t have to be.
Loeffler brings youthful energy to go along with a West Coast spread offense to Blacksburg, and he’s obviously shown he can work with quarterbacks that aren’t the prototype. Thomas is a converted tight end, and at 6-foot--6, 260 pounds, he’s nearly impossible to bring down. He’s fast, strong and powerful, and despite what he showed last year, he can throw a little bit, too. His arm strength has never been in question.
Spring games are hardly a litmus test for what a team will do when the real season starts, and that’s especially true of teams installing a new scheme. But neither Thomas nor Loeffler did much to assuage the concerns of Hokie fans, as the backups beat the starters 27-9 (Beamer spotted the backups 13 points, to be fair). But both teams combined to average 4.0 yards per play and 23 yards rushing on 41 attempts.
Thomas finished 16-of-29 for 214 yards, but had no touchdowns and three interceptions. He ran for -15 yards on four carries. Yes, Loeffler kept the play-calling fairly vanilla (since, you know, it’s the spring game). And yes, Thomas completed his first nine passes. But two were to the other team -- back-up defensive backs, remember -- and both of those picks were returned for touchdowns.
His first few drives was a perfect encapsulation of both Thomas -- he completed his first two passes, the second of which was a perfect strike over the middle that his receiver took 57 yards to the 4-yard line. After three straight runs for -2 yards, Thomas threw a pick-six on 4th and 2 at the 6-yard line. It was a similar narrow window that he had hit a few plays earlier. When he’s on, it’s special. But when he tries to do too much, he turns it over.
Thomas didn’t seem too worried about it, though. “People are going to say I had a bad game today, but I can’t complain. I threw the ball where I wanted to. I hit my spots. I was accurate,” Thomas told reporters after the game.
It’s an eyebrow-raising quote, to be sure. Especially coming off of a year when his decision-making was in question. But his receivers said after the game that they deserved the blame for the interceptions. Oh, and the offensive line -- which, it should be noted, was also going against the second team defensive linemen -- struggled as well. Thomas was sacked three times, and the Hokies couldn’t run the ball.
Last year, Virginia Tech relied far too much on Thomas. Virginia Tech’s defense wasn’t what it has been traditionally under Bud Foster. There were games where he had to attempt a ton of passes, and he was often playing without a lead. His receivers dropped balls. There was no consistent running game to speak of, and that duty often fell to him as well (he led the team in rushing with 524 yards and nine touchdowns).
Even Thomas’ wide frame isn’t sturdy enough to carry that kind of a load. With a less experienced offensive line and unproven skill position players around him, he might have to do that again.
Even though his draft stock took a hit, Thomas still would’ve likely been drafted. But he decided to come back to school and work on his deficiencies, saying that he had plenty of work to do. He might find this year’s working conditions difficult, though, if the spring game was any indication.
Loeffler might have a million trick plays up his sleeve that are impossible to defend. But if there are no reliable playmakers -- or a reliable offensive line -- around him, it won’t matter. And if Thomas continues to turn the ball over and/or make bad decisions, it won’t matter, either. That’s the only thing he can control.
The spring game might not mean much. The season opener against Alabama -- perennially one of the most dominant defenses in the country -- might. A moral victory is likely all the Hokies can hope for (it’s all most teams facing ‘Bama can hope for, frankly), but even that would be a good sign. Alabama’s defense will be, um, a significant step up from the Hokies’ second-string. There’s plenty of work to do for Thomas, Loeffler and the offense in the meantime.