Hokies look to finish strong vs Maryland
The Hokies looked it in their 42-24 victory at No. 24 Miami as Thomas threw for 366 yards and a touchdown, and the running game added 183 yards and four touchdowns by Trey Edmunds.
The victory kept Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) in the thick of the Coastal Division race, and earned Thomas a big embrace afterward from offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
''He said, `You've been thrown a lot of stuff the past two weeks, probably some stuff that you shouldn't have,' and he was just like, `This is the biggest game I've seen one of my quarterbacks ever play,' and that means a lot coming from him,'' Thomas said.
The praise is high, indeed, considering that Loeffler's former pupils include NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Chad Henne and Heisman Trophy-winner Tim Tebow, but the Hokies still have work to do.
There have been times earlier this season when they thought things were coming together, and then they stumbled, and they can't afford a repeat when they host struggling Maryland (5-4, 1-4) on Saturday afternoon.
Virginia Tech is tied with the Hurricanes, Georgia Tech and Duke at two losses in the Coastal Division standings. They beat the Yellow Jackets and Miami, but lost 13-10 to Duke, so they need some help.
They also need to keep winning.
''It won't mean much if we don't finish this thing off,'' coach Frank Beamer said this week.
Thomas, who has taken the brunt of criticism for the Hokies' offensive woes, said he could tell by the third series against the Hurricanes that the offense was going to be able to finally run the ball.
''Once we were able to run the football, I knew we were going to be able to do our play action stuff and be able to drop back and throw it,'' he said of his 26 for 31 passing performance.
''A lot of our success is built on if and when we run the football and we did a great job in it and I knew from then on out that we were going to have a good chance of beating these guys.''
The Hokies also added a new wrinkle for the Hurricanes, allowing 6-foot, 311-pound defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins to come in in goal-line situations as a fullback, an experiment that worked well.
''The power that he brings will open a hole anywhere pretty much,'' center David Wang said.
Even without Hopkins, the line was having a resurgent performance. Wang said line coach Jeff Grimes had told them all week to forget the last play, focus on the next and play with confidence.
As Edmunds was nearly matching his touchdown total in one afternoon, it only improved.
''It's exciting because after the first couple, you kind of see a sparkle in Trey's eyes and it kind of gets us going to because when we see the backfield excited, it means that they're actually seeing holes and seeing lanes to run through,'' Wang said, ''and that gets us excited and it gives us an extra boost of energy as well. Just seeing him that happy and kind of getting into a zone kind of make us want to play better and block for him even better than we were that last series or last couple of series.''
Saturday's game will be the last at Lane Stadium for Thomas and 12 other seniors, and Thomas said he expects to be emotional, but to be able to put that aside and focus on finishing on a strong note.
The Hokies conclude their regular season the following week at rival Virginia.
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr