This week, our friends over at Gobbler Country were kind enough to take some time to answer our questions. Find out below how they feel about the personnel losses, quarterback Logan Thomas trending downwards, and their prediction for Saturday's game.
1. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that Virginia Tech has been hemorrhaging for weeks. What all have you guys actually lost, and how impactful do you think those losses will be against Bama?
Honestly, I think that's as accurate a word I could think of to describe the situation given the attrition that Tech has suffered in the last couple of weeks since fall camp began. Some of it was necessary, as having players transferring out and players giving up on football has to occur to accommodate bringing in a full class the following year. You guys know more about that than anyone (had to get that one in). But the vast majority of the moves have been ones that have hurt Tech as a football team.
First off, you look at guys like Donaldven Manning
, a former 4-star with an Alabama offer coming out of high school, and Davion Tookes
, a solid 3-star redshirt-freshman corner. Both had been passed on the depth chart by true freshmen (though one of those guys is the top or No. 2 incoming corner in the country depending on who you ask) and they decided they wanted to move on, knowing they'd probably never pass the younger guys on the depth chart again. But one of those guys was getting reps at whip (or our hybrid safety/outside linebacker), and when the only scholarship option Tech had at the position went down, it would've been much easier to just move him over to that position if not for the transfer of those two corners. With Antone Exum
not being anywhere near ready for this game, it means that Tech only has four healthy scholarship cornerbacks. So that move is more or less impossible, whether for one game or for the entire season.
Injury-wise, as I mentioned, the transfer of those two corners hurt the team two-fold when whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke
went down. If they had the foresight to stick around for another week, they both would've seen a considerable boost in PT. But that's life. As for the other injuries, J.C. Coleman
, Tech's leading, returning running back spraining both his ankles in a drill, one high, hurts. He may not be 100% for Alabama, but says he will go. Losing the only other speed back in the backfield hurts as well, but considering he was in line for a decrease in playing time, the worst part is that this is the fourth time the kid had torn his ACL. Also, the wide receiver who moved to running back to start fall (Tech's top recruit in 2012) is suspended for the first game. So if Coleman can't go, Alabama will be facing two running backs who have yet to see a down on the collegiate level. Tech will also be starting a true freshman at left tackle as perhaps the projected starter, redshirt-junior Mark Shuman
, tore his lateral meniscus and will miss 4-6 weeks. This is also significant as two linemen have already left the program this fall added to the fact that Tech has neglected the offensive line in their recruiting efforts the last half decade. So three of the four top tackles on the line are true freshmen, including a converted defensive lineman who was the Hokies' second-highest rated recruit in 2013.
The latest departure is perhaps the fishiest though, as Corey Marshall, a former 4-star recruit who had started 5 games over his first two years, left the team only to return for one day before leaving indefinitely. He was going to factor into the rotation at DT and DE prominently, and was likely to be a starter at DE for Virginia Tech in 2014. From what he has shown so far, he might even have a professional career waiting for him. But the details surrounding the story, which we are not allowed to report per our program source, were the strangest part of the equation. Basically, we hope he gets his head straight and is back on the field sometime this year.
2. What are the expectations for quarterback Logan Thomas this year? Just looking at the stats, it looks like he had a pretty serious regression from 2011 to 2012, with his completion percentage dropping 8.5% and his TD/INT ratio dropping from nearly 2:1 to nearly 1:1. Do you guys see him reversing course this season?
It's really hard to say what to expect out of Thomas this year. As you mentioned, in 2011, he had perhaps the best year for a quarterback in school history in his first year as a starter. But the player he was last year was 180 degrees the other way. They were so dissimilar, it's not even worth comparing them. It was honestly like watching two different players.
There were, however, some significant variables in play here. In 2011, Thomas had the top-two receivers in school history at his disposal as well as one of the top running backs in the country in David Wilson. He also had four seniors on the offensive line. But in 2012, Thomas had two returning receivers with any significant playing time under their belts and the rest were new faces. Likewise, the running backs accounted for a combined 39 carries coming in...all by the same player, who ended up as the third-string back. The offensive line returned one starter, their best player, who went down midway through the season and was lost for the year. So certainly, some of that equated to his surroundings. But probably not all of it.
Tech coaches more or less blamed Logan's regression on two things: 1. Him having to do too much and 2. Without saying it in so many words, when he returned from his tutelage under renowned QB trainer George Whitfield in the off-season between 2011 and 2012, he had developed some disconcerting tendencies that affected his dropback and release that never got ironed out.
The two biggest issues were his accuracy (or lack thereof), as he air-mailed a variety of throws which kept Tech's offense off the field, and also the 16 interceptions (a function of his poor accuracy). I can remember three or even four that were NOT his fault, but even with those gone, he still had a bad year.
Whether or not he will recover to be the player he was in 2011 is unclear. Here's what we do know. 1. Tech fired their dead weight offensive staffers from 2012 and hired one of the best quarterback teachers in the college game in Scot Loeffler. 2. Thomas threw three interceptions in the spring game to the second (or worse) team defense, two were taken to the house if I remember correctly, and 3. The player who attracted 20 NFL scouts and GM's and was a prohibitive top-5 pick coming into last year is still in there somewhere (I hope). But is he too far gone? Has he lost all his confidence? Can he reign in his bad tendencies? And despite having perhaps even worse personnel around him in 2013, can he do more by doing less? Honestly, nobody really knows, including me. But against those odds, being a realist, I'd say no. Not to the player we saw in 2011 at least.
3. The first things one thinks of when you mention Virginia Tech are strong defense and opportunistic special teams. What are you expecting from those units this year generally and in this game specifically?
The defense took a big blow when Antone Exum went down in January with a freak injury he picked up playing pick up basketball. He guaranteed he'd be back for this game and even released three rap songs/videos on YouTube to that effect. But he didn't just tear his ACL. The official synopsis of his injury went something like this: torn ACL, a tear of both his lateral and medial menisci and a fractured bone in his right knee. Those of us who knew anything about injuries, knew he wasn't coming back for this game, or at least not 100%. It's admirable that he tried, but there's no reason he should push it for a game Tech was unlikely to win anyway. The defense still returns 9 starters without him, although now the player in the only other spot that did not return a starter is out for the year. So that, coupled with what could be a prolonged absence for Exum (he could miss half the year or more) and Corey Marshall's
absence took me from thinking this team that could be the year they return to the top defense in the nation to a defense that is now anywhere from a fringe top-10 D to a top-25 unit, which is about where they finished last year.
As for special teams, more than any other unit it has slumped to unrecognizable lows in the last several years. The Hokies don't really block kicks and punts anymore, and when they do or try to, they end up being penalized and it always leads to a game-altering possession. So there's no reason to do it. Beamer credits this to others being more mindful of his team's pedigree and spending more time on protections to prevent such game-changing plays. I think the Hokies finally have a reliable punter in A.J. Hughes, and Cody Journell
returns for his third season as the starting kicker, though he has not proven the ability to hit from beyond 45. Tech also returns its punt returner and its top two kick returners. So I would say something was REALLY
wrong if there wasn't an improvement this year from years past in that department.
4. What are your best case/worst case scenarios for this game? How are you predicting it will actually play out?
My best case scenario for this game is that Tech is competitive and doesn't embarrass itself. If they play like they did in 2009 where they were in it the whole way and showed us something about the team they were going to be, I'll be thrilled. But the reality is, that 2009 team was just getting its footing under Saban before things really kicked off. McElroy was starting his first game at quarterback and despite having a litany of good players, Tech stayed on the field with them. This team is different. They are a two-time defending national champion with a quarterback who led the nation in passer efficiency rating a year ago returning for his third year as a starter. Also, this Tech team is different. They are minus the winningest quarterback in school history, perhaps the most talented running back in program history as well and with depleted offensive line and wide receiver units. So I tend to lean towards the worst case, which would be a blowout the likes of the hurting LSU put on the Hokies in 2007.
To win, the Hokies would have to play a perfect game AND get a lot of help from Alabama, and I just don't see that happening. So like I said above, anything close is a moral victory for me, though I'm sure many Hokie fans out there disagree with me.