Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sugar Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech Backfield

To assist your preparation for the Sugar Bowl, I asked my son Ryan to pen a series of Virginia Tech Hokies position group profiles. Ryan is the sports news director for WUVT-FM, the VT student radio station. In that capacity, he covered the Hokies’ home games this season from the press box of Lane Stadium. Ryan was raised a Michigan fan and would root for them against anyone other than his Hokies.
Virginia Tech Backfield
Michigan fans are rightly proud of their talented backfield combo of Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint.  That said Virginia Tech possesses its own dynamic duo in first year starting quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson. Thomas and Wilson are their squad’s most recognizable players for national audiences and while there are plenty of other playmakers on the team, without effective play from this group, the Hokies’ offense gets stuck in neutral. For the Hokies to defeat the Wolverines, Thomas and Wilson must be productive.

Quarterback: Logan Thomas – #3
Logan Thomas, QB
Coming into the season, redshirt sophomore Logan Thomas (aka LT3) was a first-year starter following in the footsteps of arguably the greatest quarterback in school history, Tyrod Taylor. On top of that, he was still adjusting to the position of quarterback after Virginia Tech’s coaches switched him there from tight end following his redshirt year. Combining these factors with a 6-6, 254 lbs. frame, a top-notch receiving corps, an offensive line consisting of four redshirt seniors and David Wilson in the backfield, who we’ll get to in a moment, resulted in a campus that had extremely high expectations for a quarterback who still was something of a project.
Though Thomas led the Hokies through their soft out-of-conference schedule undefeated, his play failed to meet the public’s expectations. Against Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall, Thomas completed 60 of 105 passes (57%) for 761 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. The main aspects of Thomas’s play that worried critics were his inability to make plays consistently while looking confused in the pocket and throwing the ball inaccurately.
Things came to a head after the Hokies opened conference play with a 23-3 loss to Clemson at home in Blacksburg. In that game, Thomas was sacked four times while completing 15 of 27 passes for 125 yards and an interception. The benching rumbles grew louder and the Hokie fan base worried about the state of the team, especially since Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech’s main competition in the ACC’s Coastal Division, was looking like a juggernaut at this point of the season.
Despite fan criticism and the media’s continued questioning of Logan’s performance for five weeks, head coach Frank Beamer and quarterbacks coach/play caller Mike O’Cain continued to voice support for Logan, insisting that he was playing well and his development was far ahead of schedule.
The Miami Hurricanes came into town in week six and the Hokies were faced with what many considered a must-win game. The game turned out to be the Logan Thomas show as he completed 23 of 25 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 38 yards on the ground with two touchdowns. But his biggest moment came when the Hokies found themselves at their own 23 yard line down 35-31 with 2:46 left in the game. Behind three consecutive completions and David Wilson’s legs, the Hokies drove to Miami’s 28 yard line with 1:49 on the clock. But the Hurricanes stopped the Hokies’ rushing attack, forcing a 4th and 1 with a minute left. On that play, Thomas took the ball up the middle into the end zone for the go ahead score.

For the remainder of the season, Thomas completed 117 of 206 passes for 1,603 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. While those stats mostly parallel his early season performance (his completion percentage remained at 57% while averaging 229 yards per game), it was clear that his connection with his receivers and his grasp of the offense was significantly improved. During this run through the ACC he continually made big plays with his arm and his feet and cemented his status as a playmaker with the promise of becoming a special player.
Thomas has a big-time arm and can make all the throws. He does a good job of not staring down his receivers and unlike many quarterbacks his size, his throwing motion is not long and lanky, but rather quick and smooth. Also unlike many quarterbacks his size, Thomas possesses 4.6 speed with good acceleration and is a threat to run every time he drops back in the pocket. He amassed 416 net yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, tying the school’s single-season rushing touchdown mark by a QB. Thomas has not been denied once all season on a 3rd or 4th and 1 situation when the coaches call his number, earning him a reputation as a powerful runner who gets the tough yards.
Thomas still throws inaccurate passes from time to time, but the main knock on his game is his inability to make plays consistently with pressure in his face. Therefore, the best way Michigan can neutralize him is by collapsing the pocket quickly. This prevents Thomas from escaping the pocket and finding an open receiver or a check-down in a timely fashion. Clemson did this in both games against Tech and the results speak for themselves. Greg Mattison surely knows this, but he also knows that in order for this to happen, he has to stop a beast of a different kind.
David Wilson, RB
Running Back: David Wilson – #4; Josh Oglesby - #2
Before this season, David Wilson was already a legend among Hokie fans. Some of the legendary things he has done (and these are confirmed) include scaling Cassell Coliseum, chasing down and catching a rabbit, and hitting eight consecutive back flips. Some also believe that he eats Chick-Fil-A on Sundays.
All kidding aside, Wilson is an insane athlete. Not only does he possess 4.4 speed with elite agility and vision, but he squats over 500 lbs. and has supreme balance that allows him to stay on his feet and make acrobatic runs.
Wilson exceeded the 100 rushing yards mark in 10 of the Hokies’ 13 games and has totaled 1,627 rushing yards for the season. He needs 60 yards to set the Virginia Tech single season rushing record. Taking into account his yards from scrimmage and kick return yards, Wilson has compiled 2,129 all-purpose yards this season. The Hokies have not had a player with this kind of all-purpose production since Eddie Royal, who also donned the number 4 jersey in Blacksburg. The only area where Wilson has not excelled is getting into the end zone, which he has only done nine times. In fairness to Wilson, five of those touchdowns came before the Miami game, which as previously noted was Logan Thomas’s coming-out party and the beginning of the quarterback’s red-hot play.
Not to be overlooked is Wilson’s backfield complement, redshirt senior Josh Oglesby. While he is not the athlete Wilson is, Oglesby is very experienced in this offense and knows where the holes should be. Oglesby averages about seven carries per game, but has been very productive when on the field and has provided a spark in Virginia Tech’s matchups against East Carolina, Duke, and UNC – games in which the Hokies offense was not firing on all cylinders.
Virginia Tech employs a zone-running scheme that looks something like a Mike Shanahan attack. The Hokies live and die with the zone read with the idea being for the runner to find the hole, make a cut, and go.  Despite Wilson’s elite quickness, the Hokies barely run anything outside of the tackles unless it is a screen pass. They also do not use a fullback very often, instead favoring single-back formations with one or two tight ends. One might think that this system handicaps Wilson’s ability to hit the home run, but Wilson runs in the style of Adrian Peterson in that he initiates contact and always keeps his feet moving. This style is conducive to the smash mouth, physical rushing attack that Virginia Tech looks to establish.
For Michigan to stop Virginia Tech’s offense they will have to stop Wilson and even Oglesby. If the defense allows the rushing attack to get going, then the Hokies will be able to open their bag of tricks and run options, misdirection plays, and play action passes and screens. If that happens, it could be a long day for the Wolverines defense.

Future Posts
Next up, Virginia Tech’sreceiving corps followed by features on the offensive line, defensive line and linebackers, and defensive backfield.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome Ryan! Nice post. Looking forward to the rest of them.