Wilson, Thomas key to Hokies' success

Quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson will be the focal points for the Virginia Tech offense in the Sugar Bowl. Sam Sharpe/Getty Images

Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson used to live adjacent to each other in dorm rooms when they first moved onto campus.

Both players were stuck behind talented starters, but they also knew it was only a matter of time before they’d get to showcase their abilities together.

“It’s something we talked about when we first got here, especially when we found out I was being switched to quarterback,” said Thomas, who originally had hoped to play tight end. “That in the future we were going to have the chance for both of us to be on the field at the same time, two guys from the same area, highly recruited guys -- it’s something we always wanted to do. Now that we’re on the field at the same time I think the season showed the talent between the two of us. I think it really helped him that I played well and it really helped me that he’s the person and player he is.”

It’s also helped the entire team to have both of them playing at their best.

It’s no coincidence that in Virginia Tech’s only two losses of the season this year -- both to Clemson -- Thomas and Wilson didn’t have their best days. In order for Virginia Tech to have a chance to beat Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl next week, the Hokies’ top two playmakers must find a way to rebound from a disappointing performance in the ACC championship game and lead the offense against a stingy Michigan defense.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” coach Frank Beamer said. “Your quarterback, that’s the key guy, he gets you started, and then for us, David Wilson needs to have his yards. If he’s got his yards, that’s probably opened up some passing for us. There’s no question those two guys are key.”

In the two losses to Clemson, Thomas accounted for one touchdown and three interceptions. In the ACC championship game, he also had a fumble and accounted for all three of the Hokies’ turnovers. Wilson had just 11 carries for 32 yards and was a nonfactor. While he ran for 123 yards against Clemson during the regular season, he also had a fumble that set up Clemson’s first score.

“Very few times have we won games where we dominated one [the running or passing game] but did terrible in the other,” receiver Danny Coale said. “They both have to work together. To get the running game going helps me out a lot, helps the receivers out. Not only getting those two going, but getting everyone going. I don’t think anyone was really in a rhythm against Clemson, which is kind of upsetting when you watch that on film the next day.”

It’s not going to get much easier in New Orleans, as Michigan’s defense is even better than Clemson’s. The Wolverines enter the Sugar Bowl with the nation’s No. 7 scoring defense, No. 17 total defense, No. 17 pass defense and No. 34 rushing defense.

“They’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps,” said running backs coach Shane Beamer. “They’re big and physical and present a lot of problems from a personnel standpoint and a scheme standpoint, but I feel good about the plan we have going into it and I know our guys are excited to play. I’m looking forward to seeing how we match up.”

It all starts with getting the running game going. Following the loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game, Wilson wasn’t shy about calling out the play calling, and when asked recently if he regretted it or had talked to the coaches about it, he said no. Shane Beamer said that Wilson twisted his ankle in the third quarter of the title game and spent some time on the sideline getting it taped and looked at. By the time he was ready to go back in, Clemson had forced Virginia Tech into a passing mode. The Tigers were good defensively on first downs, and got the Hokies into several second-and-9 and third-and-9 situations.

“There’s definitely that pressure, especially when David’s not running, it means we have to throw the ball more,” Thomas said. “It’s pressure not only on me, but on the linemen and even on David because he has to do pass blocking. It’s more pressure on the offense as a whole because the running game makes things a lot easier for us to work as an offense.”

It also opens up the running lanes for Thomas, whose 10 rushing touchdowns are the second-most ever for a Virginia Tech quarterback. Thomas has been almost automatic in short-yardage sneak rushes. At 6-foot-6, 254 pounds, defenders have struggled to bring him down. Wilson has run for 100 yards 10 times in 13 games this season, tying the school and ACC records for 100-yard games in a season. Wilson enters the Sugar Bowl with 1,627 yards and needs just 29 more for a new school record.

Wilson, the ACC’s player of the year, said he relishes the opportunity to be a difference-maker, and for the majority of the season, he has been.

“It’s really no pressure; I want to be that spark,” Wilson said. “It’s a drive in me. I like making big plays. At the same time, my team needs it. When somebody on offense makes a big play, the whole sideline gets electrified.”

When they’re quiet, though, so is the entire offense.

“They’re two special parts of our team,” Shane Beamer said. “When they’re on, whether it be Logan throwing the football or David running it, we’re tough to beat. There’s no question about it.”