ACC: Trey Edmunds

In the cold, dark hours after another Virginia Tech home loss, the lots around Lane Stadium sit empty, except for one lonely image: A few guys playing corn hole next to a fire they built to keep warm.

Those are the loyalists, and there are plenty of them in Blacksburg. But there also are many others wondering how much longer the Virginia Tech program can go on like this, mired in mediocrity after so many years filled with so many wins.

Frank Beamer led this program to all those wins, and he has led this program to all its recent losses. His situation presents a complex dynamic that has no easy answers. Athletic director Whit Babcock gave Beamer a contract extension before the season began as a way to give him a little more security and head off constant questions from reporters and recruits wondering about his future.

That has not stopped anybody from debating how much longer Beamer has left. He has given every indication he plans to return in 2015 despite a third straight subpar season.

[+] EnlargeMiami defense
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesThings have been a struggle for Virginia Tech since it won at Ohio State in Week 2, as the Hokies have dropped five of seven games.
Truthfully, nobody inside the program envisioned being 4-5 in November. Not after a win over Ohio State in Week 2. Looking back, that win may have ended up setting Virginia Tech up to fail. The Hokies lost the following week to East Carolina, and only have two wins since Sept. 6.

“We came out on fire that game, but you had a lot of young guys playing for their first time this year and to keep that momentum going, there has to be a mindset type of deal,” senior safety Detrick Bonner said. “You have to have more leadership going on both sides of the ball. You have to hold yourself accountable as a whole group.

“Just going back from that game ... we probably took the rest of the games more lightly, being that we won that game thinking we could finish the rest of the season with wins. It didn’t go that way, but we’re going to definitely try to finish strong these last few games.”

Perhaps the mindset impacted performance, but so did injuries. The Hokies have been hit hard at just about every area on the field, from running back to offensive line, to defensive front and secondary. Those injuries, combined with 18 freshmen listed on the depth chart, have had a detrimental impact. So have turnovers and penalties, generally a sign of undisciplined teams.

“What you've got to be good at is being realistic in what you got on your football team,” Beamer explained on the ACC coaches teleconference this week. “I would have hoped that Ohio State would have thought they were beaten by a good football team, not be such a low mark in their season.

“I like our football team. I like our players. I liked them after we beat Ohio State. I liked them after we had a tough loss. They work hard. They want to be successful. They do what you ask them to do. I'd just like for them to have a little more experience.”

Nine games in, they should. Still, the only game Virginia Tech had no chance to in win the fourth quarter was against Miami last month. The Hokies have dropped three straight, with a trip to No. 21 Duke next.

The last time Virginia Tech lost four games in a row in one season was in 1992. That happens to be the last time the Hokies finished with a losing record. Only Florida State has a longer streak of consecutive winning seasons.

Still, fan interest has been dwindling. Virginia Tech saw its 93-game home sellout streak end to start 2013. Though Virginia Tech announced a sellout against Miami, vast patches of seats remained empty in the upper deck.

The following day on campus, it was as if a football game never happened. But there is not much vitriol for Beamer or the football program, at least not yet. “The feeling on campus is mixed,” said freshman Willie Bruchey. “I’d like to see them do better, but we’re all here to support coach.”

Another student asked, “If we get rid of him, who do we get? Will he be better? If he’s not, we got rid of coach for what?”

Normalizing expectations seems important, but so is maximizing talent. That is why 2015 will be crucial. Of the 28 touchdowns the Hokies have scored this season, 19 are from freshmen. Plus, injured difference makers Luther Maddy, Brandon Facyson, Shai McKenzie and Trey Edmunds will be back.

Recruiting is going relatively well, too. After a tough loss to Boston College on Nov. 1, the Hokies hosted several elite recruits, who spent time playing pool with Beamer in his home.

ESPN Recruiting Nation says Virginia Tech can end up with a Top 25 class if it pulls in some critical commitments, most notably injured defensive end Josh Sweat from Chesapeake, Va. The top two uncommitted recruits from the state of Virginia are both considering the Hokies.

While there are reasons why Virginia Tech has fallen back, the trend cannot continue. Beamer knows that better than anybody.

“Any time you're not successful in this business, it’s hard,” Beamer said. “I try to keep it realistic. I try to evaluate where we should be, and how close are we to being there. Some people think we should win every game. We’d like to win every ball game, but I think you’ve got to be realistic and understand other teams don't stay the same.

“They change from year to year. We don't stay the same. We change from year to year. Play as hard as you can, be as good as you can, and hope you get your share of the wins.”
Pitt lost its past three games as quickly as it won its first three games, so that leaves one question:

Which Pitt team will show up against Virginia Tech on Thursday night?

Will it be the Pitt team that bulldozed opponents behind running back James Conner? Or will it be the Pitt team that suddenly forgot how to block effectively and began committing way too many mistakes?

"We feel like enough is enough," Conner said. "It is a must-win game, and we just need to get back in the victory column. Some things went wrong, and we had some adversity the last couple weeks, but it’s time to get out of that slump we’re in. It was a much-needed bye week to focus on our goal, because it’s still attainable. We’re 1-1 in the ACC. Guys are ready to roll, and we’re excited for the challenge."

[+] EnlargeJames Conner
Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner hopes to help Pittsburgh get its offense cranking again against Virginia Tech.
Much of the scrutiny has centered on the offense, which has been unable to attain much balance. There are several reasons for that.

Teams started loading the box more to stop Conner. He has not hit 100 yards in his past two contests, and his yards per carry dipped to 3.85. In his first three games against FBS opponents, Conner averaged more than 5 yards per carry.

Stopping Conner means relying on Chad Voytik in the passing game. But so far, Voytik has proven to be too inconsistent. In a 24-19 loss to Virginia, for example, Pitt went 4-of-13 on third down. Voytik threw on 11 of those downs and had only five completions. One was for a touchdown; but twice inside the red zone he threw incomplete on third down.

Pitt did have third-and-10 or longer on six of those downs, so the Panthers did not exactly put themselves in position for success. Voytik also threw a pick-six, which ended up being a huge play in the game.

Not all the blame falls on Voytik, though. Both coach Paul Chryst and Conner talked about receivers needing to do a better job winning one-on-one matchups.

"Each game we've had good runs, but we've got to be able to be cleaner with them all, and also we've got to do a better job on third downs and get more rush attempts and certainly got to do a better job of being more consistent in the throw game," Chryst said.

Inconsistency in the pass game also means a less effective Tyler Boyd, a 1,000-yard receiver last season. Pitt will not win many games if Conner and Boyd fail to score. In the three straight losses, they have one touchdown between them.

"We’re trying our best," Conner said. "Me and Tyler, we like to complement each other. We’ve just got to do it a little bit better."

The Pitt run defense has also had its share of struggles over the past three games, allowing 527 yards on the ground. In the first three, it allowed just 232 total.

There is little doubt the run game for both teams is going to be in the spotlight. Perhaps the downward trend in the Pitt run defense gives Virginia Tech some hope that it will be just fine even though it is missing its top three backs because of injury.

With Trey Edmunds, Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams out, J.C. Coleman and Joel Caleb will get the bulk of the carries. The unknown is whether they can be as effective as the top three backs had been to this point in the season. Because Michael Brewer will need an effective run game to help balance out the offense.

"It’s gut-check time," Pitt defensive tackle Darryl Render said. "They’re going to try and run, and that’s what we do, too. It’s going to be a challenge, but we embrace that challenge with open arms."
Lots of impressive performances in Week 6. Let’s break down the numbers…

" It’s certainly possible that the two early losses — one of which he was only marginally involved with — will keep Deshaun Watson from pushing his way into the Heisman Trophy debate, but it’s worth noting that through six weeks, the Clemson freshman ranks 10th in completion percentage, second in passer rating and first in yards-per-attempt and Adjusted QBR. Of QBs with no more than one interception, only Marcus Mariota and Jacoby Brissett have thrown for more TDs (12) than Watson.

And if we compare Watson’s first five games to those of the past two Heisman winners, he stacks up pretty well.

" Watson’s favorite target quickly has become sophomore Mike Williams, who celebrated his birthday Saturday with a sterling six-catch, 155-yard, two-TD performance. For the season, only LSU’s Travin Dural has averaged more yards-per-catch (minimum 15 receptions) than Williams (24.8). A good portion of that success should be credited to the quarterback, too. Williams’ average of 20.7 yards before contact ranks fourth among Power 5 receivers. Williams is also one of just five Power 5 receivers to have an active streak of five games with at least 70 receiving yards.

" Much has been made of Florida State’s 21-game winning streak, but also worth noting: In the last three calendar years, the Seminoles are 38-3 (best in the nation) and have an average margin of victory of 27.4 points (also best in the nation).

" Florida State’s wide receivers not named Rashad Greene had 18 catches for 256 yards and one TD in the first three weeks of the season. In the past two games, those numbers have jumped to 24 catches for 416 yards and four touchdowns. Jesus Wilson leads the way with 10 catches for 149 yards and two TDs.

" Hard to knock FSU’s defensive performance against Wake Forest, but there are still reasons for concern. The Deacons had allowed a sack once every eight pass attempts entering Saturday’s game, but the Seminoles managed just one on 22 Wake Forest passes.

In fact, if we look at pass disruption (sacks plus interceptions per opponent drop-back) for all Power 5 teams, only UCLA, Cal and South Carolina have been worse than Florida State’s rate (5.4 percent). Last year, the Seminoles' disruption rate was 12.2 percent — the third-best mark among all Power 5 teams.

" The key to Georgia Tech’s success this season has been less about big highlights and more about doing the little things well. And in the crazy Coastal, that’s a recipe for a lot of wins.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
AP Photo/David GoldmanMiami's Duke Johnson gained 100 yards rushing and scored a touchdown Saturday, but Georgia Tech's defense has been solid in the red zone this season.
Against FBS foes, no team in the nation has a lower percentage of three-and-outs than Georgia Tech (7.3). The next closest in the ACC is Florida State (12.3 percent).

The Yellow Jackets rank No. 2 in the ACC in red-zone TD percentage (75 percent) and have the second-best red-zone defense (41.6 percent touchdowns).

The Georgia Tech defense has been strong, but the offense has helped. No team in the nation averages more plays per drive than Tech (6.73), it’s fifth among Power 5 teams in time of possession against FBS foes, and the Jackets are one of just 17 teams to have not allowed more than one score off a turnover.

" How insane is the Louisville defense? The Cardinals haven’t allowed an opponent to rush for more than 150 yards in 12 consecutive games — the longest active streak in the nation. (Virginia is next at eight.) Louisville hasn’t allowed more than 300 yards of total offense in 11 of its last 12 games. It’s surrendered less than 300 yards 16 times since the start of last season, the most in the nation. And Louisville is just the third program in the last decade to open a season by surrendering 300 yards or fewer in its first six games. (LSU and Alabama each have done it twice.)

" Louisville safety Gerod Holliman has seven interceptions already this year. Including his own team, only 15 Power 5 teams have more than Holliman has by himself.

" Virginia Tech ran for 171 yards against North Carolina on Saturday, marking the third straight game the Hokies exceeded the 100-yard mark. That hadn’t happened (in the same season) since Oct. 13 through Nov. 1, 2012.

That’s not to say the Hokies’ ground game is in good shape, though. Trey Edmunds broke his clavicle and figures to miss six to eight weeks, and Shai McKenzie is out for the season. But adding some insult to those injuries: 30 of Virginia Tech’s 52 non-QB runs Saturday gained 2 yards or less. For the season, 48.2 percent of the Hokies’ non-QB runs have gained 2 yards or less, the sixth-worst rate among Power 5 teams. And before you blame the porous offensive line, there’s also this: The Hokies rank 24th among Power 5 teams in yards before contact, but 58th in yards after contact.

" The change at OC for Syracuse isn't a huge surprise. Something had to give -- and improvement at QB should be the top priority, hence the change to QB coach Tim Lester.

Since the start of last season, Syracuse has thrown just 10 touchdown passes in 503 attempts against FBS opponents — the second-worst rate in the country. Terrel Hunt had just one TD pass in his career against an FBS team from outside the red zone, and yet only Wake Forest has a lower touchdown rate in the red zone this season than Syracuse (47.4 percent). Among Power 5 teams, only Kansas has been less efficient at converting yards to points than Syracuse (19.1 yards of offense per point scored).

Hunt's loss for 4-6 weeks scrambles things more, but at this point, the Orange had to try something.

" Is that hefty workload (plus some offensive line issues) catching up with James Conner? The Pitt tailback had a 24-yard run to open the second half against Iowa on Sept. 20. At that point, he’d rushed for 667 yards on 98 carries (6.8 per rush) with 20 carries of 10 yards or more and nine TDs. Since then, he’s averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, had just four runs of 10-plus yards and he hasn’t scored.

ACC morning links

October, 3, 2014
Oct 3
There has been no slowdown in Clemson defensive Vic Beasley this season, as he leads the ACC and ranks second in the nation with six sacks through four games.

He has a chance to make school history Saturday against NC State. Beasley needs just one more sack to tie the school career record of 28, held by Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams. Beasley has a better than average shot to get the mark this weekend. He has owned the Wolfpack, with six career sacks against them -- more than any other opponent.

Last year, he had the critical strip-sack fumble in the third quarter that changed the momentum in the game and allowed Clemson to win 26-14.

Beasley, who chose to return to school for his senior season, has got at least one sack in every game this season despite facing more double teams than he saw a season ago. He also had an impressive performance in an overtime loss to Florida State with two sacks and four tackles, after struggling against the Seminoles a season ago. Beasley added two more sacks a week ago in a win over North Carolina.

When asked earlier this week whether he believes he is the best defensive end in the country, Beasley said:
"I do. I know I am going to get heck for that answer. But that's my answer. I feel like when I go out on the field I am the best. I feel like my production can speak for itself. My mindset when I'm out there is 'he can't stop me and he can't block me.' When I have that mindset coming off the ball, that gives me the ability to beat the tackle."

Now here is a look at other news across the ACC:

ACC morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
When operating out of an option-based offense, it is no secret converting third downs -- preferably third-and-short -- is of pivotal importance. So the Georgia Tech offense's ability to sustain drives is a priority in every game as long as Paul Johnson is the Yellow Jackets' coach.

Through three weeks, few teams are better than Georgia Tech at converting third-down attempts. Only one team, in fact. The Yellow Jackets rank No. 2 nationally with a 64 percent conversion rate, according to a post from Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia Tech offense, however, has done that against the likes of FCS Wofford, Tulane and recent FBS addition Georgia Southern. The unit will get its first test Saturday against Virginia Tech, which has been terrific at getting off the field; the Hokies are No. 3 nationally, allowing opponents to convert only 23.3 percent of third-down attempts.

If the Yellow Jackets find success moving the chains, they face another test once they near the Virginia Tech goal line. The Hokies are No. 15 nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 66.7 percent of its trips. They are No. 35 in red zone touchdown percentage at 50.

The Tech-Tech showdown has traditionally been a heated game, as five of the last six games have been decided by a single score. The last two meetings have been low scoring, too, so third-down and red zone defense will be of critical importance Saturday.
  • The quarterback situation at Miami might not be any clearer without Kevin Olsen. Freshman Brad Kaaya is starting, but senior Ryan Williams, who tore his ACL in the spring, is nearing a return. Miami coach Al Golden would not commit to sticking with Kaaya once Williams is ready to play.
  • Florida State offensive tackle Cam Erving stymied Clemson's Vic Beasley last season, and that will once again be a one-on-one battle that figures to play an important part in deciding Saturday's winner between the two nationally ranked teams.
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still feels Clemson would beat Florida State five out of 10 times. He initially said that after last season's disaster in Death Valley.
  • Virginia Tech has struggled mightily to run the football the last two weeks, so the Hokies are hoping Trey Edmunds comes back sooner rather than later from a tibia injury.
  • It initially looked bleak for two Duke linemen, but coach David Cutcliffe said Lucas Patrick and Dezmond Johnson avoided serious injuries Saturday. However, the offensive and defensive lines are preparing as if they will not have either this coming weekend.
  • Louisville quarterback Will Gardner was pulled in the loss against Virginia, and Gardner is putting the blame squarely on his own shoulders. And keep Reggie Bonnafon, who replaced Gardner on Saturday, in your thoughts as he deals with the death of his father.
  • After a loss to ECU a season ago, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora would be shocked if his team had the audacity to overlook the Pirates a second straight season. ECU, of course, upset Virginia Tech last weekend.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren offered coachspeak when asked if the Wolfpack already had its eyes on No. 1 Florida State. He insists Presbyterian has his focus.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer might have talked with Doeren, too. He offered a similar response, although the Orange have former member Maryland before a game against Notre Dame.
  • Boston College coach Steve Addazio had an out-of-character week of practice leading up to Pittsburgh because of a short week. He lightened the intensity. He learned his lesson in advance of the USC game, and it clearly paid off as the Eagles manhandled the then-No. 9 Trojans.
  • Canaan Severin was buried on the depth chart last season, and many of those players ahead of him returned for 2014. However, Severin has started two games already this season.
  • Pitt has not decided who will play center against Iowa.
It wasn't a magical transformation from the offensive struggles of the past two seasons, and it wasn’t a resoundingly dominant performance over a top-tier team, but Virginia Tech’s 34-9 win over William & Mary was progress, and that’s all the Hokies were looking for.

New quarterback Michael Brewer looked comfortable, save a few tipped passes.

Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges infused some play-making talent into the receiving corps.

And, perhaps most importantly, freshman tailbacks Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie offered some hope that, this year, Virginia Tech’s ground game will be a strength. The Hokies racked up 222 yards rushing -- the fourth-best tally for the team since the start of 2012.

[+] EnlargeShai McKenzie
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesFreshman Shai McKenzie had a successful debut, gaining 106 yards on just nine carries against William & Mary.
“It was probably about as good an opening ballgame as we could’ve had,” coach Frank Beamer said. “We got good production out of a couple of our tailbacks, and we needed that. The problem is, when you line up against Ohio State, it's a totally different situation than the guys they've got up front.”

Indeed, the optimism of the Hokies’ opening-week win has to be immediately tempered by the task at hand. Ohio State’s defensive front, led by Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and middle linebacker Curtis Grant, will be among the best Virginia Tech faces this season, and that means McKenzie and Williams haven’t proven anything just yet.

“It’s going to be a challenge to be able to do the things we were able to do last week,” Beamer said. “We want to try to do them, but it's going to be a heck of a challenge for us.”

Against William & Mary, McKenzie racked up 106 yards on nine carries, including a touchdown. Williams rushed 12 times for 41 yards, too. But there were some lingering concerns.

Last season, no team in the country converted a lower percentage of its third-and-short runs for first downs than Virginia Tech. The Hokies faltered again on one of two third-and-short carries against William & Mary. In 2013, the Hokies’ 1.98 yards-per-carry average in the red zone ranked 111th nationally, and their TD rate on red zone carries (17 percent) was 98th. On nine red zone rushing attempts vs. William & Mary, Virginia Tech averaged just 1.4 yards per carry and scored just once.

Moreover, 71 percent of the Hokies' rushing yards came in the second half and both touchdowns, after they’d had a chance to wear down a less physical William & Mary front. Ohio State, as Beamer knows, won’t regress so quickly.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Virginia Tech shouldn’t be encouraged. Week 1’s numbers came without last year’s leading rusher, Trey Edmunds, who is out with a leg injury. The influx of youth across the board, supplemented by a quarterback who arrived just three months ago after transferring from Texas Tech, meant the Hokies weren’t running at full speed.

“We didn’t show a whole lot,” Brewer said. “We had a lot of young guys out there. We wanted to get them out there and get their feet wet and get them some game experience before we start carrying a heavier load. But I’m assuming [this week] we’ll pick it up quite a bit.”

While there’s plenty of youth at the skill positions, Virginia Tech’s more experienced offensive line also needs to take a big step forward.

Ohio State’s physical pass rush means Brewer figures to see a lot more pressure than he did in Week 1, and while a good running game can help thwart the Buckeyes’ aggressiveness, it will be incumbent on the line to create some space. While Navy was able to run effectively at times against the Buckeyes last week, Beamer said, it will be no easy task for the Hokies.

“Up front, [Ohio State’s] whole group is so good,” Beamer said. “If it's just one guy you can kind of figure it out a little bit, but I think you've just got to block your schemes and get those guys on them, you better work like heck to get them blocked. Instead of 100 percent effort, you better give about 110 percent.”

The notion that this week’s game will require a little something extra from Virginia Tech is no surprise, and the idea that a win can help reassert the Hokies on the national stage is something players have talked about all week.

The Hokies know they’re heading into hostile terrain with plenty of offensive questions left to answer, but what Week 1 provided was some confidence that the answers are coming.

“The only times we didn’t score [last week] were times we shot ourselves in the foot,” Brewer said. “If we can eliminate things like that, we feel really confident about where this offense is going.”

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Virginia Tech Hokies:

Key returners: RB Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs), WR Willie Byrn (51 catches, 660 yards), WR Demitri Knowles (641 yards), WR Josh Stanford (640 yards), C David Wang, LB Kyshoen Jarrett (71 tackles, 2 INTs), CB Kendall Fuller (6 INTs, 11 pass break-ups), CB Brandon Facyson (5 INTs), DT Luther Maddy (13.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Key losses: QB Logan Thomas, OG Andrew Miller, WR D.J. Coles, K Cody Journell, LB Jack Tyler, LB Tyriq Edwards, DL Derrick Hopkins, CB Kyle Fuller, DL James Gayle, DL J.R. Collins,

Most important games: Sept. 6 at Ohio State, Oct. 4 at North Carolina, Oct. 16 at Pitt, Oct. 23 at Miami.

Projected win percentage: .637

Vegas over/under: 8 wins

[+] EnlargeWillie Byrn
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Willie Byrn says the Hokies plan to embark on a championship run in 2014.
Instant impact newcomers: Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer has his eyes on the starting quarterback job, and plenty of Tech fans view him as a potential savior for an offense that languished the past two years. Freshman tailback Marshawn Williams had an encouraging spring and could push Edmunds for carries. Redshirt freshman Seth Dooley figures to help fill the void on the defensive line. Tight end Bucky Hodges, a redshirt freshman, is 6-foot-6 and could be an inviting red zone target.

Biggest question mark: The quarterback position was undoubtedly the biggest question mark entering fall camp, but turning around the offensive struggles for Virginia Tech will be a group effort, regardless of who takes the bulk of the snaps this season. Edmunds and the other running backs need to take pressure off the QB by moving the ball on the ground. The O-line needs to be more physical and help Tech convert more third downs, a huge problem last season. The receivers need to get open and, just as importantly, hang on to the football when it comes their way. If all those other things happen, the wins may come regardless of the quarterback.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Coach Frank Beamer finds his quarterback, the rest of the offense grows up around him, and Virginia Tech finally has an offensive identity. The special teams unit returns to its “Beamer Ball” roots, and the defense looks as good as it did a year ago, even without its departed stars. An early upset of Ohio State earns the Hokies national credibility and a reasonable schedule in conference puts Tech in the hunt for a division title and a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: No QB emerges as an obvious choice to start, and a revolving door opens at the position. Edmunds and the receivers show little improvement from a year ago. The defense misses Tyler and the elder Fuller and can’t mask the offensive struggles any longer. The atmosphere gets tense internally and the Hokies struggle against flawed teams in their own division. The 21-year bowl streak comes to an end.

Number to know: 12.6. That’s Virginia Tech’s yards per completion last season, which, surprisingly enough, was right about the same as what the prolific offense at Clemson managed (12.7). The difference in the two passing games? The Hokies completed just 56 percent of their attempts. Clemson completed 69 percent. Chalk it up to the accuracy issues of Thomas, but the receivers also need to do a better job of avoiding drops in key spots.

They said it: “I’m thinking about, it's ACC championship or bust, and I think our whole team has that sense of urgency.” -- Byrn
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has one of the toughest coaching jobs in the ACC, tasked with turning around a Deacs program that has depth concerns and major uncertainty on offense.

So the last thing he needed was one of his veteran defensive players to go down. Senior nose guard Johnny Garcia tore his ACL and is done for the season, a big blow for a group that has to find somebody to step in and replace All-ACC performer Nikita Whitlock. Garcia has had a rough go of it at Wake. He tore his ACL as a true freshman in 2010, then switched over from tight end to defensive line, and has waited two years on his chance to start.

The Wake Forest defensive line already was lacking in depth. Back in the spring, defensive coordinator Mike Elko said the situation wasn't ideal, especially since Wake Forest has switched alignment from three down linemen to four. Losing Garcia means there won't be much doubt that the Deacs will have to rely on freshmen to play.

[+] EnlargeTrey Edmunds
Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesHokies running back Trey Edmunds has been cleared to practice.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech released its preseason injury report Monday with a few notable players taking the headlines:

Running back Trey Edmunds, who broke his leg at the end of last season and missed spring practice, has been fully cleared to participate when practice opens on Monday. This news is not a surprise, but still comes as a relief considering how big a role he will have in this offense. But just as there was good news from Edmunds, there was not-so-good news for the rest of the running back group.

Freshman Marshawn Williams, who had a solid spring, underwent hernia surgery last month and is questionable for the opener against William & Mary on Aug. 30. In addition, backup Chris Mangus decided to transfer.

Also on offense, senior offensive lineman Brent Benedict will not play this season because of a medical condition; Starting receiver Demitri Knowles has a sprained right ankle and will not be available when camp opens, but he should be able to play in the opener.

Defensively, the Hokies also are considering redshirting backup defensive tackle Woody Baron, who is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Starting cornerback Brandon Facyson has a right hip flexor injury and will be limited when practice opens. This is a different injury than the stress reaction in his leg that caused him to miss spring practice.
The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Virginia Tech will win the Coastal

Defense. If we were making the case for Virginia Tech every season, then we would start with defense just about every single time. You can always expect a solid defense in Blacksburg. Despite some losses on the defensive line and at linebacker, 2014 is no exception. Virginia Tech should have one of the best secondaries in the country, with Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson and Kyshoen Jarrett all returning. And the Hokies should also have one of the best interior linemen in the ACC in Luther Maddy, a preseason All-ACC selection. Dadi Nicolas made huge strides a year ago, and Corey Marshall had a great spring after refocusing on his career. Nobody expects this group to take a step back.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Trey Edmunds
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech's Trey Edmunds rushed for 675 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Trey Edmunds. Edmunds appeared to be turning a corner toward the end of last season, with solid performances in his final three games before breaking his leg against Virginia. You see why expectations around him have mushroomed headed into 2014. Virginia Tech has lacked consistency in the backfield over the last two years, a big reason why the Hokies have taken a step back. It has been well documented just how stuck this ground game has been, a rarity under Frank Beamer. But Edmunds provides hope for the running game as the unquestioned starter, a player with the ability to power through the line but also break tackles and make explosive plays. Marshawn Williams also drew praise for his play this spring, so his addition should help everybody take a collective step up.

Improved QB play. So Virginia Tech has not settled on a starter here, but Beamer and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler truly believe the offense will be better. That all starts with the quarterback. Logan Thomas took his share of criticism over his final two seasons. Perhaps Virginia Tech relied too heavily on him to make plays happen. When he forced the issue, he made mistakes. Just look at his TD to INT ratio -- 34 to 29 the last two years. While it is true Thomas did not have a lot of help around him, the default position was to have him do everything. That philosophy has to change. With that shift, the expectation is the overall offense will be more productive.

Why Virginia Tech won't win the Coastal

Offensive line. As mentioned above, Virginia Tech has not had any real consistency at running back of late. But it also has not had any consistency along the offensive line, either. The position has not been an area of strength, which has helped contribute to the poor rushing numbers. Even though four starters return with a ton of game experience, there remain questions about this group. Not only are they going on their third offensive line coach in as many years, how do we know this will finally be the year they come together and play well?

Special teams. Once an area of strength, this has become a bugaboo for Beamer in recent years. Virginia Tech kickers missed 11 field goals last season. It's a free-for-all to win the starting kicking job headed into fall practice, with nobody proven in the mix. Not only that, the Hokies gave up three touchdown returns last season (most notably the Alabama game) and had none of their own. So if the Hokies don't step it up in a hurry, special teams could cost them a game or two. Again.

Quarterback. While there is a segment of fans who are happy to see Thomas go, just look at the bowl game after Mark Leal came in to replace him as the nightmare scenario that could unfold at quarterback. Michael Brewer appears to be the guy everybody wants to see start, but he left Texas Tech after failing to secure the starting job. How do we know he truly is the answer? Do any of the guys on the roster have what it takes to lead this team to another Coastal crown? That is the biggest unknown right now.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Frank Beamer took a seat before a crowded corner at the ACC Kickoff last week and asked the assembled reporters how they were doing, anticipating exactly what was coming his way.

Then came the first question. About Beamer's quarterback situation. Because of course it did.

"That would be a good start," the longtime Virginia Tech coach quipped, before conceding that, yes, he would rather have that position settled by now, and yes, a decision about a starter will come quickly once fall practice commences.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech transfer Michael Brewer could be the front-runner to replace Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech.
Logan Thomas' three-year reign as the Hokies' top signal-caller is over, for better or for worse. Now it is up to a half-dozen other quarterbacks to duke it out for the right to turn around a program beset by a rather uneasy two-year slide following eight straight double-digit-win seasons.

Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer is the most decorated quarterback of a group that also includes freshmen Chris Durkin, Travon McMillian and Andrew Ford, along with upperclassmen Mark Leal and -- if the preseason media poll is to be believed -- ACC player of the year candidate Brenden Motley, who was a surprise entry among the league's five-player contingent receiving votes.

Brewer, Durkin and McMillian all arrived following the spring, so Beamer has not had a chance to watch any of them throw live on campus. But the 28th-year Hokies head coach insists that the supporting cast he has coming back eases the transition that normally comes with finding a starter so late in the game.

"I think we're ahead of the last couple years in the fact that I think we're further along in getting our running game back where it needs to be," Beamer said. "I think last couple of years we haven't been able to run it quite as well as we're used to at Virginia Tech, and I think having some experience on the offensive line, some backups that are really athletic, young kids that are athletic -- I think we're going to be more explosive at wide receiver. I think our tight ends, we've got about three guys that could block you but they can move out and maybe get matched up on the safety.

"I think the running backs are going to be more solid. Trey Edmunds was really coming along great and we expect him to get back, but a couple more guys there. So I think having people around that quarterback makes it a lot easier than what it's been the last few years, so that's the way I see it."

No quarterbacks emerged from the pack during the spring, and Beamer did little to talk around the fact that, despite not seeing Brewer, the former Red Raider who has a leg up on everyone else by almost any measure.

Brewer, whose addition Beamer attributed to second-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, has 13 games of experience in two seasons of play in Lubbock, Texas, completing 41 of 58 passes for 440 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. The acclimation process for him, as Beamer said, is not like that of a freshman.

"We've got a couple freshmen that we're really high on," Beamer said. "But I think it's really hard for a true freshman to come in there. Lot of stuff going on."

Though the same could be said for the quarterback situation itself, receiver Willie Byrn thinks the offense has adjusted to the initial uncertainty that presented itself this summer without familiar faces running the unit.

"This year we've had to work with everyone, from the oldest guy down to the freshmen that just got on campus, and you've got to treat them all the same and you've got to learn all their tendencies and what they want to do," Byrn, a redshirt senior, said. "So it's been fun. It's going to continue to be fun, and I think this competition between them is only going to bring out the best in not only the starter but the backup and the second backup and so on and so forth."
It’s Day 3 of media days for the SEC, and while we’ve yet to get any juicy ACC bashing like we did last year, first-year Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason did say something on Monday that warranted a little more discussion.

Mason’s comments, courtesy of Team Speed Kills:
“We don't believe in redshirting at Vanderbilt. What we'll do is we'll take out of that class of 22, we'll probably have 17 guys that will step on the field and play at some point in time this year.”

Mason’s estimates certainly seem a bit generous, given that playing 77 percent of your true freshmen is virtually unheard of around college football. But it’s also possible the Vandy coach is at the forefront of a new way of doing things. Tennessee coach Butch Jones added to the discussion Tuesday, promising at least 10 true freshmen would play significant roles for the Vols this season.

More and more, particularly among the most competitive schools on the recruiting trail, immediate playing time for freshmen is an essential sales pitch. And for top recruits who seem likely to bolt for the NFL with eligibility remaining anyway, the redshirt year only takes away from time spent on the field. At the very least, regular work on special teams for true freshmen gets them game experience and prevents key contributors from being exposed to injury, so why not go that route?

It’s a philosophy I’ve discussed with FSU’s Jimbo Fisher a few times, and while he certainly hasn’t gone to quite the level Mason has suggested, the Seminoles -- who have inked a top-10 recruiting class each year of Fisher’s tenure -- have made a habit out of playing true freshmen. Just last year, Nate Andrews, Jalen Ramsey and Kermit Whitfield all played critical roles in the team’s BCS title, while 13 of 16 non-QB skill players in the class saw some action.

That got us to thinking how the rest of the ACC stacks up when it comes to redshirting freshmen. Here’s how the numbers from the Class of 2013 played out:

Of note, we didn’t include any signees who never arrived on campus, and we didn’t include juco players or transfers.

Overall, 107 of the ACC's 258 true freshmen signed in 2013 saw playing time last year -- or 42 percent. That number was a bit higher for ESPN 300 players, of which 23 of 41 (56 percent) saw action. Pitt played the most true freshmen (12), and Miami played the highest percentage of its signing class (67 percent), while Louisville (3 of 16) and Georgia Tech (2 of 13) played the fewest.

That latter category is interesting because Paul Johnson’s recruiting has been criticized regularly at Georgia Tech, and the 2013 class has already had more transfers (three) than players to see the field (two). And, of course, one of those two who saw action was kicker Harrison Butker. Moreover, Charlie Strong may find redshirting is a far tougher sell at Texas than it was at Louisville.

That FSU, Miami, Clemson and UNC inked the most ESPN 300 players and were among the most likely to play true freshmen shouldn't come as a surprise. Part of the formula is getting freshmen who are ready to play, and obviously the more talented the player, the more likely he is to see the field. (It's noteworthy, though, that just two of Clemson's nine ESPN 300 signees avoided a redshirt -- wide receiver Mike Williams started three games and linebacker Ben Boulware was largely used on special teams). But the other part of the argument is that giving true freshmen a chance to play is crucial to landing the best recruits. And in the case of Whitfield and Andrews, both were three-star recruits. So, too, were impact freshmen like Breon Borders, Brisly Estime and James Conner.

There will always be strong candidates for redshirts -- quarterbacks and offensive linemen, in particular -- and for some recruits, the opportunity to watch and learn and develop physically for a year remains a blessing. But there’s also a good chance Mason is on to something, and while it’s doubtful that 75 percent of true freshmen will see the field at most schools, there’s ample motivation for coaches to at least move in that direction.

More links:
  • A boatload of top prospects are going to be visiting Florida State in the next few days, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
  • Clemson’s defense figures to carry the team this season, writes The Post and Courier.
  • North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham says the school is working to "move forward" from the ongoing NCAA investigation surrounding academic fraud, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Virginia Tech tailback Trey Edmunds says he’s ready to go full speed after breaking his tibia against Virginia last season, writes The Roanoke Times.
  • Georgia Tech freshman Clinton Lynch knew what to expect with the Yellow Jackets before he arrived on campus, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • A Louisville-area company wants to promote the Cardinals’ receiving corps with a billboard, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • And your non-sports link of the day: Here’s a list of the best beers of 2014 (so far), courtesy of Paste. What, no Miller High Life?

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
Sports on Earth put together a list of its 10 players under the most pressure as 2014 gets set to kick off, and the lone ACC representative is Virginia Tech’s Trey Edmunds. On the sophomore tailback:
“With [Logan] Thomas' mobility gone, the onus on the running backs is even greater to jumpstart an aimless offense that has coincided with a 15-11 record the last two years.”

Indeed, Virginia Tech needs some serious help on offense in virtually every phase, but finding some traction on the ground would be a huge first step.

Last year, Thomas, the quarterback, was responsible for 33 percent of Virginia Tech’s carries, 22 percent of its rushing yards (including lost yardage on sacks) and 45 percent of its third- and fourth-down conversions on the ground. The tailbacks, meanwhile, averaged just 3.98 yards per carry, second-worst in the ACC (ahead of only Wake Forest) and well behind the next worst team (NC State). For perspective, conference champ Florida State got a whopping 6.43 yards per carry from its running backs -- nearly 2.5 yards more every time a running back carried the football.

Edmunds, of course, is the face of the group after leading the way for Virginia Tech with 675 yards on the ground before getting hurt against Virginia, but his 4.07 yards-per-carry average ranked 31st among ACC players last year.

It’s tough to pin all the pressure on Edmunds, though. Other tailbacks need to step up, too. Virginia Tech needs to find a quarterback capable of keeping defenses honest. Receivers need to be more reliable to keep the Hokies out of unmanageable down-and-distance situations. Coordinator Scot Loeffler needs to be more creative with his scheme. And if anything, the real pressure here falls on Frank Beamer, who is on his second coordinator and has cycled through myriad running backs and still hasn’t found a definitive answer to Tech’s offensive woes.

Though Edmunds is the lone ACC rep on Sports On Earth’s list, it’s also worth noting the conference should shine a little extra light on their No. 1 choice, Jeff Driskel. Not only will the Florida quarterback’s season be defined by how the Gators’ offense performs, but two other quarterbacks who were stuck behind him on the depth chart -- Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy -- now have starting jobs in the ACC and could certainly upstage their former teammate.

More links, starting with a bunch of Jameis Winston news:
  • If Winston’s legend began when he chucked a football over a fraternity house, FSU’s newest quarterback, J.J. Cosentino, is well on his way to carving out his own mythology, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
  • Tomahawk Nation ran the numbers on what it would mean for Winston to stick around at FSU through 2015, and it’s tough to make the case that he should.
  • And in Winston’s hometown of Hueytown, Ala., July 5 will officially be “Jameis Winston Day,” writes Yahoo.
  • Louisville has sold out its luxury boxes for its inaugural season in the ACC, so if you’re planning to attend a game, you’ll be stuck with the commoners.
  • With Jay Bromley gone, Syracuse is reshuffling its defensive line in hopes of finding some stability, writes
  • Backing the Pack did the research and came up with a rough estimate of the number of alumni each ACC school has playing in the NFL now. Not surprisingly, the results pretty accurately reflect the typical ACC recruiting rankings, too.
Duke has become one of the favorites to repeat as Coastal Division champions for several reasons.

Here is one of the biggest: Duke is the only team in the ACC to return its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago. The Blue Devils return their top two leading tacklers, too.

[+] EnlargeJamison Crowder
Ellen Ozier/USA TODAY SportsDuke returns 72 percent of its offense, including leading receiver Jamison Crowder.
In all, Duke returns 72 percent of its offense. Only Virginia returns more in the ACC, though the Hoos are changing quarterbacks and only produced two wins with virtually the same players a season ago. Plus, their offense took a hit in the offseason when leading receiver Jake McGee decided to transfer.

What should give Duke an edge is the veteran experience and leadership it will have with returning quarterback Anthony Boone, receiver Jamison Crowder and rusher Josh Snead -- all seniors. Crowder is the headliner of the group, after catching an ACC-record 108 passes a year ago for 1,360 yards. He needs just 1,153 yards to set the school and ACC career receiving yards record.

Snead will once again split carries in the backfield -- the way Duke has done in recent history -- though some depth does have to be developed at the position. Boone will share some of the load at quarterback as well, but there will be much more placed on his shoulders with the departure of Brandon Connette.

That is where the Blue Devils lose the largest percentage of their offense -- 25 percent out of the 28 percent that is gone. Losing Connette means losing 14 of the team's 28 rushing touchdowns from a year ago, along with 1,212 passing yards and perhaps the most reliable backup quarterback in America. Thomas Sirk is expected to contribute, but it is too early to say what exactly his role will be once the season begins.

Still, Duke is the only team in the league with its offensive nucleus intact, an offense that -- by the way -- ranked No. 3 in the ACC. Florida State nearly does with Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene back. Though the Seminoles lose leading rusher Devonta Freeman, they believe Karlos Williams will be able to step right in and fill those shoes. Several other teams return two among their top passers, rushers or receivers: Pitt (RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd), Syracuse (QB Terrel Hunt, WR Ashton Broyld), Virginia Tech (RB Trey Edmunds, WR Willie Byrn) and Louisville (RB Dominique Brown, WR DeVante Parker).

Of these teams, only Syracuse returns 70 percent or more of its offense. Still not quite as much as Duke.
It is no secret the Virginia Tech run game is in need of a major jump-start. True freshman Marshawn Williams could provide that this fall.

The early enrollee has drawn raves so far, taking advantage of his opportunity to get meaningful reps with starter Trey Edmunds out because of injury. Given all the hype that has surrounded Williams since he arrived on campus, he is one of the biggest players to watch in the spring game Saturday.

"Marshawn, he's a beast," quarterback Mark Leal said. "For him just to be here for a few months and making the progress and strides he's made, it's outstanding. It's been a while since I've seen a young guy come in and have the impact he's had on the team so far. To be honest, he doesn't look like he's a freshman out there. He looks like he's been here for a while, like he could possibly be starting by the time the season comes around. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens because he's a good young kid, he's smart and his work ethic is outstanding. So I think he's going to be a really good player for us."

Edmunds is expected to be the starter once he returns from injury, with J.C. Coleman right behind on the depth chart. But given what coaches have seen this spring, it will be hard to keep Williams off the field -- especially if he can be a difference maker. His 5-foot-11, 224-pound size alone makes him valuable, especially when you consider how bad the Hokies were on third down last season.

The Hokies have not averaged more than 150 yards rushing over the last two seasons. The last time they went two years without hitting that mark was in 2006-07. They also saw a decrease in their average yards per carry, down to 3.2, their lowest total since 2006. Edmunds really started to play well toward the end of the season, so the hope is he can pick up where he left off in the Virginia game once he gets completely healthy. Williams is still listed behind Edmunds, Coleman and Joel Caleb on the most recent depth chart.

But based on the spring, it appears the Hokies at least have more options in the backfield for 2014.

"He’s a big, strong, powerful back, fits perfect in what we want to do in the running game," offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. "He makes guys miss, he’s powerful, he breaks tackles. He’s got football intelligence, savvy. He’s going to really help our football team."
Virginia Tech did not have a top 25 recruiting class this year, but the Hokies did a great job filling several areas of need on signing day. I had a chance to catch up with recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring for his thoughts on the incoming group.

The skill positions were a huge area of need, and you seemed to have met them. How many do you think can contribute right away?

Stinespring: We hope all of them. But first off, I want to say I thought our staff from the beginning to the end did a great job being diligent in making sure we met our needs. You’re always looking for the best players you can get regardless of position, but you also need to focus on your primary needs. For us to get the skill position guys we got -- not only the quality of the player but in terms of creating depth, creating competition -- I thought we did a terrific job and we’re excited about it.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Ford
Miller Safrit/ESPNFour-star wide receiver Isaiah Ford was part of a big Virginia Tech haul at the skill positions in the 2014 recruiting class.
At receiver, you have a guy like Isaiah Ford who has an opportunity, a two-sport guy who is very impressive in both venues; an in-state kid like Jaylen Bradshaw, a very skilled athlete. A guy we've been impressed with is Greg Stroman. He's one of those guys that in recruiting you go into the school and people have great things to say about him, but when you go out and people talk about him who’ve seen him play, he’s just one of those guys that kept popping up no matter where you went, just about how impressive he is. With Cameron Phillips and Kendrick Holland, too, I know how excited we are about that bunch.

What about at running back? You already have Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie on campus and enrolled. Will they push for playing time?

Stinespring: We also have Braxton Pfaff (OL), Andrew Ford (QB) and Vinny Mihota (DE) in here early. But as for the backs, Trey Edmunds is going to be out of spring practice so we’ll get a chance to get a look at some of these younger tailbacks. Shai is still recovering from a knee injury he had in high school. He will have no contact but we’ll see some things in the spring practices. To almost rush for 5,000 yards in high school and miss three-fourths of your senior year, that’s pretty impressive.

Williams and McKenzie are similar in size. Are they similar in how they play?

Stinespring: They are somewhat different in their running styles. We wanted to get a couple bigger backs and we felt like we were able to do that. Marshawn is probably the biggest. When you think of him, you think of power and strength. You don’t want to be the first tackler on Marshawn, you want to be the second or third guy because that first one, it's hard to determine who’s the hammer or the nail. Shai has size but he relies on the ability to make people miss and he does a great job of that.

You also signed several quarterbacks, including Ford, Chris Durkin and Travon McMillian. Is the plan to keep McMillian at quarterback?

Stinespring: Initially, McMillian will concentrate on the quarterback spot, but Andrew is here and will go through spring practice and we can evaluate where he is. With Durkin and Travon, we still want to be able to see where Travon is as a quarterback. We felt like with where we are at quarterback, we needed to re-up the numbers there and we were able to do so.

Offensive line was also an area of need. How do you feel you did at that position?

Stinespring: We’ve got potentially four seniors starting up front this coming year, so it was certainly very important for us to go out and be able to get the numbers in that grouping to enable us to develop and create some depth. We also have time available to develop these guys. They all share similar qualities we were looking at this go around -- they all move around real well, they’ve got good feet, they’re athletic. We feel like our strength and conditioning program will benefit them tremendously.

There were a few guys who got away on signing day, but overall how do you feel about the class you signed and what are some area of needs headed into 2015?

Stinespring: We met our needs for the most part. We never get all that we want. We're all like 8-year-olds on Christmas, we all appreciate what's under the tree but we're not opposed to having another present no matter what. When you go into a numbers game, this year was paramount for offensive line and the skill positions. We got three defensive linemen, so we’re going to immediately turn our attention back to that area.



Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29