NCF Nation: Michael Holmes

You want to find a good quarterback in the ACC? Plenty of places to look.

A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.

A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.

Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:

  • Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
  • Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
  • Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
  • Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
  • NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Running back Rushel Shell left Pitt for rival West Virginia.
Holmes and Brown were expected to be significant contributors this year; Shell and Harris were expected to start; Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing last year.

So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.

Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.

Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.

But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.

Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.

DUKE

  • Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
  • Percent carries returning: 87 percent
  • What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.
SYRACUSE

  • Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
  • Percent carries returning: 82 percent
  • What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.
BOSTON COLLEGE

  • Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
  • Percent carries returning: 75 percent
  • What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.
VIRGINIA TECH

  • Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
  • Percent returning carries: 70 percent
  • What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.
GEORGIA TECH

  • Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
  • Percent returning carries: 68 percent
  • What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.
NC STATE

  • Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
  • Percent carries returning: 63 percent
  • What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.
CLEMSON

  • Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
  • Percent returning carries: 62 percent
  • What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.
MIAMI

  • Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
  • Percent returning carries: 59 percent
  • What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.
WAKE FOREST

  • Top returner: Deandre Martin
  • Percent returning carries: 57 percent
  • What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.
NORTH CAROLINA

  • Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
  • Percent returning carries: 56 percent
  • What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
MARYLAND

  • Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
  • Percent returning carries: 48 percent
  • What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.
FLORIDA STATE

  • Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
  • Percent Returning carries:45 percent
  • What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.
VIRGINIA

  • Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
  • Percent carries returning: 44 percent
  • What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.
PITT

  • Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
  • Percent returning carries: 9 percent
  • What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.

 
If you think the case of Virginia Tech running back Michael Holmes is unusual -- an athlete getting kicked out of school by the school itself, and not by the athletic department or the legal system -- you're right.

Athletic director Jim Weaver told ESPN.com today that he has only seen this happen "once or twice" during his tenure as athletic director, and he did not remember it ever happening with the football program.

Apparently, it happened for the first time about a month ago, when the Office of Student Conduct expelled Holmes for his alleged involvement in an April fight.

“He is permanently separated from the university,” Weaver said, using the same language the Office of Student Conduct gave to him.

Because the charges were reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, Weaver could have reinstated Holmes, as long as it was approved by the university, but Weaver said he heard from the Office of Student Conduct before he had a chance to make up his mind.

“I hadn’t planned on doing anything until I saw the results of his case,” Weaver said.

“My role in this was non-involvement because it never got to us,” he said. “The decision was made on campus before it ever came to us, and that might not be the commonplace, but it is certainly, I think, in effect at many schools.”

According to Virginia Tech, a student can decide to either have their case heard by peers or by professionals in the student services area. Weaver would not say which Holmes chose, nor would he comment on whether or not he thought the process was fair.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said there are “definitely two sides to the story” regarding the recent arrest of running back Michael Holmes.

Holmes has had no contact with the coaches or the football team following his suspension after he was charged with a felony for his alleged involvement in a fight. Holmes tweeted on Wednesday that he would "never do some things said."

“You certainly don’t get yourself put in those situations, but I think we need to let it play out,” Beamer said. “There’s definitely two sides to the story on this one.”

Should he return to the team, Holmes finished the spring as the No. 2 running back on the roster, Beamer said.

Trey Edmunds has a chance to be right in the mix," Beamer said. "I think he is. There’s no question he’s in the mix. We’ll see where Michael Holmes’ situation goes. I think there are two sides to that. That’s to be decided where that is.

“[Chris] Mangus and [J.C.] Coleman in certain packages and Tony Gregory, when he gets back, in certain roles. But right now, certainly the top three as far as tailbacks are Edmunds, Holmes and Coleman.”
Virginia Tech did not exactly have an impressive performance on offense in its spring game last weekend, a big disappointment considering the staff changes that were made to address the problems the team had last season.

So the natural question is this: Should the offensive display be cause for concern?

Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson weigh in.

HD says: Remain calm.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsHokies QB Logan Thomas should benefit from what is expected to be a solid offensive line in 2013.
Last April, an ACC quarterback threw a pair of interceptions in his team’s double-overtime spring game loss. They were ugly, those picks.

Remember? Of course you don’t. Because last fall, that same quarterback was named the ACC’s Player of the Year.

Thank you, Tajh Boyd, for reminding us how irrelevant spring game stats are.

At first glance, Virginia Tech fans might have had to reach for the nearest Defibrilator after watching the offense in the Hokies’ spring game. The Achilles Heel of 2012 still looked wounded under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Quarterback Logan Thomas threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns, against a White team comprised mainly of backups, a group that was spotted 13 points just to even the score a bit. David Teel of the Daily Press called it “putrid.”

I call it April.

With Alabama scheduled for Aug. 31, there is simply no way Virginia Tech’s spring game was any indication of what the offense will look like in the season opener. Loeffler hasn’t even installed the entire playbook, and the staff certainly isn’t going to reveal anything from it now. Virginia Tech ran two running plays. It ran less than 10 passing plays. The backup quarterback in at the end of the game certainly wasn't in there trying to make the biggest comeback in ACC spring game history. Don't forget there is also a priority to stay healthy in these games, not have guys put their ACLs on the line for a first down. Granted, the players need to be able to execute the vanilla calls as well, but this is the time to get the kinks out -- not Aug. 31.

Maybe, just maybe, Virginia Tech’s defense -- which returns nine starters and is coached by one of the top coordinators in the country -- is pretty darn good. Maybe Thomas and the offense still have a ton of work to do.

Odds are it’s a combination of both, and that’s to be expected this time of year, especially with a new coordinator, new offensive line coach and new receivers coach, not to mention another inexperienced offensive line. It’s not time for Virginia Tech fans to panic.

This was a forgettable spring game for the Hokies and their fans -- just like the one Boyd had last season, remember?

Didn’t think so.

AA says: Sound alarm bells!

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Virginia Tech had two major priorities on offense this spring:

1. Fix the run game.

2. Help Thomas get back on the right track.

Now, I generally take spring games for what they are -- open practices that feature little in the way of Earth-shattering plays or revealing information. But I have to make an exception for what happened in Blacksburg this past weekend.

What fans saw should be cause for alarm. Not panic, per se, because the football season still is four months away. But definitely cause for alarm.

Why? One simple reason. Not one shred of improvement in either area, and that is with a new offensive coordinator. We can add in a few disclaimers: guys are still learning the offense and getting used to some of their new coaches; the defense is going to be as good as expected; the offensive line is banged up.

But those disclaimers sound like excuses.

No matter what type of offense you are running, gaining 23 TOTAL yards on the ground is unacceptable.

No matter what type of offense you are running, watching Thomas throw three interceptions -- including two returned for touchdowns -- is unacceptable.

I do not need to remind anyone the offense struggled last season in the same two areas that failed in the spring game. Thomas turned the ball over way too much last year -- 16 interceptions to 18 touchdowns -- and completed only a little over half his passes. Though he was selected as one of the most valuable performers of the spring, his performance in the game is what will sit with fans through this long offseason.

As for the running game, no one running back emerged with any consistency to become the featured back last year. Michael Holmes led all rushers with 24 yards in the spring game, but he was arrested hours later and subsequently suspended indefinitely. Even without this unfortunate turn of events, nobody had distinguished himself enough to take the mantle of “the guy” in the backfield.

Virginia Tech made a change at coordinator to specifically fix these issues. Perhaps there is a talent problem, and not a scheme problem or coordinator problem. Or perhaps we are reading way too much into a meaningless spring game.

We will find out whether the performance last week portends things to come soon enough -- against the No. 1 team in the nation to open the season.
Virginia Tech running back Michael Holmes has been suspended indefinitely following his weekend arrest on assault and felony malicious wounding charges.

Athletic director Jim Weaver confirmed the suspension in a statement released Monday, citing university policy.

Holmes was arrested early Sunday morning after police were called to a fight in a parking lot. Blacksburg Police Department Lt. Nathan O'Dell told The Associated Press the fight began between two women. One person was taken to the hospital as a result of the fight, but O'Dell declined to reveal the nature of the injuries.

Holmes started five games last season and finished with 280 yards and four touchdowns. He led all rushers in the spring game this past Saturday with 24 yards on seven carries as part of a wide-open competition for the starting job.

After the spring game, Holmes told reporters, "I played last year, so I've been trying to get all the young bucks together, keep them working hard. The thing we're going to work on the most is being consistent. Just grinding, putting in work, trying to get better."

Holmes is being held without bond at the Montgomery County jail and has a court appearance scheduled for Tuesday.

Checking in with Shane Beamer

March, 28, 2013
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Virginia Tech began spring practices on Wednesday, and one of the team’s biggest priorities will be improving the run game. Virginia Tech, usually one of the most consistent rushing teams in the ACC, ranked No. 79 in the country in rushing offense at 145.85 yards per game. That’s the worst finish in their ground game since the Hokies ranked No. 82 in the country in 2007.

I spoke with running backs coach Shane Beamer recently to get his take on the group heading into spring ball, and the changes that were made this offseason. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

How much better do you think you guys can be offensively, specifically in the running game?

[+] EnlargeShane Beamer
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIVirginia Tech assistant Shane Beamer likes the depth the Hokies have at running back this season.
Shane Beamer: I hope we can be a lot better. We invested a lot of time in it. With three new coaches coming in, there’s new ways of doing things, and new ideas, and it’s been good. It’s been good for my dad as well, not so much offensive ideas, but philosophical ideas -- things that Stanford did that Aaron has been able to talk to us about. Things that Auburn and Florida and all of the different places Scot and Jeff have been, so that part has been really good. We always invest a lot of time in the run game, and we certainly will this spring. We’ll be a year older on our offensive line. We had a lot of new parts in there last year and couldn’t stay healthy. It’s a group that’s got some experience coming back, and all of those running backs are a year older, and we’re adding some new guys to the mix as well. It’s certainly a point of emphasis for us and something we take pride in.

I don’t feel like I did a good job of coaching the running backs last year. I take that personally, the way we performed. I know the tradition of running back play here at Virginia Tech. To not be able to run the ball as well as we wanted to last year was extremely disappointing. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

How hard was it last year as a staff? You guys are so used to 10-win seasons.

SB: It was hard. I think it was a good wake-up call for a lot of people that, No. 1, to win 10 games or more eight years in a row is just insane. You see how hard it is to win A game, period, but to be consistent and do it eight years in a row, 10 or more is just amazing. It puts that in perspective. I know it does for me, because you find out last year how hard winning is with the parity there is in college football now. We as coaches, our players -- some programs you go there to compete for bowl games and things like that. When you come to Virginia Tech, you come to compete for championships, period. To not be in that mix last year was really disappointing and hard for all of us, but at the same time, to be sitting there at 4-6 and losing at halftime up at Boston College, to come back and win that game and beat your rival for the ninth year in a row and win your bowl game, we took a lot of pride in that, and the kids we have in our program and the way we finished.

Tell me more about the running back position. What are you looking at going into spring?

SB: No. 1, we never could settle on one last year, and I blame myself for not saying these are our guys and going for it. It’s hard. I knew during the season and going into the season it’s hard to play four. I’m realizing more now, but we really never felt like anyone separated themselves, and really did feel like different guys could bring something different to the table with different packages. A lot of the stuff we did last year was good, getting guys on the field at different times or at the same time, but in football you’ve got to be able to get your two main guys and have some packages for a couple other guys. That’s what I hope we’re able to do going forward. I’m hopeful two or three guys will separate themselves and it will be obvious that these are the guys. We need to stay healthy. We were banged up a bit last year. Tony Gregory was a guy I thought was getting ready to turn the corner and maybe be that guy, and then he got hurt going into the Cincinnati game and missed a few weeks. Just to be more consistent, be able to stay healthy, and get back to running the football and being what Virginia Tech’s about. The thing I like is we have great competition. Last year I felt like we had four guys we could win football games with. I think we have even more than that this year, I really do. Just watching the way they’ve worked in the offseason and their attitudes right now. They’re motivated, they’re hungry. It’s a group of four or five guys this year when you add Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus to the mix, you’re going to have great competition.

What’s your depth chart look like heading into spring ball?

SB: Good question. Right now we kind of based it on the way the season finished last year, so J.C. Coleman is listed as the starter right now, and he’s up there with Michael Holmes and Tony Gregory just because they’re the ones who finished the season last year. And then Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus are after them because they redshirted last year and haven’t played, but we’re going to compete every day and the depth chart at this point is certainly just for organizational purposes, and who’s out there with which group, but all of those guys are going to get opportunities to show what they can do. The thing we’ve stressed to them is it’s not going to be a lot of opportunities because we’ve got quite a few guys we’re repping during spring practices. You’ve got 15 practices to really show what you can do, show what you’re about, and we’re going to really nail this thing down after spring practice. But based on the way they’ve worked in the weight room with coach Gentry the last couple of months, and watching them the last couple of mornings in our 6 a.m. workouts, they’re motivated. There’s going to be great competition.

What specifically do they need to get better at?

SB: To be honest, they all have ability. They just need experience. I know it sounds simple, but that’s really the case. Tony hasn’t played a lot because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Michael, last year was his first year of playing. J.C. was a true freshman last year. At the running back position, I don’t think I was fair to Michael Holmes. Last year the most he carried the ball in one game was 12 times or something like that. Michael needs to carry the ball 15 or 25 times to really get into the flow. I didn’t [give] Michael and all those guys a great opportunity to do that last year because of the way we rotated them. I think if they get more reps and have more carries, the game will slow down for them and they’ll be better. I saw that a little bit with J.C. as the year went on. That’s what I want to see, just be more consistent and have an attitude.
Maybe this will be the year Virginia Tech finds somebody to replace 2012 first-round NFL draft pick David Wilson at running back.

Last year, the Hokies tried to compensate for the loss of their 2011 leading rusher, but the by-committee approach wasn’t productive enough, and none of the young backs truly separated themselves. Virginia Tech, usually one of the most consistent rushing teams in the ACC, ranked No. 79 in the country in rushing offense at 145.85 yards per game. That’s the worst finish in their ground game since the Hokies ranked No. 82 in the country in 2007.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's J.C. Coleman
Peter Casey/US PRESSWIREJ.C. Coleman (4) was the second-leading rusher on the team last season, behind quarterback Logan Thomas.
It didn’t help that the offensive line was a weak link, but there will be a focus on the running backs this spring as the Hokies try to get their running game back to where it used to be during the days of Wilson, Darren Evans and Ryan Williams.

"If we run the ball better, I think it makes your throws easier," coach Frank Beamer said, "and that's the main focus here."

The good news is that there are plenty of options to choose from, but Beamer will be looking for one or two to emerge as the go-to players, starting this spring.

“A couple of guys are going to get the majority of carries and then you have another guy you feel comfortable with,” Beamer said. “I think getting that list down and looking if there’s a need somewhere else, and a guy is not going to figure in at tailback, maybe we make some moves in that regards. Those are things that, as we get into spring practice, we’ll see. But all of the running backs we’ve got there, we sure want to give them an opportunity and see who comes out on top.”

Here’s a look at the position heading into the spring:

FRONT-RUNNERS

J.C. Coleman: He played in every game last season and had six starts. He was second on the team in carries (109) and rushing yards (492) and scored two touchdowns. He also caught 21 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

Michael Holmes: He started five games and played in 11 last season. He carried the ball 70 times for 309 yards and four touchdowns.

Tony Gregory: The redshirt senior is the veteran of the group, but he only started two games last season. He had 64 carries for 311 yards and a touchdown in 2012.

CAN MAKE THEIR MARK

Trey Edmunds: He’s a redshirt freshman who has yet to take a collegiate snap. As a recruit, Edmunds was ranked the No. 68 “athlete” in the country, the No. 83 player in his region and the No. 17 player in the state by ESPN's RecruitingNation.

Chris Mangus: He also redshirted last season and has no collegiate game experience. As a high school senior in Raleigh, N.C., Mangus rushed for 1,658 yards and 28 touchdowns, and he averaged 150.7 rushing yards a game.
Five days have passed since the season ended for Virginia Tech, and no word just yet on if there will be a major offensive staff shake-up.

Most everybody expects something to happen. But what will happen, and to whom? Those are the major questions that remain now that the Hokies avoided disaster with a come-from-behind win over Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl that featured just enough offense to win.

Not great offense. Just enough offense. A season-low 196 yards is not exactly enough to encourage anybody that the status quo should remain.

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireVirginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has some decisions to make regarding his offense.
As if Hokies fans needed any such reminder, Virginia Tech just completed its worst offensive season since 2008, ranking No. 82 in scoring offense (25.1 ppg) and No. 82 in total offense (376.6). The key difference between this year and 2008, though, was rushing offense. This year, the Hokies averaged 145.9 yards on the ground with a revolving door of backs -- 41 yards fewer than a year ago with David Wilson.

Virginia Tech was better in that category in 2008, averaging 174.3 yards per game to rank No. 35 in the nation, a big reason why it was able to get to the Orange Bowl. The last time the Hokies averaged fewer yards rushing was in 2007, with 133.64 ypg to rank No. 82. Yet even then, they were able to make the Orange Bowl. Both teams in 2007 and 2008 featured stout defenses (No. 4 in 2007; No. 7 in 2008), enough to bail out any offensive shortcomings.

The defense was too inconsistent to be the headliner this year, though it did bail out those shortcomings against Rutgers. Still, it has been apparent for weeks that coach Frank Beamer has some decisions to make. There already is one report that receivers coach Kevin Sherman is going to Purdue.

Less certain is the future of offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, who declined to address his future after the game.

Whatever staff changes are made, Virginia Tech has three major questions to answer:

1. If Logan Thomas does return, the Hokies need to find a way to take the load entirely off his shoulders, and to get him to work on his accuracy as a passer. This stat sums up just how badly he struggled this year: His completion percentage dropped from 59.8 percent in 2011 to 51.3 percent in 2012. While it is true he had less talent and consistency at receiver, it is also true he was not consistent enough in the delivery of his passes.

2. Who is the running back? The revolving door did not work this year. Does that mean Virginia Tech does not have a back capable of being a reliable workhorse, or the coaches had itchy fingers and just wanted to try out a whole bunch of players to see what worked? Three different backs started this year -- J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes. None ran for more than 500 yards. That question must be resolved.

3. Consistency on the offensive line. The play up front was not as good as it has been in several years. You understand that early on, as the line had to break in four new starters. But they should have been better at the end of the year. If you want every part of your offense to work in concert, you need a competent offensive line.

Running game a priority for Hokies

December, 6, 2012
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- While public perception might seem otherwise, it’s no big mystery why Virginia Tech failed to contend for the Coastal Division title this year and mucked its way through the program’s most disappointing season in 20 years.

The Hokies’ scoring offense was No. 78 in the country this year, averaging 26.08 points per game. Virginia Tech struggled to run the ball, averaging just 157.75 yards per game.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's J.C. Coleman
Peter Casey/US PRESSWIREThe Hokies would like J.C. Coleman rush for more TDs against Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
As the program prepares to face Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl, it does so knowing exactly where it needs to improve. The question is whether the Hokies can make those adjustments in time to finish the season on a winning note and avoid the program’s first losing season since 1992. Coach Frank Beamer would not say if he planned to make any staff changes, but he did say the team will focus on improving the running game during its bowl practices.

“I think we know the direction we want to go,” Beamer said. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly this or that. Logan [Thomas] didn’t have as good a year as he wanted to have, but he didn’t have two receivers that are all-time leading receivers at Virginia Tech. And a running back that’s playing for the Giants now. And four offensive linemen that started a bunch of ball games. It all kind of ties in with each other. Your success kind of goes as an offensive team and as a team, and I think we understand where we need to get better.”

The Hokies’ rushing offense was No. 5 in the ACC, a significant drop from the David Wilson era in which Virginia Tech was No. 2 in the ACC in 2011 with 350.91 rushing yards per game. A tailback-by-committee approach was the only option, as J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory, Martin Scales, and Michael Holmes all had at least 40 carries this year. The team’s leading rusher, though, was its quarterback, as Thomas finished with 528 yards and nine touchdowns. The last time a Virginia Tech quarterback led the team in rushing was 1965, when Bobby Owens led the team with 526 yards.

Beamer said Coleman (486 yards) and Scales (173 yards) caught the coaches’ attention later in the season.

“Those two kind of stepped it up a bit,” Beamer said. “All of them are going to be good backs, it’s just that for so long, no one separated. One guy would be good one day, and the next guy would be good the next game, or the next quarter. We really all along wanted to get it down to about two backs, and work them in there, and let them get most of the reps in practice and be better in a game, and I think we’re closer to that now.”

They’ll face a tough test from Rutgers, which is No. 11 in the country in rushing defense at 105 yards per game.

“There’s no question we’d like to run the football better,” Beamer said. “We’re going to continue to work in that area.”
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was asked about his running back rotation several different times in several different ways on Monday’s weekly teleconference, but Beamer didn’t offer any specifics about how the group has been working during the bye week, or how they might be used on Thursday night against Miami.

“We’re working on it,” he said. “We’re practicing with an idea and working that in and hopefully it will be the right combination here.”

Did all four backs split the reps this week?

“We’re working on it,” Beamer said. “We’ll see how it works out Thursday night.”

It should work out pretty good, considering Miami’s rushing defense is No. 119 in the country, allowing 249.25 yards per game. The question is how the Hokies plan on taking advantage of that.

The "other" Beamer gave a few more clues.

Running backs coach Shane Beamer told beat writer Andy Bitter of the Virginian-Pilot that J.C. Coleman and Tony Gregory have taken about 85 percent of the snaps in the past two games, with Michael Holmes and Martin Scales getting about five snaps apiece.

“We’ve looked at our running back situation a lot, and the thing that’s tough is all of them deserve to play,” Frank Beamer said. “You look at the Cincinnati game and Holmes looked like the guy, he made a couple of terrific runs. After Bowling Green, Gregory looked like the guy. He got out there in space. And after Duke, Coleman looked like the guy. That’s the tough part. All of them have had their moments. We’d like to find, week after week, this is what we’re going to get. That’s what we’re trying to get into.”

Odds are all four continue to see playing time against the Hurricanes on Thursday night, with Coleman and Gregory leading the way.
It hardly mattered that Virginia Tech got off to a slow start against Bowling Green on Saturday.

Logan Thomas and his teammates found their groove in plenty of time to win 37-0, their first shutout of a nonconference opponent since 2006, and a nice bounce-back victory after their loss last week to Pitt.

The statistics might not be all that gaudy, but Thomas did have a pretty good day. The second quarter was his finest of the season, as he went 7-of-10 for 102 yards and threw two touchdown passes. He also ran for another late in the quarter, a play that resulted in a minor injury to the thumb on his throwing hand. Thomas had his nail bent back, and ended up playing with a wrap the rest of the game.

That hardly mattered after Virginia Tech took a 21-0 lead into halftime.

Thomas helped the running game get on track, as he finished with 65 yards rushing. He finished 11-of-26 for 144 yards passing, and also had an interception. Tony Gregory led the team with 68 yards on the ground. Four different players had 40 or more yards on the ground as the Hokies finished with 246 yards rushing, their best performance all season -- and the first time this season they went over 100 yards against an FBS opponent.

Michael Holmes ended up with a career-long 40-yard run, the longest run on the season for the Hokies. J.C. Coleman added 45 yards rushing and had one touchdown reception.

The defense played much better, particularly up front, forced three turnovers and held Bowling Green to 266 total yards, including 4-of-16 on third-down conversions.

Time to cut Logan Thomas some slack

September, 20, 2012
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It’s Groundhog’s Day in Blacksburg -- another year, another season of disgruntled Virginia Tech fans calling out the play calling.

Reminder: Eight new starters on offense.

Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas is not the problem. He’s still a first-round NFL draft pick only in his second season as a full-time starter, and if you ask the NFL scouts, most would probably tell you that Thomas has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the country right now.

He’s just having a hard time reaching it because he’s got eight new starters around him.

[+] EnlargeThomas
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesThe Pitt defense harried Logan Thomas for much of the game and forced three interceptions.
The lack of experience in the supporting cast has been the biggest reason for the Hokies’ struggles on offense, and their rather, well, vanilla play calling. Coach Frank Beamer conceded as much this week when I asked him if the youth and inexperience on offense has limited what they can do with the playbook.

“It hasn’t helped,” he said. “There’s no question that when you’re playing freshmen tailbacks, and four new starters on the offensive line, a new starter at tight end, that affects your play. But again, what we need to do is become a more consistent, play-after-play offense.”

In the loss to Pitt, Virginia Tech’s receivers had too many drops, freshman tailback Michael Holmes had a fumble that led to a score, and Thomas was throwing under pressure for most of the game. Much like last year, it seems like Virginia Tech and ACC fans have already turned their backs on Thomas, but it’s still too early in the season -- and in his career -- to dismiss his potential.

Beamer certainly hasn’t.

“I think Logan is going to be just fine,” Beamer said. “He has a couple of throws he’d like to have back, but we have to protect a little bit better, we’ve got to run the right routes. It’s a combination of things that have caused us to be inconsistent.”

Expect Virginia Tech fans to consistently question it, though.

The Hokies are going to get better as the players mature, but it’s not fair to heap the blame on Thomas until they do.

BC, VT cruise past FCS opponents

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
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Boston College and Virginia Tech each won Saturday. Here are quick recaps:

Boston College 34, Maine 3: Maine jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and it took about a quarter for Boston College to find its rhythm. The story of the day was Spiffy Evans, who had his first touchdown catch and first punt return for a touchdown, and set a career-high with 155 all-purpose yards in the victory. Running back Rolandan Finch was able to play after sitting out the Miami game with a foot injury. He led the team with 90 yards rushing, but also lost a fumble early in the game. Tahj Kimble also lost a fumble at the goal line, or the Eagles would have had more points.

Receiver Alex Amidon just missed out on his second straight 100 yard game, after finishing with 99 yards receiving and a touchdown. Boston College plays at Northwestern next week.

Virginia Tech 42, Austin Peay 7: The Hokies also got off to a slow start on offense in this game, but they cruised to the victory and avoided any sort of upset on just five days' rest.

Junior running back Tony Gregory blocked a punt and ran for his first career touchdown. Running back Michael Holmes also had his first two career scores with runs of 2 and 9 yards. Receiver Corey Fuller also had his first career touchdown, catching a 30-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Virginia Tech spread the ball out to 10 receivers in its first game without D.J. Coles, out for the season with a knee injury.

Logan Thomas finished 15-of-23 for 212 yards and two scores in three quarters of work. Virginia Tech plays at Pitt next week.


BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said he probably won’t sleep too well following his pedestrian performance in the Hokies’ 20-17 overtime win against Georgia Tech.

It might help him to watch the game film of the first three and a half quarters.

It was a snoozefest. Nyquil in uniform. Until the final 7:46 of regulation, when the Hokies scored 10 points to tie the game at 17 and force the first overtime game in Lane Stadium history. It was a thrilling, historic, dramatic finish that went off like an alarm and reminded many of us why we love college football.

You never know what you’re going to get -- and that just might be the story of the Hokies this fall.

There were signs that Virginia Tech can again play its way to the ACC championship game -- and historically, the winner of this game has gone on to do just that in each of the past seven seasons. But more often than not Monday night, the offense was sluggish, Thomas' throws were off, and the youth and inexperience around him was exposed. The defense, though, lived up to the billing, particularly on the interior defensive line, which was disciplined and effective against the Jackets’ spread option offense. It was only the first game of the season -- a big one as far as the conference standings go -- but this team’s identity will likely grow with the offense this year.

[+] EnlargeCody Journell
AP Photo/Don PetersenVirginia Tech eked out a win over Georgia Tech on Cody Journell's field goal in overtime.
“They say when you’re ripe, you rot,” said linebacker Jack Tyler. “We like to say that we’re green, we still have room to grow.”

And a schedule that will allow them to do it.

The Hokies’ most difficult game of the month is behind them. Three of the next four games are in Lane Stadium, the lone exception being a trip to Pittsburgh to face a team that just lost to Youngstown State. With upcoming nonconference games against Austin Peay, Pittsburgh, Bowling Green and Cincinnati, Virginia Tech could be a deceiving 5-0 heading into an important Coastal Division game against North Carolina on Oct. 6.

Odds are 47 first-half rushing yards aren’t going to continue to cut it. To be fair, a 22-yard loss contributed to that after freshman punter A.J. Hughes let a bad snap sail through his hands. The errant play set up Georgia Tech’s first touchdown that tied the game at 7. For a long, long time.

“We’re not as good of a football team as we need to be right now, but I think we’ve got the potential to be a really good football team,” coach Frank Beamer said. “That’s our challenge is to keep growing, keep getting better, day by day.”

Nobody in the program shied away from the fact that there’s room for improvement.

Thomas’ performance wasn’t exactly first-round-esque. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He had a couple of overthrown balls, and the offense never quite got into a rhythm, but his receivers weren’t flawless, either. He took all of the blame, though.

“The offensive line played great, the receivers played great and the running backs played great,” Thomas said. “I would say I was the one holding us back.”

Some growing pains were to be expected. Virginia Tech had to replace four starters on the offensive line, a first-round draft pick in running back David Wilson, and the top two pass catchers in school history. This offense got a makeover, and it showed. The same five linemen started every offensive snap against Georgia Tech. Six players made their first career starts, including offensive tackle Nick Becton, offensive tackle Vinston Painter, guard David Wang and tailback Michael Holmes.

“It’s the first game, we had a bunch of young guys who hadn’t played a lot,” linebacker Bruce Taylor said. “In the fourth quarter we showed some promise, that’s something to look forward to for next week. The offense looked a lot better in that fourth quarter. ... We can only build from here and it will look better from here.”
When talking about Georgia Tech’s B-backs recently, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster needed to pull out his glasses and look over the Jackets’ depth chart to remember who’s who.

For the second straight season, Georgia Tech is missing a headliner.

Strange thing is, so is Virginia Tech this year.

As the Hokies and Jackets prepare to face each other tonight in Blacksburg in a nationally televised game (8 ET, ESPN) that will give the winner the edge in the Coastal Division standings, both have unproven players in their backfield who will be thrust into starting roles. It’s an unusual position for both programs, considering how successful their running games have been in recent years. Both teams will start the season with a committee approach, as last year was the first in coach Paul Johnson’s offense that a B-back didn’t rush for 1,000 yards and earn all-conference honors. At Virginia Tech, the Hokies have to replace four offensive linemen and first-round draft pick David Wilson. Fans of both teams could see as many as four running backs tonight for each team -- and they've all got something to prove.

“Every once in a while I’ll read them an article or a quote from someone in the media about the question marks surrounding the running back position, and they’re playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer said. “They can’t wait to get out there Monday night and show what they can do.”

Hokies fans are just as eager to find out.

Three of Virginia Tech’s top running backs – redshirt freshman Michael Holmes, true freshman J.C. Coleman and redshirt senior Martin Scales -- have never had a collegiate carry. Tony Gregory, who was third on the depth chart last year behind Wilson and Josh Oglesby, is the most experienced of the group with 39 career carries. Beamer said Holmes is likely to be the starter against Georgia Tech, but all four will probably play.

Holmes is a fast, strong, well-rounded player who catches the ball well. Coleman is a smaller player who worked hard this summer to gain weight and get stronger. He’s good in space and tough to bring down. Scales is a former fullback whose biggest contributions have been on special teams, but his heart is at tailback, where he can be a 225-pound bruiser with deceptive speed and strong pass protection skills. Gregory is a combination of all of them, and is also good in the open field and in pass protection.

At Georgia Tech, the Jackets are going to get their yards regardless of who’s running the ball. Johnson’s spread option offense was No. 2 in the country last year in rushing. Foster said the key defensively will be to limit the explosive plays, but he’s not quite sure what he’s going to get from some of the younger players.

“The Sims kid is a dynamic player,” Foster said of David Sims, who had 698 yards and seven touchdowns last year. “I don’t know much about their backup kids. They’ve got No. 21, and No. 37, I don’t know much about them, we’ll find out. I don’t know if those guys are home run hitters or not. I know with [Jonathan] Dwyer, he was a home run hitter. You miss a tackle up front, he can take it to the house.”

Can anyone else?

No. 21 for Georgia Tech is Charles Perkins, an athletic sophomore who had 28 carries last year as a backup. No. 37 is Zach Laskey, a true sophomore who moved from defensive back to his natural position of running back this past spring and has been pushing Sims for the starting job. Redshirt freshman Broderick Snoddy might be the fastest player on the team, but Laskey said he’s ready to be “the guy.”

“I’ve always known that I could do it, I just knew I needed opportunities to show myself,” Laskey said. “I wasn’t highly recruited, so I knew I had to play with a chip on my shoulder.”

That seems to be the theme tonight for both teams.

It was only a few years ago that the Hokies were loaded with Wilson, Oglesby, Darren Evans and Ryan Williams.

“It was a stacked backfield,” Scales said. “Going from that backfield in ’10, honestly I don’t see it as being that much different. Both backfields are talented. The biggest difference is those guys, their names were known more.”

That will change tonight -- for both teams.

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