October 16, 2011

By dslater82

Before getting into this post, just a couple quick things on Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley’s left hamstring. The All-American tweaked it in the first quarter, while chasing Chris Givens after caught a pass that resulted in a 79-yard touchdown. Soreness in the hamstring caused Hosley to miss two practices last week.

It remains uncertain how serious Hosley’s injury is, but he didn’t return after tweaking his hamstring.

“We’ll just have to see,” coach Frank Beamer said. “When you get those hamstrings, you never know.”

Hosley’s injury resulted in redshirt freshman Detrick Bonner replacing Hosley at boundary corner.

So the Hokies were down four defensive starters – Hosley (hamstring); tackle Antoine Hopkins (knee, done for year); whip outside linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (foot, done for year); and end James Gayle (ankle).

They had true freshman Luther Maddy primarily playing at tackle (now that Maddy’s ankle is feeling better). They had junior Alonzo Tweedy at whip and sophomore Tyrel Wilson at defensive end – both playing in starting roles for the first time in their careers (ditto for Maddy, obviously).

“We’ve probably got too many young guys playing, but that’s what we’ve got right now,” Beamer said.

Still, as mentioned below, Tech’s defense managed to play well after a sluggish first quarter (with the Givens touchdown catch playing a large part in the yards Tech allowed in that quarter).

Now on to the post …

Virginia Tech won its 10th consecutive true road game (not counting neutral sites) tonight at Wake Forest – the longest active streak in college football. The Hokies haven’t lost a true road game since 2009 against Georgia Tech.

But No. 10 was not easy, despite what the 38-17 final score might indicate. The Hokies trailed 10-0 after the first quarter, during which they were out-gained 138-8 (and Wake did that even though leading rusher Josh Harris didn’t play because of hamstring injury). The yards after that: 465-182.

Just like last week’s 38-35 win over Miami, Tech’s offense answered, and while this wasn’t a back-and-forth game like the Miami, the Hokies did respond to Wake’s first quarter with one long punch back that lasted the rest of the evening.

“No one panicked,” Beamer said. “Everyone kept doing their business. We talk about all the time – just play the next down. I think how the coaches react [was important]. We weren’t screaming and blaming.”

This wasn’t the first time the Hokies have come back to win this season. They were down 7-0 after the first quarter at East Carolina and 7-3 heading into halftime. The game was tied at 10 until Tech went up 17-10 with 7:30 left – and that was the final.

But this Wake team is better than East Carolina, and coming off the Miami win, this was another positive sign for Tech’s offense. The Hokies finished with 473 yards, after gaining 482 against Miami.

Think back to that ECU game, and how Tech handed the ball to David Wilson seven times on that go-ahead drive – and he gained 49 yards. Tonight, Wilson struggled early, gaining just three yards on his first four carries. Then he had four carries for 60 yards (including a 43-yarder) on the touchdown drive that put the Hokies up 14-10 in the second quarter – a lead they never lost.

Said Wilson: “I don’t sit there and count [after those early drives], but you remember, ‘I got tackled for a loss of five, so that’s not good. Then I only got five yards on that series. That’s not good.’ You know what you need and what you’ve got to do. It’s really not about the stats. It’s just about getting the win. And I knew my team needed a big run, and it came through.”

Wilson was excellent again – 136 yards, his sixth 100-yard performance in seven games this season. But everybody already knows how good he is. Perhaps more impressive was the poised effort by first-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas – 2 of 7 for 10 yards in the first quarter, 15 of 25 for 270 yards and two touchdowns in the final three quarters.

But the play that really got the Hokies going came on the drive before they went up 14-10. The Hokies punted on their first five drives, then got on the board on their sixth drive with a touchdown. The key set-up play on that drive was a 39-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin that put Tech at Wake’s 1. And it unfolded in a way that underscores Thomas’ development.

Boykin said his catch “kind of jump-started things,” and it did, because Tech hadn’t done anything before it. What jump-started the Boykin catch was less obvious. Boykin said Thomas looked to his left and noticed the defensive back playing press coverage on Boykin. Thomas tapped his helmet, changing Boykin’s route from a hitch to a straight take-off down the sideline. Wise move. Boykin got past the defensive back and hauled in the jump ball. Those are the type of checks that demonstrate progress by a quarterback.

“You can tell his confidence level is going up,” Boykin said. “He’s just making the right calls at the right time, just doing it at the right time in the right defensive scheme. You can see the maturity.”

Said Thomas: “I feel completely comfortable. The past two weeks, I was just as relaxed as could be going into the game. I think that’s made a lot of difference.”

In the past two games, Thomas has thrown five touchdown passes and run for four. He threw for two and ran for two tonight. Thomas said his 3-yard run that put Tech up 21-10 was the same fake hand-off to Wilson and power run that resulted in the game-winning 19-yard touchdown against Miami.

While Thomas is clearly getting better every week, Tech’s offense is being helped by Boykin coming on – seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown tonight, the best game of his season, just a week after his previous best: seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown against Miami. In the first four games, he had just 13 catches for 103 yards. He didn’t play at Marshall because of a sore hamstring.

“I just felt like I couldn’t be stopped,” Boykin said of his performance tonight, adding that being fully recovery from the hamstring injury has been a big key to his success.

He also remembered something his fellow senior receiver, Danny Coale, talked to the team about last week – a message the Hokies heeded while responding to Wake’s first quarter.

“Before practice on Friday, Danny was telling us about how we need to go on the road and just put things away like we’re supposed to,” Boykin said.

The players had a lot to say after the game about the Hokies answering Wake’s first quarter with an emphatic offense performance.

“I don’t think that it was that important [to come back so quickly and bury Wake],” Thomas said. “I think we could’ve just chipped away and we would have been perfectly fine. But just coming back the way we did I think was a good confidence boost for the offense. I think it gives us a confidence that we can go out there and score when we need to score, and score at will. I think that’s the way we look at it and that’s the way we want to play every snap.”

The biggest difference between the first quarter and the final three for the offense?

“It was just putting forth some more effort,” Thomas said. “We did that and the tides turned to us.”

On the sideline after the first quarter, Thomas said, “Nobody was hanging their heads, and that’s all that mattered.”

Said Wilson: “I don’t know about the rest of the team, but I looked at [the early struggles] and I knew we weren’t executing. You go three and out, and it’s just like I could tell from the few carries that I did get that it wasn’t the defense that was stopping us. We were just not executing. So that’s why I didn’t panic. I knew we could come out and we could get it together.

“[Thomas] kept his composure. I didn’t see him panic, but I could see that he was hungry and he wanted to make plays happen. I felt that confidence from him, standing beside him in the huddle, [when Thomas was] calling the plays. I felt that demeanor about him, that he had the confidence that we could go out there and execute.”

A big play in Tech basically putting the game away by going up 21-10 in the second quarter – Wake never got closer than 11 after that – was end J.R. Collins getting into the backfield and tipping Tanner Price’s pass on third and 6 at Wake’s 21. Inside linebacker Tariq Edwards picked off the ball, giving Tech possession at Wake’s 26 with 30 seconds left.

Then Thomas punched in the 3-yard touchdown run on that power run – the same one from the 19-yard touchdown against Miami.

Beamer and Edwards both called the tip and pick “huge.”

Collins’ take: “I had made a move on the tackle. I was trying to work him the whole game, and then I finally got him. I wanted to get the sack, but I just had to settle for the tip.” When Collins got into the backfield, “I saw him put it up. I tried to knock it down. I just got a tip.”

Bonner was ready to play because he knew Hosley had nursed his hamstring this week.

“When I saw him pull up, I just knew it was my time to go,” he said. “[The coaches] didn’t really tell me anything. They just said be focused and be ready.”

Bonner played 12 snaps earlier this season at Marshall because Hosley had a blister break on his foot. All told before tonight, Bonner had played 40 snaps this season. Tonight was going to be more than 12 snaps, and he knew Wake would go after him, as he checked Givens (the Demon Deacons’ best receiver) in the boundary.

“I went in against Marshall one time, and they went right after me that play and I got scored on,” Bonner said. “So I had a feeling they were going to come after me. But I held my own, so it was OK.”

Knowing Wake was going to target him forced Bonner to focus on what he had to do.

“That helped me a lot,” he said. “I knew they were going to come my way. I’m the new guy. So yeah, it helped me.”

Bonner was involved in back-to-back plays on the third quarter drive which ended with a Wake touchdown that cut Tech’s lead to 28-17.

On first and 10 from Tech’s 39, Price took a deep shot toward Givens, who had Bonner beat. Givens was poised to catch the ball inside the 5 – a sure touchdown – but Bonner got his hands in at the last minute to break it up.

“I didn’t see [the pass], but I managed to break it up,” Bonner said. “My hamstring was pulling [while he ran with Givens down the sideline]. I thought it was going to pull on me, but it didn’t, so that was good.”

One corner out with a hamstring was probably enough for secondary coach Torrian Gray.

On the next play, Price threw a sideline pass to Givens. Bonner slipped at the 30 – nine yards off the line of scrimmage – and Givens blew by him for a 31-yard gain that set up the touchdown.

“I don’t know,” Bonner said of the slip. “It just happened.”

You may or may not see more of Bonner next week against Boston College, depending on how Hosley’s hamstring responds to treatment.

How would Bonner assess his readiness at this point?

“My strength is I can make plays,” he said. “But my weakness mainly is focusing in, reading my keys, knowing what I’ve got to do, knowing if I’ve got to have inside leverage or outside leverage. Stuff like that I’ve got to focus on more. But besides that, I feel like I’m going to be all right.”