October 22, 2011

By dslater82

Injury update, though not much of one, then on to the meat of the blog …

Virginia Tech is already without two defensive starters for the rest of the season: tackle Antoine Hopkins (knee) and whip outside linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (foot).

Cornerback Jayron Hosley didn’t play today against Boston College after tweaking his left hamstring last week at Wake Forest. Trainer Mike Goforth expects Hosley to be ready for Monday’s practice. Defensive end James Gayle returned after missing the Wake game with a sprained left ankle, but aggravated it on the first series and didn’t return. Goforth thinks he could be OK for next week’s game at Duke, provided he makes progress during practice.

In the third quarter, inside linebacker Bruce Taylor sprained his right foot, didn’t return and wore a protective boot after the game. Goforth expects to know more about Taylor’s status on Monday or Tuesday, after an X-ray or perhaps an MRI, as well. Whip Alonzo Tweedy also sprained his ankle in the first half — a dreaded high ankle sprain.

Tweedy’s left ankle has to be a big concern, because it would force the third-string whip, redshirt freshman Nick Dew, into action. Dew had not played a snap on defense all season before replacing Tweedy today. Dew moved from rover to whip in the spring. He was a big-time recruit: No. 6 by Rivals in the state of Virginia, No. 15 nationally among safeties and No. 201 overall in the Class of 2010.

“Dew’s got to step up and learn quick,” coach Frank Beamer said.

So if you’re scoring at home, the Hokies were down five defensive starters today (two for the season), and also lost another player (Tweedy) who was starting in place of a guy who is out for the season.

No wonder Beamer said, of the injuries, “I think we’ve had more than our share.”

We’ll begin tonight with some big-picture stuff, because Virginia Tech’s 30-14 win over Boston College certainly wasn’t the most compelling football game you’ll ever see – and paled in comparison in Tech’s last home game, the thrilling, back-and-forth 38-35 win over Miami on Oct. 8.

But the Hokies needed to beat this struggling Boston College team, and that’s exactly what they did. And now, at 3-1 in the ACC, they are the only Coastal Division team with one league loss. All five of the others have at least two, and North Carolina has three.

You’d think the Hokies would go into their Nov. 10 game at Georgia Tech still having just one league loss, because they play Duke next week, then they’re off, giving them extra time to prepare for Georgia Tech’s tricky option-based offense.

Georgia Tech lost for the second straight game today – to Miami. The Yellow Jackets have to play undefeated Clemson next week, so they could have three league losses heading into the Nov. 10 game. If that happens, then the Tech-Tech contest isn’t that big, because the Hokies would have some wiggle room even if they lost to the Jackets. But if the Jackets beat Clemson, then their meeting with the Hokies could once again be the de facto Coastal championship game, as it was in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

The Hokies have four games left in the regular season, and just two of them seem challenging – Georgia Tech and probably North Carolina, even though the Tar Heels got mowed down by Clemson today. At this point, the Hokies are in good shape to make a run at their second straight ACC championship, and fifth in eight seasons in the league.

It sure looks like they’re on a collision course for an ACC championship game rematch with Clemson, which beat them 23-3 in Week 5 in Blacksburg. The Tigers are now 8-0, 5-0 in the ACC. All of the other Atlantic Division teams have at least two league losses, except Wake Forest, which has one, but still has to play at Clemson, on Nov. 12.

So that’s where things stand in the Hokies’ quest to once again spend New Year’s Eve in South Florida for the Orange Bowl, as they did in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Some interesting stats from today, then on to a few key moments …

** Quarterback Logan Thomas is absolutely on fire right now. In the past three games, he has completed 72 of 93 passes (77.4 percent) for 858 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He hasn’t thrown an interception in 118 passes. He has also run for five touchdowns in the past three games.

** Thomas had 268 passing yards today, making him the first quarterback under Frank Beamer to have three straight games with at least 260 yards. He is also the first quarterback under Beamer with three games of at least 22 completions in one season.

** Tech’s yards in the past three games: 482 against Boston College, 473 against Wake Forest and 482 against Miami. The last time the Hokies had 400-plus yards in three straight games was 2005 (409 against Marshall, 497 against Maryland and 492 against Boston College). The Hokies lost to Florida State in the ACC championship game that year.

** For the third straight year (all wins), the Hokies made a Boston College quarterback look bad, though Chase Rettig wasn’t as brutal as Dave Shinskie was the past two years. Rettig finished 13 of 30 for 181 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

But Retting did next to nothing in the second half, when he completed 4 of 12 passes for 39 yards, a touchdown and a pick. Not a bad showing by a defense playing without five starters (one of whom was being replaced by a third-stringer). The Hokies limited the Eagles to 272 total yards. They gave up 149 in the first half.

Taylor was replaced at the mike linebacker spot by Barquell Rivers, a fifth-year senior whose story has been well-chronicled: started in 2009 as a sophomore; tore his quad tendon (a major injury) during the offseason and missed 2010, which let Taylor start; and returned this past spring, but not at 100 percent, and never will be the same player again.

He hadn’t played much this year before today – seven snaps at Wake, 10 at Marshall and 27 against Appalachian State. But he made a huge play in the third quarter, after Taylor went out.

Boston College was down 13-7 and driving. The Eagles had first and 10 at Tech’s 22. Rettig dropped back to pass, and Rivers shot through a huge hole in the line and hit Rettig as he threw. Tariq Edwards intercepted the ball at the 11, leading to an 89-yard touchdown drive that basically put the game away.

On the play, Rivers said, the defensive tackle and end (which was backup Zack McCray, Rivers recalled) were supposed to “pinch” toward the inside of the line, while the whip was supposed to bounce to the outside edge of the play. But the end didn’t pinch, which left his gap open, and that was the hole that Rivers got through.

“It just opened up,” Rivers said. “I don’t think [the end] got in his gap. I think the [offensive] tackle turned back on him and stopped him from getting in his gap, so it opened wide up. It wasn’t supposed to be [open]. I was supposed to come outside of him [rather than running to the inside of the end]. So it just opened up and I ran through it.”

“When you see a hole, you think about getting to the quarterback before he can get the pass off. You just want to get there before he releases the ball. [Rettig] didn’t see me at all.”

Said Edwards, of Rivers’ hit: “That was very big. You have to have someone getting pressure on the quarterback most of the time to get a pick. That’s how at least 90 percent of your picks happen.”

The way Rivers fought through his injury and rehab has made him something of a hero in Tech’s program. He knew he wasn’t going to play much significant time this season, but he wanted to come back anyway.

“Everyone in the program pulls for Barquell,” Beamer said.

As for his quad, Rivers said, “It’s gotten a lot better. I can do more things than I could do last spring. It’s getting stronger and better each week as the season goes along. No, I’m not back to full strength. There are still some things, like changing direction and stopping on a dime, that I have to work on. But each week I’m getting more confidence and believing more in my leg.”

He said his hit on Rettig was “really a big confidence booster to let me know that I still can play and make plays at this level, and that I can do anything if I really work hard at it. Going into it, I didn’t think I would even get to play in this game, because from the start, they were ahead. But I was on the sideline, working the game, going over all the checks that [defensive coordinator Bud Foster] was making during the game, so whenever he called me, I was ready.”

Another big play that didn’t make the scoring summary was a block by wide receiver Jarrett Boykin to spring David Wilson’s 42-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, which put Tech up for good, 13-7. That was the first drive of the second half for Tech.

Receiver Marcus Davis also had a nice block downfield, but Boykin made the initial block by taking the defender’s legs out after Thomas pitched to Wilson.

“Any time there’s a long run, generally there’s a wide receiver or two throwing a good block,” Beamer said.

Boykin’s block drew rave reviews from his teammates.

“We try and pride ourselves on the way we block,” said receiver Danny Coale. “They were being aggressive out there at the linebacker and corner spots, especially on bubble [screens] and outside runs. If you can get them at their legs, they’ll go down.”

Wilson said he saw Davis’ block, but not Boykin’s, which shows just how effective the block was, because the defender didn’t even get into Wilson’s field of vision.

Another situation got lost in the shuffle, but it could have really hurt the Hokies. On Boston College’s final drive of the first half, the Eagles had third and 6 at Tech’s 39. Tech had an extra defender on the field – Dew – and the coaches practically ran out onto the playing surface to pull him off.

He managed to get off just before Boston College snapped the ball and threw an incomplete pass. A five-yard penalty for too many men on the field would have really helped the Eagles in that situation. They were leading 7-3, but Tech forced them to punt after that incomplete pass, then marched 61 yards in a minute to get a field goal and feel better heading into halftime.

“It was a personnel-type issue,” Edwards said of Dew being on the field. “He thought he was supposed to end up in the boundary because someone pointed like this, like, ‘Dude, go!’ But we were telling him to get off the field. It was just a miscommunication.”

On the sideline, Coale said, “There was a lot of panic at that moment, I think, a lot of confusion.”

But after narrowly missing a penalty, the Hokies were able to turn the stop into a field goal and a 7-6 halftime deficit.

“That was really important, especially when they were getting the ball [to start] the second half,” Coale said. “It was kind of similar to last week when we got a pick and were able to capitalize on that. It slowed their momentum a little bit.”

Coale was referring to Edwards’ pick at Wake (after end J.R. Collins tipped a pass in the backfield) that led to a 26-yard touchdown drive that put the Hokies up 21-10 entering halftime. The offense had to move about twice as far as that to get a field goal before the half today.

“I think it showed that we can move it against them, and it we kind of did it with ease,” Thomas said of driving 61 yards in a minute. “It gave us a little confidence to go out there and do it in the second half.”

Perhaps that’s why nobody seemed overly worried in the locker room at halftime.

“You could see on the faces of everybody that there was a sense of urgency, but nobody was panicking,” Coale said. “We’ve been in that situation before. We knew opportunities were there and we could cash in on them. There was no panic.”

Tech trailed 10-0 after the first quarter last week at Wake, and went on to win. Last season, the Hokies overcame first-half deficits of 10, 14 and 17 points to beat East Carolina, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State.

Wilson carried just six times for 21 yards in the first half. He had 11 for 113 in the second, including six times for 72 yards on the first two drives of the second half, both of which resulted in touchdowns (one being Wilson’s 42-yard run).

Before halftime, Wilson told running backs coach Shane Beamer, “Let’s run the ball more.”

Why did Wilson say that?

“I felt like we were getting away from what we do,” he said. “We came out the second half running the ball more and you could see the passes open up more, and the runs opened up more, and now we’ve got the defense off balance.”

After his touchdown run, he came to the sideline and hugged Shane.

“I didn’t ask for more carries,” Wilson said, clarifying his pre-halftime remarks to Shane. “I was just like, ‘Let’s run the ball more.’ I said it to him, and he agreed.”

When the running backs met as a group in the locker room, they wondered about the run/pass balance in the first half, when Thomas threw 25 passes – a lot for Tech’s offense.

“We were talking as running backs, ‘Why are we not running the ball?’” Wilson said. “Everybody knew it. It wasn’t just me saying it. [Josh Oglesby], the fullbacks were saying it. Even the linemen were saying it. [Shane] came in, and the first words that came out of his mouth were, ‘We’re going to open it up. We’re going to run the ball more.’

“We knew we had to get out there and score points. The defense was doing their job. It was up to us to do our job.”

Said Thomas: “I knew it was time to start putting it on the ground and letting them pound it up front.”

Some other quick hitters from today …

** Wilson didn’t mind coming back to win for the second straight week, but he doesn’t want to make a habit out of getting in a hole.

“You want to go out there and make an immediate impact,” he said. “I want to get better at first half playing because eventually it could cost us.”

** Wilson passed 1,000 yards today and knew before the game just what he needed to do to reach that mark.

“I knew I needed 97 to get to 1,000, and my goal is 100 yards a game,” he said.

He entered the game averaging 129. He eclipsed that by five yards today. Interesting that he said his goal is 100 yards per game, because he needs to average more than that if he wants to reach another goal – 1,700 yards for the season, which he wrote on his goal sheet. That would break the Tech single-season rushing record (currently 1,655, set by Ryan Williams in 2009).

** Thomas’ take on the option pitch to Wilson that resulted in the 42-yard touchdown: “They brought pressure off the outside, so I was reading [the defender]. I didn’t know if he was going to come to me or go to David. Coach always says be safe with it. So I was being safe. I stepped up and got underneath [the defender] and dished it back out to the most dynamic person on our team and let him do the rest.”

** Free safety Antone Exum bruised his thigh on a hard hit over the middle, which broke up a pass. He said cornerback Detrick’s Bonner helmet or knee hit his thigh, but Exum knew he had to play through the pain because the Hokies are so thin right now.

“We’re going to have to play through minor injuries,” he said. “It wasn’t anything to come out of the game for, so I just tried to tough it out for the rest of the game.”

** Tech didn’t allow a sack despite Thomas throwing 36 passes. The Hokies gave up one sack against Wake, as Thomas threw 32 passes. Tech didn’t allow a sack against Miami. Thomas threw 25 passes in that game. Right tackle Blake DeChristopher knows that pleases line coach Curt Newsome.

“As long as we’re making him happy, we’re happy,” DeChristopher said.