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October 1, 2012

Final Grades: Cincinnati Loss

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Virginia Tech seemed to have rebounded nicely in a win over Bowling Green. But the Hokies struggled Saturday against Cincinnati before coming back and ultimately falling int he game's final seconds. Having seen replays and thought it over, here's publisher Jason Stamm's exam of the Hokies' loss:

No one seems to have an answer for junior quarterback Logan Thomas' struggles, but if one can't be found quickly, the rest of the season especially looks daunting. Thomas is still missing his receivers many times by five yards and is making simple passes look difficult. He still has zip on the ball and he showed late Saturday that he can still get it done. But he has to get it going for a full game, not a quarter or little more. Thomas has the talent, but he has to put it together for Virginia Tech to get back on track.


It didn't help that junior Tony Gregory missed Saturday's game with knee issues that have lingered since last season. But just like with Thomas, the running backs are extremely inconsistent. Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes rushed for a team-high 60 yards and a touchdown, but all but 13 of that came in the fourth quarter. Freshman J.C. Coleman also showed signs, but another position that has to show consistency. The total of 160 yards Saturday looks good, but there was far more to it than just that number.


When they've gotten the ball in their hands, the wide receivers have shown they can make plays. But the trouble is making that happen. Senior Marcus Davis was visibly upset on the sideline, slamming his helmet, but he made a few big plays late and finished with five catches for 101 yards. The Hokies tried to get it in this position's hands more, rushing junior Dyrell Roberts, a few times on end arounds, for 51 yards on five carries. The emotion was good to see and it'll be interesting if Virginia Tech tries to get Davis involved in the future like it did Roberts.


Cincinnati had a sack, but Virginia Tech did a good job of protecting Thomas for the most part. A lot still falls on this position for not getting more holes for the running game to get moving early, but they stepped up in the second half. Junior guard David Wang was expected to play but didn't while still recovering from an ankle injury. As a unit, they have more expectations, just like the rest of the offense, to do more early.


The Hokies had just one sack, but did a good job of getting pressure on Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux and forcing some errant throws and throw away passes. Redshirt freshman Kris Harley also showed impressive hands with his second quarter interception that set up Virginia Tech's first touchdown. The effort overall was good, but the Hokies have to get more pressure, especially if their secondary struggles again like it did Saturday.


Another area that was good, but short of great. Junior Jack Tyler might officially be the best defender for Virginia Tech. He was again the leading tackler, with 11 and had an impressive pass breakup when he had a great read on the ball. Senior Bruce Taylor also showed good discipline and tipped the pass that Harley intercepted. Against a spread team though, there wasn't as much need for the WHIP. Redshirt freshman Ronny Vandyke still played well when he was on the field in pass coverage.


It was obvious they would be tested against a spread offense and Virginia Tech countered many times with a dime package. But junior Antone Exum was constantly beat in coverage and picked up four penalties. He just missed another when he got away with pass interference in the third quarter. Junior Kyle Fuller also struggled and was beaten on the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds. Missed tackles weren't as evident, but still there, including a few by Michael Cole, while other young players, like Donaldven Manning, were beaten more than once. This isn't a bad group of guys, they're just young and didn't adjust well to the spread. They have the ability to rebound, but like a baseball closer, they need to put this one behind them and fast, especially with more big offenses on the way like North Carolina and Clemson.


Virginia Tech didn't have any big returns like it had in past weeks, but still played ok. Junior kicker Cody Journell connected on his only attempt, from 28 yards, but the real special teams star was punter A.J. Hughes. Finishing with a 45.9-yard average on seven punts, Hughes had booming punts of 55, 56 and 57 yards all in the first half. The punting position is one that looks to be really locked down the way Hughes has played.


It was good to see some mix-up in the offense, like getting Roberts more involved but there might need to be more mixing up. This came as Virginia Tech didn't use the hurry-up offense as much as it had in portions of the first four games. As has been said before, the coaches aren't the ones controlling how Thomas throws or if defensive backs get beaten in coverage. There were adjustments made, but when you give up 495 yards, you know defensive coordinator Bud Foster will be making more.


Bizarre that Cincinnati was technically the home team in Washington D.C. having basically one corner of the stadium, with scatters here and there. Of the 46,026 in attendance, the overwhelming majority was pro-Virginia Tech. Still weird not having the Hokies' band. But in cavernoud 85,000-seat FedEx Field, the upper deck was nearly completely empty. The opponent will probably have to be more marquee when the Hokies return to FedEx Field in the future.



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