Chris Graham: Why has Virginia Tech football come back to the pack?

Eight straight 10-win seasons, and 11 of 13. Seems like forever ago at Virginia Tech now, doesn’t it? And yet it was just two years ago when the Hokies were 11-1 and looking ahead to an ACC Championship Game rematch with Clemson.

vatechSince that point, Tech is just 14-12, finishing out 2011 with a pair of losses, then going 7-6 in 2012 with a pair of narrow wins to finish out the regular season (over Virginia and Rutgers) that staved off what would have been the program’s first losing season in 20 years, and now the Hokies are 7-4 with one game to go in the 2013 regular season (at Virginia in two weeks).

What’s the difference between the long run of success and the recent return back to the pack? Clearly, it’s the offense, which in 2011 was a strength (413.0 yards per game, 27.9 points per game), but since has been a weakness. The 2012 Tech offense dropped off to 376.8 yards per game and 25.1 points per game, and it’s actually gotten worse in 2013, with the O producing 368.1 yards per game and scoring 24.1 points per game.

The defense is stout as ever in 2013 – leading the ACC in total defense (263.1 yards per game) and ranking second in the conference in scoring defense (17.6 points per game).

Which is to say, Bud Foster’s unit, as usual, is doing its job. Scott Loeffler, brought in to try to revive the offense, hasn’t found the magic, and most notably hasn’t been able to turn quarterback Logan Thomas in the right direction.

Thomas looked like a sure-fire first-round draft pick after a stellar sophomore season in 2011 (3,013 yards, 59.8 percent completion rate, 19 TD/10 INT, 59.2 QBR). He regressed big time in 2012 (still throwing for 2,976 yards and 18 TDs, but his completion rate plummeted to 51.3 percent, and he threw 16 interceptions, and put up just a 43.4 QBR).

On the whole, Thomas has been better in 2013 (58.0 percent completion rate, 57.5 QBR), but he’s still thrown 12 interceptions.

Virginia Tech fans, used to success with all those 10-win seasons, have been highly critical of Thomas as the key reason the team has struggled the past two seasons. To be fair to Thomas, it doesn’t help that the running game, long the backbone of the Tech offensive attack, has been off-the-charts anemic in 2013, its 123.4 yards per game ranking 11th in the 14-team ACC in 2013.

(The 2012 Hokies ran for 145.8 yards per game, and the 2011 team ran for 186.9 yards per game.)

The Virginia Tech offense the past two years has been, by and large, Hey, Logan, do something. The increase in his turnover rate and decline in his completion rate is a factor of more second- and third-and-longs resulting from a running game that can’t keep the ball ahead of the chains.

Which is to say, it’s not necessarily going to get better in 2014 just by virtue of Thomas moving on to whatever his post-college career will bring. Not if Loeffler (or whoever might succeed him, hint, hint) can’t find a solution to the woes in the running game.


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