Another week, another great Q&A with one of our SBNation colleagues. This week, we have Chris Hatcher, manager of GobblerCountry, to join us and answer some questions about his beloved Hokies.
State Of the U: Logan Thomas is the most polarizing QB that I've seen in a while. At times he will be very good (19/28, 293 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs vs North Carolina), while at others terrible (5/26, 59 yds, INT vs Alabama; 21/38, 214 yds, 4 INTs vs Duke). Which version of Thomas should we expect to see, and what does his performance mean to your team overall? Also, what do you think his pro prospects are?
GobblerCountry: Polarizing is the best word I think that can be used to describe Thomas (other than enigma perhaps). I think to your point, predicting what Thomas will bring on any given day is a fool's errand, so I won't take the bait there. He went four straight games without a pick earlier in the year and then threw six picks in the last two games. But do keep in mind that he is a supremely talented individual, and has accounted for 75% of the Hokies' offense this year. Compare that to Jameis Winston (60%), Marcus Mariota (55.2%) and Baylor's Bryce Petty (50%) and you have a good idea how important Thomas is to this team. He is the team's leading-rusher since the Alabama game, and when subtracting sack yardage, he is the team's leading rusher outright.
Additionally, he's not receiving much help (which should be indicated by the figures above). Offensive linemen either can't or don't block, running backs don't find what little holes there are and constantly trip themselves on air and receivers drop the ball, stop running routes, tip the ball up into the air and don't fight the defensive backs on 50/50 balls. For example, last week the Hokies had several costly drops, one on a key fourth down, another on a touchdown on the next possession, and so on and so on. Out of the 300 passes Thomas has thrown this year, approximately 50 have been dropped or the receivers fault that it resulted in an incompletion/interception. That's one out of every six passes that he has thrown being dropped, incomplete or intercepted because of his receivers. Also, AT LEAST 5 of Thomas' 12 interceptions have been the fault of his receivers, like the Demitri Knowles crossing route last week where he NEVER looked back at Thomas until the pass was on him, 3/4 of the way across the field, turned at the last moment, let the ball hit him in the hands, and instead of catching/dropping it, tipped it up in the air 5 yards behind him to the nearest defender. That's been typical this year.
I would also be remiss to not mention that the 5-26, 59-yard and pick-six effort from the Alabama game came as a result of the most disgusting effort I've ever seen from an individual unit in organized football. Yes, Thomas was not sensational by any measurement, but the11-drop or non-effort outing for the Virginia Tech receiving corps was laughable. The pick-six was the result of a 6'4" 230+ lb. redshirt-senior receiver who was afraid to be hit and stopped running his route on a crossing pattern. He also did the same thing later in the game, which resulted in an incompletion. Otherwise, the Hokies dropped nine passes. I know this is a little perfect world, but we did an analysis as a staff after that game and came up with Thomas' adjusted stat-line if everything that either hit the receiver in the hands or was the result of a non-effort was caught, and here's what we came up with: 16-26 for 199 yards (with 2 interceptions if we're also assuming Alabama caught everything that hit THEM in the hands). Still, that's a STARK difference and representative of the kind of play Tech has had from their receivers all-year long. Even with the two picks, the adjusted stat-line for Thomas suggests he outplayed A.J. McCaron in that game. So as up and down as he's been, he's the best offensive player the Hokies have.
As for his prospects as a pro, someone is going to draft him. Whether that's in the first round, as Todd McShay suggested a small few GM's/pro scouts still believe the other day on a conference call, or the last pick in the draft or as a camp invite. There's just TOO MUCH raw talent there to not take a chance on. Will he ever be a productive starter at that position? That's where it becomes more clouded. But I do have to say that Thomas will have a long road to proving himself ready to take over an NFL team and that I think he IS capable of doing so with proper coaching and play-calling, something he has had far too little of at Virginia Tech.
SOTU: The Hokies' defense has been very good this year, particularly the cornerbacks. Freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller (there's another Fuller brother? How many is that now? 17?) have played large roles at that position already this season. Is this what was expected from them? How good could they end up being?
GC: It is four Fullers actually, but 17 sounds appropriate, no? You're right, they've both been integral to this defense's success, especially considering the absence of Antone Exum for the first seven games of the season. Going down a starting corner who was an All-ACC pick last year (2nd team) and was probably as good as anyone in America down the stretch is never something a team simply replaces. But with the help of the younger Fuller and Facyson, who were projected to be good, but both are true freshmen, they have done just that. The Tech secondary hasn't missed a beat from where they left off last year and not enough credit can be given to them for how they've helped in that regard. Your guess is as good as mine as to how much better they could end up being, but they've been so good that, if they simply continued their play for the next three years, they would go down as the best two cornerbacks in the history of the school.
SOTU: Apart from those young CBs, the defense has plenty of veteran leadership. Who do you think are the most important veterans for this year's defense?
GC: Without saying everyone, I have to say the defensive line, the linebackers and select members of the secondary. Having nine players with a minimum of two years of starting experience helps. It also helps when the majority of those players are seniors. But if I'm going to name names, I'm going with Derrick Hopkins at defensive tackle, Jack Tyler at linebacker, Kyle Fuller at corner and Kyshoen Jarrett at safety.
SOTU: Defense isn't the only place where young players have excelled. All Non-Logan Thomas carries on offense are by players who are sophomores or younger, and 10 of the 12 players who have caught passes are sophomores or younger as well. Why have you gone to this youth movement on offense? What do you see this talented group of youngsters developing into over the next 1-2 years?
GC: I don't know that excelled is the word I would use there (see data from the first answer). Certainly they have dominated the bulk of non-Logan Thomas touches, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. The best wide receiver on the team has been a walk-on redshirt-junior, who entered the season fifth AT BEST on the depth chart. The running game has dissolved since the Alabama opener, much the result of the run-blocking also disappearing. I don't know that the Hokies will know what they have until they get the line shored up, but based on some comments I heard this week from program sources, it appears that youth movement may continue next year, with recruits taking some playing time.
SOTU: In the ACC Coaches' teleconference, Frank Beamer compared Miami's defense to Alabama. Was this simple hyperbole, epic trolling, or something else? I mean, he couldn't be serious, could he?
GC: Well, for the record, Alabama's defense didn't play as well as advertised against the Hokies. As I mentioned, most of Tech's wounds in that game were self-inflicted. The Hokies in fact out-gained Alabama in that one. That said, I don't know what he's getting at. I have been impressed by the improvement of Miami's defense this year, but I don't know that I would be willing to go out on a limb and say something like THAT quite yet.
SOTU: I'm sure you, like the rest of the country, saw the Canes lose to FSU. Is there anything you saw in that game that you think Frank Beamer and Bud Foster will try to implement? Is there anything on offense that you might be able to replicate?
GC: Yes, I did, until it got ugly. I was actually impressed with Miami regardless of the final score. They are one of the only teams I've seen this season that has taken Florida State's best punch and threw one back. They hung in there much longer than anyone expected and were one of the only teams to make Jameis Winston look human this year. As for what Tech might try to mimic from FSU's approach, short of stealing away FSU's line and Winston himself, I don't think there is a lot they can take away from that one. They just simply don't have the talent level at any position that FSU does offensively. That said, I think the Devonta Freeman screen pass that went 48 yards for a score is worth noting, as Tech ran the running back screen, an offense previously punishable by death under Bryan Stinespring,TWICE last week against BC, both times a success. Defensively, Bud's going to be ready. Expect plenty of blitzing to try to force Morris into bad decisions.
SOTU: Duke Johnson (broken ankle - out for season) and Philip Dorsett (Torn MCL - out 4-6 weeks) are 2 of Miami's offensive starters who won't be playing in this game. How does that affect your gameplan? Is this the perfect setting for the Hokies to steal a win?
GC: I think the Hokies may have been preparing for Miami to some degree over the last three-plus weeks of practice, though you'd unlikely ever get that in an official capacity from someone on the team. It's something that the Hokies have done in the past (see Georgia Tech), using a percentage of their practice time for lesser opponents to prepare for the big teams on their schedule, and had great success with. It would certainly help to explain the dumbfounding performances of the last two weeks, and if so, probably bring this practice to a long overdue end. But if the Hokies were preparing for Miami with Duke Johnson, that hypothetical extra time might not help them now. I do, however, think that the absence of Miami's biggest playmaker(s) helps, from the simple standpoint that obviously, the players they will be replaced by are not as good. But if the Hokies go out there thinking that way, they'll be in for a rude awakening. Could they have won anyway? Sure, anything's possible. But I do think the chances have improved for the Hokies to steal this one simply because of those players not being out there for the Hurricanes.
SOTU: #BeamerBall is predicated on 3 things: timely, ball control offense, strong defense, and great/dynamic special teams. Who are the difference makers on special teams? Who might be a difference maker who hasn't made a name for himself in this area of the game yet?
GC: A.J. Hughes. Our punter leads the conference in yards per punt and is ninth nationally. Otherwise, it's a poop show (if I'm being kind). There is no return game to speak of in either kick or punt returns. Our kickers have missed an ACC-high nine kicks, and our special teams have more missed tackles than I can ever remember, resulting in two return TD's against Alabama and another one that was called back on a block in the back call against UNC, but still involved multiple missed tackles. The time of possession aspect has been better this year, but I think that comes down to not running the hurry up without the personnel to do so more than anything else.
SOTU: With a win, the Hokies can open the door to possibly playing in the ACC Championship game. What would that mean for your season, and the overall state of the program?
GC: The state of the program will still be murky unless the Hokies manage to do that (beat the Hurricanes), somehow win the ACCCG over the 'Noles and then win a BCS bowl. That's asking a lot, but without at least the first two of those things happening, it's a program in a free-fall.
SOTU: Prediction time: Who is gonna win this game, and why? Score prediction?
GC: I think Miami comes out on top in this one. I see the Hokies offense setting Miami up on their own doorstep a time or two and that being the difference. I have Miami winning 24-10, but the defense playing well enough for a draw (and shut up, I know this isn't soccer...just a figure of speech).
Thanks to Chris for joining us this week. You can see read about all things Hokies at GobblerCountry
, and follow him on twitter by clicking the link below.