After four straight weeks in which the Virginia defense did not allow more than 114 rushing yards in a single game, the Cavaliers capped a season full of improvement by giving up more than 180 rushing yards to each of their final two opponents. On Nov. 19, Florida State gashed Virginia for 186 rushing yards on 33 carries (5.6 yards per carry).
And on Saturday, during what became a 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech, the Cavaliers ceded 183 rushing yards on 45 carries (4.1 yards per carry). What hurt the Virginia defense the most against the Hokies was that many of the long runs the Cavaliers allowed turned into touchdowns, a trend familiar in 2010, but one that seemed to have been curbed this fall.
Virginia Tech tallied six rushes of 10 or more yards Saturday, and three of them ended in the end zone. There was Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas’s 14-yard touchdown run on an option read in the first quarter. There was Virginia Tech tailback David Wilson’s 27-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. And, just for good measure, Wilson tacked on a 38-yard touchdown run right up the middle early in the fourth quarter.
Wilson proved particularly difficult to bring down. He finished with 153 yards on 24 carries, good for an average of 6.4 yards. Thomas rushed seven times for 27 yards, and his 3.9 yards per carry average Saturday was better than that of any Virginia player who ran the ball more than once.
“The addition of the Logan Thomas options that they have is really pretty good and gave them a couple of key first downs early, and we could never catch up,” defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. “The plan was to try to pressure him, to move around and then to pressure. They kept a back in. They did a nice job of sorting out their pass protection on us, and they blocked us. And then when we couldn’t get to him, they got the ball to the open receiver.”
Indeed, the Hokies were effective through the air, as well. Thomas, who was sacked once Saturday, completed 13 of 21 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Five of his passes gained 15 or more yards. His backup, Mark Leal, entered the game late and completed 3 of 4 passes for 40 yards. One of his passes gained 15 yards, too.
Thomas and the Hokies opened the game by immediately attacking senior cornerback Chase Minnifield, Virginia’s best defensive back. On Virginia Tech’s first play from scrimmage, Thomas connected with Marcus Davis on a 36-yard completion down the sideline. Minnifield was flagged for pass interference on the play, but the penalty was declined since Davis caught the ball anyway.
Three plays later, Minnifield was flagged again, this time for a personal foul face mask, which gave the Hokies first and 10 at the Virginia 14-yard line. Thomas scored on an option read run two plays later.
For most of the season, the Virginia defense has been stout on third downs. But against Virginia Tech, that trend did not hold. The Hokies converted on 6 of 13 third downs (46.2 percent) Saturday, and three of those third down conversions occurred on their second scoring drive.
Late in the first quarter, Virginia Tech needed two yards on third down at its own 12-yard line. Thomas picked up four yards on a quarterback carry. Later on that drive, Virginia Tech faced third and three from its own 23-yard line, and Thomas once again rushed for the necessary yardage. He picked up seven yards that time.
And on third and eight from the Virginia 16-yard line early in the second quarter, Thomas connected with wideout Jarrett Boykin in the end zone for a touchdown. Safety Corey Mosley had been in coverage.
That 11-play, 96-yard drive also included a 52-yard pass from Thomas to Davis in which reserve redshirt freshman cornerback Drequan Hoskey was in coverage. Hoskey served as Virginia’s extra defensive back Saturday because fifth-year senior cornerback Dom Joseph was unable to play due to a leg injury.
Virginia Tech tallied six pass plays that gained 15 or more yards Saturday against the Cavaliers. Take away those six pass plays – one of which resulted in a touchdown – and Hokies quarterbacks combined to complete 10 of 19 passes for 76 yards.
“Logan Thomas did a very good job reading our coverage and getting the ball to the receiver that was open,” Reid said Saturday. “We (haven’t seen the film yet), but I don’t think we had coverage breakdowns. I think it was the fact that he made some really good throws and the receivers ran some really good routes. And they pass protected very well.”
Later in his postgame interview, Reid said: “I don’t think our coverage was awful. I thought the throws were really good, and the receivers were in the right spots. And they outfought us a couple of times for the ball, which hasn’t happened” often this season.
With an ineffective pass rush and an inability to force turnovers*, the Cavaliers defense didn’t have much working in its favor Saturday. What it came down to was this: for perhaps the first time this season, Virginia ran into an opponent who could recognize weaknesses and relentlessly exploit said weaknesses. The end result wasn’t pretty.
* Virginia, for the first time this season, did not force a turnover Saturday.
Virginia Tech led, 14-0, at halftime and got the ball back to start the second half because even though the Cavaliers had won the opening coin flip, they had elected to receive the ball rather than defer the choice. On its opening drive of the second half, the Hokies marched 79 yards in eight plays and scored on a 27-yard run by Wilson.
Wilson “is faster, as you see him running around your players, than he is even when you see him on film, and you’re impressed on film,” Reid said. “He’s got very, very good quickness, and very good speed.”
Virginia did record nine tackles for a loss on the day, which isn’t bad. But as Reid noted, “there was an inconsistency” to the Cavaliers’ defensive play. The last time Reid talked about inconsistent play as it pertained to his defense, he was referring to porous 2010 version.
Here’s a rundown of how the Cavaliers fared against Virginia Tech, based on some of the goals Reid has said they try to meet each game:
Rushing yards allow ed
Goal – 105
Virginia Tech – 183
Passing yards allowed
Goal – 225
Virginia Tech – 227
Total yards allowed
Goal – 330
Virginia Tech – 410
Goal – at least 3
Virginia Tech – 4