At some point, new Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas will have time to sit down and reflect on what it was like when the Hokies’ throttled Appalachian State, 66-13, in his first-ever collegiate start. And when he does, Thomas will likely remember one moment more vividly than the rest.
“It really kind of set in when I walked out of the locker room,” Thomas said after he completed 9 of 19 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. “You could just see the sea of orange and maroon out there and it’s kind of like, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting on these last two years.’ I got to the tunnel and it was just like I was . . . calm, relaxed, anxious, but definitely ready to go.”
It wasn’t the most picturesque outing for Thomas, as he missed on a couple throws and had a few others dropped by his receivers, but Coach Frank Beamer thinks this is just the baseline for his new signal caller this season.
“I think Logan is gonna get better each and every quarter, each and every game,” Beamer said. “That’s why we were trying to get him just a few more plays there in the third quarter, to get him some more experience and let him throw it around out there a little bit. That’s the only thing Logan needs right now. He just needs some experience.”
New play-caller Mike O’Cain came away impressed with how efficient Thomas was at getting the signal from the sideline for a play and then snapping the ball on time without any indecision. As he said throughout training camp, O’Cain’s goal was to “let him manage the game and then when we’ve got to throw it, do it. And he did a wonderful job.”
Thomas said he really only wanted one throw back – a third-down incompletion in which he led wide receiver Danny Coale too far in the end zone. But he didn’t miss badly on anything, and according to his teammates, showed the sort of coolness one expects from a quarterback.
Wide receiver Marcus Davis, who caught a 55-yard bomb from Thomas and finished with a career-high 140 yards receiving, said afterwards that if Thomas was nervous, “he did a great job of showing that he was just being himself.”
And perhaps more than Thomas’s statistics or touchdown throws, that was the most significant development to take from an opening game blowout in which the outcome was never in doubt. Even during the brief time when the score was tied, Thomas never got lost in the moment.
“Once you get down there [on the field], it kind of fades away because it’s what’s you’re born to do, what you’ve been waiting to do,” Thomas said.
***Saturday wasn’t just a debut performance for Thomas, though. O’Cain, Virginia Tech’s quarterbacks coach, also went through his first regular season game as Virginia Tech’s play-caller, and it couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
As I detailed in my game story, running back David Wilson took the Hokies’ first hand-off of the game and scampered 20 yards for a touchdown, giving Virginia Tech an early lead it never came close to relinquishing.
O’Cain said he only had one slip-up the entire game. He lost track of the downs when Davis dropped what would have been a long gain on first down in the second quarter. So with the Hokies facing third and nine, O’Cain called what he deemed “a second-down play.”
Virginia Tech was forced to take a timeout, but the snafu ended up working out in the Hokies’ favor. Thomas then hit Davis for his longest throw of the day, a 55-yard completion that set up Wilson’s third touchdown run of the day.
“It shouldn’t happen, but it does every now and then,” O’Cain said.
***Maybe a bigger story, though, was how stout Virginia Tech’s young defense played against Appalachian State’s spread option. The Hokies allowed just 61 yards before halftime, forced four turnovers and completely frustrated the Mountaineers’ talented quarterback, DeAndre Presley. All of Appalachian State’s points came against Virginia Tech’s second-team defense.
Presley finished 7 of 18 for 89 yards and two interceptions. He gained just 43 rushing yards on 13 carries. But afterwards, Presley was defiant in saying: “I wouldn’t classify [Virginia Tech] as an elite team. They capitalized on our turnovers and mistakes. We made them look a lot better than they were.”
Or it could have been a midweek adjustment by defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Senior Eddie Whitley, who had an interception with the Mountaineers driving in the third quarter, said Foster simplified the Hokies’ scheme midway through this week to combat the option.
And after giving up a ton of yards to option teams like James Madison and Georgia Tech a year ago, Virginia Tech allowed Appalachian State to average just 3.2 yards per carry on Saturday.
“We just got speed and we did what we was taught,” Whitley said. “Everything started clicking better, and we just made plays. We were disguising a lot. They didn’t know what was going on.”
***The play of the game for me came when quarterback Logan Thomas just flattened Appalachian State safety Patrick Blalock on a 12-yard run to end the first quarter. Poor Blalock slammed a shoe – I’m not sure whose it was – onto the ground in disgust afterwards. Guess he forgot Thomas is 6-foot-6 and 254 pounds.
Thomas “is tremendously powerful and we’ll probably ask him to do a little bit more of that as the season goes along,” O’Cain said. “You don’t want to do too much because you don’t want him taking a pounding over and over and over. He’s a physical man. He’s outweighing all defensive backs and those linebackers.”
***Punter Scott Demler didn’t have the greatest day, averaging just 32.4 yards on his four punts, but Beamer said he plans to stick with him.
Aside from that, though, it was a strong day for Virginia Tech’s special teams. Running back Tony Gregory blocked a punt that cornerback Kyle Fuller returned for a touchdown, and cornerback Jayron Hosley averaged more than 30 yards per punt return.
***Some other notes: Senior wide receiver Dyrell Roberts set Virginia Tech’s school record for career kickoff return yards with a 29-yard return to start the second half. In his return from suffering compartment syndrome in his thigh last season, Roberts also had a nifty 31-yard reception in which he leapt over a defender’s back to make the catch. . . .
Fellow receiver Jarrett Boykin had two catches for 16 yards and a touchdown. He’s now just two catches shy of breaking Virginia Tech’s school record for receptions. . . . Back-up quarterback Mark Leal looked sharp in mop-up, completing six of his nine passes and throwing two touchdowns. . . . Sixty-nine of the 70 players who dressed for Virginia Tech played in the game Saturday. The one to not get in was third-string quarterback Ju-Ju Clayton. . . .
Overall, Virginia Tech couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2011 season. The Hokies picked up their first win in a season-opening game since 2007 and looked crisp doing it. If there was one silver lining to a second half that felt more like a training-camp scrimmage, it’s that the Hokies don’t have many reserves on defense that are ready for prime time just yet.
Virginia Tech is sure to get a stiffer test next week when it travels to East Carolina next Saturday. But after James Madison last year, my guess is the Hokies faithful is just fine savoring this one for a little bit.