As most predicted during the lead-up to the 2011 college football season, No. 13 Virginia Tech is a perfect 4-0 now that it completed a ho-hum 30-10 victory at Marshall on Saturday.
But even though the Hokies will enter the month of October with an undefeated record for the first time since 2005, Virginia Tech’s players and coaches admit they’ve been getting away with some mistakes that just won’t fly when No. 21 Clemson comes to Lane Stadium next week with its own unblemished record following consecutive wins over Auburn and Florida State.
“Playing in the ACC, everything turns up a notch,” said running back Josh Oglesby, whose second touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter sealed Virginia Tech’s victory. “So I’m ready to see how these guys in the locker room turn up a notch.”
Check out my game story -- which includes notes on the wave of minor injuries suffered by key players like quarterback Logan Thomas, wide receiver Marcus Davis and cornerback Jayron Hosley — as well as a postgame blog post on wide receiver Danny Coale’s debut as a punter and then come on back here for some more notes and quotes.
On offense, the Hokies were once again balanced, gaining 215 yards rushing and 229 yards passing. Thomas was very effective for a second straight week, finishing 22 of 33 for 229 yards. His first career touchdown run in the first quarter was also pretty impressive, as Thomas lowered his shoulder and barreled through Marshall strong safety Devin Arrington en route to the end zone.
Thomas did have a fourth-quarter interception, a ball that he said should have been thrown to Coale’s outside shoulder but instead was essentially a jump ball that cornerback Monterius Lovett picked off.
Running backs David Wilson and Oglesby, meanwhile, seem to be forming quite the one-two punch. Wilson averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown. Oglesby had those two touchdowns and ended with up 75 hard-fought yards.
But after the Hokies scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the game Saturday, the offense seemed to get in its own way more often than not, whether it was turnovers, penalties or simply missed opportunities.
“We can’t score points,” Coale said. “It’s really something that we need to get better at, especially here this week. We have the opportunities, but we just haven’t punched in the points yet. It’s kind of frustrating. We need to take care of the ball better and we need to capitalize on those opportunities that we have. As play gets better here, we can’t miss those opportunities.”
Coale led Virginia Tech with 107 yards receiving, but it was the play of redshirt junior D.J. Coles that was perhaps more noteworthy after classmate Marcus Davis sprained his foot Saturday. Coles had a career-high eight receptions for 66 yards, a week after catching a 49-yard touchdown pass against Arkansas State. The Hokies have now lost three wide receivers to injuries in the past two games. Beamer joked (sort of), “It started out we were trying to find the sixth one, and now I’m not sure what number we’re trying to find right now.”
“We’re short right now on numbers and we’ve been preaching all week somebody has got to step up because we’re down so many,” Coles said. “If opportunity comes, you’ve got to take advantage of it and this is my opportunity.”
*** Defensively, the numbers don’t lie. Facing inferior competition, Bud Foster’s unit has had moments of dominance, especially stopping the run. The Hokies have given up just 55 rushing yards over the past three games, and Marshall’s running backs gained just 18 yards on 16 carries Saturday.
If not for that 71-yard touchdown drive the Thundering Herd had to end the first half, Virginia Tech held Marshall to an average of 3.3 yards per play. Perhaps more importantly, the Hokies took advantage of Marshall’s freshman quarterback, Rakeem Cato.
Linebacker Bruce Taylor said this week Foster implemented specific packages and pressures to confuse Cato, and “I could tell just by looking at him and his demeanor that we were kind of getting into his head a little bit, which we expected with him being a freshman quarterback and not seeing a defense as complicated as ours,” Taylor said.
The biggest beneficiary was defensive end James Gayle, who seemed to be living in Marshall’s backfield. He finished the day with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. His counterpart, defensive end J.R. Collins, had 2.5 sacks of his own and now leads the team with 4.5 sacks through four games this season.
For the day, Virginia Tech’s defense finished with five sacks and safety Antone Exum had his first-career interception on an ill-advised Cato throw. The Hokies now have an interception in 11-straight games dating back to last season.
Gayle also said afterwards he thought the defensive line’s strong play got to Cato as the game wore on.
“I wouldn’t say he was timid or scared, but he definitely felt the pressure,” said Gayle, who now has 3.5 sacks this year. “He knew it was coming and basically he played for us at the end of the game. If you get hit enough or someone’s chasing you all game, you’re probably gonna have to let the ball off fast.”
*** In the grand scheme of things, though, what happened here by the banks of the Ohio River will be mostly irrelevant come Monday. The Hokies have emerged from their glorified “preseason” schedule of overmatched nonconference opponents unscathed and now get a chance to show the nation just how good they are in one of the more anticipated home games in recent memory.
Virginia Tech showed Saturday it’s not quite ready for that sort of stage just yet, but then again, the Hokies haven’t needed to be until this week.
“They understand what’s coming to Blacksburg,” Beamer said of Clemson.
Added Gayle: “I think everybody’s aware. I think this is probably our biggest game since the Stanford game last year.”