Virginia Tech’s offensive players knew their weekly Monday 6 a.m. film review would be brutal following Saturday’s 35-17 loss at Pittsburgh.
But when the lights went down and the carnage was shown again — this time with Hokies coaches pointing out each and every mistake — right tackle Vinston Painter admitted the offensive line’s play, “left a sick feeling in our stomach. . . .
“It was just we took a step backwards. The coaches made it clear they didn’t like the way that we performed.”
This was the consensus among the entire offense Monday as it tried to figure out exactly what has prevented Virginia Tech from clicking on all cylinders this season. The reality, play-caller Mike O’Cain said, is that the Hokies have struggled to replace all of the key players they lost from a year ago.
Gone are ACC player of the year David Wilson, record-setting wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale and four starting offensive linemen. In their place, nobody has stepped to the forefront just yet, O’Cain noted.
“There’s a little bit of uncertainty there still,” he added. “It may take us four or five ballgames before we know what we do on offense and what we can do well . . . Right now, [quarterback] Logan [Thomas] has to be . . . I don’t want to use the word ‘perfect’ on offense, but we have to be pretty, pretty close to perfect on offense for things to work well.”
Thomas threw a career-high three interceptions in the first half against Pittsburgh, but O’Cain said two of those miscues were the results of Thomas being unable to follow through with defenders in his face.
It was “as tough a game Saturday from a physical standpoint as he’s had since he’s been here,” O’Cain said.
Painter took the blame Monday on behalf of the entire offensive line.
But throwing the ball is the least of Virginia Tech’s concerns right now. The Hokies’ trademark power running game has been non-existent thus far, and they currently rank No. 98 in the country with 114 rushing yards per game.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said there is no single reason why the tailbacks have yet to break loose, but he believes there’s a certain “flow” needed to get the running game going and the lack of success early in games has hindered the offense overall.
Making matters worse for the Hokies, starting left guard David Wang (ankle) likely will miss Saturday’s game against Bowling Green. Coach Frank Beamer said on the athletic department’s weekly radio show that redshirt sophomore Matt Arkema and right guard Michael Via will get work at left guard this week in case Wang can’t play.
“We could be opening up some bigger holes for the backs at times, and sometimes it’s just missed assignments, somebody going the wrong way,” Painter said. “The running backs are doing their job as long as we do our job.”
The solution to the problem will not include overhauling the playbook or using fewer running backs, position coach Shane Beamer said Monday. He likes the diversity of his four tailbacks: redshirt freshman Michael Holmes, freshman J.C. Coleman, senior Martin Scales and redshirt junior Tony Gregory.
“If people watch the NFL, now it’s a two- and three-back league because running the ball, backs take a pounding, and I believe with four backs, all of us have different running styles,” said Scales, who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry the past two games. “If you use all of us, the defense, it gets confusing because I’m bigger. So I might pound them. You’ve got J.C., who’s smaller, so he got that and Tony Gregory’s fast as lightning. Mike is elusive. I think we’ve got a spot for all of us.”
Beamer disagrees with message board chatter that Holmes is playing tentatively in his first college action. But he also took Holmes and Coleman aside Monday to let them know, “In my mind you’ve played a lot of snaps. You’re not freshmen anymore. Don’t think so much.”
Holmes said Monday the biggest lesson from his first three college games has been the realization that “everything matters” at the college level, even small facets of the game like a fake hand-off to set up a play action pass.
That, though, is just part of the learning curve the Hokies must overcome at this point.
“People are in new spots, doing new things,” Holmes said. “It’s just gonna take us awhile to get rolling, but once we get rolling, I think we’ll be pretty good.”