Given the team’s sluggish passing attack and penchant for slow starts this year, the coach wanted to know what Thomas’s five favorite pass plays were. “So I gave him a list of 10 instead,” Thomas said Tuesday.
It seems this attitude has been the overriding one in Blacksburg after Saturday’s heart-breaking loss to Cincinnati. The Hokies acknowledge adjustments are necessary after this latest setback, but they remain undaunted with ACC play beginning in full this week at North Carolina.
“I don’t think it’s shaken at all. I don’t think it’s broken, not even a little bit,” Thomas said when asked about the team’s confidence level. “We know what we can do. We know we haven’t played our best ball.
“Anytime you know you haven’t played your best ball — maybe if you played your best ball and you lost, then your confidence might be broken, might be shaken — but I feel totally confident in what we’re doing on offense, what we’re doing on defense and what we can do these next seven games to get us where we want to be.”
Coach Frank Beamer said the coaches have depended on Thomas, seeking some of his opinions in hopes of getting the offense, and the team in general, clicking on all cylinders. But like defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Monday night (with a bit more, shall we say, passion), Beamer wasn’t ready to call these Hokies or this season a lost cause.
Beamer hadn’t heard or read Foster’s post-practice comments from Monday, but did say “we’re gonna take care of our kids” when told his defensive coordinator stuck up for cornerback Antone Exum, among others. Thomas said Foster’s words “needed to be said.”
Beamer then took up for the offense, reiterating that the Hokies appeared to turn a corner in the second half, taking the lead twice in the fourth quarter with impressive scoring drives led by running back Michael Holmes and Thomas.
“What I would say is we’ve been good in every area at some point in time,” Beamer said. “Now we just got to put it together for four quarters and play as a football team in that fashion.”
Like Virginia Tech, it’s hard to decipher just how good North Carolina is at this point. The Tar Heels have won every game in which running back Gio Bernard has played, but those victories have been over Elon (52-0), East Carolina (27-6) and Idaho (66-0). They lost two consecutive games last month at Wake Forest and at Louisville.
Under new Coach Larry Fedora, the former head coach at Southern Miss and offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Florida, North Carolina has gone to an up-tempo spread offense. Through five games, the Tar Heels are averaging 73 plays per game (10 more than they did a year ago), but quarterback Bryn Renner has still managed to cut down significantly on his interceptions (4).
The former All-Met from West Springfield High is completing close to 64 percent of his passes to go along with 14 touchdowns. Even more impressive: seven receivers have at least nine catches and six have at least two touchdown receptions.
North Carolina’s defense, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed a touchdown since allowing 36 points in the first half of its loss at Louisville and currently ranks in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense. Again, though, the Tar Heels’ statistics have been helped by shutout victories over Elon and Idaho.
But at least on the surface, the prospect of more potential stumbling blocks hasn’t fazed Virginia Tech yet.
“Everybody outside looking in would probably think our confidence level is down,” safety Kyshoen Jarrett said. “But when you have older guys like [linebacker Bruce Taylor] getting everybody together before practice and letting us know that we can’t lower our heads and we have to keep fighting and pretty much no more joking around, we all just have to attack in a different way than we was before.”
“Maybe everybody thought it was all good [after] the Georgia Tech game because everyone was flying around and it kinda got downhill for us, but our confidence level is not low, even with the young guys,” he added. “Everybody’s confidence level is high and I feel like we’re just going to attack it like we have been and hopefully everything goes our way like we want it to.”