When Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer announced that quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain would take over the team’s play-calling duties last February, the question on everyone’s mind was how such a move would change the Hokies’ offense.
During interviews before the season O’Cain was quick to point out that any change in play-calling between him and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring would be more the result of new quarterback Logan Thomas than anything.
“How much it will change is yet to be determined,” O’Cain said before the season. “But obviously it will change.”
Through seven games, it appears the biggest difference between O’Cain and Stinespring comes in the passing game. With a first-year starting quarterback, the Hokies are averaging more passing yards per game (227) than any other team during Coach Frank Beamer’s 25 years in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech is also attempting more passes per game (28.3) than it has since 1995, when an NFL-bound Jim Druckenmiller was leading the offense as a senior.
Perhaps more interesting is that Virginia Tech’s average yards per pass and average yards per catch have gone relatively unchanged. This season, the Hokies are averaging 8.3 yards per pass and 13.1 yards per catch. During the nine years Stinespring called plays, those figures were 7.9 and 13.6, respectively.
It means the routes Virginia Tech is connecting on in the passing game haven’t been altered all that much. It’s simply the frequency with which the Hokies are turning to their passing game that has changed slightly.
Only five times – 1988, 1990, 1991, 1994 and 1995 – during Beamer’s tenure have the Hokies averaged more pass attempts per game than they are through seven games in 2011. With Stinespring leading the offense, the most pass attempts the team averaged was 27.1 in 2007.
Last year, which was Stinespring’s best season as play-caller, Virginia Tech averaged 24.5 pass attempts and 203.6 passing yards per game. The 1990 Virginia Tech team that went 6-5 with Will Furrer starting at quarterback is currently the best passing offense of the Beamer era in terms of yards per game. That squad averaged 29.9 pass attempts and 215.7 passing yards per game.
But the record won’t stand if the Hokies keep up their recent pace. The adjustment to a more pass-heavy attack seems to have been initiated by Virginia Tech’s closer-than-expected 17-10 victory at East Carolina the second week of the season. During that game, Thomas attempted just 20 passes (a week after throwing just 19 passes in the season opener against Appalachian State) as the Pirates loaded up the box to stop running back David Wilson. Since then, though, Thomas has averaged 30 passes per game.
“We were looked at as a one-dimensional offense for a while, and the past couple games Logan has definitely been opening it up and defenses have to respect that,” Wilson said after Saturday’s win at Wake Forest, a game in which Thomas attempted 32 passes. “It definitely opens up running lanes because they have to drop into coverage more. Also when they’ve got to respect the run, they have to keep people by the line of scrimmage and that’s what opens it up for Logan.”
The increased workload seems to be suiting Thomas just fine, too. Even if we include his shaky outing against Clemson to start ACC play, the redshirt sophomore is completing 65 percent of his passes and has 715 passing yards, nine total touchdowns and one interception during three conference games this year.
That’s not to say the Hokies have abandoned the ground game, either. Wilson is third in the country with 903 rushing yards so far, and O’Cain is still calling running plays about 60 percent of the time this season.
But it has become increasingly clear that O’Cain’s close relationship with Thomas – which is something that Beamer emphasized when he made the play calling switch last winter – has resulted in a more prolific passing offense this year. Whether that’s the reason Beamer decided to make the move in the first place is still up for debate, but at this point there seems to be no hesitation about opening up the air attack more if the situation calls for it.
“We got some guys there that you can count on, but then I just think Logan each and every week gets more and more comfortable,” Beamer said Monday as he listed off Wilson, the Hokies veteran offensive line and the team’s corps of receivers while discussing the passing game. “The more you know where you’re going with the ball, the more accurate you become.”
Below you’ll find the passing statistics from this season and last season (Stinespring’s best) as well as averages of the passing statistics during Stinespring’s entire nine-year run calling plays and Beamer’s 24 previous seasons at Virginia Tech. And just for fun, I’ll include the passing figures from Michael Vick’s 1999 national championship game run, since based on results, that’s the best team Beamer has ever fielded.
2011 (Logan Thomas through seven games): 28.3 pass attempts/game; 227 passing yards/game; 8 yards/pass; 13.1 yards/catch
2010 (Tyrod Taylor): 24.5 pass attempts/game; 203.6 passing yards/game; 8.3 yards/pass; 14.3 yards/catch
1999 (Michael Vick): 19 pass attempts/game; 200.2 passing yards/game; 10.9 yards/pass; 18.6 yards/catch
Stinespring average (2002-2010): 23 pass attempts/game; 180.5 passing yards/game; 7.9 yards/pass; 13.6 yards/catch
Overall Beamer average (1987-2010): 24.1 pass attempts/game; 177.1 passing yards/game; 7.5 yards/pass; 13.5 yards/catch