As Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas hit his stride this season, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring sometimes would walk up to him in practice and gently poke fun at the notion that the redshirt sophomore could be anywhere else besides under center.
“So you want to be an H-back, huh,” Stinespring recalled earlier this week. “He’ll laugh. I haven’t really said, ‘I told you so.’”
Now that Thomas has orchestrated one of the greatest seasons ever for a Virginia Tech quarterback and has the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl, the debate over whether Thomas should play tight end as originally intended when he came to Virginia Tech as a high profile recruit has long since faded.
Even with one game to go this year, Thomas already has the second-best season in school history in terms of total offense. If he accounts for 188 total yards against Michigan in two weeks, he’ll surpass Tyrod Taylor’s school record for total offense set last season. His 2,799 passing yards through 13 games are the most by a Hokies quarterback since 1972.
Perhaps Thomas’s best attribute is something cummulative statistics can’t really illustrate. On third down-and-three or less Thomas has carried the ball 24 times. He has picked up a first down all but once. With ACC player of the year David Wilson by his side, the 6-6, 254-pound Thomas excelled running the read-option plays that made Cam Newton so dangerous at Auburn a year ago, and Virginia Tech has adjusted its playbook accordingly
“I’ve showed that I can throw the ball, and I’ve shown that I can run the ball,” said Thomas, a second team all-ACC selection. “Anybody who is a fan of the game probably says, ‘Yeah, the comparisons were unfair to Cam Newton because, obviously, he won the Heisman.’ I’ll take them, but I’m not that type of player yet. I’ve still got a long way to go. I think there’s always room for improvement, but I think that I’m happy with my first year.”
Thomas’s first year under center actually holds up very well when compared to Michael Vick’s redshirt freshman campaign when he led the Hokies to the national championship game in New Orleans during the 1999-2000 season. Here’s a look:
2011 Logan Thomas (Started 13 games; 11-2 record): 59.2 completion percentage on 363 attempts; 2,799 passing yards; 416 rushing yards; 247.3 yards/game; 29 TDs (19 passing, 10 rushing); 9 INTs
1999 Michael Vick (Started 11 games; 10-1 record): 57.7 completion percentage on 182 attempts; 2,065 passing yards; 679 rushing yards; 249.5 yards/game; 22 TDs (13 passing, 9 rushing); 5 INTs
The argument over where Thomas’s season ranks overall in Virginia Tech’s record books is somewhat complicated. In 1972 Don Strock threw for more yards than Thomas but also had 27 interceptions and a 53.4 completion percentage during a 6-4-1 campaign. In Jim Druckenmiller’s best season (1996), he threw more touchdown passes (20) and fewer interceptions (5) than Thomas but had a worse completion percentage, accounted for less total yards and didn’t have a rushing touchdown.
In 2004 Bryan Randall was named the ACC’s player of the year and threw a then-school record 21 touchdown passes. But Thomas has a higher completion percentage and accounted for more yards per game this season. Last year, Taylor was also named ACC player of the year when he broke Randall’s season record for touchdown passes with 24. He also had a higher completion percentage, fewer interceptions and an identical number of total touchdowns to Thomas, even though he averaged four yards less per game.
(Personally, I’d put Vick’s 1999 campaign ahead of Thomas because he averaged more total yards per game and went undefeated during the regular season. I’d also put Taylor’s senior season ahead, barring something spectacular from Thomas in the Sugar Bowl)
Thomas said before the season his goal was to throw for 2,500 yards and score 20 touchdowns, but as Stinespring put it this week, “The way he’s gone out and performed absolutely he’s exceeded expectations.”
The turning point, as we’ve pointed out previously, came once Virginia Tech suffered its first loss of the year to Clemson on Oct. 1. Since that game, Thomas has accounted for 24 touchdowns and thrown just four interceptions. He is, however, coming off a 274-yard performance in the ACC championship game in which he completed 22 of his 44 passes, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on the first play from scrimmage.
What excites Virginia Tech the most is that Thomas has so much room for improvement because he didn’t start playing quarterback until his junior year of high school. The Hokies’ coaches, who have put more on Thomas’s plate pre-snap than they ever expected, are enthralled by their young signal caller’s mental capacity.
“What told me as much about Logan as anything was his willingness to redshirt,” play caller and quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said. “We recruited him to come in here and play as a freshman and he was willing to not only redshirt, [but] sit another year behind Tyrod. He wasn’t going to be down. That told me enough there. That doesn’t happen today. Then to change positions and do that, it’s almost unheard of. So that told me a lot about him, just of his make-up and what he was willing to put in it.”
As for what fans should look for Thomas to improve upon in the Sugar Bowl and beyond, it starts with accuracy. Throughout the season, O’Cain has never questioned Thomas’s decision-making skills, but the Lynchburg, Va., native has gotten away with some sloppy throws that should have added to his nine interceptions this year.
He throws a beautiful deep ball, but Thomas still must perfect how he delivers the ball on short and intermediate routes. Though his 59.2-percent completion rate is right on pace with Taylor last season, Thomas could be one of the top quarterbacks in the country next year if he can figure out how to up that to figure to 65 percent or so.
Regardless, by almost every measurable Thomas enjoyed a remarkable first season under center, and if he stays in Blacksburg for two more seasons, he’ll likely surpass every school record that Taylor broke a year ago. Even Thomas realizes at this point that playing tight end seems silly in retrospect.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed being a quarterback,” he said. “It’s definitely where I guess I’m supposed to be.”