With his team in uncharted territory, sporting four losses through eight games for the first time since 1992, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer says he’s aware of the fans screaming for across-the-board changes. He’s even willing to admit that, at this point, the season hasn’t gone “exactly the way you wanted.”
But as the Hokies enter their bye week, and look ahead to a Nov. 1 matchup against Miami that could decide the ACC’s Coastal Division, Beamer knows what his No. 1 priority is going forward: Fix Virginia Tech’s running game.
That will start with altering the tailback-by-committee approach the Hokies have been using since training camp began. It’s unclear which of Virginia Tech’s four tailbacks – freshmen Michael Holmes and J.C. Coleman and veterans Martin Scales and Tony Gregory – will emerge an option going forward, but Beamer made it clear Monday “four backs is too many.”
“I think we gotta narrow it down. They all bring something. They’re all great kids. But I do think we need more consistency, and probably getting more precise will help us in that regard,” Beamer said during his weekly teleconference with reporters. “I think if we could get that squared away, that could affect other things. We have our moments at times, but I think to consistently be able to do that is a key objective for us.”
Virginia Tech actually finished with 199 total rushing yards Saturday in its loss to Clemson, but quarterback Logan Thomas was the team’s leading rusher with a career-high 99 yards. The Hokies’ four tailbacks combined for just 93 yards on 26 carries.
It continued a season-long malaise for Virginia Tech’s backfield, which has just one game in which a single player finished with more than 100 yards rushing (J.C. Coleman’s 183-yard performance against Duke two weeks ago). Though the Hokies are averaging 4.35 yards per rush, they are currently No. 73 in the country in rushing offense (more than 157 yards per game) after not finishing below No. 35 the past four years.
“Sometimes you look at it, they could run better. Sometimes you look at it and we could block better. Sometimes you look at it and we get a block downfield by a receiver and that would make a play better,” said Beamer, who added the team would also look more closely at taking advantage of each running back’s strengths.
“It’s not just one thing and I don’t want to make it sound that way. It’s a little this, little that. Bottom line is we need to be more consistent as a group.”
What running backs the Hokies end up settling on is anyone’s guess, because they’ve all had their moments. Coleman is the team’s leading rusher with 338 yards after his breakout game against Duke and he’s averaging a team-high six yards per carry. Holmes has the most carries (61) and touchdowns (four) of the group, but he has just 257 rushing yards to show for it.
Gregory and Scales have looked good in more limited action, with Gregory showing a burst and Scales emerging as a viable power option. But none of Virginia Tech’s tailbacks are averaging more than 42.3 yards per game, partly because of how often they’re being shuttled in-and-out of games.
With his team reeling to this extent for the first time in two decades, though, Beamer isn’t trying to emphasize those sorts of negatives. A division title is still possible, and he feels the Hokies are a few tweaks away from finishing this season strong.
“I try to look at what we got here and what’s realistic and what’s real and how we can solve problems,” Beamer said. “Right now, the people who can solve our problems are coaches and players. We’re 4-4. We haven’t had a record like that, but we’ve had some good moments. We’ve had some good play. To me, that tells me that you can do that all the time. I look at it in that direction.”