Virginia Tech was the Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde of college football teams last season. After suffering a 35-10 loss to Alabama in Week One, the Hokies rattled off six straight wins against decent competition, including East Carolina and Georgia Tech on the road, but lost four of their last six, ending their season with a 42-12 loss to UCLA in the Sun Bowl.
Defense wasn’t the problem. According to Football Outsider’s F/+ metric, which is a combination of Brian Fremeau’s Efficiency Index (FEI) and Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rating, Virginia Tech had the nation’s third-best defense coupled with the 85th best offense — a dichotomy that has been going on for the past few seasons.
It is unfair to expect the defense to get better, but there is no reason to think that it won’t be as good in 2014, either. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has five starters returning on defense and has arguably the best secondary in college football – even after losing cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum to the NFL.
Offensively is where there are question marks. After ranking 93rd out of 125 teams in drive efficiency (a drive-based metric based on the field position a team creates and its average success at scoring the points expected based on that field position) and 100th of 125 in actual points per game (22.5), the Hokies will need a big improvement from their offense to be considered contenders for the new college football playoff picture.
That starts with Michael Brewer, who replaces Logan Thomas under center.
[Related story: Hokies name Brewer starting QB, but questions on offense remain.]
Brewer, a Former Texas Tech quarterback who transferred to Virgina Tech in March, was a three-star recruit and the No. 13 dual-threat quarterback by Rivals coming out of high school. He redshirted in 2011 and played nine games in 2012, completing 34 of his 48 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns. He gives the Hokies a talented player who can take care of the ball, writes Alex Koma of Bleacher Report:
[Brewer] ran a system at Lake Travis High School that gave him plenty of opportunities to run the read option, and he used his legs to great effect in many games. In fact, during his junior year, he ran for 615 yards on 116 attempts while compiling 23 touchdowns.
While Loeffler has shown a predisposition for running some option plays with Thomas, the outgoing veteran was never particularly good at executing them. Brewer might give Loeffler the ability to add that element to the playbook.
But his mobility’s real value comes in the pocket. His diminutive size makes it unlikely that the team can run him too often—as they did with Thomas—but his quickness should help him move around the pocket and confuse the defense.
That mobility is key, because until running back Trey Edmunds began to pick up the pace, Thomas was the Hokies’ rushing attack.
Brewer also gets to work with a talented trio of receivers — Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles, and Josh Stanford combined for 1,941 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season — but more importantly, he has a pair of tight ends (Kalvin Cline and Ryan Malleck) to throw to.
Brewer’s best throws were to his tight end and his familiarity with the Y-stick route concept, a staple at Virgina Tech, could be the difference, according to The Key Play:
As Smart Football describes it, the stick route is “basically it is a quick, three-step route play, where the offense puts the flat defender in a bind by sending one receiver to the flat while another hooks up or ‘sticks it’ at five to six yards.” This route is critical for any future Hokie quarterback. In the spring and fall camp, Loeffler heavily featured stick routes with Ryan Malleck, and it appeared that stick routes would be a core component of the offense. With Malleck returning, and rumors abounding of Bucky Hodges doing a pretty good Eric Ebron impersonation on the scout team, throwing to the tight end on stick routes and stick-and-go concepts will be critically important.
“I’m extremely honored to be labeled the starter at a program like Virginia Tech,” Brewer said. “I’m very thankful for my teammates and the coaching staff for entrusting me and giving me this opportunity. I’m looking forward to this season.”
Hokie fans should, too. The most difficult game on the schedule got a lot easier when Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller to injury and while they go to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina, the road team has won the last three straight and Virginia Tech is 4-1 there. A 10-win season or better now looks within reach.