“He just said let’s get prepared for the rest of this season because at the end of this thing, we can make it special,” Thomas said Monday. “I’m in agreement with that, totally, and we’re excited to see where we can go from here on out.”
Indeed, Virginia Tech emerged from its first bye week of the season in prime position to make a run at the ACC championship game. Along with Miami, the Hokies are undefeated in conference play thus far and appear to be on a collision course with the Hurricanes, whom they play in South Florida on Nov. 9.
In fact, Virginia Tech is one of four ACC teams ranked in the top 15 of the initial Bowl Championship Series rankings after reeling off six straight wins. Though the Hokies are No. 19 in the USA Today coaches’ poll and the Harris poll, their average ranking is No. 8 in the five computer models used by the BCS. One computer poll — the Wolfe Ratings — has Virginia Tech at No. 5. The Hokies are No. 16 in the Associated Press poll, which is not used in the BCS formula.
The time off gave Virginia Tech an opportunity to heal some nagging injuries. Thomas was dealing with a sore midsection and a sprained foot, while the interior of his offensive line had struggled to get through practice because of a variety of minor bumps.
The break may also allow senior cornerback Antone Exum to make his season debut on Saturday against Duke after missing the first seven games of the season as he continued his rehabilitation from offseason knee surgery. Exum’s status for Saturday’s game will be determined later this week based on how he performs in practice.
Coach Frank Beamer and his staff spent their bye week recruiting and studying exactly what has gone wrong with the team’s running game, perhaps the lone letdown of the season thus far.
“If it was one thing, it’d be easy to try to figure it out or get it fixed pretty quickly, but I think it’s a combination of things,” Beamer said.
Even though the Hokies and Hurricanes appear destined to battle for the ACC Coastal Division title, Beamer wasn’t ready to overlook the Blue Devils, who scored 35 unanswered points after falling behind, 22-0, in a win at Virginia this past weekend.
He said Duke has the most efficient offense Virginia Tech has faced since its season-opening loss to No. 1 Alabama. To that end, Blue Devils Coach David Cutcliffe called the Hokies’ defense the best in the country during his weekly teleconference with reporters Sunday night.
“Cutcliffe, he’s done a really, really good job. He’s got playmakers,” said Beamer, who has never lost to Duke since arriving at Virginia Tech in 1987. The Blue Devils’ last win over the Hokies came in 1981.
“They’ve got kids that can do it. I think probably the thing now is they believe they can do it. Once you get that mind thinking that way, it’s because they’ve done it. . . . If you think about where Duke was and where they are now, Coach Cutcliffe, he’s terrific.”
Last year, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 20-0 lead at Lane Stadium before Virginia Tech scored the final 41 points of the game. Duke enters Saturday’s just one win away from securing a bowl bid for the second straight year, which would be the first time that has ever happened in program history.