More than halfway through Virginia Tech’s first open scrimmage of the spring, the Hokies’ third-team offensive line committed consecutive false start penalties, drawing groans from the smattering of fans who made their way to Lane Stadium to catch some of the action Saturday.
Over on one sideline, though, the latest miscue on a day that featured plenty drew a response from safety Detrick Bonner that summed up the afternoon.
“Hey offense, what’s up,” he yelled out to nobody in particular.
That seemed to be the consensus following an 85-play scrimmage that was dominated by the Hokies defense. Virginia Tech allowed 11 sacks and until third-string quarterback Trey Gresh found wide receiver David Mellstrom for a 22-yard touchdown late, the defense had actually out-scored the offense thanks to an interception cornerback Kyle Fuller ran back 51 yards for a touchdown.
This, though, is what offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring expected to a certain extent, as his unit is in the process of breaking in four new starters on the offensive line and defensive coordinator Bud Foster blitzed early and often Saturday.
“It was extremely difficult for [the offensive line] today,” said Stinespring, who thought his linemen also had seven or eight pre-snap procedure penalties. “They got blitzed quite a bit, more than you may get in a game. . . . You knew there were gonna be some problems from that standpoint.
“In order for us to progress forward, we’ve got to at least get some plays started, not have as many plays with the whistle being blown before it even started,” he later added. “We had too many of those.”
Coach Frank Beamer wasn’t alarmed, either, especially since it’s commonplace for defenses to be light years ahead of offenses during the spring. And after all, these sorts of issues are expected because, “a lot of people don’t let the defense blitz in the first scrimmage, but we go the other way. Blitz, learn from it on video and then next time we’ll pick it up better.”
In particular, back-up quarterback Mark Leal, who finished 4 of 12 for 43 yards and an interception, seemed to be running for his life on every other play when Virginia Tech’s reserve offensive line went against the Hokies’ front four, which returns all four starters from a year ago.
But the offensive line struggles weren’t limited to players that are expected to contribute much during the regular season. Collectively, Virginia Tech’s defensive line was involved in 23 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and nine quarterback hurries.
All of that havoc up front affected the Hokies’ skill players. Even on the three series in which Virginia Tech’s starters on both sides of the ball went against one another, the defense controlled the action other than a 20-yard catch by wide receiver Marcus Davis.
Quarterback Logan Thomas completed just 3 of his 12 passes for 53 yards and an interception. The redshirt junior had a couple overthrows as well as some drops by his wide receivers. Two of his three completions, however, came on third-down situations. The Hokies’ two top running backs, freshmen Michael Holmes and J.C. Coleman, combined for only 22 yards on 10 carries.
On the bright side, Virginia Tech was able to debut a pistol formation that goes along with the team’s plans to incorporate more spread principles into the offense this year. In fact, wide receiver Dyrell Roberts said Saturday actually represented an improvement from Virginia Tech’s mini-scrimmage Wednesday night, but it was hard to tell with the Hokies defense having its way facing an unseasoned offense.
“It was progress, but not nearly where we need to be. Not anywhere close,” Stinespring said. “Obviously there’s concerns … but there’s no doubt we can get there.”
Some other notes and observations from Saturday’s scrimmage
***Considering how much trouble Virginia Tech’s offense had moving the ball, it came as no surprise that Foster was pleased with the defense’s performance. Linebacker Alonzo Tweedy led the charge with five solo tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, but two players still in their first year with the program seem to be on Foster’s radar more than ever.
The first is former All Met Ronny Vandyke (South County), who has moved from safety to whip linebacker this spring. The redshirt freshman intercepted a tipped pass from Thomas Saturday while covering Roberts, showing off the sort of coverage skills Foster is looking for at that position.
Vandyke appears to have moved past redshirt sophomore Nick Dew on the depth chart, and with linebackers Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Tweedy both graduating after next season, Foster indicated Vandyke is the favorite to become a starter at whip linebacker down the line because he’s got “the complete package.” I’ll have more on Vandyke’s development next week.
Another standout this spring has been sophomore defensive tackle Luther Maddy, who got significant playing time as a true freshman in 2011. Foster called Maddy the defense’s most improved player, and on Saturday he had 1.5 sacks, including a nice play in which he beat starting guard Brent Benedict right off the snap.
“He has great twitch,” Foster said. “Obviously playing last year was big for him and for us, because now he’s a guy that knows the speed of the game, knows the sense of urgency about it in that position and I really like where he is right now as a football player. He’s been tough for these guys to block and he’s been in the backfield, whether it’s in the run game or the passing game.”
***On the special teams front, safety Kyshoen Jarrett provided the highlight of the afternoon when he returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown. Beamer said afterwards Jarrett, Roberts and Fuller are all in the mix to take over punt returning duties from Jayron Hosley.
Redshirt sophomore Conor Goulding connected on one of his two field goals during the scrimmage, both of which were from 36 yards out. He was also one of two on his pre-scrimmage attempts going against live competition.
Sophomore Michael Branthover (DeMatha), meanwhile, had the best punt of the day, booming his lone attempt 48 yards. It should be noted, however, that it also happened to be the one Jarrett returned for a touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Ethan Keyserling averaged 39 yards on two punts.
Beamer said Goulding and Branthover have been his two best kickers so far this spring, but Goulding is the leader right now.
***Safety Michael Cole sat out Saturday’s scrimmage due to a strained hamstring. South County linebacker Oren Burks, quarterback Anthony Jennings from Marietta, Ga., and defensive back Brandon Facyson of Newnan, Ga., were among the recruits that made the trip to Blacksburg Saturday to watch the scrimmage.
Passing — Thomas: 3-12, 53 yards, 1 INT; Leal: 4-12, 46 yards, 1 INT; Gresh: 4-6, 72 yards, 1 TD; Brian Rody: 2-4, 47 yards
Rushing -- Martin Scales 4-26; Maurice Taylor 4-15; Coleman 6-14; Greg Gadell 4-14; Holmes 4-8
Receiving — Davis 3-56; Christian Reeves 3-43; Mellstrom 2-44, 1 TD; E.L. Smiling 2-36
Tweedy 8 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks; Derek DiNardo 5 total tackles, 1 TFL; Dadi Nicolas 4 total tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 sacks, 1 QB hurry; Donaldven Manning 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack; Tyrel Wilson 3 tackles, 1 TFL; Matt Roth 3 total tackles, 1 sack; Derrick Hopkins 3 total tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QB hurries; Luther Maddy 2 total tackles, 1.5 sacks; James Gayle 2 total tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QB hurries; Vandyke 2 tackles, 1 INT; Fuller 1 INT, 1 pass break-up