It wasn’t the prettiest of wins Saturday at Lane Stadium, but Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas got a much-needed boost of confidence and the Hokies are now 3-0 with just one more nonconference game before ACC play begins.
As discussed in my game story, Thomas went 21 of 33 for 292 yards and two touchdowns, although he did have two interceptions in the fourth quarter that showed he still remains a bit of a work in progress.
Wide receiver Danny Coale (seven catches for 128 yards and a touchdown) and cornerback Jayron Hosley (two interceptions and seven tackles) also deserve additional mention.
But in the grand scheme of this season, the most important part of Saturday’s game was the improvement Thomas made after completing just eight of his 20 passes for 91 yards in last week’s closer-than-expected victory over East Carolina.
After the jump, Coach Frank Beamer and quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain offer their thoughts on Thomas’s third-career start:
“I think anytime you got a quarterback that hasn’t played very much, you’re going to go through some growing pains,” Beamer said. “He’s making a lot of progress and made a lot of good plays tonight. He’s very much in control. I like how he handles himself. He’s not going to get rattled. He’s a smart guy that’s competitive, and he’s going to be just fine.”
Said O’Cain: “I thought he played really well. Made good decisions. Even the decisions on the interceptions were not bad decisions. One was a bad decision in how he threw the football. He needed to lay the ball and let [wide receiver] Marcus [Davis run to it. Instead he put it on the back shoulder and the corner came under it. The second one, I don’t think it was a bad throw, maybe a little bit inside. … But overall I was very pleased. Went where he needed to go, and he needed that and we needed it offensively, too.”
***On defense, Hosley made up for the interception that was taken away from him on a pass interference call last week against East Carolina by snagging two picks on Saturday. The Hokies’ defense has now had an interception in 10 straight games dating to last season.
Hosley found himself frequently matched up with Arkansas State’s Josh Jarboe, a former Oklahoma commit, and the junior cornerback once again showed off why he’s probably bound for the NFL after this season. Jarboe had just two catches for 20 yards
“He definitely was what they talked about, a good receiver, came at it every play, even called me up to the line a couple times, challenged me,” Hosley said. “So, I’m going to step up to the challenge, but he’s definitely a great receiver, look forward to seeing him play this season more. He definitely gave me a challenge this game. They came at me, and I stepped up.”
Perhaps more notable is how the defense as a whole played after Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin found wide receiver Taylor Stockemer for a 51-yard completion on the second play from scrimmage Saturday and then scored the game’s opening touchdown two plays later.
Arkansas State mustered just 104 yards after halftime, and Virginia Tech’s defensive backs broke up seven passes. The safety the Hokies got in the first quarter was crucial after Virginia Tech found itself in an early hole for the second-straight week.
That safety was the result of a blitz by cornerback Kyle Fuller. The ensuing pressure forced Aplin to throw the ball to no man’s land from his own end zone, and officials ruled it intentional grounding.
Fuller was credited with 1.5 sacks on Saturday, and both plays were the result of blitzes out of the Hokies’ nickel package. Fuller enjoys blitzing so much now that he even chased after Aplin on a play when defensive coordinator Bud Foster hadn’t called a blitz.
Lucky for Fuller, two plays later Hosley got one of his two interceptions.
“I didn’t have a guy to cover, and [Foster] was mad at the moment,” Fuller said. “But Jayron helped me out.”
***The one real concern coming out of this game involves the punting situation. Redshirt junior Scott Demler performed well enough in practice this week to earn another shot at the starting job Saturday, but once again his punts were a mixed bag.
Demler averaged just 33 yards on his punts, including an ugly 22-yarder on his first attempt of the afternoon. On the bright side, his second punt went 41 yards and his last one was fair caught inside the 10-yard line.
But when Beamer was asked about Demler postgame, it became clear the punting situation is beginning to cause a great deal of concern.
“Brian Saunders started out slow last year. He hit a couple early that wasn’t very good. Then as he got more comfortable and confident, he kind of came through,” Beamer said. “Scott, the thing I don’t want him to do is put too much pressure on himself. You can pressure yourself into not being a very good kicker, too, and he is a good kicker. He’s got the ability to get it done, but I told him, he’s going to have to start answering the bell. And he knows that.”
Place kicker Cody Journell, meantime, went one for two on field goals Saturday, hitting a 31-yarder and missing from 40 yards out. His two misses through three games are already more than Chris Hazley had during the entire 2010 season.
***More notes: With 29 receiving yards Saturday, wide receiver Jarrett Boykin passed Antonio Freeman for second-place on Virginia Tech’s all-time receiving yards list. He’s just 57 yards from breaking Ricky Scales record. . . . Offensive lineman Michael Via returned from a knee injury Saturday and played right guard on two touchdown drives in the first half. Via was moved to guard this week after David Wang broke his foot against East Carolina. . . . Linebacker Tariq Edwards led the Hokies’ defense with 10 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss.
That’s all I’ve got from this one. But before we move onto next week’s non-conference finale at Marshall, I’ll cede the floor to Coale, who talked Saturday evening about just how important it was for the Hokies offense — and not just Thomas -- to bounce back from last Saturday’s performance.
“We didn’t perform very well at ECU,” he said. “As a group, we wanted to make a point to play better because we’re capable of playing better than we did last week. We just tried to really, each opportunity that we would be given this game, we tried to take advantage of it because we know we’re better than last week, and we wanted to be able to prove that.”