It’s easy to forget, though, that through five games last year, and following a demoralizing loss to Clemson, some wondered if Thomas should even be playing quarterback. He then responded with an otherworldly performance against Miami, completing 23 of his 25 passes for 310 yards and scoring five total touchdowns in a wild 38-35 Virginia Tech victory.
Can he duplicate that this year, with the Hokies traveling to Chapel Hill, N.C., for a pivotal showdown against North Carolina? In a telling sign for a team looking to right itself after two losses in three games, Thomas seemed to shrug off the possibility of another landmark performance when asked about it this week.
“It’s a different year, different team, different players,” he said. “It’s just not the same as it was last year.”
Indeed, things haven’t come as easy for Thomas so far and the coaching staff knows getting him jump-started will likely trickle down to the rest of the offense, which has mustered just 14 points in the first quarter this year.
As we mentioned earlier in this space, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring approached his signal-caller this week to ask what his five favorite passing plays. Thomas came back with 10. Stinespring hopes it provides some insight into Thomas’s preferences, but not in the way you’d think.
“I was really looking at what wasn’t on there. That’s the one I wanted to know,” Stinespring said. “What did he not like that maybe we are calling?
Thomas believes the issues are more fundamental than what plays are being called. He just hasn’t gotten comfortable yet, which Coach Frank Beamer indicated this week might be the reason for some of his sloppy footwork and sailing throws.
“It’s obviously me,” Thomas said. “I have to get a lot of things down as well as just getting used to be being back with different players, getting used to where my line is expecting me to set up and where I’m expecting my line to set up. It’s a lot of different things. But it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s just something that I’m going to work through and be better for this week and in the upcoming weeks.”
Whatever the case may be, Thomas needs to show signs of improvement Saturday, even though the Tar Heels, led by defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, are first in the ACC in tackles for a loss and second in sacks this season. The Hokies’ offense will likely be without running back Tony Gregory (knee), who was listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report. But left guard David Wang is probable after missing the past two games with an ankle injury.
Moreover, a week after Cincinnati gouged Virginia Tech’s secondary for 392 passing yards, the Hokies must combat a more talented quarterback in Tar Heels signal caller and former All-Met Bryn Renner.
In new Coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense, Renner is completing 63.7 percent of his passes and has more than 1,400 yards, 14 touchdown sand just four interceptions through five games. The Tar Heels are averaging 73 plays per game – 10 more than last season – and haven’t lost a game when running back Giovanni Bernard is in the lineup.
He’s averaging 7.3 yards per carry and has seven touchdowns, including two when North Carolina scored a school-record 66 points in a win over Idaho last week. But Fedora knows there’s a level of uncertainty about just how good these Tar Heels can be because their wins this season are over the aforementioned Vandals as well as Elon (52-0) and East Carolina (27-6).
“We’re going to find out a lot more about the identity of this football team Saturday somewhere around 4 o’clock,” Fedora said.
But what will we find out about Thomas and the Hokies? Do they have the same sort of resiliency that has allowed Beamer and company to go 15-1 in the months of October and November the past two seasons?
Despite that, Virginia Tech is currently a six-point underdog even though it hasn’t lost in Chapel Hill, N.C., since 1938 and hasn’t even dropped a game in the state of North Carolina since joining the ACC.
But something tells me history will repeat itself in that regard. And while Thomas won’t be able to reproduce his stunningly good performance from a year ago at this time, he’ll lead a Virginia Tech resurgence Saturday.
My prediction: Virginia Tech 27, North Carolina 21
But what do you think? Will the Hokies suffer their third loss in four games? Or can they improve to 2-0 in ACC play despite its nonconference setbacks? Vote in the poll below and let me know how this one plays out in the comments section.