Virginia Tech’s bowl week has arrived, and with the Hokies ramping up preparations in Orlando ahead of Friday’s Russell Athletic Bowl, Coach Frank Beamer’s top priority is abundantly clear after enduring his worst season in 20 years: Find an offensive identity.
That starts with re-establishing the power running game Beamer’s teams had been known for prior to this season. Quarterback Logan Thomas led the Hokies with 528 rushing yards in 2012, the lowest figure for Virginia Tech’s leading rusher since 1988. Freshman J.C. Coleman was the top tailback with 486 rushing yards, the fewest yards for the Hokies’ No. 1 running back since Terry Smoot ran for just 356 yards in 1971.
So Beamer has pinpointed fixing the rushing woes as one of his primary goals entering Virginia Tech’s matchup with Rutgers, which allowed the fifth-fewest points in the country this year. And after implementing the pistol formation and more misdirection during the regular season, the Hokies will simplify things ahead of the bowl game to accomplish that.
“We’re gonna be very conscious of what we put into the game plan,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said recently. “We’re not gonna have a call sheet loaded up just to say that we can lead you to a toolbox and pull something out. Whatever we’re pulling out to call and play, we need to do it well.”
The time off between games has allowed the offensive staff to reflect on what went wrong this year – the Hokies were 80th in the country in scoring (26.1 points per game) and No. 72 in total offense, their lowest finish in either category since 2008. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring lamented the team’s lack of consistency overall, because he noted there were times when Virginia Tech appeared capable of being a potent offense.
The blocking breakdowns were numerous, from the offensive line to the wide receivers, and that can’t be overlooked when discussing Virginia Tech’s dormant rushing attack. The past three years, for instance, the Hokies averaged 89 rushing plays of 10 or more yards per season. In 2012, they produced just 57 of those plays.
But upon further examination, the absence of a go-to running back for the first time in years contributed heavily to that inconsistency. Coleman, redshirt junior Tony Gregory, senior Martin Scales and redshirt freshman Michael Holmes all showed flashes of talent at various times, but none of them emerged as viable threats for more than a game at a time.
As a result, many have wondered why Beamer decided to redshirt highly touted freshman Trey Edmunds given the lack of a productive tailback. A Parade all-American out of Danville, Va., Edmunds appeared to be in the mold of recent No. 1 running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans with his combination of size and speed in training camp. He rushed for 2,596 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior in high school.
But unlike Coleman, who enrolled early for spring practice, Edmunds didn’t arrive on campus until training camp and coaches worried about whether he had a firm enough grasph on the playbook. So Beamer made the call to sit him down a few weeks into the regular season, not wanting to waste a year of eligibility since the Hokies weren’t sure how much he would be used.
Beamer wouldn’t admit to regretting that decision earlier this month, but it’s clear he figured a No. 1 option would emerge as the season wore on. Instead, the Hokies finished outside the top-40 nationally in rushing offense for the first time since 2007.
“I think at times we weren’t consistent blocking and at times we weren’t consistent in running the football,” he said. “All the way through, we wanted to get it to like two guys, and get them the work in practice and be more consistent on Saturday. But we just couldn’t separate.”
Virginia Tech’s run game by the numbers
157.8 yards per game, lowest since 2007
4.0 yards per carry, lowest since 2008
Leading rusher: Logan Thomas (528 yards), lowest since 1988
Top tailback: JC Coleman (486 yards), lowest since 1971
Rushing plays of 10 or more yards: 57, lowest since 2007