But Beamer and company had already conceded that after the game. What else stood out? Here’s five observations from Saturday’s wild affair, one for every day the Hokies have to prepare for their ACC opener against the Yellow Jackets.
1) Virginia Tech’s kicking situation is officially an issue.
Last week, when Virginia Tech’s Cody Journell missed three field goals and an extra point at East Carolina, Coach Frank Beamer called it an anomaly. Now, though, he might have a more serious problem.
Beamer announced after Saturday’s game that Journell did not dress because he was serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. He declined further comment on the exact nature of the violation.
But given Journell’s history — he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing in May 2012 after initially being charged with a felony and needed to be reinstated to the program by Athletic Director Jim Weaver just before last season — it remains to be seen what this latest incident means for his future.
It appears, however, that Journell’s suspension only went into effect Saturday. Messages sent from his Twitter account that have since been deleted, indicated he planned to play against Marshall up until a few hours before kickoff.
In Journell’s place, Beamer turned to redshirt junior Ethan Keyserling, who had never before attempted a field goal in a college game. And it almost cost the Hokies a win.
Keyserling hit the left upright from 36 yards out in the second quarter and then missed from 50 yards and 32 yards during Virginia Tech’s first two overtime drives. Beamer noted the rain picked up considerably on Keyserling’s kick in the second overtime, but he also went for it on fourth down four times Saturday in lieu of kicking field goals.
“He’s been around a long time and he’s a good kicker,” Beamer said of Keyserling. “He was put in a tough situation today with the weather and then some critical kicks. but yeah, he’s a good kicker.”
How Journell’s situation unfolds will be something to watch this week. If, for whatever reason, he’s not available at Georgia Tech, the Hokies will be forced to once again trot out an unreliable option at place kicker.
2) It always seems to be an adventure with Logan Thomas
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas’s seesaw afternoon can best be described in one sequence.
After completing 4 of 5 passes and accounting for 80 of the 89 yards on Virginia Tech’s first touchdown drive of the afternoon, Thomas promptly threw nine straight incompletions, including two interceptions.
Until the fourth quarter, when Marshall’s Rakeem Cato threw two interceptions of his own, Thomas didn’t even seem to be the most talented signal-caller on the field.
Even when things went right, and Thomas found wide receiver Willie Byrn for a six-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 21 late in the fourth quarter, it took some luck. The ball flicked off the fingers of Marshall cornerback Darryl Clark and directly into Byrn’s hands.
Thomas missed low, high and wide in Saturday’s rainy conditions, and appeared to make several poor decisions running the read-option. He also endured several drops from his receiving corps once again. Thomas now has six interceptions through four games this season, one more than he hoped to have all season.
“It’s just hard to grip the ball and throw it,” Thomas said. “It seemed like Cato didn’t have a problem at all, but I did.”
But when the carnage was complete, Thomas emerged with three total touchdowns, including the game winner. Coaches and teammates raved about his moxie, and it’s his cool under pressure that seems to give them confidence despite his erratic passing skills
“We made a decision in the overtime that Logan’s our most experienced player and he’s been there before, so we wanted the ball in his hands at the end of the game,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “When you have a senior quarterback, you’ve got to put the ball in his hands at the end of the game.”
“Couldn’t have a better leader than Logan,” Beamer added.
Interestingly enough, when running back Trey Edmunds was asked about his 43-yard run that seemed to spark the Hokies on their fourth-quarter scoring drive, he mentioned another play as the jump start Virginia Tech needed. Facing fourth and nine, Thomas stood in the pocket and found wide receiver Joshua Stanford for an 11-yard gain.
“I feel that was really the turning point of the game,” Edmunds said.
3) Beamer’s decision to use more starters on special teams is paying off.
Beamer Ball arose from the dead Saturday. After Beamer’s once-vaunted special teams unit took some heat after several gaffes in a season-opening loss to Alabama, blocked kicks may have saved Virginia Tech from a loss.
Two minutes into the game, cornerback Kyle Fuller burst around the edge and blocked a kick off the foot of Marshall punter Tyler Williams. Linebacker Derek DiNardo then scooped up the loose ball and took it into the end zone for an early touchdown.
Fuller and DiNardo said after the game that the Hokies noticed Marshall only used a two-man shield in its punt protection, much like East Carolina last week. So Virginia Tech rushed DiNardo up the middle between the two shield protectors and Fuller came untouched around the edge for the block.
It was Virginia Tech’s first blocked punt against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since 2010.
“We came in wanting to change the game, and I feel we did that,” Fuller said.
Special teams proved to be a difference maker in double overtime as well when defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins burst through the line of scrimmage to block Marshall’s potential game-winning field goal. More on Hopkins in a bit, but it’s important to note both blocked kicks came from defensive starters.
Against Alabama, Beamer admitted he used too many underclassmen on special teams and made a concerted effort to get more players with game experience on the field going forward. It certainly proved to be a wise move Saturday.
4) After a lackluster first half, Virginia Tech’s defense returned to form when it mattered most.
Virginia Tech sure didn’t look like the No. 2 defense in the country during the first half of Saturday’s game. The Hokies allowed three straight touchdown drives of 51 or more yards as Cato wreaked havoc with his legs.
The Marshall signal-caller was tough to corral out of the pocket, and he found a bevy of talented receivers with passes on the run and proved even more dangerous scrambling on broken plays. By halftime, Virginia Tech had allowed more yards (205) than it did the entire game last week at East Carolina.
But it all turned in the second half, even though defensive coordinator Bud Foster was adamant “we made no adjustments.” The Hokies held Marshall scoreless over the final two quarters and three overtime periods, and came up with several game-saving turnovers down the stretch.
“I think we just started getting comfortable with what they were trying to do,” linebacker Jack Tyler said. “Offensive coordinators, they’re good coaches, too. They’re able to see what we’re doing on film from week to week, and early on kind of exploit us with what we’re trying to do. . . . I think we just need to get better at figuring those things out earlier, so we don’t have to wait until the second half to really get going.”
Freshman Kendall Fuller and junior safety Kyshoen Jarrett each had enormous fourth-quarter interceptions that helped force overtime. With Marshall driving into position for a field goal that would upped its lead to ten early in the fourth quarter, Fuller came to the rescue.
Then with just more than one minute remaining in regulation, and three plays after Marshall completed a 46-yard pass, Jarrett read Cato’s eyes and came across the field to snag an interception in the end zone when freshman Brandon Facyson appeared to get beat deep on a double move.
Perhaps the most memorable play of the day belongs to the 311-pound Hopkins, though. In the second overtime, after defensive end J.R. Collins (team-high nine tackles) sacked and stripped Cato, Hopkins nearly rumbled down the sideline for a game-winning touchdown. He was caught from behind, and Tyler later blamed his unit’s poor blocking for keeping Hopkins out of the end zone.
It also inspired plenty of jokes, with center Andrew Miller noting that a Hopkins touchdown “would’ve made my week.”
“When he came to the sideline, I just looked at him and he looked at me and said, ‘Man, I don’t got the speed you do,’ ” Edmunds said. “But I do think that was an amazing run for a 300-pound guy. I don’t know too many guys that can do that. He had it high and tight. He was moving.”
5) With ACC play here, Virginia Tech’s offense is still in need of serious tweaking.
Beamer declared that his offense took a step forward Saturday, and at least from a rushing perspective, he’s right. The Hokies churned out 201 yards on the ground, won the time-of-possession battle and finished with more total yards (382) than Marshall
But with three pivotal games against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh on the horizon, an effort like Saturday’s might not cut it. Virginia Tech went just 2 of 16 on third down and struggled to even move the ball in the first two overtime periods.
By the end of the afternoon, Loeffler simply started plowing Thomas into the line, a strategy the Hokies used at the end of last season that Loeffler wanted to avoid this year.
The wide receiver drops from the season opener also re-appeared with both Byrn and sophomore Demitri Knowles dropping key passes. Beamer talked after the game of finding new ways to get his young playmakers in space.
Whatever the fix, the Hokies have yet to establish an identity, with only sporadic glimpses of the power rushing attack they searched for all offseason. For the most part, they’ve gotten away with it. But the days of just getting by are now over if Virginia Tech wants a shot at winning the ACC’s Coastal Division.
“We sure did make it exciting,” Loeffler said. “There were some things we did well and some things we didn’t do so hot.”