Team: Virginia Tech Hokies
W-L: 11-3 (7-2)
Top Offensive Performer: Logan Thomas, QB
Top Defensive Performer: James Gayle, DE
Virginia Tech’s strategy during most seasons is simple — crush four patsies in the non-conference schedule, get themselves into the top 10-15 or so, and then hope the rest of the ACC has a down year. Given the four titles they’ve won since joining the league, I’d say it’s worked pretty well. The 2011 season was an exception, however. Against a young, fiery Clemson team that had its number, Tech was downed twice, each in resounding fashion. VPI would play just three games against ranked teams (teams that appeared in the year’s final top 25) all season, and lost all three. So was their season a farce?
The Hokies gave up just 17.6 points per game (seventh in the nation) — held even more impressive when you remove the team’s ACC title game debacle in which they allowed 38 points. In all, seven of their opponents scored 14 points or less, but just one of those possessed a winning record. Virginia Tech’s biggest flaw, as it ends up, was that teams could spread the field on them with the right set of athletes. Clemson did it twice. Michigan and star QB Denard Robinson pulled it off as well in a postseason loss for the Hokies. Georgia Tech managed it while even throwing the ball (rare, for them), and Miami came up just short as well. What Virginia Tech did best was pressure the quarterback and make stops in the red zone. Beyond that, the secondary was none too active, hence why all the QB pressure failed to create too many turnovers. For mobile passers (all of the teams above definitely had one), avoiding the pressure was all they had to do, with little worry about turnovers once the ball was released.
The Hokies’ offense was pedestrian from a scoring standpoint (27.6 points per game), but with a defense that kept most opponents in check, they didn’t have to do a whole lot to preserve wins. Nonetheless, Tech developed a healthy run-pass balance by years’ end, with quarterback Logan Thomas coming into his own alongside starting running back David Wilson and his own breakout performance. Rushing the ball with reasonable frequency, the team was still able to rack up 2,616 yards on the season (4.4 yards per carry), to go along with 26 scores (second in the conference). Wilson, who also handled some kick returns, was especially impressive in his junior year as he totaled 2,253 yards — also second in the ACC. Understandably, he’ll soon be showing off those talents on Sundays after being selected in the NFL Draft in April.
Schedule aside, Virginia Tech was a very good team in 2011. And as much as fans and media would like to criticize the BCS for including them after an embarrassing conference title game loss, their effort versus Michigan was commendable in a contest they could’ve easily won. Still, there are some concerns. Against a Duke team that won just three games, Tech only scored 14 in a close win. They also failed to put away subpar teams, a trait that either means they’re not good enough to dominate these squads, or just can’t close. Either way, as questions on Beamer Ball continue to arise, all the Hokies have to do is win to make them go away.