Team: Virginia Tech Hokies
W-L: 7-6 (4-4)
Postseason: 13-10 Russell Athletic Bowl win over Rutgers
Top Offensive Performer: Marcus Davis, WR
Top Defensive Performer: Antone Exum, CB
Going into the 2012 season, the biggest concerns for Virginia Tech surrounded the team’s youth on the offensive line (four new starters) and its inexperience at running back. As it would happen, both ended up having a severely negative effect on the team throughout the year. And then, when coupled with the added pressure on both Logan Thomas to deliver a standout performance (he did not), and the defense to make up for the offense’s shortcomings (also struggled)… well, it’s no wonder why VaTech failed to win 10 games for the first time in eight years.
Virginia Tech’s offensive struggles were foretold well in advance, yet that didn’t make it any less striking when fans actually saw it all in action. The Hokies finished 83rd in the country in yards per game (376.8), a steep drop from last season’s 36th-place finish in the same category. Their 25.1 points per game also underwhelmed, especially when considering how much that average was weighted by just three results (wins over Austin Peay, Bowling Green and Duke). In the Hokies’ other 10 games, they’d fall short of 20 points five different times, and average just 22.6 points per game (would’ve ranked 96th in the FBS). And it’s tough to blame just one part of the unit, either. As mentioned, Thomas fell well short of expectations, with his numbers for accuracy, completions and touchdowns going down, while interceptions and sacks spiked up. And the running backs, faced with following behind current New York Giant David Wilson, also found themselves in trouble, as five different rushers couldn’t combine for as many yards as he racked up his junior year. Of course, it’s a cop-out to blame the offensive line, but it’s hard to deny the effect of their inexperience on the overall results.
On defense, Virginia Tech suffered from an up-and-down year, attributable to a number of factors; most notably (in my opinion) Bud Foster’s play-calling. From a more critical standpoint, it’s worth bringing up our own Hokie Mark’s analysis of what exactly was going wrong back in October. With an undersized front seven and continuously ill-advised schemes early in the year, the Hokies were regularly beat right off the line, and pushed around to the tune of a rough 3-3 start. With corner Antone Exum’s high-risk, high-reward style of play, and several starters shifting positions (six in total), it’s no wonder the team struggled out of the gate. Things would eventually settle down though, and VaTech’s defense once again became a strength for this squad, instead of a weakness. In continual do-or-die situations, the Hokies forced five turnovers over their final three games, and even keeping each of their final two opponents (Virginia, Rutgers) under 220 offensive yards. After quickly facing a 10-0 deficit against the Scarlet Knights in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Virginia Tech managed to shut them out for the next three quarters and overtime — all due to applying continuous pressure on Rutgers QB Gary Nova. Looking toward the future, it’s those efforts that should help grow this group for next season.
The Hokies’ season could be defined by what was expected (another 10-win season and a Heisman contender in Thomas), what was (a winning season and bowl win) or what wasn’t (a less dominant defense and a struggling offense). So when searching for a verdict, it’s extremely difficult to choose just one guiding narrative. Instead, maybe it’s best to just chalk this up as a bump in the road for Frank Beamer’s program. With a great recruiting class coming in and a very manageable division, they might be right back to the top of the ACC mountain in 2013.