ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

Logan Thomas Tried Too Hard and It Cost the Hokies Last Year; What About 2013?

Logan Thomas Tried Too Hard and It Cost Virginia Tech Last Year; What About 2013?

Team: Virginia Tech Hokies

2012 W-L: 7-6 (4-4)

Head Coach: Frank Beamer (216-104-2; 27th season)

Returning Starters: 13 (4 Offense, 9 Defense)

Last year was a bit rough for Virginia Tech. It would be a nice season for some programs — in fact, many in the ACC — but when you’ve won 10 or more games every season you’ve been in a league, it becomes second nature to succeed at that level. When you don’t though, it’s a shock to the system. For the fans and for the players who’ve all grown accustomed to winning, there’s a gut reaction to hit the panic button and point blame. But every program goes through struggles here and there, no matter how powerful they might seem. And for Virginia Tech, it looks as if last year was just one of those years where the cards didn’t fall right. SB Nation’s Bill Connelly gets into whether or not this was a one-year event, which is a discussion well worth having, but for our purposes here, we’ll simply focus on the season immediately before us.

Last year’s offense was bad. But you probably knew that. After years of a solid running game to guide them through, there was no rushing attack to be found this past fall. On the year, the team averaged just 145 yards per game on the ground, and the Hokies’ leading rusher was QB Logan Thomas — who had 65 more carries than any of the team’s running backs. Thomas is an athlete and a threat to run, sure, but to carry the ball 174 times for just 3 yards per is unacceptable. The running backs, of course, weren’t helping their own respective cases either. J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes all struggled with consistency and without one differentiating themselves from the pack, it was impossible to hand any of them the bulk of the carries. Tech also put the young backs behind an inexperienced offensive line which exhibited difficulty both run- and pass-blocking all season. Several of those linemen are gone, but are replaced by even less experience. Gregory’s also out for the season, so that leaves the entire run game up to Coleman, who’s unlikely to be ready for the job just yet either. This leads us to the offense’s biggest issue last year (and possibly again this year): its quarterback.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #28, Antone Exum

Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum is #28 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum is #28 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Less than three weeks until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 28, Antone Exum, CB/Virginia Tech (Last Season: 10)

I’ll start by saying I’m entirely aware that Antone Exum will miss the Alabama game at the very least, if not a few more in September as well. I even discussed as much when talking about fellow Tech CB Kyle Fuller yesterday. But just because he’s missing a few games, it doesn’t mean he’s losing all of his value to the Hokies. On the contrary, without him in the lineup, we may see just how desperately that passing defense really needs him in the lineup. With Fuller more focused on stalling receivers at the line, Exum is the only experienced cover corner they’ve got. That should be readily apparent once he’s back in the lineup.

Exum’s 2012 season was everything the Hokies needed from him and more. For a defensive unit undergoing adjustments, an elite coverage man was a necessity, and it was a role Exum gladly filled. His five interceptions made up over one-third of the team total (13) and his 21 passes defended led the ACC. Using his significant size (6’1″ and 224 pounds) and speed, he was disruptive in the passing game, giving receiver after receiver fits as the ball headed their way. And he was a difference-maker to close out games as well. Exum’s picks effectively locked up three of Tech’s seven victories last year — no small feat, and not something many other defenders can lay claim to. He and Fuller played well off each other, and will look to again during the 2013 campaign.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #33, Kyle Fuller

Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller is #33 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller is #33 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Off-topic: I’ve been gone for the past few weeks for my wedding and honeymoon (thank you), but now the site will be charging full-bore toward the start of college football season. Appreciate everyone for continuing to stop by — even during my absence — and rest assured, we’ve got plenty of content set for the next few weeks.

Less than three weeks until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 33, Kyle Fuller, CB/Virginia Tech (Last Season: NR)

Kyle Fuller doesn’t have to carry this group all season — there’s plenty of senior leaders on the Virginia Tech defense to help him out (more so than last year even) — but his year sure won’t start easily. On top of facing a loaded Alabama team on kickoff weekend, he’ll be without fellow star corner Antone Exum for at least a couple weeks (if not more) while he recovers from an ACL injury. So I’m willing to cut Fuller some slack in the opening parts of the year. But after a less-than-stellar 2012, he’s got to improve drastically in order to regain that NFL Draft glimmer his resume once had.

Back in 2011, Fuller looked like one of the top defensive back-types (he didn’t play pure corner then) in the country. He’d recorded 14.5 tackles for loss from the corner position (pretty phenomenal), while applying significant quarterback pressure and still breaking up passes in the secondary. But in 2012, that production completely dropped off. Of course, he was still a quality player for the Hokies. It’s just that Exum stood head-and-shoulders above him in terms of field presence and statistics. Fuller’s interceptions were less dynamic than they’d been previously, and he only recorded three tackles for loss (a very steep drop from 2011). Despite Tech putting in another top-25 effort in terms of passing defense, there’s a lot of room for improvement for this team in that department — and it starts with Fuller regaining his previous form.

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Phil Steele’s 2013 Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele's Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele’s Preseason All-ACC Team

As part of Phil Steele’s extensive 2013 season preview activities, today he released his picks for the All-ACC team. Not an overwhelming number of surprises to be found, but that said, there’s certainly some switches partisan fans might make here and there between first- and second-teams or third- and fourth-teams. Most notably, I’d probably move up UNC‘s Bryn Renner to the second team, while moving Virginia Tech‘s Logan Thomas down to the third — but the difference is negligible, really.

We won’t lay out the entire list for you here, but below we’ve included the first-team offense and defense, plus a school-by-school count of all players included on all four teams compiled by Steele. Regarding the latter, Florida State led the way with 19 players out of the 112 named, while Maryland had the least, with just three.

First Team All-ACC: Offense

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State

WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State

WR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland

TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina

C: Bryan Stork, Florida State

OG: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State

OG: Brandon Linder, Miami

OT: Morgan Moses, Virginia

OT: James Hurst, North Carolina

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

Logan Thomas is the Obvious Focal Point of a Turnaround for Virginia Tech This Year

Logan Thomas is the Obvious Focal Point of a Turnaround for Virginia Tech This Year

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Virginia Tech Hokies

Spring Practice Start Date: March 27

Spring Game Date: April 20

Following last year’s disappointing campaign, Virginia Tech’s spring is all about diagnosing issues. From the futile offensive attack, to a defense that certainly needs some course correction, Tech’s coaches have been diving into what went so wrong in 2012 — and how to fix those problems (at least in part) over the course of the next month. And while those calling for long-time coach Frank Beamer’s job may be a bit off-base right now, it’s likely that the 2013 season is a key point in the narrative of his career; be it a positive upswing after one lackluster year, or the start of a steady downfall.

Offensively, Virginia Tech struggled mightily in 2012, and there’s no one trouble spot there either. Behind an inexperienced line, Logan Thomas and his very green backfield repeatedly failed to find success, and never truly adjusted as the year wore on. With more experience all across the board, the test this spring will be to see just how much everyone learned. While Thomas should certainly be held accountable for his errors as the team’s leader, it must also be acknowledged that far too much was expected of him week-in and week-out, causing him to over-compensate. Newly installed offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler must understand both sides of this coin from the beginning, and stress additional accountability. Beyond Thomas, that means stark improvement across the line, and a more effective running game. At least at the onset, J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes should be handling the bulk of the carries, and hopefully one or two emerge as a better runner than he has been in the past.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia Tech's Defense Was Forced to Carry the Hokies in 2012, With Mixed Results

Virginia Tech’s Defense Was Forced to Carry the Hokies in 2012, With Mixed Results

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.

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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #10, Antone Exum

Antone Exum's Offseason Injury Can't Take Away From the Excellent 2012 Season He Just Completed

Antone Exum’s Offseason Injury Can’t Take Away From the Excellent 2012 Season He Just Completed

As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 10, Antone Exum, CB/Virginia Tech(Preseason Rank: NR)

We’ll start this profile off by expressing disappointment in Exum’s offseason injury, and hope he can come back in time for the 2013 regular season. Because if his 2012 season was any indication, he’ll certainly be a key piece of the Hokies’ success yet again. He led the country’s 24th-ranked passing defense to yet another impressive season, holding opponents to just 17 touchdowns through the air all year, while snagging 13 interceptions. Exum had five of those picks, and also led the ACC in passes defended, with 21 overall in his 13 games. More often than not, Exum was a lock-down presence for the Hokies — not an elite tackler, admittedly, but an extremely disruptive defender each and every game. His interceptions were key factors in victories over Boston College, Virginia and Rutgers, and admittedly, his stat line doesn’t even do his efforts justice in many other games. Who knows if he’ll be able to compete at the same elite level, but for the Hokies’ sake and his draft stock, he should hope he can come back at full strength.

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