Hokies looking to return to form in ACC

Ken Cross

July 28, 2014 at 12:17 pm.

Trey Edmunds (14) leads the Hokies ground attack. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Virginia Tech Hokies had their best success in the ACC from 2007-10. They won three out of four ACC Championships, played in three BCS bowls and earned a reputation as being one of the toughest teams in college football.

But since the 38-10 whipping at the hands of Clemson in the ACC title game at the end of the 2011 season, Virginia Tech has just been mediocre, posting a 15-13 mark over the last two years. Last season ended in a 42-12 beat down at the hands of UCLA at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.

Coach Frank Beamer thinks part of the problem has been with the lack of a running game over the last two years.  Virginia Tech fell to 145.8 yards per game in 2012, only 3.7 per carry, to 119.8 last season, 3.2 yards per carry last year.  This is more than a red flag in an offense in which the philosophy is to pound the ball on the ground.

“I think it goes back to being able to run the football more consistently, and we dropped off there a little bit,” said Beamer.

However, when you consider Virginia Tech in totality, the dramatic wins are tied to the ACC while the impactful losses are consistently tied to major powers outside the league. It seems that over the long haul, a lack of a consistent running game only tells a small part of the story since Florida State and Clemson have moved past Virginia Tech inside the league, while newcomer Louisville may fit that personality sketch in season one in the ACC.

In the Beamer Era, you see a plethora of beat downs of FCS teams, a sprinkling of matchups with teams from the Sun Belt, MAC, or C-USA, in which Virginia Tech would be a prohibitive favorite, and then they generally have had four or five ACC/Big East opponents where they took care of business and won games where they were favored.

In the last 10 years as an ACC member, Virginia Tech’s struggles are punctuated against nationally ranked teams outside the ACC. They have gone 4-10 with those 10 losses averaging a total of 15.7 points per game. The struggles haven’t changed that much in that regard as the program has grown inside the league, but not on a national level.

It is a proven fact that Virginia Tech does not like to play nationally ranked teams outside of the ACC. Since joining the league 10 years ago, seven of those 14 match ups against powers outside the league have been in bowls.  The Hokies have only played seven teams outside the ACC that were  in the Top 25 as five of those were neutral site games, not in a home-and-home format.

Inside the ACC, Tech has 20 wins in that same span versus ranked teams, but as the drop-off in the last two years suggests, four losses come by an average of 18.8 points per game. Keep in mind though, they only face Florida State and Clemson in the regular season sporadically as the scheduling formula doesn’t mandate that Virginia Tech play the Tigers and Seminoles every year because Clemson and FSU are in the Atlantic Division and Virginia Tech is in the Coastal.

Faltering the last two seasons inside the conference is two-fold as the Hokies have been beaten, according to recruiting analysts, in the state of Virginia by the Cavaliers in signing in-state recruits, which shows a slow drop off in talent.

The ACC has also gotten much better with the resurgence of Florida State to its national championship days and the bourgeoning of the Clemson Tigers as a Top-10 contender as well.  By adding Syracuse, Pitt, and now Louisville, the scheduling changes and creates intangibles within those schedules that can be equalizers on in a 12-game slate.  Adding Notre Dame’s foot print and its five-game ACC soiree each year will make for even more of a challenge.

In the end, it’s not a slight at Virginia Tech.  The Hokies have been a powerhouse in the ACC for a while, but the league has caught up with VT to the point where it will have trouble winning the league as much as it used to.

This season, in order for Virginia Tech to just be a player in the ACC’s Coastal Division, the Hokies have to pick up the pieces and plug in unproven people and hope they perform.

Sophomore Trey Edmunds is probably the only given on offense as he should reprise his role as the featured back.  He led Virginia Tech in rushing at 675 yards on 166 carries before breaking his right tibia in the season finale against Virginia.  He sat out spring ball and should get more carries as Logan Thomas graduated and had only four less carries on the season than Edmunds.

“Trey was doing an excellent job before he got hurt, and we expect him to be back full tilt,” said Beamer, “I think our offensive line is more experienced too and has some excellent young guys behind them.”

Beamer’s biggest worry on offense is the unproven quarterback situation and two inexperienced guards along the offensive line. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer has two years left and looks like the choice over a fifth-year senior in Mark Leal and redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley as the signal caller.

“We’d rather know who that guy is, but I think we have got some pretty good people at the position,” summarized Beamer of the uncertainty. “We want to get that position settled.  We know how important it is to the whole team so we’re going to work like heck to get it nailed down.”

Early, it’s going to have to be the defense that dictates the flow of the Hokies’ games until the offense can develop.  The Hokies finished fourth in the nation last year in total defense at 283.6 yards allowed per game.  However, like the statistical study pointed out, nationally ranked opponents traditionally pulverize the Hokies — that happened last season in a 35-10 loss to Alabama and the bowl devastation at the hands of UCLA.

“The thing I like is we run well on defense,” said Beamer, “We have to replace a couple of linebackers and the guys we have to replace them with are probably faster.  I’m hopeful that we will play good solid defense and I believe we will.  I do like the fact that we run so well.”

Looking at the schedule, playing Big Ten favorite Ohio State (in Columbus) will be a proving ground for Virginia Tech on September 6.  The Buckeyes feature Heisman Trophy contending quarterback in Braxton Miller, who is a similar player to Brett Hundley, who steered UCLA to a 467-yard day in the Bruins’ Sun Bowl win.

A win would go a long way in determining where Beamer’s team stands right off the bat.