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Saturday, September 14, 2013
GREENVILLE, N.C. — Virginia Tech guard Andrew Miller emerged from the locker room, plopped down on a folding chair to rest his cramping legs and summed up Saturday’s game well.
“I feel like we have so much to improve on,” he said. “We played a terrible game offensively, but at least we won.”
Legions of Tech fans couldn’t have said it any better.
Tech’s 15-10 victory over East Carolina was more encouraging than it might appear at first glance. With the defense lifting a mighty shield, thwarting ECU drives with sacks and interceptions, the offense had an opportunity to experiment and grow without costing the Hokies this game.
Twice, Tech’s offense operated exactly the way it aspires to. The Hokies engineered touchdown drives of 11 plays for 70 yards (first quarter) and 10 plays for 75 yards (third quarter).
In between, they made too many mistakes to count. But at least they have film of the ideal, a template from which to conjure hope.
“If you can do it one time, you can do it every time,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “I don’t think anything is keeping us from doing it every time.”
The temptation is to say this offense goes as quarterback Logan Thomas goes, but Miller stressed that it’s a lot more complex than that. Harmony and confidence aren’t confined to the passer.
At its best, Tech’s zone blocking scheme allows the linemen to progress quickly to the second level. You could see it on Trey Edmunds’ 13-yard run in the second quarter — sadly, Tech’s longest of the day. ECU’s defensive lineman all got blocked and Miller, the right guard, was free to seal off the backside linebacker.
Edmunds can run for 100 yards every game if he gets blocking like that.
The problem is, it’s not happening often enough yet. The Hokies are still working through their communication issues up front — both on run blocks and in pass protection — so the offense only shines in spurts.
Miller accurately dubbed Tech’s 53-yard rushing output against ECU “not acceptable” but was buoyed by the flashes of success.
“Once we get into a rhythm, you can see how good we can be,” Miller said. “Like on that one drive, everybody as a unit playing together, the rhythm you pick up. You get some momentum going and it’s hard to stop.”
With ECU overcommitting to the run, the onus fell on Thomas and his unproven receivers to move the ball. Again, they delivered mixed results.
Thomas finished 25 of 43 passing for 258 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a couple of near picks. He was sacked twice and hurried five other times.
His best work came on third down, when everyone knew he was going to throw. He went 10 for 18 for 129 yards in those situations as the Hokies converted a solid 45 percent (9 of 20) on third down.
Perhaps most uplifting was the diversity of Thomas’ targets. He didn’t just line up one guy who had a big day. On third downs, he hit Demitri Knowles four times, Willie Byrn three times and Joshua Stanford twice.
Often, the guy who caught the ball was the second or third option on the play.
“That’s kind of just me learning the progression system that we have,” Thomas said. “They walled away a couple things, which left something else open. That’s just how I have to be and how I have to get better.”
For the most part, Tech’s offensive players took ownership of their struggles. They know they got carried in this one. And while frustrated about their own performance, they saw enough go right to believe they ultimately can repay the defense for its generosity.
“We’re going to hopefully do that for them,” Miller said, “be there for them when they need us.”
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