It was a half-step forward, then a big one back. For once this season, the Virginia Tech offense started off well Saturday at North Carolina. But the defense had trouble making any stop in a 48-34 loss. Having seen replays and thought it over, here's publisher Jason Stamm's exam of the Hokies' loss:
QUARTERBACKS On the Hokies' first drive of the game, they did a good job of mixing in run and pass. Junior quarterback Logan Thomas did a nice job of putting his throws where they needed to be and he capped the drive with a nice 13-yard run up the middle for Virginia Tech's first opening drive score this season. With the Hokies trailing most of the game Thomas had to go to the air more and delivered. His wide receivers didn't help him out on a few throws, but with the exception of leading Dyrell Roberts too much, resulting in a big hit, Thomas put the ball where it needed to be. He'll need to show more, but Thomas showed that he hasn't lost the form that helped him throw for 30 touchdowns last season. If the defense plays like it has, Thomas will be have to have more big games.
RUNNING BACKS It's hard to say the offense as a whole looked better when your running game picks up just 40 yards on 25 carries. Something's gotta give. Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes looks like the shifty, elusive runner he was thought to be, then like an ineffective runner the next. Freshman J.C. Coleman is the same way. It hurts that fullback Riley Beiro will be out the rest of the season after having surgery on his shoulder. Coach Frank Beamer said on this morning's teleconference that senior Martin Scales will get reps at fullback, so it's up in the air what his role will be. A lot of question marks and uncertainty still int he backfield.
RECEIVERS Senior Corey Fuller continues to be the most dependable hands in this department and had another big game Saturday. Sophomore Demitri Knowles got involved, but he still disappears one minute before getting back in the mix the next. Senior Marcus Davis had another good, but not great game. As one of the Hokies' best playmakers, he has to come up with more catches. He had too many drops, the other receivers had theirs as well. After finding scissors on the field, Roberts didn't do much. Looked like he could have picked up a concussion when he was laid out after dropping a pass. Bad news if he still has effects from it this week. Fuller continues to be the most dependable overall, but he needs help.
OFFENSIVE LINE Junior guard David Wang played admirably Saturday, but the left ankle still isn't healed. He was pushed back and beaten a few times as a result. It's not good when your options behind Wang aren't good enough that he has to continue to play. Overall, the pass protection was much better. Thomas had much more time to throw, which was a good thing since he had 49 attempts. But the lanes to run through weren't there. The running backs weren't great int heir decision-making, but they need more time and more room to try to get running.
DEFENSIVE LINE The Hokies got to UNC quarterback Bryn Renner just once, a sack that went to linebacker Jack Tyler, but other than that, Renner's white jersey didn't have many spots on it after the game. Junior defensive end James Gayle blamed holding that wasn't called, but that alone doesn't result in 48 points. Virginia Tech can't get a lot of push going, very uncharacteristic for its defense. It better come quick, with more spread offenses on the way.
LINEBACKERS Tyler got the Hokies' lone sack of the day, but even he didn't have the impact he's had in previous games. The same went for senior Bruce Taylor. Both were into more pass coverage, which Tyler does ok with, but isn't Taylor's specialty. More passing teams are on the horizon, so they'll have to do a better job of managing when to run and when to pass. Giovani Bernard is a weapon, but there's no excuse for him being able to run consistently into the secondary. Still, the position might be the best of the defense.
DEFENSIVE BACKS Another game of struggles for the secondary. Redshirt freshman Michael Cole was the leading tackler with 11, but it's because Bernard and the Tar Heels'm running backs were consistently getting downfield. Bernard AVERAGED 11.4 yards per carry, the team 7.5. Junior cornerbacks Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller looked better early on against the pass, but there's still far too many overall missed tackles to say there's much improvement here. The secondary should be the last level of defense against the run. So the fact that North Carolina shredded through the secondary on the ground can't fall entirely on the defensive backs.
SPECIAL TEAMS This has been an area of strength, but it took a step back Saturday as well. Freshman Brooks Abbott was supposed to provide more lift on kickoffs and give the Hokies more time to get in coverage. But the Tar Heels' Sean Tapley returned the kickoff after Virginia Tech's first touchdown 94 yards for a touchdown, the first return given up by the Hokies since Syracuse did so in 1993, formerly the longest streak in FBS. Even punter A.J. Hughes, who boomed some punts against Cincinnati, averaged just 36.6 yards. The bright spot was kicker Cody Journell, who had 35- and 40-yard field goals and who got plenty of leg into each.
COACHES Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been at this a long time, but even he doesn't have too many answers for how to get things turned around. HokieHaven.com got to listen in on assistant Cornell Brown making a heartfelt, inspiring speech before the game, but it went for naught. The offensive coaches had a little better time, as Thomas got back into a good flow. But Virginia Tech won't win too many shootouts.
CROWD The listed attendance for the game was 54,000 with a whiteout. Even from the glassed-in press box, the fans were raucous. Nothing like some other crowds we've heard, but they rallied behind the Tar Heels and provided a good game atmosphere.