BLACKSBURG — In the aftermath of Virginia Tech's 30-12 loss last Thursday night at Miami, Tech coach Frank Beamer pulled his quarterback aside for a few minutes. He wanted a sense for how Logan Thomas was feeling in a season that has gotten ugly.
With Tech slated to host No. 8 Florida State (8-1 overall, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) and its own behemoth quarterback in Virginia Beach native EJ Manuel Thursday night, Beamer needed to get inside his own quarterback's head a little bit. He discovered a guy that's under a lot of pressure, and hurting.
"My thing with him, I appreciate his toughness very much," said Beamer, whose team will try to get one step closer toward becoming bowl eligible for a 20th consecutive season, while also trying to improve against top-10 opponents (2-8 in its last 10 games against top 10 teams). "I don't want him to put too much of the load on himself.
"I think sometimes (he) feels like he has to make some plays. … I think it's one of those things where you just have to play your game. He's certainly playing good enough. I really admire how he's played. I thought some of the runs the other night (against Miami) — he wants to win so badly, hurts him when he doesn't, and that's the kind of guys you appreciate."
As unsatisfactory as the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Thomas has been this season as a thrower, completing just 53.3 percent of his passes for 2,109 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions (two more than he had all of last season), the 6-5, 240-pound Manuel has seen his career progression go the other direction.
Manuel, a senior who graduated from Bayside High, leads the ACC and is second in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 70 percent of his passes for 2,315 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's 21-5 as a starter, and he's the most accurate passer in ACC history (67.3 percent).
Tech (4-5, 2-3) has seen Manuel grow up over the years. In 2010, he was a game-day decision starter in place of the injured Christian Ponder, when FSU lost 44-33 to Tech in the ACC championship game.
Manuel completed 23 of 31 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown in the game, but he also threw two costly interceptions that led to 10 Tech points. Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster spies a different Manuel these days.
"You see a more polished guy, a guy with more poise, more comfortable in the offense," Foster said. "He's just a more complete quarterback than when we played him. … You're seeing a guy that we probably forced him into a few bad throws in that game, and you're not seeing him do that as much right now."
Tech, which is 40th in the nation in total defense (367.9 yards per game) and hasn't given up more than 347 yards to an opponent in its last three games, has prepared for an FSU offense that leads the ACC in scoring offense (44.8 points per game; third in the nation) and total offense (524.6 yards per game; seventh in the nation).
While Manuel has been able to avoid throwing the drive-killing interception this season, Thomas hasn't been so fortunate.
In Tech's last two games, which were losses at Clemson and at Miami, the Hokies had a combined minus-six turnover ratio. Four of Tech's seven turnovers in those games came via interceptions thrown by Thomas, including one returned for a touchdown against Clemson. Another turnover came inside Miami's 5-yard line on a lost fumble due to a bad center-quarterback exchange.
"They've had a few bad breaks here and there," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I always say that things aren't as good as they seem and things aren't as bad as they seem."
Beamer has offered up reasons like Tech saying goodbye last season to wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, the top two pass-catchers in school history, running back David Wilson and four starting offensive linemen as reasons for Thomas' decline.
Though Tech's running game hasn't come around (164.2 yards per game, fifth in the ACC), receivers Marcus Davis (36 catches for 686 yards and four touchdowns) and Corey Fuller (29 catches for 547 yards and four touchdowns have both emerged as dependable targets for Thomas.
"It's just getting comfortable — that people are going to be where you think they're going to be," Beamer said. "Then, a couple times I think Logan just threw it bad. I think he'd be the first to tell you that."
NO. 8 FLORIDA STATE (8-1, 5-1 ACC) AT VIRGINIA TECH (4-5, 2-3)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg.
THE BUZZ: Much of the preseason luster of this matchup — when it was considered a possible ACC title-game preview — has been dulled due Tech's struggles. Tech hasn't had trouble gaining yards, but putting up points has been an issue (14.5 points in its last two games against ACC opponents). It may be even more challenging against FSU, which leads the nation in total defense (227.1 yards per game) and is third in scoring defense (12 points per game).
PREDICTION: FSU 38-14.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times