That is not the 20/20 you want in an offense.
Needless to say, Hokies faithful have noticed, and based on my inbox, many want to replace some combination of quarterback Logan Thomas, quarterbacks coach and play-caller Mike O’Cain and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring.
Thomas has been the starting quarterback and O’Cain the play-caller for all of five games. Both confronted a learning curve, and it’s showed, especially versus ECU and Clemson. But less than half a season is hardly enough time to form conclusions.
As for the annual, occasionally justified carping about Stinespring: With O’Cain now calling plays, Stinespring’s the OC in name only.
Besides, a team’s core philosophy is driven by the head coach, and as long as future Hall of Famer Frank Beamer is leading his alma mater, the Hokies are unlikely to become Houston East.
Start with the headliner. David Wilson leads the ACC in rushing and is a pleasure to watch. His reverse-field, 19-yard run and kickoff-return streamrolling of Bashaud Breeland in Saturday’s loss to Clemson will make Hokies highlights for years to come.
But Wilson has lost three fumbles in the last four games. His fumble and Thomas’ interception saddled Tech with turnovers on its first two possessions Saturday, derailing promising drives.
Thomas’ picks are also a problem. He’s thrown five in 132 passes, as many as Tyrod Taylor did in 315 attempts last season.
But Taylor was a senior, and Thomas is a sophomore. Growing pains were and are inevitable.
One emailer this week noted that Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is also a sophomore and has been far more productive than Thomas. Indeed, Boyd leads the ACC in passing (291.8 yards per game) and total offense (308.4 yards per game).
But Boyd has brain-cramped, too. He attempted a backward pass under duress against Florida State that the Seminoles returned for a touchdown and that could have cost Clemson the game.
Moreover, Boyd has more dynamic receivers than Thomas does in Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen, and he operates in a more high-tech spread offense.
Compounding Thomas’ growing pains are injuries to receivers Dyrell Roberts (out for the season with a broken arm) and Marcus Davis (week-to-week with a sprained foot). Without Roberts and Davis to stretch the field, the Hokies’ passing game has shriveled into a series of screens and slants intended for Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Wilson.
Part of that is personnel. Part of that is play-calling, and O’Cain acknowledged Saturday that he regretted not taking a few more shots downfield.
That said, longer routes require more sustained protection, and there the offensive line has fizzled at times, forcing Tech to keep more blockers around Thomas, which in turn makes fewer receivers easier for a defense to blanket.
Then there’s Thomas himself. I’ve seen him twice in-person, against ECU and Clemson, and he simply hasn’t appeared comfortable. His passes are often ill-timed and/or indecisive, none worse than the fourth-down slant he short-hopped to Coale on Saturday.
Against the Pirates and Tigers, Thomas was a combined 23-for-47 with two picks for 216 yards. Among ACC starters, only Boston College’s Chase Rettig has a lower pass efficiency rating.
Here’s another observation that may, or may not be, germane. Watching the Clemson game on DVR, I noticed that Thomas calls plays in the huddle with his eyes still locked on the sideline. He’s looking not at his teammates but for signals from the bench.
That’s not taking command of the huddle. That’s not looking into your teammates eyes and assuring them that you’re large and in charge.
Maybe Tech needs to get the play call to Thomas faster. Or maybe he needs to process it faster and then relay it to the huddle in a more forceful way.
Or maybe it’s nothing.
Some wonder if the left shoulder that Thomas sprained against Marshall hampered him against Clemson. If it did, he masked it well, especially when he lowered his shoulder into a defender at the end of a 15-yard scramble for a first down.
As Comrade Wood chronicled in today’s fishwrap edition, Beamer, O’Cain and Thomas insist the offense is “close” to getting things right. It’s a mantra we’ve heard before and, whether genuine or not, is meant more for internal than external consumption.
Even a rushing attack that ranks second in the ACC and averages 196 yards per game has been suspect in critical moments. Clemson stuffed Wilson for no gain on a second-and-goal from the 2, and dumped Josh Oglesby for a 5-yard loss on a third-and-1 from Tech’s 48.
The latter, a stretch play to the right for a power back, was an iffy call, especially given the situation. The Tigers had just seized a 17-3, third-quarter lead, and the Hokies desperately needed points. That was four-down territory, and O’Cain needed to call the play accordingly.
One final point: The defenses that stifled Tech are hardly impenetrable. Clemson yielded 822 yards and 46 points combined to Troy and Wofford, and East Carolina ranks 100th nationally in points allowed.
So with seven regular-season games remaining, all against ACC opponents, Virginia Tech has volumes to address. The Hokies need Thomas to be better, smarter, faster. The offensive line needs to pass protect better, O’Cain needs to call a more creative game, and Wilson needs to stop fumbling.
Those are short-term fixes. Bigger picture, taking one last swing at a national-title run, would Beamer ever scrap the offense, hire a new coordinator and perhaps even embrace the spread?
A year ago, I would have said no. But that was before Beamer, torqued at recruiting losses and a Orange Bowl beatdown from Stanford, retooled his staff in the offseason. It was a painful process that hurt some people for whom Beamer truly cares.
Now? If the offense continues to flail, I’d expect even more drastic changes this offseason.
Beamer may turn 65 in two weeks, but he wants to win, and win big, even if it means a bruising overhaul.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP