Virginia Tech Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Austin Peay Governors
Although Virginia Tech is supposed to dominate the Austin Peay Governors, they still need to play smart football. As well as studying their next opponents, the Hokies will be looking at film from Monday night and analyzing key areas in which to improve.
They left the field with a win, admittedly, but quarterback Logan Thomas underwhelmed for large parts of the game and it took a fourth quarter comeback to finally grind out the victory.
Let’s preview the Governors matchup by outlining five keys to the game.
Accurate Quarterback Play
Logan Thomas struggled with his throws against Georgia Tech and never really got into a rhythm. Most of his passes were overthrown, either too high or too fast, and sometimes he kept hold of the ball when he had no real business doing so.
Although Thomas completed 21-of-38 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns, he will expect better of himself against Austin Peay. His fourth quarter play against the Yellow Jackets was encouraging, with the quick 51-yard drive to tie the game an example of what he can do under pressure.
It may be that the new offensive systems in place for this year had Thomas a little bit overwhelmed, as he looked to be struggling with his pre-snap reads in a constantly moving field.
As a result, his footwork was off and he failed to connect with his receivers. A lot of them are new targets, however, so they’ll get more in sync with Thomas as the season goes on.
In fairness to the Georgia Tech defense, they performed extremely well for most of the game, keeping the pressure on Thomas and reducing the Hokies to short possessions and then the inevitable punt (once from the Georgia Tech 35-yard line, which was mystifying).
Thomas knows what’s expected of him, and he knows he didn’t deliver against the Yellow Jackets:
We could’ve done a lot better. I was the one holding us back. I played like garbage. I just wasn’t putting the ball where it needed to be…but in the end, I started picking it up. (Via The Virginian-Pilot).
The game against the Governors will be less testing for Thomas, so he should be given the time to set his feet and concentrate on his mechanics. He will have looked at the Georgia Tech film and worked on his flaws from that game.
Look for a much-improved performance against Austin Peay.
A former walk-on, Jack Tyler had a career-high 17 tackles against Georgia Tech and was named the ACC’s linebacker of the week. Ably assisted by Jeron Gouveia-Winslow—11 tackles and a quarterback hurry— the Hokies limited the Yellow Jackets' offense to 288 total yards.
The Hokies have always had a program that enables them to get the best out of their walk-ons, and Tyler is no exception. Emerging last year in the wake of Bruce Taylor’s injury, Tyler established himself as a game-changing linebacker.
At 5’11”, he was considered undersized coming out of high school, which led to a lack of scholarship offers. However, his positional knowledge and overall intelligence on the field brought him success with Virginia Tech.
This intelligence was again on display against the Yellow Jackets, as part of a Hokies defense that could really be as good as we have been led to believe. Tyler always seemed to know where the ball was—and almost always got to the ball-carrier with a solid hit.
Georgia Tech’s option offense forces the opposing linebackers to make key reads based on predicting the assignments of the offensive line.
It’s essential that these reads are made by players with a solid base knowledge of their position, as success is based on anticipation rather than pace. Tyler showed once again on Monday that he has the intelligence to succeed at his position.
Stopping the Run
With an anemic Governors air attack, it makes sense that their main threat to the Hokies will be on the ground.
Tailback Wesley Kitts ran for 104 yards against the Hilltoppers—including a 68-yard touchdown run—and will present the most pressing challenge for the Hokies' defense.
This is the first time these two teams have ever met, but the Hilltoppers game shows Virginia that Peay is a run-first team.
Just as against Georgia Tech and their power running game, it will fall to Tyler and Gouveia-Winslow to stop the run and reduce the Governors’ drives to speculative passes on third downs. Both players have an excellent understanding of their roles within the defense and Kitts will have trouble finding the seams.
That’s if he even plays, of course. Head coach Rick Christophers told reporters after last Saturday’s game that Kitts had less carries in the second half due to a groin strain. If Kitts doesn’t take the field this Saturday, then the Governors will have next to no offensive threat.
Georgia Tech was on the field for more than 22 minutes in the second half (via The Washington Post), and the Hokies defense remained strong and athletic.
They gave up a touchdown pass with less than a minute to go, but even if this happens against the Governors, the score isn’t likely to be anywhere near as close.
Look for both Tyler and Gouveia-Winslow to again total 10 tackles each, with Bruce Taylor not far behind.
A Fast Start
Every team likes to get early points up on the board and look to dominate the game. The Governors found it hard against Western Kentucky, mostly due to being behind for the whole game.
The Hilltoppers got off to a fast start and never looked back, relieving the pressure on their defense and allowing them to do some pressuring of their own.
Austin Peay just doesn't have the firepower to get into a shootout, so if Thomas can find his receivers for early touchdowns, the game will be sealed by halftime.
Although it’s unfair to label the game “target practice”, that’s really how the Hokies must treat it. Virginia Tech isn’t known for strong starts to the season, but Thomas must use the Governors game to set his feet and find his rhythm.
The benefits of a fast start go beyond the Governors game. If Thomas develops a connection with his receivers this early in the season, it spells great potential for Virginia Tech.
The loss of David Wilson started a debate about who was going to carry the Hokies’ running game. That debate wasn’t really silenced against Georgia as Virginia Tech only managed 96 rushing yards, with Thomas totaling 40 of them.
Although that rushing total isn’t as high as Tech fans are accustomed to, there are still positives to be drawn from the running backs’ performance.
Freshman Michael Holmes ran for 54 yards and looked promising. More carries for him against Austin Peay will get him further acclimated to college football, and give him a better chance of helping his team out down the stretch.
JC Coleman looked good in practice, showing an ability to ride the tackles and keep moving. Against Georgia Tech he was restricted to four carries, but he averaged 6.3 yards per touch.
They might not be there yet, but the Hokies have enough talent on the roster at running back to not let Wilson’s departure be a factor this year.
Playing the Governors will give them a good chance to get some useful yards and figure out exactly where they fit within the offense.