Virginia Tech Football: 5 Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Hokies

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2013

Virginia Tech Football: 5 Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Hokies

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    At 1-1, the Virginia Tech Hokies are about where everyone expected them to be after two weeks. Their performance against Alabama, on defense, gave Virginia Tech fans reason for optimism in 2013.

    In Week 2, the Hokies made their Lane Stadium debut with a 45-3 thrashing of FCS Western Carolina. Yes, the Hokies looked good in some areas but showed the need to improve in other phases.

    Injuries were the talk of fall camp as the Hokies lost several contributors. Things were so bad that starting tailback J.C. Coleman sprained both ankles in practice on the same day.

    Injuries aside, what's the biggest early-season storyline for the Hokies?

    Here are five storylines we find the most intriguing just two weeks into the season.

     

Dominating Defense

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    They were a special teams gaffe away from pitching a shutout on Saturday. Yes, it was just Western Carolina, but most importantly, the Hokies followed up their dominant defensive performance against Alabama by doing what they were supposed to against the FCS Catamounts.

    In just two games, the Hokies have allowed only 368 yards, good for an average of just 184 total yards per game.

    Can it continue? 

    The Hokies play East Carolina and Marshall the next two weeks. Neither team is a powerhouse, but both like to play an up-tempo style that puts pressure on a defense. The Hokies will win both contests just in time for ACC play to begin at the end of September.

    Don't be surprised if Bud Foster's group is a top-10 unit by season's end. 

Special Teams Struggles

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    Virginia Tech began its streak of 20 consecutive bowl games because the team placed a strong emphasis on special teams and defense.

    That reputation on special teams has taken a major hit in the past few seasons. The Hokies struggle to block kicks, something they did with relative ease at one time, and allow touchdowns on special teams. Alabama's Christion Jones and his two return touchdowns in Week 1 proved to be the difference in the game.

    Another special teams mistake happened on Saturday. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett, an excellent punt returner, muffed a punt in Virginia Tech territory that set up Western Carolina's only score on Saturday.

    The Hokies did have some starters in on special teams coverage units Saturday, so they understand the need to improve in this area if they want to challenge for the ACC title. 

The Struggles of Logan Thomas

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    Senior quarterback Logan Thomas did improve on Saturday. However, given the opponent, that was expected. He still had his struggles, though.

    Thomas threw two interceptions, both on deep passes to Demitri Knowles, where he probably didn't lead the receiver enough on the routes. It would also help if Knowles could play a ball in the air. For all the criticism Marcus Davis took, he was excellent at playing the ball in these situations.

    There are subtle improvements in Thomas' game. When he feels pressure, he will roll out, and instead of forcing the ball into coverage, he now throws the ball away. That is a crucial step in his development. 

    If the Hokies expect to improve on offense, they need Thomas to play better. He is capable of it, and Western Carolina was a good opponent for the Hokies to take some chances downfield against. 

    It's worth noting, though, his completion percentage would be much better if he had a little help from his receivers. 

Offensive Line Play

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    The offensive line took most of the blame for the Virginia Tech's struggles in 2012. And for good reason. The Hokies rotated interior linemen like they were a basketball team trying to stay fresh. They couldn't run the football and struggled to protect Thomas.

    Frank Beamer fixed that issue by hiring Jeff Grimes to be his new offensive line coach. Grimes came in, not promising any of the holdovers a starting position, and used all of fall and spring practice to find his five or six best linemen.

    Each of the three new starters on the interior played a different position in 2012. Grimes moved them around and thus far it has paid off.

    Grimes' biggest move, though, is starting true freshman Jonathan McLaughlin at left tackle. McLaughlin played very well against Alabama and at this point looks to have that position locked up for the next three or four years.

    In two games, the Hokies have rushed for 390 yards. If the running game continues to churn out yards, the passing game will eventually get better, too. 

Running Back Depth

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    When Michael Holmes was kicked off the team this summer, many around the Virginia Tech program were concerned about the depth at running back. J.C. Coleman's injury in August made things worse. The Hokies would have only freshman Trey Edmunds against Alabama.

    All Edmunds did was run for over 130 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown run. He followed that performance up with 68 yards rushing and two touchdowns on Saturday.

    Coleman's return was even better news for the Hokies. He carried the ball seven times for 38 yards against Western Carolina. He showed no apparent ill-effects from the ankle injuries and looks to have a strong sophomore campaign.

    The best news the Hokies got, though, was the performances of Chris Mangus and Joel Caleb. Mangus has outstanding speed and showed that with an electrifying 76-yard run last week. The Hokies would be wise to get him on the field more often.

    Caleb, the team's top recruit in 2012, was suspended for the opener against Alabama. He was playing wide receiver when the coaches decided to move him to running back in the summer. That appears to be a smart move.

    Caleb ran for 36 yards and a touchdown in his first game and is a very smooth runner. Expect offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to gradually get Caleb more involved in the passing game moving forward.