In beating Western Carolina 45-3, the Hokies had their best team performance since last season's 37-0 win vs. Bowling Green. But there were some huge differences which provide me a much greater sense of optimism coming out of this ballgame than I felt after the Bowling Green game last season.
If you think back to that Bowling Green game last season, the Hokies basically needed Logan Thomas to BE the offense. Their first three series were a joke until Thomas finally started running the ball himself and moving the offense. They scored 21 pts in the 2nd quarter and went on to win. The defense pitched a shut-out but they gave up 266 yards to a team that would go on to lose to such notables as Kent State and San Jose State.
Watching this game against Western Carolina, yes the offense got started a little slowly, but when it began to work it was because the entire offense was coming together. The passing game started to click, the running game began to emerge and the defense was absolutely smothering. The only reason Western Carolina got 3 points was because of a missed catch interference call while Kyshoen Jarrett was fielding a punt on his 10 yd-line. The ball bounced off his foot, WCU recovered and the Hokies held them to a field goal. The remainder of the game, the defense was simply dominant in every facet.
The key to this offensive unit playing more competently (I'm not ready to call it a resurgence yet, until they do it consistently against better competition) has clearly been the offensive line. The Hokies gave up no sacks on Saturday and were clearing running lanes for all of the backs. And this without their best player - RG Andrew Miller who came out of the lineup with an ankle in the first quarter.
The other major difference between this game and the game against Bowling Green is that the Hokie coaches were rotating in dozens of different players throughout the entire game! There was no hesitation to play true freshman Kalvin Kline at TE, and he delivered with 4 receptions. The Hokies freely rotated in defensive linemen and receivers to keep the players fresh and give lots of young players plenty of reps. And it paid off with big plays by Willie Byrn, Nigel Williams and of course, I'm sure you didn't expect to read a review of the game and not hear about RB Chris Mangus.
Yours truly has been scratching his head about Mangus since the spring. Mangus redshirted in 2012, the Hokies lost Michael Holmes to dismissal this year and I figured Mangus would be in the mix at RB. I was asking our source in the program and all sportswriters why there was no mention of Mangus. Even before the Alabama game with Coleman out and Caleb suspended, the coaches seemed to suggest that they would play Mangus reluctantly, because they had no choice. Was it blitz pickup, ball security issues, what exactly was the reason he wasn't being given a vote of confidence?
I knew it wasn't his ability to run the ball as he was TSF's #1 underrated recruit in the 2012 class. And after running tough at the end of the Bama game last weekend, Mangus got a chance to show that element on Saturday to the rest of Hokie Nation as he took a pitch, broke a tackle on the way to the edge and then beat 3 players with an angle to take it to the house for a 76 yd score. Mangus needs to figure in to the Hokie offense. He is the kind of big play threat that the Hokies didn't have last season. Whether he's in the slot, in a 2 back set with Edmunds or Coleman, or what, Coach Loefler needs to find a way to work Mangus in to the offense.
Speaking of Edmunds, he demonstrated that the first game vs. Alabama wasn't a fluke. No, he didn't rush for over 100 yards, but he averaged 4.5 yds/carry and ran with toughness and elusiveness. I didn't see a single called run for Logan Thomas in the game. I'm sure there will be plenty of read-option as the season progresses, but not on Saturday. Thomas made some crisp throws with great accuracy and velocity. However, he also had two interceptions, though one of them was not his fault. The first interception was a "make-a-play" ball that QB's give to their #1 receivers on any given Saturday. I saw dozens of those plays in other games last weekend (watch Teddy Bridgewater's TD pass to the end zone in the Louisville game as a perfect example). Thomas threw the ball in a 1-on-1 situation with Knowles and WCU DB Trey Morgan. Knowles is either supposed to catch the ball, or knock it down. He did neither.
The second INT was also a ball thrown to Knowles, but it was a worse pass and an easier interception. Knowles has speed but he looks like a guy without a lot of wide receiver play in his background, which is, in fact, the case. He needs to develop his ball skills in order to become a true additional threat in this offense. We'll see what Coach Moorehead is all about in his ability to develop these receivers. Catching was better on Saturday but there were still 4 dropped balls which is 4 too many.
If Andrew Miller's ankle is ok and WR Charley Meyer fully recovers from his hamstring injuries and is capable of making the types of catches and plays that we heard about all summer, this offense can take another step forward against ECU on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Hokie defense will face a much higher talent level challenge than they did against WCU and it will be on the road to boot. As always, we'll learn more about the Hokies next week, and I hope I get to watch the game again.