It’s Virginia Tech-week and this Bearcat fan couldn’t be more excited. UC finally has the opportunity to jettison the monkey (in this case, turkey) off its back. While posting 10-win seasons four of the past five years, they have yet to take down a marquee non-conference opponent. Cincinnati got embarrassed by Tennessee last season and couldn’t complete the upset of Oklahoma in 2010. Yet again, though, the Bearcats have an opportunity to knock off a name brand program.
While no longer ranked in the AP Poll and barely ranked in the USA Today Poll after laying an egg against the Pitt Panthers two Saturdays ago, Virginia Tech is that marquee non-conference opponent this season. Taking down the Hokies, by far the best and most consistent ACC program in the last decade, essentially on the road in their house (it’s at FedEx Field and should be packed with VT fans), would make waves in the college football world. That’s the idea anyways.
So in preparation for the game, in addition to filling him in on the Bearcats, I’ve garnered the help of Justin from Virginia Tech Fan to get all the info we need on his favorite team. He went above and beyond in answering a few questions about the Hokies.
Bearcats Nation: In the week leading up to the game the main storyline in Cincinnati will be that this is a rematch of the Orange Bowl a couple of years back. Will it be hyped up the same way in Hokie Nation?
Justin: Similar, yes but to us it’s just another non-conference game. It’s another chance for Virginia Tech to improve and hopefully head into conference play 4-1 on the season. Of course, that’s more my estimation of it and I’m not one that gets sucked into the history of the series. I don’t mean that in any disrespect to Cincinnati fans but with our standing in College Football that’s just the way it is. This is the Bearcat’s one shot at upsetting a big-time opponent while this is probably the 5th or 6th best game on our schedule if you would poll fellow Hokie fans.
BN: How would you evaluate Virginia Tech’s season thus far?
J: Coming into this season, I thought through our first four games 2-2 was worst-case scenario and 4-0 was the best-case scenario. Since we’re 3-1, we’re where most realistic Tech fans thought we’d be heading into this Cincinnati game. We’ve had to replace a lot of talent this season so we’re having some growing pains, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
BN: The main thing I’ve been concerned about heading into this game is the loads of experience in the Hokie defense. Are they living up to the expectations?
J: Sadly, no. Myself, like a lot of VT journalists, beat writers, and bloggers out there, thought this defense would mimic our 2007 and 2004 counterparts. So far, we’ve been dead wrong. Our shutout against Bowling Green this past weekend was a major step in the right direction but even in that game we had some blown coverages. Plus, our defensive line has been a bit of a disappointment as well. As the season goes along, this unit will vastly improve but like our offense, it’s just a work in progress.
BN: Most Cincy fans will probably be asking themselves, “Why is that tight end playing quarterback?” Can you tell us more about Logan Thomas and his performance this year.
J: Coming into this year, Logan Thomas was predicted to be a top 10 NFL pick in April. So far, he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. A lot of that is because of us replacing four offensive linemen, our two most prolific wide receivers in school history, and a 1st round pick at running back. You don’t just plug those holes and keep on moving the ball without some great success on the recruiting trail.
As for Logan, his stats are a product of him pressing too much and just the overall lack of rhythm our offense has shown through four games this year. But I will say when he needs to be great, he can flip that switch at any time. Take the Miami game last year and the Georgia Tech game in week one. Despite struggling for three quarters, Logan flipped that switch and went 9 for 12 for 140 yards and a TD, including a game tying touchdown drive to force overtime against the Yellow Jackets. That was a huge win for us just because of what that game has meant ever since ACC expansion. The winner of that game has represented the Coastal Division in Charlotte every single year.
BN: The last time UC faced VT, the Hokies ran all over us. Is that the same run-first offense that we will see on Saturday?
J: I hope so but we’ve really struggled to run the ball this season. We’re 80th in rushing offense this year and remember, we’re coming off a 246 yard performance last weekend against Bowling Green. So, our rushing average has been abysmal so far. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully we’re edging closer to fixing the problem. Our ground attack looked better this past Saturday but running the ball on Bowling Green is a lot different then running the ball on Cincy; or ACC foes for that matter.
At running back, we’ll go with four different players. R-Junior Tony Gregory will likely receive the start after his performance this past weekend. Gregory has undergone two ACL surgeries (both on the same knee) and has come back strong from both of them. He ran for a team high 68 yards on Saturday. Gregory has great straight line speed but he’s relatively light for a running back these days (190 lbs).
R-Freshman Michael Holmes will see some carries and he’s been our starter through the first three weeks. Holmes isn’t fast but he has good vision and good bend. He’s a guy who is probably playing one year before he should have. But, he’s capable and hopefully his 40 yard run this past Saturday will install some confidence in him.
Our last two guys will be used in certain situations. First up is true freshman J.C. Coleman, who is our LaMichael James. At 5’7” and 190 pounds, he’s our change of pace back. He’ll be used on end-arounds and out of shotgun and pistol formations. He’s great at catching the ball out of the backfield as well.
Lastly, we have former walk-on and r-senior Martin Scales who is our big, bruising tailback. Scales will only see a handful of snaps but he’s a natural runner. He doesn’t have much speed at his disposal but he can make you miss by using his shoulder pads.
BN: Overall, how has the offense fared this season?
J: The average VT fan would probably insert a few expletives and finish off that answer with the word ‘poor’. Our offense has been in complete rebuilding mode this season, which is a little surprising since we have a lot of seniors starting. We replaced two of our four graduated offensive linemen with seniors and two of our graduated wide receivers with seniors. But, for whatever reason, the offense has sputtered.
Now with that being said, when the offense clicks it works extremely well. Against Austin Peay, we had four touchdowns in five drives. Against Bowling Green, we had four straight touchdown drives. The problem is we start off the game slowly and often we end up playing from behind. That’s what happened against Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech. We started slow, fell behind, and had to work our way back. We managed to beat Georgia Tech but we just fell into too much of a hole against Pittsburgh.
BN: If you were a Cincinnati coach, what position group of the Virginia Tech offense or defense would you try to exploit?
J: As an Offensive Coordinator, I would try to work the interior of our defense with some misdirection then go after our free safety, whether its r-sophomore Detrick Bonner or r-freshman Michael Cole. Bonner has been injured some this season and Pittsburgh’s entire gameplan was to isolate Bonner in one-on-one matchups with Devin Street. That resulted in at least three big plays for the Panthers. Cole has been good but he’s a freshman.
As a Defensive Coordinator, I would try to create some different blitz packages. Try to get the offensive line to prove that they can protect Logan Thomas consistently. I would also give Virginia Tech more of the middle of the field. I know that’s the exact opposite of what you would want to do but our weakness is up the middle. Our interior offensive line has played poorly so far. Plus, we don’t have a true go-to-guy in the backfield yet. Just don’t let somebody like JC Coleman get to the edge and keep Virginia Tech behind the chains.
BN: Who wins?
J: Honestly, when I do our blog’s Roundtable article this week, I’m probably going to pick the Bearcats. I’m not picking them from talent or coaching perspective but more from a rhythm and passing of the eye-test perspective. The Hokies struggle in NFL stadiums and DC has not been kind to us the last two times we’ve played there. With that being said, I think Virginia Tech has more talent than Cincinnati at almost every position. But, to this point, we haven’t been able to harness that talent at max efficiency.
So, right now I like the Bearcats to eek out a three point win, something along the lines of 27-24.
I love Justin’s confidence in the Bearcats on Saturday. Now we can be best friends. Unfortunately I don’t share in his confidence. Before the season I marked this game as the one OOC game that Cincinnati drops and while it will displease UC fans I’m sticking with that prediction now. Expect this to be a pseudo-home game for Virginia Tech who should be packing FedEx Field to the brim on Saturday afternoon. Hats off to the thousands of Bearcat fans making the drip to D.C. this weekend but they will be vastly outnumbered by Hokie fans. Also this is a battle-hardened team Cincinnati faces with veterans all over the field. I think the game will be close, as Justin predicts, but Virginia Tech wins by a touchdown.
I will however be ecstatic to eat crow if I’m completely wrong.