North Carolina takes to the road Thursday night for a nationally-televised showdown with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. UNC won a dramatic last-second victory over the Hokies the last time they were in Lane Stadium two seasons ago. HokieHaven.com publisher Brian Mohr, an expert on Virginia Tech, was kind enough to answer several of our questions about the 9-1 Hokies, who can lock up the ACC's Coastal Division crown with a triumph over the Tar Heels.
Virginia Tech seems to be really hitting its stride over the past few weeks as they've improved to 9-1 on the season. What have you seen out of the Hokies in the last several games to describe their impressive turn-around coming off that loss at home to Clemson?
It's been a few things. Defensively Virginia Tech was hit hard by injuries with multiple starters, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, Bruce Taylor and Antoine Hopkins going out with season ending injuries along with multiple games missed by starters James Gayle, Alonzo Tweedy (for Gouveia-Winslow) and Jayron Hosley. Tech is without the first three, but the other three have returned and are or near to 100%.
On the flip-side, Virginia Tech's offense has really found it's groove. Logan Thomas has evolved since the Clemson game making just about every pass imaginable and his timing and accuracy have been very good in recent weeks.
Tech has also utilized him better, running the read option with him when need be and thus the offense has come up big. It has helped significantly that Virginia Tech's offensive line, something that is often criticized, has stepped up in a major way and are playing the best they have in arguably years. This should have been expected with four seniors starting.
Tell us about David Wilson, Virginia Tech's star running back. Talk about Wilson's strengths and abilities as a running back, and just how important he's been to Tech's success this fall?
He's been a big part of the offense for the Hokies and has posted a 100-yard game almost every week. He's the leading rusher in the nation for a reason. Easily his biggest strength is his ability to break tackles, he's gotten something in the range of 800-plus yards after the first hit this year.
To put it simply, Wilson's balance in part because he is a tremendous track athlete too is amazing. He can contort his body in ways that are unimaginable. He's had at least one of those kinds of plays every week. Outside of that, he's taken a lot of heat off Logan Thomas as he has learned. That has allowed the Hokies to utilize the read option which keeps opponents off balance with Thomas and Wilson potentially running the ball.
Coming out of high school, a lot of recruiting analysts thought Logan Thomas was a tight end or receiver, and here he is starting at quarterback for the Hokies. Talk about Thomas's development as a quarterback this season. Although he's been inconsistent at times, how has he progressed and improved?
He has progressed in a major way this year, he's making throws I don't think anyone even at Virginia Tech expected him to. He can throw every pass in the book with a fair amount of accuracy. He's especially progressed with his deep reads. He made a pass last week against Georgia Tech that was an NFL toss on a deep slant across the middle.
The thing that has changed with Thomas over his career as a backup, but particularly this year is his patience. Thomas used to be a gunner, he'd throw it deep and that would even result in him putting it into traffic at times. However, that has changed dramatically in recent weeks, his reads are far better and he only usually has a few incompletions and often times at least two to three are straight drops. Of course, he is a first year starter so once in awhile he'll make a mistake, but he's had the opportunity to evaluate the field by having a strong line in front of him.
In a side note, his ability in the read option has dramatically improved, he's starting to make very good decisions there and that has allowed the Hokies to run significantly better.
Describe Virginia Tech's defense at this point in the season. We knew there have been multiple personnel changes, both in the offseason and during the season, but the Hokies just seem to keep plugging along. Who are the guys performing well on defense for the Hokies this season?
As mentioned above, Virginia Tech has filled a few roles in recent weeks. The big stars upfront have been three of the four starting defensive linemen, Derrick Hopkins at tackle and ends J.R. Collins along with James Gayle, the three of them have provided quite a bit of pressure.
Hopkins in particular has been a key cog in stopping the run. Bruce Taylor before his injury was a big piece of the puzzle, but now Barquell Rivers and Jack Tyler are filling in there. In terms of the linebackers, Tech has seen a spark at times from Tariq Edwards. Alonzo Tweedy starts on the other side at whip and his quick, but consistent enough.
Everyone knows about Jayron Hosley and he's had a good year, but Kyle Fuller at the other cornerback spot has been better this year. Fuller is an outstanding tackler and his coverage has been spot on, he's easily the biggest secret of this defense still. He is a true playmaker and easily the MVP of the defense.
Tech occasionally will utilize a third corner and that has been Detrick Bonner or more likely Cris Hill. Hill, a former four-star is finally playing to his potential. Eddie Whitley and Antone Exum have been solid players at safety and both will come on the blitz.
Virginia Tech is well-known for having big, powerful offensive lines. What's this year's offensive line unit been like, and how have they played as a whole?
Virginia Tech's offensive line is one of the best in recent memory and as I said before, with four seniors they should be. They have really come on in the past couple weeks. Throughout the year they haven't really given up much pressure on Logan Thomas, he hasn't been sacked that much.
The run game is a bit more iffy, though it has shown significant improvement particularly against Georgia Tech breaking some big holes. The line is pretty cohesive even though the Hokies change the left tackle position on every other series between Andrew Lanier and Nick Becton. The star of the line has been Blake DeChristopher, he's very consistent and reliable at right tackle.
Do you think there's a measure of revenge on the minds of these Hokie players for what happened in 2009 against UNC in Blacksburg, even though Tech won last year in Chapel Hill?
To a degree I'd say as Tech doesn't like to lose at home, but I think more important than that is the fact that Tech needs to hold a firm grasp of the lead for the ACC Coastal. It's also going to be senior night and Thursday night in Blacksburg, that's just a huge thing anyway.