Out-of-town Q&A: Virginia Tech

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A guaranteed thing to hear as Maryland heads into its Thursday night visit to Virginia Tech: Ralph Friedgen saying “Monday is like Wednesday, and Tuesday is like Thursday.”

It’s a guarantee because he says this every year heading into a Thursday night game.

Well, taking a cue from Ralph, Monday is like Wednesday here, and that means it is time for the out-of-town Q&A to bring everyone up to speed on Maryland’s next opponent.

Graciously helping the blog out this week is Darryl Slater, the Virginia Tech beat writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. You can check out his blog, which this morning includes an update on the carousel-o-injured-quarterbacks in Blacksburg.

Let’s get to his insight on the Hokies…

1. If Tyrod Taylor (high ankle sprain) isn’t able to go on Thursday, how much does that diminish Virginia Tech’s rushing game?

DS: Significantly. Taylor is Tech’s second-leading rusher, with 63.1 yards per game, just behind redshirt freshman tailback Darren Evans (64.9). The Hokies running game took a hit Oct. 4 against Western Kentucky when junior tailback Kenny Lewis Jr. ruptured his Achilles tendon. Redshirt freshman Josh Oglesby took Lewis’ spot as the No. 2 tailback but has struggled. He ran six times for 13 yards against Boston College and four times for 11 yards against Florida State. Tech coach Frank Beamer said he is looking for a “lift” at tailback and has moved junior Jahre Cheeseman there from fullback. Cheeseman switched from tailback to fullback earlier this season.

2. What exactly can be expected from quarterback-turned-wideout-turned-quarterback Cory Holt if he is forced into a starting role?

DS: Hard to say. Holt is a fifth-year senior, so he knows Tech’s offense. In fact, he has been in the program longer than anyone else on the team except fifth-year senior linebacker Brett Warren. Both Holt and Warren enrolled in January 2004. So the coaches are comfortable with Holt from a sheer experience standpoint. Don’t expect the guy to emotionally wilt like a younger first-time starter might. But Holt really has no body of work upon which to judge him. He had thrown 25 passes before being pressed into duty at Florida State. None had been significant. Quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said Holt has some of Taylor’s running ability and some of fifth-year senior Sean Glennon’s ability to stand in the pocket and make a throw. Yet the biggest question still remains: Can he show that ability consistently enough to give Tech a chance to win?

3. I hate keeping it with the QBs, but it strikes me as crazy that Holt shares the team lead in touchdown tosses. How have the Hokies functioned without a well-developed passing game, and is the offensive line (2.88 sacks yielded a game) more responsible for it than anything?

DS: They have barely gotten by. The lack of a passing game was most apparent in the loss at Boston College, where Taylor was stunningly inaccurate and each of his top three wide receivers dropped an important pass. The first point on this: Beamer insisted when he named Taylor the starter that he was an accurate passer. And while Taylor’s completion percentage (56.7) is better than Glennon’s was in 2006, his first season as a starter (56.3), it has become clear that Taylor still is much more comfortable running with the ball than throwing it. The second point: The receivers (redshirt freshman Danny Coale and true freshmen Jarrett Boykin and Dyrell Roberts) are part of this issue, too. Drops are going to happen when you have guys this young. And the Hokies have put themselves in a position this season where they have to rely on youth. (Consider this stat: Of the 61 members of Tech’s 2004-06 recruiting classes, 31 either never came to Tech or left with eligibility remaining. That counts receiver Zach Luckett, who is indefinitely suspended but could return. And of those 31, five were receivers and six were offensive linemen.) That brings us to the third point: The offensive line, with just one starter gone, was supposed to be better this season. It hasn’t been. Junior Ed Wang, who moved from right tackle to left tackle during the offseason, has been perhaps the biggest disappointment. He allowed three sacks on one drive at Florida State. So I think the sputtering passing game is a combination of those three factors.

4. It’s probably fair to say the team MVP to date probably comes from the defense. Who would you say is the Hokies’ best player so far this season?

DS: Sophomore defensive end Jason Worilds is having a nice season (8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, 12 quarterback hurries). Same with senior end Orion Martin (10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble). But the best player on the team is senior cornerback Victor “Macho” Harris. He intercepted a pass in his first four games this season — becoming the first Tech player since 1985 to have an interception in four straight games. Harris also returned one of those picks for a touchdown. And while he hasn’t had an interception in the past two games, he deserves some credit for Warren’s interception return for a touchdown at Boston College. Harris tipped the pass before Warren caught it. All that said, Harris has gotten beaten for three long passes in the past two games. Boston College’s Brandon Robinson beat him for a 48-yarder that set up a touchdown. Florida State’s Greg Carr beat him for 48- and 39-yarders — both of which set up touchdowns. But everything considered, Harris has been Tech’s best player and will unquestionably be its highest-selected player in next spring’s NFL draft.

5. Virginia Tech lost to East Carolina on a blocked punt return, yielded a crucial punt return for touchdown at Boston College and uncharacteristically ranks among the nation’s worst teams in net punting. There’s also not a punt, kickoff or blocked kick return for touchdown this season. What in the name of BeamerBall is going on with the Hokies’ usually vaunted special teams?

DS: It gets back to youth and inexperience. Consider the punt return for a touchdown at Boston College. The first two guys to miss tackles on that play were the gunners: redshirt freshman Cris Hill and senior Dustin Pickle. Both of those players are new gunners this season. The gunners last season were Brandon Dillard and Luckett. Dillard ruptured his Achilles during the summer and Luckett, as we mentioned earlier, is suspended. Of the 10 guys on the punt-coverage team (Beamer refers to it as the Pride team), five are new to the team this season. Last year’s Pride team included Xavier Adibi and Duane Brown, both of whom were selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft. There are no guys on this Pride team, except maybe Martin, who will be selected in the first four rounds. Also, you might recall that critical roughing-the-punter penalty at Florida State. The penalty sustained a Seminoles touchdown drive on which they took their first lead, 17-13. It was committed by true freshman Eddie Whitley.

Again, much thanks to Darryl Slater for taking the time to offer his thoughts on Virginia Tech.

Patrick Stevens

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