Amid Virginia Tech’s inconsistency, offensive line has been bright spot
The inexperienced backs have been inconsistent. New wide receivers have dropped passes. Quarterback Logan Thomas has missed some key throws. The unit has made mistakes in the red zone.
But somewhat surprisingly, the offensive line isn’t high on the list of problems.
While far from blameless for the Hokies’ 4-5 record, the rebuilt and battered front five have been relatively effective.
“I think under the circumstances, we’ve really worked hard and come tighter,” said sophomore Caleb Farris, one of three players to start a game at center for Tech this season. “It’s going to take time to get the chemistry just right. But I believe we’re playing well as a group.”
Statistically, the basic measures of offensive-line play would reveal that Hokies’ front has been adequate. Tech ranks fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 164.2 yards per game on the ground. And it’s tied for fourth at 4.4 yards per carry.
It’s given up the sixth fewest sacks in the 12-team conference, having allowed 18 in nine games.
“They play hard,” said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, whose No. 8 Seminoles play Tech at Lane Stadium tonight. “They’re well-coached. They’re very physical. They’ll punch you in the mouth. They’ve moved the ball all year so those guys have done a very nice job.”
Tech’s offensive line was a major question mark entering spring practice, with four starters gone from the 2011 team. A pair of unimpressive scrimmage showings only heightened concern. But the unit made progress in the spring and junior center Andrew Miller, the lone returning starter, proved to be a capable anchor for the unproven group.
But Miller suffered a season-ending ankle injury three games ago against Duke. Left guard David Wang has been in and out of the lineup battling left knee and ankle injuries. And Farris, the backup center, missed a game with an ankle sprain, forcing backup guard Michael Via to start at center.
“What I’m happy about is the way this group’s hung together,” Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “Because it’s been difficult. When you say you’ve lost four starters from last year, OK. When you’ve had to constantly revamp that group? When one guy goes down, it doesn’t just affect that guy, it may affect two other positions.”
The Hokies (2-3 ACC) have had the same two tackles, senior Vinston Painter at right tackle and senior Nick Becton at left, in all nine games. Offensive-line coach Curt Newsome has successfully juggled three players at left guard and two at right.
“To say that it’s been difficult is not even approaching where it’s been,” Stinespring said. “It’s been a serious undertaking and I’m proud of how they’ve handled it.”
And Thursday night, against the nation’s top-ranked defense, will be another serious undertaking.
In addition to leading the country in giving up just 227.1 yards per game, the Seminoles (8-1, 5-1 ACC) lead the conference in rushing defense (72.9 ypg.), pass defense (154.2 ypg.) and scoring defense (12 points per game). They’re tied for fourth in the league in sacks, with 21 in nine games.
“They’ve earned that No. 1 defense in the country,” Beamer said Wednesday. “They play that way.”
FSU lost its top pass rusher, two-time all-ACC selection Brandon Jenkins, to a foot injury in the first half of the season opener. It hasn’t slowed the Seminoles as junior Bjoern Werner and senior Tank Carradine, playing for Jenkins, are tied for the conference lead with eight sacks each.
“There’s not many teams that can just rush four and get constant pressure on your quarterback,” Beamer said. “They’re one team that can.”
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