BLACKSBURG – D.J. Coles didn’t need to scroll through his Twitter feed or read any accounts of Virginia Tech’s 35-10 loss against Alabama. He knew instinctively what the college football world thought of his play and that of his fellow Tech receivers
But he did, anyway. And it burned him up. Little good was being said about the group’s underwhelming performance, and that included Coles’ own position coach, Aaron Moorehead, who tweeted:
Tonight was a rough one no doubt. I can (promise) the Hokie Nation that it will get better. We have a LONG season to go & the WR’s will (get) it right
Coles, as the elder statesman of the group, took the barbs personally. Back on the field after an injury-riddled 2012, the redshirt senior was expected to be front-and-center for 2013. Instead, he was missing in action that night in the Georgia Dome.
Fast-forward to this past Saturday, when Coles was all smiles following a pair of touchdown receptions in Virginia Tech’s easier-than-it-looked 27-17 win against North Carolina.
Perhaps out of concern for past knee issues, Coles continues to be used only in certain packages, most of which coming when Tech is in the red zone. He has responded well to the role – of his 11 receptions, five have gone for touchdowns.
“That first game, people harped on the receiving corps, ‘Oh, they’re no good,’” Coles said. “We haven’t forgotten what people said about us that first week. We’re going to take that as fuel to keep working, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re getting better.”
A big part of that improvement has been receivers finding their roles within offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense. Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles have evolved into home run threats, while Josh Stanford has been a key third-down contributor. He converted a pair of third-and-long situations on Saturday.
“I guess we’re starting to understand what’s going on,” Thomas said. “Things aren’t just picked up overnight; we’re starting to understand it. The receivers are getting on the same page with me, I’m on the same page with them and we’re all on the same page with Coach Loeffler. That’s huge. That’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”
Knowles gathered in a 45-yard touchdown pass. Byrn torched North Carolina for 118 yards on four receptions, including an 83-yard catch-and-run that would have gone for a touchdown had Byrn not been nursing a sore knee. That play stood out as an example of just how far the group has come in earning Loeffler’s confidence, since the call came while the Hokies were pinned at their own 2-yard line.
“I was very surprised by the call, but I know how (Loeffler) is,” Thomas said. “He was ready to attack. I just wish (Byrn) didn’t have a little bit of a rusty wheel, or he would have scored.”
As it was, the reception was the third-longest non-scoring reception in school history.
“I was shocked that he called that,” Byrn said. “That was a great call and a great throw by Logan and that’s something. If we keep doing that, if (Loeffler) keeps making those masterful play calls, we’ll be pretty dangerous.”
The evolution of the receivers is the last piece of the puzzle for Virginia Tech’s offense. The running game has been just good enough to allow for play-action calls, so long as Loeffler has faith in the receivers. Play-action appears to bring out the best in Thomas. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 293 yards with no interceptions and the three scores.