BLACKSBURG, Va. — Ever the man in search of the silver lining, Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer spent the week spinning a season-opening loss against Alabama into the most encouraging 25-point setback in school history.
But the promising signs visible in that defeat would mean little if Virginia Tech failed to build momentum in the weeks that followed.
As Saturday’s expected 45-3 demolition of Western Carolina unfolded, the question that has haunted the Hokies remained without a definite answer: Is Virginia Tech ready to contend again?
“I think we’re a work in progress,” Beamer said. “I think we’ve got to continue with the plan to keep on getting better. … I think we took another step. Some of it was ragged.”
Virginia Tech’s defense proved its salty performance against Alabama was no fluke, losing a shutout only after punt returner Kysheon Jarrett whiffed on a catch deep in Hokies territory. Even then, the defense drove the Catamounts backward before they settled for a 29-yard field goal.
“Yeah, it’s a little heartbreaking, but that’s all right,” safety Detrick Bonner said with a grin.
Bonner had plenty of reasons to smile. He picked off a pair of passes, the first resulting in a 37-yard touchdown to open the day’s scoring.
Virginia Tech stuffed its overmatched FCS opponent, permitting 162 total yards of offense, including 51 through the air.
But the defense’s performance was to be expected against a lower division opponent in the throes of an 11-game losing streak. The Hokies’ offense – Beamer’s aforementioned work in progress – needed to make strides and did so. At times.
Quarterback Logan Thomas got more receivers involved in the passing game this week, distributing passes to eight different targets, including three running backs. His offensive line continued to jell as well, protecting him well enough that he never tucked and ran. Thomas said he could not recall the last time he went without a rushing attempt.
“It’s been a while,” he said.
Virginia Tech might also have found someone to replace injured tight end Ryan Malleck. Freshman Kalvin Cline, who wasn’t even listed on the pre-game roster, hauled in four passes for 46 yards.
Thomas turned the game over to backup Mark Leal with a 38-3 lead. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 200 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Coles. That’s the silver lining.
The dark cloud: Thomas threw a pair of interceptions into the end zone.
“Sometimes my passes have got to be better,” Thomas said. “I felt fine. I’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up from today. Obviously I would have liked to not have thrown two interceptions but things happen and … they weren’t stupid decisions. As long as I’m not doing that, I’m OK.”