On paper, Virginia Tech’s offense hardly presents the same challenge No. 3 Florida State did last Saturday for 14th-ranked UM (7-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).
The Hokies (6-3, 3-2) rank 101st in scoring at 22.1 points per game, 108th in rushing, and quarterback Logan Thomas (55.7 completion percentage, 2,056 yards, 11 TDs, 12 INTs) is struggling. But there is a lot Mark D’Onofrio’s defense can improve on, particularly third-down defense and not allowing Thomas (6-6, 254 pounds) to escape the pocket and run for first downs like Jameis Winston did last Saturday.
“Number one, we’re not getting our hands on many balls,” said coach Al Golden, whose defense is allowing opponents to convert on third down at only a 37.4 percent clip (improved from 42.1 percent in 2012) but allowed Wake Forest (8of 16) and Florida State (11 of 15) to convert at better than 50 percent the past two weeks.
“To be quite honest, we’re also drifting too much in our zone coverage and allowing them to catch it underneath and not making the tackles we need to. We’ve been better in our man coverage. But sometimes when we’ve been in man coverage, we’ve let them out of the pocket and let them scramble or create. It’s really a combination of all those things.”
Thomas ran 22 times for 124 yards and a touchdown last season against UM but struggled throwing (19 of 37, 199 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs) in a 30-12 Canes win. A year earlier in Blacksburg as a sophomore, Thomas was 23-of-25 passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 38 yards and two scores in a 38-35 win.
Defensive tackle Justin Renfrow said it’s even more important this week than last week for UM to display good vision and cut off Thomas’ running lanes.
“[Thomas has] been a lot more run first,” Renfrow said.
“If his first look is not there, he’s tucking and running. As a D-line, we definitely have to corral him because he tries to run people over. The big guys up front need to be delivering the hit instead of leaving it like we did against Florida State for the corners and safeties to come up and do it.”