After compiling a pitiful 88 yards of total offense in the first half of last week’s loss to Cincinnati, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that the Hokies’ offense tends to start slowly.
For a unit led by a veteran, NFL-size quarterback that was loaded with new spread and pistol looks coming into the season, the offense has been absolutely abysmal in the first half of almost every game the team’s played.
“We can’t come out and warm up, we have to come out with the same high level of energy and emotion from the get go and start things off fast,” said right tackle Vinston Painter.
While early ineptitude might be expected against a strong defensive team like Cincinnati, this was actually the third straight game the Hokies didn’t score in the first quarter. That includes the disastrous Pittsburgh loss and even the team’s romp over Bowling Green, indicating that this is clearly an issue for the team to address.
“In the first half, we weren’t as good as we needed to be,” said offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. “We’ve had opportunities in the first half, but we’ve still got to make more plays given those opportunities.”
Although the whole offense deserves some share of the blame, it’s hard to deny the role quarterback Logan Thomas has played in the unit’s downfall. After looking sharp last week, he continued to struggle against Cincinnati, often missing open receivers and displaying some sloppy footwork.
“I think Logan is very into being the best football player he can be, he really works at it,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “I think last year we had some veteran guys around him, but now they’re a lot younger, and when you’re not sure what the guy’s going to do, that causes you to be inaccurate a little bit.”
The inexperience of the supporting cast may be part of the problem, but it’s impossible to deny that Thomas hasn’t been the same quarterback he was last year. He’s definitely shown flashes of his old brilliance in the second half of several games, but his early struggles seem to indicate that he’s only comfortable with a simplified, more hurried offense, and his input on how the offense should function will be key for the team going forward.
“We depend on Logan a lot,” Beamer said. “He’s mature and wants to win badly, and what he says means a lot.”
An improved running game may be Thomas’ greatest ally, and while the team wasn’t as dominant on the ground as it was against the Falcons, its play against Cincinnati was still promising.
“I thought (Michael Holmes) and J.C. both took a step forward in this ball game and it was great to see,” Beamer said. “J.C. ran really tough and really hard on a couple plays, and we’ve just got to build on that.”
Holmes looked particularly dominant on the team’s first scoring drive of the fourth quarter, breaking off consecutive 19 and 17-yard runs on counter plays, and an increased emphasis on this type of play could help jump start the offense early on.
“Probably the biggest thing we did at half time was get more into a spread offense whether we were throwing it or running it, and I think it created a few more seams for us,” Stinespring said. “We were able to get the ball outside on some rockets and decide options and that opened some more seams inside, with some counter action in the backfield.”
Coleman’s increased role in the offense could also be a solution for the unit’s lack of early explosiveness. After seeing just a handful of plays in the first half, Coleman broke off an 18-yard run and caught a 24-yard pass in the second half, showing his big play potential.
“(Finding a rhythm) is extremely important,” Coleman said. “We’ve got to go out there and put up points early, our defense can have a chance to stay off the field, so it’s very important.”