Eight games into last season, the football team was ranked 16th in the country and Logan Thomas had emerged as an offensive weapon that struck fear in the hearts of ACC foes.
What a difference a year makes.
The team is 4-4, scouts are calling the offense antiquated, and Thomas has thrown as many interceptions as he did in all of the 2011 season.
This startling turn of events has caused fans and observers to wonder how this all could have gone so wrong, so quickly.
While the loss of star players like David Wilson, Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin certainly has not helped, the real cause of the team’s problems lies much deeper.
The execution by the players is a big part of the unit’s problem, but the true fault lies with the coaching staff. Criticism of offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring and playcaller Mike O’Cain might not exactly be original, but it is absolutely true that the poor performance of these two has undermined the offense all year.
The biggest problem involves the offense’s identity. Coaches stressed they were implementing innovative new formations into the offense this year, particularly the pistol and the spread, yet the use of these has been inconsistent and frustrating.
Perhaps even more troubling is the team’s total lack of a power running game. It may not be the hottest offensive trend around, but a staple of the old Tech offense was the regular I-formation Wilson, Ryan Williams and Darren Evans made so effective.
Instead, coaches insist on calling maddening, slow-developing runs from out of the shotgun, which do not normally give the running back much of a chance to get out from behind the line of scrimmage before the offensive line is overwhelmed.
The team’s personnel is undoubtedly a problem in this respect. Michael Holmes was supposed to effortlessly assume the role of starter, yet he has looked tentative and ineffective in his time with the job. Runners like J.C. Coleman and Tony Gregory have shown flashes of brilliance, but are also inconsistent.
However, the coaches are certainly to blame for these players’ struggles as well. The best staffs tailor their offense for the players on hand. Meanwhile, the Tech's staff has benched Coleman, Gregory and the physical Martin Scales after the smallest misstep and continued to give Holmes chances he has not earned.
Both the play design and personnel issues were captured perfectly on the Hokies’ second drive of the Clemson game. Frank Beamer correctly decided to go for it on fourth-and-one on the Tigers’ 18-yard line, but the offensive assistants responded by completely botching the play design and player selection.
Rather than calling a power run using Scales or Thomas, O’Cain elected to run Holmes on a slow-developing sweep, after he barely saw the field on the previous drive. The attempt was predictably stopped for a loss. It was another pivotal moment for the offense, and yet another case of the coaches not giving the players the best chance to succeed.
Despite the claims of innovation in the offense, many of the coaches are guilty of complacency as well. Considering the team has wildly underperformed preseason expectations on offense, it is puzzling Beamer and company have not tried to shake up the starting line up more radically.