The Hokies’ 27-17 victory over North Carolina was the product of a second consecutive impressive performance by Logan Thomas and the defense’s innate ability to make stops when it mattered most.
“We grind. It’s not always smooth. It’s great effort, it’s togetherness, it’s keep battling,” said head coach Frank Beamer. “Those are things you like about this team. It’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed this group.”
The Hokies’ offense was in the red zone three times on Saturday, and on each of those chances, they found the end zone. That kind of efficiency is welcomed in Blacksburg, but comes in stark contrast to what the Hokies have done lately.
Coming into the contest, Tech put points on the board on just 11 out of 18 chances (61 percent) in the red zone.
Furthermore, of those 18 opportunities, the Hokies scored touchdowns on just nine of them (that’s 50 percent).
Even after the three-for-three showing Saturday, the unit’s scoring percentage in the red zone stands at 67 percent. Only six schools in the FBS score less frequently once crossing the 20-yard line than the Hokies do.
Tech’s first two scores from inside the 20-yard line came by way of passes from Thomas to receiver D.J. Coles. Coles has played limited snaps this season as a way to increase his productivity, and that strategy paid off.
“That’s my area, 25 and in,” Coles said. “I’m a big guy, a big target for the quarterback, so that’s what I do. 25 and in.”
Coles is tied for 13th nationally in touchdown receptions with five, but has only 11 receptions on the season.
Obviously, Thomas is more than happy to have a threat like Coles in the red zone, but he would like it even more if the receiver contributed on a greater scale in all parts of the field.
“He brings that leadership,” Thomas said. “We gotta keep getting him on the field. He’s a strong guy that knows what he’s doing. We just have to keep giving him the ball as much as we can, keep pushing him forward.”
The Hokies final rushing attempt of the game — excluding two kneeldowns to run out the clock — was a one-yard burst from Trey Edmunds.
Despite another subpar performance by the running game in which they gained just 48 yards, the one-yard score on third down stands out. As opposed to Edmunds not finding pay dirt and Tech having to settle for a field goal, a touchdown put the game out of reach.
The team’s ability to score touchdowns, instead of settling for field goals, will clearly be a huge factor in its longterm success.
The nation’s top three teams — Alabama, Oregon and Clemson — combined to score touchdowns on 72.8 percent of their red zone trips.
There’s no doubt that red zone excellence can make or break a squad.