In the Pitt: Q&A with SB Nation's Virginia Tech blog Gobbler Country

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Got another version of In the Pitt this week with the Panthers' game against Virginia Tech. Chris over at Gobbler Country, SB Nation's resident Hokies blog, was kind enough to answer some questions about Virginia Tech and the big game on Saturday. Be sure to head over there for my answers to their questions about Pitt and also to check out some of their great coverage leading up to game day.

Last year, quarterback Logan Thomas struggled against Pitt and in general throughout the season. What are some of the adjustments he's made to get better this season and what can we expect to see from him on Saturday?

You're right, the Pittsburgh game was really the beginning of the bad for the Hokies last year, both for Thomas and the team as a whole. Thomas has looked marginally better than he did a year ago so far this season, but only due to the last two games and perhaps the Alabama game (which I know sounds ludicrous given he was 5-26 for 59 yards and a pick six, but there were nine drops and two of what I'm going to call "non-efforts" on passes which resulted in an incompletion or an interception. When we went back and did the math as a staff, he would've been 16-26 with 199 yards if those passes are caught). And with all of the drops, poor efforts, missed assignments and inexperience surrounding him, he has certainly played better than his stats advertise.

I can't speak to the adjustments in particular, partly because it was adjustments he made from 2011 to 2012 that turned him from the Logan Thomas who was a definite top-5 draft pick into a fringe pro prospect (no comment on whether those were adjustments made under the tutelage of quarterback guru George Whitfield). But he has worked with Hokies Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Scot Loeffler, a renowned expert at the position, since his hiring this year, and is likely reaping the rewards as a result. Additionally, as those around him improve and gain more experience, it would stand to reason that the overall product will be better.
Hokie stone helmets. Explain. FWIW, the good friends at Streaking the Lawn weren't too kind when I asked about them a couple of weeks ago in our Q&A.
Yeah, I read up on that before responding. Suffice it to say, I am completely unsurprised that the national media and UVA fans in particular are taking pot shots at the Hokies over those helmets. From a UVA perspective, Virginia Tech bloggers are teeing off on them daily, so we shouldn't expect them to do any differently. All's fair there. I guess I'm a little less concerned about what the Hokies are wearing though and more about the actual product we put on the field.

As far as the helmets go, the Hokie Stone is a motif that represents the campus as a whole. It's an inescapable common theme of the architecture on campus, made from grey dolomite limestone found around the area and quarried from a school-owned quarry in Blacksburg. The first Tech building crafted with Hokie Stone was the current Performing Arts Building in 1899, and in 1914 it became the official architectural style of the school. In addition to the school's architectural ties with the stone, the monument dedicated to the victims of the April 16th tragedy contains one Hokie Stone for each individual who perished, and its link with the football team revolves around the slab of Hokie Stone each player touches before entering the field at Lane Stadium with a placard by its side, saying "For those who have passed, For those to come, Reach for excellence." So obviously there's a kinship between the stone and those who attend the university. As a result, most of the Hokie fans I've heard from loved the helmets despite the critical response nationally, and for those who don't understand it or don't care to, I would expect that reaction.
There's been a lot made of the Hokies' defense so far this season. Are they as good as all the hype and can you give us some key players to watch for?

Yes, they are as good as billed. For a school that has produced some of the best defenses in the nation, including several top-ranked total defenses, over the last couple of decades, to say that this is firmly within the discussion as the best of those says it all. They played uncharacteristically loose in the second half of the UNC game, giving up a ton of yardage (relative to what they've done so far) and a garbage time touchdown, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster was playing a soft zone the entire second half. Some players to watch out for? Well, there are a lot. The defensive line is the obvious team strength. All four are NFL bound players, either this year are next, and Tech comfortably goes 8 deep. They even redshirted a former 4-star DE/DT who started 5 games over the last two years.

Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy are a force on the interior and J.R. Collins and James Gayle are the ends. Gayle is perhaps the better of the two in scouts' minds, but Collins is having a career year. All four players are at least in their third year as a starter. Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards man the middle, and both have been tremendous so far. Edwards missed all of 2012 with an injury, but is playing just as well as he was before. Tech's corners have been the other team strength so far this year, with four-year starter Kyle Fuller leading the group. True freshmen standouts Kendall Fuller (arguably the top incoming corner in the nation) and Brandon Facyson have been among the best in the nation, and Antone Exum, the Hokies' best corner a year ago, who was cleared to play last week but sat out just to be cautious, should make his return this week in some capacity. At safety, Kyshoen Jarrett has been fantastic and Detrick Bonner has been good in the run game but a liability in the passing game. As I see it, he is the Hokies' only hole and the player whom I would attack as an opponent.
Just as there's a lot of respect going around for the defense, there's not much for the offense. The Hokies rank near the bottom of the NCAA in scoring and yardage heading into this game. Are there concerns about that unit or is it more a product of a fairly difficult schedule thus far?
No, it's the offense. I don't blame the schedule at all. For instance, UNC, while a perfectly respectable team despite their record, has allowed 400+ yards to every FBS team they have played this year...except for the Hokies. That said the North Carolina game was among the best offensively for the Hokies. In both of the last two games, Tech was pretty dominant in the first half all-around, including on the offensive side of the ball. But that waned in the second half of both games. Altogether it's been inconsistent. In the games where the Hokies have been able to run the ball, they've been unable to pass it and vice versa. They have not had one good, consistent game on that side of the ball.
Virginia Tech has had some early struggles but has really taken control of things IMO. The game against ECU was closer than expected, but after the Pirates' blowout win against North Carolina, they look better than expected. Plus, the wins against UNC and Georgia Tech have been good ones for the Hokies. Do you feel the same way I do (in that there's a lot of promise for Virginia Tech) or do you still have a lot of legitimate concerns with the close win against Marshall and maybe closer-than-expected ECU victory?
I certainly agree that there is a lot of promise from what we've seen the Hokies do so far, but there is also a lot to be cautious about. Hokie fans should be happy about a 5-1 record through the first half of the season. The defense will at least keep the team in every game, but if the offense doesn't step up, they will most likely lose a game sometime this season as a result.
Pitt wasn't expected to do much against Virginia Tech last year, but not only won, but did so in a fairly convincing manner. What do you expect in this game?
I was one of the few who was cautious about the Pitt game a year ago. As you can see from our Q&A last year, I wasn't completely sold on the Hokies and picked them to win it by only 10, a conservative number given Pitt's start to the season. I also said time of possession would be huge for the Hokies, and it was, as they lost in that category by 17 minutes. As for how the game went, well, it was Pitt imposing their will on Virginia Tech for four quarters and beating the absolute piss out of them. Tech was abused in coverage, being beat by at least three big, memorable long passes. Donaldven Manning (who has since transferred to Marshall), Michael Cole (who has retired from football due to injury) and Detrick Bonner (who is still at Tech and still blowing coverages) were the primary culprits, as I pointed out in this film review of the game. The Panthers gashed the Hokies on the ground, setting up a lot of those passes. Offensively, Tech had to resort to throwing it a lot more than they wanted to, as the offensive line got absolutely no push.

The officiating was rather bad as well from a Tech perspective, as there were two missed pass interference/holding calls and two missed late hit calls (again, detailed in my film review) that probably would have made the game much closer, but I don't think it would have changed the outcome of the game. Tech played with their heads up their asses and Pitt played one hell of a game, so I won't take anything away from them. They won fair and square. It just happens that when things go bad, they usually go bad all around.

I would tend to think this game will be similarly ugly from a Tech perspective, but that Thomas SHOULD BE improved (the key word is should) and from what I've seen, the Pitt defense has been pretty suspect. The Virginia Tech defense is also improved. And they're at home. So, unless we see another letdown, I have to say the Hokies will win this game. I would put the score somewhere in the range of a 28-10 to 24-14 victory for the Hokies.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and manager/editor of Cardiac Hill @AnsonWhaley

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