Five to watch: Virginia Tech Offense

TDD previews the Hokies' offensive unit and five players to gameplan for as the Blue Devils look to spring a huge upset in Blacksburg.

Heading into the season the major questions surrounding Virginia Tech were on the offensive side of the ball after the Hokies lost eight starters from the 2011 squad. As the season has moved along the Virginia Tech attack has begun to find traction, but it's been forced to play catch-up more and more after the defense has performed below expectations.

Still, Virginia Tech is getting big plays from its experienced signal caller, Logan Thomas and is plenty capable of giving Duke all manner of trouble on Saturday. On the season the Hokies are scoring 29.0 points per game, running for 131 yards, and passing for 246 yards per contest. Turnovers have been an issue in places so far with the team surrendering the ball 11 times in six contests.

With that in mind, here are five to watch…

Top 5 to watch: Virginia Tech Offense

1. QB Logan Thomas (6-6, 260, R-Jr.): Thomas is built like a defensive end, but and is actually the tallest signal caller in Hokie history. A season ago, Thomas stepped into the big shoes left behind by the departed Tyrod Taylor. Thomas not only took the position, but excelled while there. In 2011 he set the school record for total offense with 3,482 total yards, while becoming just the second QB in history to top 3,000 yards passing. On the ground he tied the school record for rushing touchdowns with 11.

Those numbers are certainly impressive, but all the more so when you consider Thomas was recruited to Blacksburg as a tight end by Frank Beamer's staff. This year he's had a bit of trouble with accuracy through the first half of the year. In 2011 Thomas completed 59 percent of his throws and was picked off just 10 times in 12 games. This year his completion percentage is down to 52 percent (104-of-197) and his interception tally is already up to seven.

In the running game, Thomas is a load to bring down, and is rushing the ball more often this season. So far he's accumulated 227 yards on 60 attempts. When it's a short yardage situation or near the goal line, the Hokies can rely on Thomas as another power back of sorts. Through six games he's already accounted for four touchdowns on the ground.

2011 v. Duke: 17-of-28 for 190 yards, 1 touchdown, and two interceptions. Rushed 10 times for 27 yards.

2. WR Marcus Davis (6-4, 232, R-Sr.): Speaking of over-sized players for their position, fifth year senior Marcus Davis came into the program as a quarterback, but moved to receiver and then back under center before moving back a final time. At 6-foot-4, Davis has 4.37 forty speed and a 44 inch vertical jump. He's a match-up problem for most cornerbacks in that he can match, or even best their speed, and he's a physical tank.

Of course, having the on paper measureables doesn't always translate into big time production on the field. Much of that can be traced to playing behind Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale - both of whom are playing on Sundays now. The rest of it appears to be something completely within the player's control.

"He's got tremendous talent and learning to play up to that talent level every play, full speed every play. It's kind of hard to put in words when you say full speed, but running a pass route hard. Not letting what the defense does to him slow him down," play-caller Mike O'Cain said recently. "That's the biggest thing, because once he gets his hands on the ball he has tremendous running abilities. He has great speed. He's a tremendous target. He's got all of those things. It's just the consistency of playing everything as hard as you can."

A season ago Davis caught 30 passes for 510 yards and five scores. This year Davis has become Thomas' favorite target, hauling in a team high 22 catches for 441 yards (20.0 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. With size and speed, Davis may be the Hokies' best big play thread down field.

2011 v. Duke: Two catches for 16 yards

3. WR Dyrell Roberts (6-2, 195, R-Sr.): is a good player. The problem for Roberts is that nobody knows just how good after the fifth year senior has seen his season cut short with season-ending injuries in each of the past two years.

In 2009 Roberts was the team's leading kick-off returner. In 2010 he suffered a thigh injury that required multiple surgeries. He missed the rest of that season and was limited in Spring ball. Then, in 2011, he suffered an additional injury on a kick-off against Arkansas State (broken left arm), and was lost for the rest of the year. He was granted a medical hardship waiver, and has returned in 2012 as one of the two starting receivers. And, to avoid any further bad luck, he's no longer returning kicks.

Since focusing solely on receiver, Roberts has been steady. In the previous four seasons he's recorded 78 catches for 1,168 yards. This year he's been the secondary option in the passing game behind Davis, catching 15 balls for 203 yards and one touchdown.

2011 v. Duke: DNP, injured

4. RB Michael Holmes (6-0, 208, R-Fr.): A season ago the Hokies enjoyed watching David Wilson terrorize defenses for the third most yards in ACC history. Now, a year later, Wilson is gone and there wasn't much left in the way of experience. So the Hokie ground game had to turn to a new approach with new players. Enter Michael Holmes, who entered the season having never taken a snap at the college level, but who won the job in the Spring and has kept it through the first half of the season by carrying 54 times for 230 yards and four touchdowns.

Averaging just 38.3 yards per game is a far cry from the production of Wilson a season ago, but Holmes has be steady for Virginia Tech while splitting reps with speedster J.C. Coleman. A former three star recruit who finished his career at Harrisonburg High by amassing 5,500 yards in his final two prep seasons, Holmes didn't come into Blacksburg with a lot of flash, but he did win over position coach Shane Beamer.

"With David, you never knew what you were gonna get from one day to the next, whether it be in the meeting room or the practice field," Beamer said. "I like that about Michael. He's steady. He's consistent."

The knock on Holmes, and Coleman as well, is that neither player has shown consistent big play ability. Holmes has one big run to his credit - a 40 yard scamper, while Coleman's long has been 18 yards. Still, as Beamer notes with his praise of Holmes' consistency, the freshman is eating up 4.3 yards per carry. A week ago Duke had trouble stopping the run in the first half against Virginia. Holmes has to be aware of that as do the play callers in Blacksburg.

5. K Cody Journell (6-0, 195, R-Jr.): Few players had a more interesting off-season than the Hokies' kicker. After converting 14 of 17 attempts a season ago and 43 of 44 extra points, Journell proceeded to find himself suspended indefinitely from the program after he and two others were arrested in December for on felony breaking-and-entering charges after they went to the residence of former Virginia Tech basketball player Dorenzo Hudson and Sean Allen over a botched drug transaction, according to arrest warrants.

It was a definite black-eye on a sophomore season that earned honorable mention All-ACC honors. Since that time, Journell has put his legal issues behind him and moved forward, while returning to form. This year, he's been nearly automatic, converting seven of eight attempts including both attempts of greater than 40 yards. Journell's only miss was from 35 yards out.

Not one to fold under pressure, Journell's biggest kick of the year came against Georgia Tech when he converted from 41 yards out with time expiring to force overtime. Later he converted a 17 yard chip-shot to seal the victory over the Yellow Jackets.

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