Opponent Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

Maryland's quest for win No. 6 won't get any easier when they face Virginia Tech. The Hokies (7-3, 4-2 ACC) had been struggling prior to last week, dropping two straight, but they rebounded in a big way against Miami. Heavy underdogs on the road, Frank Beamer's squad went into Miami Gardens, Fla., and delivered a 42-24 knockout, giving them plenty of confidence heading into their final two games.

Maryland (5-4) is coming off a disappointing home defeat against Syracuse, and the Terps' quest for win No. 6 won't get any easier when they travel to Blacksburg, Va., for a 12:30 p.m. game against Virginia Tech. The Hokies (7-3, 4-2 ACC) had been struggling prior to last week, dropping two straight to the likes of Boston College and Duke, but they rebounded in a big way against Miami. Heavy underdogs on the road, Frank Beamer's squad went into Miami Gardens, Fla., and delivered a 42-24 knockout, giving them plenty of confidence heading into their final two games.

The Awakening: Take away a 45-3 win against Western Carolina early during the year, and Virginia Tech had yet to cross the 30-point threshold during any of their other eight games prior to last week. In fact, the turnover-prone Hokies were averaging just 22.1 points per game and 348 yards per game, numbers that ranked 12th and 11th in the ACC, respectively. Tech ranked 12th in yards per rush (3.2), 10th in pass yards per attempt (6.8) and 13th in completion percentage (56 percent).

But on a rainy, dreary day in Miami that would have seemed to favor the defenses, the Hokies' offense suddenly woke up. Sure, they were aided by three Canes special teams turnovers, but the running game racked up 183 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per tout. Meanwhile, quarterback Logan Thomas had perhaps his most impressive performance this season, completing 80 percent of his tosses for 366 yards, two scores and no interceptions. In total, the Hokies rolled up 549 yards to Miami's 352, had 26 first downs to Miami's 12, and held a 19 minute time-of-possession advantage.

Much-maligned first offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, criticized for abandoning the running game during previous games, rolled with it against Miami and watched Trey Edmunds average 5.3 yards per carry. Meanwhile, he let Thomas fire away, even though the senior signal caller had six interceptions combined the previous two weeks.

Staying stout on D: Even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of Duke and Boston College, Va Tech still maintained the No. 1 defense in the ACC heading into the Miami game. Through nine contests the Hokies were allowing just 4.1 yards per play and 253 yards per game, not to mention just 17 points per night, a number that ranked second to Florida State.

And although Miami scratched out 24 points and put up 352 total yards last week, the Hokies basically contained the Canes all game, save a couple big plays that kept UM alive (Canes quarterback Stephen Morris connected with Stacy Coley for an 81-yard score and later hit Allen Hurns for an 84-yard touchdown). Miami managed just a dozen first downs and was 3 of 12 on third down. Moreover, the Canes penetrated the Hokies' red zone just one time all night. And while Morris, who was sacked three times, played well, throwing for 324 yards and those two long touchdowns, Miami's running game managed a measly 28 yards and averaged 1.2 yards per attempt.

Bud Foster's fingerprints: The Hokies' defensive coordinator is widely respected throughout the industry as every year his 4-2-5 defense, which can morph into a Cover 3, routinely ranks among the best in the ACC. Tech loves to shift its guys around pre-snap, especially the defensive linemen, who are always in motion and lining up in different spots. On top of that, the Hokies bring pressure from all angles and do their best to disguise blitzes. And because Tech's secondary is so athletic and talented, it can afford to load the box and take away the running game, daring teams to beat them through the air.

The results thus far have been downright dominant. Tech is currently ranked No. 3 in the country in total defense at 263 yards allowed per game. Their rush defense is surrendering a mere 95 yards per, while the pass defense is giving up 168 per, both statistics ranking No. 4 in all of Division I-A. The Hokies didn't pick Miami off last week, but their 17 interceptions are tied for fourth in the nation, and their interception-to-pass ratio (one pick for every 15.7 pass attempts) is tops in the land. The freshmen duo of Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) and Brandon Fracyson have combined for nine interceptions, and both rank among the top 15 defensive backs in picks this fall.

Speaking of turnovers, Tech's defense has 22 total this year, second in the ACC and tied for 12th in the country. But don't fall under the impression the secondary does all the work. This team can get after the quarterback too. Tech's 31 sacks are second best in the conference and 11th best nationally, while their 90-plus quarterback hurries are one of the highest totals around.

The stats that mean something: Every week in these previews I identify a team's third-down defense and red zone defense. As you might have guessed, the Hokies excel at getting foes off the field, allowing opponents to convert just 28.6 percent of third downs. Last week Miami was just 3 of 12 on third down.

The red-zone stats are a bit deceiving, however. The thing about the Hokies' defense is they rarely allow teams to penetrate their 20-yard line, and the numbers suggest Tech isn't that great with its backs against the wall. But while most teams have had to deal with opponents in their red zone 35 to 40 times this year, Va Tech has only faced 18 such situation.

Of those 18 attempts, teams have scored 15 times, 11 going for touchdowns. That 83 percent success rate is ranked 59th in the nation, but again, the sample size is small. Miami, for its part, had just one trip inside the red zone and did come away with a rushing score.

Hiccups: By virtue of their 22 turnovers forced, the Hokies' turnover margin is actually a very respectable plus-7, good enough for third in the ACC. Problem is the offense has coughed the ball up 15 times, putting them right in the middle of the conference pack. Don't blame the running backs, though, as Trey Edmunds and Co. have only lost three fumbles all year. Quarterback Logan Thomas has been the main culprit, throwing 12 interceptions, including a pair two weeks ago in a loss at Boston College and four more the game prior in a loss to Duke.

Not surprisingly…: Tech's red zone offense has been anemic this season, as the Hokies have converted just 23 of 33 attempts, making them one of the worst 10 teams nationally. Va Tech has scored 19 touchdowns and settled for four field goals when deep in enemy territory, while the Hokies have also suffered several backbreaking Thomas interceptions.

Along those same lines, the third-down offense hasn't exactly been stellar either. Tech has been successful on about 35 percent of third-down attempts, which ranks 100th nationally out of 123 teams. That said, Tech was 8 of 14 against Miami, so the Hokies are showing signs that they can keep the chains moving.

It's hard to move the ball when…: You're seeing yellow. The Hokies are averaging 6.2 penalties per game, which puts them in the bottom half of Division I-A. Last week, even with a rejuvenated offensive attack, Tech committed 11 infractions for 71 yards.

Surprisingly, though, Va Tech's time of possession is one of the best in the country. Thanks to a defense that more than holds its own, Tech is controlling the clock for 33 minutes, putting them second in the ACC and 15th in the country.

A rare upset: After a hot start, it's quite clear something's up with Miami, which has struggled of late. Even so, the Canes were still ranked No. 11, and Virginia Tech's win against them marked just the second time in Hokies history they've entered a road game unranked and knocked off a top 15 team. It was the first time it had happened since 1989.

Going Coastal: Even though Tech dropped two straight ACC games to Duke and Boston College, the Hokies are still in position to claim their third Coastal Division crown in four years. Right now there are four squads with two losses: Va Tech, Miami, Ga Tech and Duke. If the Hokies win out and Duke drops one of its last three games, Virginia Tech takes the crown. Needless to say, Tech will be plenty motivated to win its last two games against Maryland and Virginia.

Back in the saddle: For the second straight game and the first time during his career, senior quarterback Logan Thomas (6-6, 254) surpassed the 300-yard passing mark. Against Miami, the mercurial signal caller silenced the critics who called for his benching earlier this year by completing 25 of 31 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns. Even more telling, Thomas, who has thrown 12 interceptions this year, had zero turnovers and now has more touchdown passes on the season (13) than picks. He has completed 192 of 331 passes (58 percent) for 2,422 yards this fall.

Thomas is currently ranked third in the ACC in passing yards, though those dozen picks put him in the bottom half of the conference in terms of pass efficiency. But while Thomas has been up and down this year, there's little doubt he's accomplished plenty during his long career in Blacksburg. His two touchdowns passes last week give him 50 during his tenure, making him No. 1 all-time at Tech. He also owns school records for total offense (9,463 yards), passing yards (8,152) and completions (633).

With two new…: Tackles, plus a new offensive line coach, Virginia Tech's front five has had its share of growing pains. Right now they rank in the middle of the ACC with 18 sacks allowed, but the run game is picking up just 3.3 yards per carry, one of the worst averages in the conference. Last week, Miami got to Thomas for two sacks and several pressures, but the line did open up running lanes, allowing Trey Edmunds to pick up 5.3 yards per carry. Tech controlled the clock for almost 40 minutes as the ground game helped the Hokies move the chains, piling up 183 yards and four touchdowns.

The Hokies start Jonathan McLaughlin (6-5, 313) at left tackle, and for a freshman he's done pretty darn well. In fact, some might argue he's been the most consistent Hokies lineman of the bunch; he has been lauded throughout the season for his toughness and blindside blocking.

At right tackle, junior Laurence Gibson (6-6, 290) was re-inserted as the starter in place of classmate Brent Benedict (6-5, 292). Gibson is known for his athleticism and ability to block in space, and that seemed to help the Hokies in their ground game against Miami.

The line's interior features junior left guard Caleb Farris (6-3, 308), senior right guard Andrew Miller (6-4, 296) and junior center David Wang (6-2, 299). This line as a whole relies on a zone-blocking scheme, and the results thus far from the guards and center haven't exactly been awe-inspiring. Tech has had problems running between the tackles as the front five hasn't generated much push up front.

Cranking the run game: Even with last week's encouraging effort, Virginia Tech's rushing offense is in the bottom third of the ACC. Freshman Trey Edmunds (6-1, 216), who probably needs to quit dancing around in the backfield, is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry this year. That said, he leads the Tech offense with 521 yards and nine scores, buoyed by last week's four-touchdown breakout. He had 14 caries for 74 yards against Miami, showing more burst and less east-and-west running than during previous weeks.

Edmunds' backup, sophomore J.C. Coleman (5-7, 191), has been hampered by ankle injuries all year. He did have 22 carries for 68 yards against Miami, however, which represented his best game in 2013. For the season, the potentially explosive back is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and has 192 net yards.

Quarterback Logan Thomas is Tech's second leading rusher with 338 yards. He's averaging only 2.6 yards per attempt, though he does have four touchdowns.

Wideouts stepping up: The Hokies' receivers don't have awful numbers this season, but they have drawn some criticism for failing to step up and consistently make plays. Against Miami, though, this unit combined for 18 catches, 305 yards and two touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman Josh Stanford (6-1, 196) had his second straight 100-yard game last week, rolling up 107 yards and his first score in 2013. He has 34 receptions for 562 yards for the season.

Junior Willie Byrn (5-10, 186) also went over 100 yards against the Canes with six catches for 105. Byrn is Tech's leading receiver with 40 receptions for 529 yards, though he has only one touchdown.

Sophomore Demitri Knowles (6-1, 180) is typically the Hokies' most reliable option, but he had just two receptions against Miami (he recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown). Knowles has 37 catches for 475 yards and three scores for the year.

A fourth wideout, senior D.J. Coles (6-4, 234), has been a weapon inside the red zone. He's only reeled in 19 balls, but five of them have gone for six points. Coles hauled in three passes for 68 yards last week and has 317 yards in total.

Freshman tight end Kalvin Cline (6-4, 238) has 22 catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns this year. He wasn't featured much against Miami, however, nabbing just two balls for eight yards.

The ferocious four: There may not be any true standouts in terms of gaudy numbers, but Tech's defensive line is one of the best and most experienced around. Defensive ends James Gayle (6-4, 255) and J.R. Collins (6-2, 248), and tackles Derrick Hopkins (6-0, 311) and Luther Maddy (6-1, 296) are all upperclassmen who have combined for 131 career starts. These guys are holding teams to just 2.7 yards per carry, and have combined for 19.5 of the team's 31 total sacks.

Maddy leads the way with 44 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He has 11 quarterback hits, two pass breakups and two pass defenses as well. Last week Maddy wrecked havoc on Miami, racking up a pair of sacks and three TFLs. Maddy's fellow defensive tackle, Hopkins, had four tackles last week and is up to 42 for the year. He has seven TFLs, four sacks, nine quarterback hits and a fumble recovery that he returned 40 yards. Not to mention he was the beneficiary of Beamer Ball, recording a blocked kick on special teams.

Out on the edges, Collins has chipped in 37 tackles, five sacks and 8.5 TFLs, to go along with 19 quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Gayle, meanwhile, has 32 stops, four sacks, 8.5 TFLs and a forced fumble as well. Gayle also has a team high 24 quarterback hits and is a constant presence in opposing backfields.

And that's just the starting group. Tech rotates in three other defensive linemen, who are all active and can get after it. Sophomore defensive end Dadi Nicolas (6-3, 224) has 27 tackles, four sacks, seven TFLs, 11 hurries and even an interception this season. Another defensive end, senior Tyrel Wilson (6-2, 230), has a dozen stops and a sack. Finally, backup freshman defensive tackle Nigel Williams (6-2, 283) has racked up 12 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, two sacks and four hurries.

The LBs: Benefitting from an active, aggressive front four, Tech's linebackers have cleaned up in 2013. Not to take anything away from the Hokies' two feature backers, who are both heady, instinctive seniors who play well within the scheme and fill extremely well. They are one of the main reasons foes have rushed for just 952 yards all season against Va Tech.

Jack Tyler (6-1, 230) anchors Tech's corps and is the squad's leading tackler. With 78 stops, seven TFLs, seven hurries and three sacks, he's stuffed the stat sheet. Tyler's classmate, Tariq Edwards (6-2, 234), has filled up the box score as well. He doesn't have quite as many stops as Tyler (50), but Edwards does have 6.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, seven pass breakups/defenses, four hurries, a fumble recovery and an interception.

Sophomore outside linebacker Josh Trimble (6-0, 216) is listed atop the depth chart, but he's started just three games all year. He has 11 tackles and two quarterback hurries, and hasn't been a major factor what with the talented defensive backs all rotating in (see below).

The five in back…: Form one of the best units in the country, evidenced by Tech's top-ranked pass defense and sticky-fingered defensive backs, which have been detailed above. Although this group allowed Miami to hit on two long pass plays and surrendered more than 300 passing yards, that shouldn't discount what this group has done in 2013.

Remember, Virginia Tech's secondary isn't a conventional lineup with two corners and two safeties. Yes, the Hokies feature a boundary corner and a field corner, but they also have a rover position; a nickel back who typically starts; and a deep safety who roams around in centerfield.

At corner, Tech welcomed back senior Kyle Fuller (6-0, 194), who was out with a groin injury. The Mount St. Joseph's (Baltimore) graduate did not enter the stat book last week, but in nine games this year he has 24 tackles, two picks and 22 combined breakups and pass defenses. He's also forced a fumble, come up with two TFLs and blocked a kick on special teams.

Opposite Fuller, senior Antone Exum (6-1, 220) returned to the lineup in late October after finally recovering from ACL surgery. In three games, Exum has just four total tackles and two pass defenses. He had one breakup and one tackle last week against Miami.

The man who was starting in Exum's place, Kendall Fuller (5-11, 193), still sees plenty of field time as a nickel back and backup outside linebacker. The former five-star All-American from Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), and the brother of Kyle Fuller, has had a stellar first year at Tech. In nine starts, he's compiled 40 tackles, five interceptions and 17 breakups, making him a clear ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

Another standout freshman who has made a name thus far is Brandon Fracyson (6-2, 188). In six games as a starter, Fracyson has 20 tackles, has picked off four passes, recorded 16 breakups/pass defenses and forced a fumble. Fracyson had three tackles and a TFL against Miami, and, like Fuller, is a Rookie of the Year candidate.

The rover spot, meanwhile, is manned by junior Kyshoen Jarrett (5-11, 198), who rolled up four tackles and a TFL against Miami and makes plays all over the field. Playing near the box, Jarrett is second on the squad with 56 stops, to go along with two picks and six pass defenses.

Tech's free safety, junior Detrick Bonner (6-0, 194), also had four tackles last week. Bonner has 39 stops, eight breakups and two interceptions this year.

Beamer Ball: We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Virginia Tech's special teams, a staple of coach Frank Beamer's squads. Known for blocking kicks, the Hokies have two so far this year and are always a threat to knife in and come up with a game-changing play. In fact, last week Tech forced a pair of special teams fumbles, including one on a put return and another on a kick return.

But this has not been a typical season for Tech's teams' unit. The Hokies have committed numerous coverage mistakes, been shaky on field goals, and haven't been especially inspiring in terms of kick and punt returns either. They rank 92nd nationally in the former category (19.68 yards per kick return) and 103rd in the latter (5.08 yards per punt return). Kyshoen Jarrett handles punt-return duties, and while he has a long of 43 yards this season, he's picking up just 5.3 yards per bring back. Demitri Knowles mans the kick returns and has a 20.3 average with a long of 48 yards.

Senior kicker Cody Journell (6-0, 183) is just 10 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season. He did hit his lone try from 50-plus yards, but he's 4-of-7 from 40-49 yards, 4-of-6 from 30-39 and he's even missed one chip shot inside 30 yards.

Sophomore punter A.J. Hughes has actually done fairly well, averaging 44.6 yards per boot. Of his 54 punts, Hughes has placed 15 inside the 20-yard line, sent 18 50-plus yards and had just six touchbacks.

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