Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: No more grading on a curve for Virginia Tech football

BLACKSBURG Bryan Stinespring gives his offense a C-plus grade for the first two weeks.

That's a pretty fair assessment from the Virginia Tech offensive coordinator. The unit has done enough to earn a passing grade, coming up with a game-tying drive in the final minute against Georgia Tech and pulling away to beat overmatched Austin Peay by five touchdowns.

But there's been too much inconsistency to give the offense a B or better. The running game has yet to flourish. Quarterback Logan Thomas has yet to thrive like we know he can.

Add it all up, it's a C-plus. Evaluate it, accept it, maybe even give your own grade for it.

Then forget all about it because none of it matters.

Today's game at Pittsburgh will provide the best indication yet of the capabilities of this offense. Gone are the extenuating circumstances of the first two weeks the imperative to control the clock against the Yellow Jackets, the name-the-score freedom of facing Austin Peay.

There's no ulterior motive today, no need to get a certain aspect of the offense into the flow or see what a certain receiver can do. Calling running plays into an eight-man front something Tech's coaches did against Austin Peay as they tried to get Michael Holmes lathered up won't happen.

The Hokies will attack what Pittsburgh's defense invites them to attack. It will work or it won't. Either way, it'll be safer to judge.

"The positive?" Stinespring said. "From where we were back in the spring, we've made improvement. Are we where we can get to? Where we need to be? No. But I know and believe wholeheartedly that we'll get there. I think we've already improved, and I think we'll continue to do so."

Stinespring's goal is to get the offense moving at a faster pace, hitting the line of scrimmage with purpose and keeping the defense guessing.

The basic tenets of ball control and balance haven't changed.

"It's still Virginia Tech offense; we've just got to be a little bit more disguised," Stinespring said. "We still want to be able to run the ball. We still want to be able to play-action pass, but probably to do that with a lot more different looks than what we've actually shown up to this point.

"I think we did a little bit more of it as we got into the second half [last week], as we got into the fourth quarter especially, with a lot of motion and a lot of different looks. I think we can do that."

Despite some inconsistencies, Stinespring has been pleased with the offensive line's cohesiveness and its ability to diagnose what defenses are doing. The grunts aren't coming to sidelines confused about their blocking assignments; the implementation of those blocks is what needs to get better.

That became evident on several short-yardage plays against Austin Peay, when Tech had trouble moving the chains despite a major physical advantage.

"I don't think it's a matter of willpower," left guard David Wang said. "We need to dominate the front. I think it's expected of us."

It's also expected that Thomas will get closer to his fluidity of late last season. While the new O-line might have contributed to the quarterback's lack of precision so far, Stinespring thinks some of it might be Thomas putting too much pressure on himself.

"I've told him. 'You don't have to be Superman out there. You just gotta know where the cape is and get close to a telephone booth,' " Stinespring said. "What makes Logan special other than his God-given ability is he just loves playing the game. Just go play the game."

They'll do that today, with eyes on bringing home a better report card.

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