Hokies ready for ranked competition

On a scale of one to 10, with one being the least prepared and 10 being the team Virginia Tech wants to be in order to defend its ACC title this fall, quarterback Logan Thomas said the Hokies are currently an eight.

In other words, they’re ready for No. 13-ranked Clemson.

“I’m extremely confident,” Thomas said. “I’m extremely confident in what my offensive squad can do, and everybody knows our defensive squad is always going to be good. The first four games were a good test for us to see what level we’re at. This week in practice, we just have to kick it up an extra notch to get ready.”

A few extra notches might be more accurate.

Virginia Tech beat Appalachian State. The Hokies won on the road at East Carolina. They beat Arkansas State and polished off Marshall. The month of September added up to a 4-0 record and one big question: Is Virginia Tech ready to beat some real competition? The passing game has been average. The punting problematic. The defense outstanding. Virginia Tech has made visible progress in each of the previous four weeks, but this will be Thomas’ first start against a ranked opponent, and his receivers have been plagued by injuries. Clemson enters the game confident from back-to-back upsets of ranked opponents but hasn’t played on the road yet this season.

The No. 11 Hokies, though, are the defending ACC champs and the higher-ranked team. As for home-field advantage? Virginia Tech is 2-5 against the Tigers in Lane Stadium.

In order to improve that record, coach Frank Beamer said his team needs to play more consistently.

"We've done things well in all areas, really," Beamer said. "I mean, we've had moments where we've done things well. We just haven't consistently done it well, but I kind of go back to it, you can do it well one time, you can do it that way every time. That's where we've got to get to."

In their win over East Carolina, the Hokies committed 12 penalties and had two turnovers. The defense, though, held ECU to minus-15 yards rushing, the second fewest in school history. Against Arkansas State, the offense got off to a slow start. Thomas fumbled, punter Scott Demler shanked a 22-yard kick out of bounds and receiver/kick returner Dyrell Roberts broke his left arm. In the win over Marshall, Virginia Tech had a missed field goal, a fumble and an interception.

“We’ve had our moments,” Beamer said, “we just haven’t consistently had our moments.”

And Clemson has had more.

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, also in his first season as a starter, already has broken four records, and receiver Sammy Watkins already has had a record-setting freshman season. Eighty snaps per game is the goal under first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, and the Tigers have reached that mark in each of the past two upset wins. Clemson ran 92 plays to Auburn’s 63 and 85 to Florida State’s 53.

Virginia Tech free safety Eddie Whitley said the Hokies have been practicing against an up-tempo offense for weeks, but Clemson will bring a different caliber of competition.

“These are better athletes,” Whitley said. “We’re going to have to be on our keys. Better quarterback, and we’re going to have to be ready to go, because these guys are explosive and we’re going to have to come out there and make the plays we have to make.”

So far, Virginia Tech’s defense has been making them. The Hokies are No. 6 in the country in scoring defense, No. 4 in total defense and No. 2 in rushing defense.

“We just want to be a dominating defense, and I feel like we’re getting back to that,” Whitley said. “Last couple of years, we had a dominant offense and a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who kept us in games. Coach Bud [Foster] has said that’s not the defense we want, to rely on the offense. This is a defensive school. We’re known for our tough defenses, and that’s what we want to get back to. Whether the offense scores like they’ve been doing, or how Tyrod was piling up points last year, if Logan can do that and the defense can dominate, it’s going to be an easy season.

“But we know it’s not going to be like that,” he added. “We know we have a first-year quarterback and we’re going to have to play even better because we don’t want to put that much pressure on him from playing behind. We want him to be comfortable with a good lead and go from there.”

Whitley said he has no doubt Virginia Tech can again be a championship team.

“We still have things to work on,” Whitley said. “It’s still early in the season. It’s just four games into the season. They’re not drastic things; it’s more can we complete a whole game? Can we dominate the whole game? Things like that.

“As for being a championship team, I feel like we are. Anybody is going to say they’re ready to be a championship team. I seriously feel like we are. We have the talent, we have the receivers, our offense, they’re getting better every week and our quarterback has made drastic improvements. Our defense, we’re just playing at a high level right now.”

It’s not a perfect 10, though, quite yet.