Breaking down the Hokies' offensive struggles

Following a dismal September in which Virginia Tech fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 and lost two games to Big East opponents, Hokies’ fans are pointing fingers and searching for answers.

The easy answer: There is plenty of blame to go around.

The defense has been surprisingly underwhelming, and the offense stagnant. The offense, though, has taken the brunt of the criticism. There are explanations beyond an embattled offensive coordinator. Here are the top five, based on observations through the first five games:

1. The offensive line has struggled to replace four starters. The significance of this one can’t be undervalued. This group has lacked consistency and toughness, and it has done a poor job of protecting quarterback Logan Thomas. Not only have there been too many defenders around his arm and falling at his feet every game, but his own teammates have struggled to give him space and time. Thomas should be the least of fans’ concerns. The problem is that he’s been hit far too many times. The offensive line is a unique position group that takes time to gel, and these guys are certainly taking their time. They’ve got to toughen up.

2. Thomas is pressing. He must realize he doesn’t have the supporting cast he did a year ago because Thomas is forcing plays. While he would never say it, it’s clear he’s not comfortable in the pocket, and a lot of that could be his confidence in the guys up front. Thomas is getting pounded every game, but he keeps coming back for more. When he has time to throw like he did on Saturday, fans saw what could have been the game-winner to Corey Fuller. That’s a clutch throw made by a great player. When he has time to throw, he’s as good as anyone in the country.

3. Losing senior D.J. Coles at receiver was a bigger loss than many probably had expected. It starts with his toughness. Dyrell Roberts and Marcus Davis are good players, but they don’t bring the same edge when it comes to blocking. That hasn’t helped the run game. Virginia Tech is missing a physical receiver like former receivers Danny Coale or Jarrett Boykin to really lower his shoulder and block. Virginia Tech would have had some long runs this year if there would have been a receiver downfield to make the block.

4. There’s not enough leadership. Coale and Boykin are sorely missed. Coale was one player who would stand up and say what needed to be said. That player hasn’t emerged on this roster.

5. The coaching staff needs to impart discipline. Lining up correctly shouldn’t be a problem. There have been too many foolish mistakes like pre-snap penalties because the players are lining up the wrong way, too many turnovers and false starts. The staff needs to make sure the players are more disciplined and careful with the ball.

The slow starts on offense have been a hot topic this week, and coach Frank Beamer is the one who brought it up on Monday’s weekly teleconference. It’s a valid concern, and there’s no question Virginia Tech’s staff and players need to do a better job. The staff’s game-planning is not the problem. They spend countless hours each week scripting plays for game situations on third and fourth downs, etc. That changes, though, when Virginia Tech’s field position starts at their own 12-, three- and eight-yard line like they did against Cincinnati. Coaches aren’t going to call the same plays when they’re backed up to the end zone like that. It's up to them, though, to put the players in position to succeed.

Beamer said he and the staff addressed the Hokies’ slow starts “in great detail” but declined to go into specifics.

"We're going to keep it within our staff and try to do better this week," Beamer said.

Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has received the brunt of fans’ wrath – as he always does – but this year, there are just as many questions on the field as there are about the playbook.