Running game a priority for Hokies

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While public perception might seem otherwise, it’s no big mystery why Virginia Tech failed to contend for the Coastal Division title this year and mucked its way through the program’s most disappointing season in 20 years.

The Hokies’ scoring offense was No. 78 in the country this year, averaging 26.08 points per game. Virginia Tech struggled to run the ball, averaging just 157.75 yards per game.

As the program prepares to face Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl, it does so knowing exactly where it needs to improve. The question is whether the Hokies can make those adjustments in time to finish the season on a winning note and avoid the program’s first losing season since 1992. Coach Frank Beamer would not say if he planned to make any staff changes, but he did say the team will focus on improving the running game during its bowl practices.

“I think we know the direction we want to go,” Beamer said. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly this or that. Logan [Thomas] didn’t have as good a year as he wanted to have, but he didn’t have two receivers that are all-time leading receivers at Virginia Tech. And a running back that’s playing for the Giants now. And four offensive linemen that started a bunch of ball games. It all kind of ties in with each other. Your success kind of goes as an offensive team and as a team, and I think we understand where we need to get better.”

The Hokies’ rushing offense was No. 5 in the ACC, a significant drop from the David Wilson era in which Virginia Tech was No. 2 in the ACC in 2011 with 350.91 rushing yards per game. A tailback-by-committee approach was the only option, as J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory, Martin Scales, and Michael Holmes all had at least 40 carries this year. The team’s leading rusher, though, was its quarterback, as Thomas finished with 528 yards and nine touchdowns. The last time a Virginia Tech quarterback led the team in rushing was 1965, when Bobby Owens led the team with 526 yards.

Beamer said Coleman (486 yards) and Scales (173 yards) caught the coaches’ attention later in the season.

“Those two kind of stepped it up a bit,” Beamer said. “All of them are going to be good backs, it’s just that for so long, no one separated. One guy would be good one day, and the next guy would be good the next game, or the next quarter. We really all along wanted to get it down to about two backs, and work them in there, and let them get most of the reps in practice and be better in a game, and I think we’re closer to that now.”

They’ll face a tough test from Rutgers, which is No. 11 in the country in rushing defense at 105 yards per game.

“There’s no question we’d like to run the football better,” Beamer said. “We’re going to continue to work in that area.”