**Note: This was a print-only story**
The Crimson White talked to Jacob Emert, sports editor of the Collegiate Times in Blacksburg, Va., to get his take on Virginia Tech’s 2012 season, offseason and where the team is headed going into the Chick-fil-A kickoff.
Crimson White: It’s no secret that Virginia Tech was a disappointment in 2012. How do you explain what happened last year?
Jacob Emert: Show me someone who predicted a 7-6 season for the Hokies in 2012, and I’ll show you a liar.
The season kicked off with a thrilling over time victory at home over Georgia Tech, and it seems like everything after that was a quick plummet to the bottom of the mountain – including losing five of six midway through the year.
The reasons for the disappointing showings are plentiful. Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster’s patented “Lunch Pail D” failed to show up on a regular basis until late in the season, and an inept running game – no running back averaged over 40 yards per game – placed even greater responsibility on, then-redshirt junior quarterback, Logan Thomas. Instead of thriving under the pressure Thomas, placed in a nearly impossible situation to succeed, threw for 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Despite extending their consecutive bowl appearance streak to 20 seasons, the 2012 campaign was one most members of Hokie Nation wish to soon forget.
CW: Statistically, Logan Thomas regressed in all major passing categories a year ago from his first year as a starter in 2011. What’s there to stop him from having a repeat of last season?
JE: In short: Scot Loeffler. Loeffler took over as Tech’s new offensive coordinator after an offensive overhaul almost immediately after the conclusion of the 2012 campaign. Amongst his main objectives was getting Thomas back to being the productive gunslinger he was in 2011.
As early as a few weeks into spring practice both Thomas and Loeffler acknowledged that the quarterback was making noticeable improvement – primarily in his footwork and accuracy.
Along with his technique being much improved Thomas has readjusted his mindset. He has acknowledged that he was overcompensating for an often-lackluster offense last season and thus forcing passes leading to an increase in interceptions.
If he stays within his 6-foot-6, 275-pound frame, Thomas’ 2013 season should much more resemble the quarterback Hokies’ fans fell in love with a few years ago.
CW: The Hokies lost their top three receivers in April to the NFL Draft. Does Thomas have the weapons to succeed this season?
JE: A quick glance at the Hokies’ depth chart won’t reveal any standout offensive threats as it has in years past with guys like Eddie Royal, Ryan Williams or David Wilson. Instead, Tech has a number of players at the skill positions with enormous potential who will have every opportunity to succeed in 2013.
Trey Edmunds, a redshirt-freshman running back, has the unique combination of speed and power and D.J. Coles, a senior wide receiver who missed most of last season with a knee injury, both will be looked to for major offensive output this season.
Perhaps the best asset Thomas has in his corner is his defense. Consistently ranking among the nation’s best since Foster became the defensive coordinator in 1995, the Hokies defense has often been asked to cover up offensive shortcomings with stifling defensive performances time and time again and has done so successfully on a number of occasions.
Knowing he has what might be the best defense he’s had since taking over the starting role, Thomas should feel less weight on his shoulders while under center.
CW: A noticeably thinner Hokie roster will be dressing out on Aug. 31, following a slew of injuries and personnel turnover this offseason. What’s the mood like in Blacksburg with so much uncertainty heading into this game?
JE: This Virginia Tech vs. Alabama matchup marks the beginning of my third football season in Blacksburg and, to date, the buildup for the game, both in Blacksburg and in cyberspace, is in a league of its own in terms of anticipation.
The Hokies have suffered a slew of injuries in the past couple week and players’ returns aren’t being gauged against being ready for the season, but rather ready for “the Alabama game.”
I think the reason for this anticipation, and frankly the optimism behind it, is because in the eyes of many members the stage has been so perfectly set for this game. Tech has the chance to redeem itself for last season against the twice-reigning national champions and they have a new, exciting offensive staff to help them do it.
Had the overhaul not taken place this offseason – the hiring of a new offensive coordinator offensive line coach and wide receivers coach – I don’t believe Tech fans would truly feel they have as good of an opportunity as they currently do.
The fans aren’t delusional – well most of them anyway; they know that chances of victory aren’t superb. Because the Hokies are such an underdog, an opportunity is created to upset the Goliath of the sport, helping many fans remain positive in the days heading into the big game.
CW: Despite all the Hokies’ struggles from a year ago, the defense still managed to finish 18th in the country in total defense. Is this group capable of becoming a top-10 defense nationally this season?
JE: Prior to the 2012 season many – myself included – believed that the defense had the potential to be Bud Foster’s best ever. While it didn’t exactly pan out that way expectations are just as high, if not higher, for the squad heading into this season.
The projected starting defensive line is as experienced as any in the country, having a combined 91 starts between them. The experienced group up front, led by no. 99 James Gayle – who was named second-team All-ACC each of the previous two seasons – is the strongest aspect of the defense and holds much of the weight for success in 2013.
If Tech’s defensive line is up there in age by college football standards, the defensive backfield is just learning how to walk.
After star defensive playmaker and Twitter trash-talker extraordinaire Antone Exum tore his ACL while playing pick up basketball early in the offseason, Kendall Fuller, a true freshman, was named his replacement. Kendall will start at cornerback alongside his older brother, Kyle — Kyle and Kendall make up two of four Fuller brothers that currently or previously played football for head coach Frank Beamer.
Behind the Fullers on the outside are Brandon Facyson and Donovan Riley — another true freshman and a sophomore. Despite their youth the trio of cornerbacks, alongside Kyle, Tech’s best healthy defensive back, have played well throughout the spring and fall providing Foster and Beamer with some sense of ease about how they’ll perform come the regular season.
CW: What’s your prediction on this game? Who wins, what’s the final score and why?
JE: VT 24, BAMA 20. I understand this pick is not a popular one – by Vegas’ standards I’m a certified lunatic.
As soon as Tech’s bowl game last year against Rutgers went final, and in many cases well before that, all eyes were on the 2013 opener. #BEATBAMA has engulfed the Virginia Tech community and campus, and has united both the team and fan bases around the one, albeit lofty, goal.
By my count Alabama’s projected starting offensive line has a total of 28 previous starts – all of which come from Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen. If Tech can dominate the line of scrimmage while on defense and prevent the big plays and painstakingly long drives that Alabama has been known for over the past half-decade, Logan Thomas and the rest of the Hokies, who believe they have something to prove after a disappointing 7-6 season, can pull out a close one in the Georgia Dome.