VT Beat: Hokies Looking to Youngsters on “O”

Corey Fuller comes down with a critical fourth-quarter catch against Georgia Tech Monday night. (photo courtesy TechSideline.com)

Coming into the season, Virginia Tech was returning two to five starters on offense, depending upon how you slice it. Quarterback Logan Thomas and center Andrew Miller were the obvious returning starters. Beyond that, it’s how you interpret the data.

Wide receiver Dyrell Roberts? He spent most of last year injured, playing in just three games before taking a medical hardship waiver, allowing him to return this season. But Roberts played in 39 games from 2008-2011, starting 13 of them.

Wide receiver Marcus Davis? He started eight out of 14 games last season, so technically, he’s a returning starter, but he was the Hokies’ #4 wide receiver last year.

Fullback Joey Phillips? He started five games in 2011, so technically, he’s not a returning starter. But he was Virginia Tech’s number one fullback last year, and the only reason he didn’t tally more starts is because the Hokies often lined up in a three- or four-wide set, with no fullback in the formation, to open the game. If the Hokies were a traditional I-formation team (no one is these days), he would have started all 14 games.

Left tackle Nick Becton? He didn’t start a single game, but he rotated with starting tackle Andrew Lanier and played in all 14 games. Tight end Eric Martin started one game last year but played in ten of them.

And so on and so forth. There are varying degrees of experience among all the “new” starters on the Hokie offense, but one thing was clear: the Hokies were going to start a brand new tailback after the early departure of David Wilson for the NFL. They knew their primary ballcarrier would be green.

But the Hokies felt they had three experienced receivers they could rely on: Roberts, Davis, and D.J. Coles, who started three games last year, played in all 14, and caught 36 passes. Between them, Roberts (65 catches), Davis (60), and Coles (39) had 164 career receptions.

Monday night against the Georgia Yellow Jackets, however, Roberts was quiet, with two first-half catches for five yards, and Coles caught just one pass, which was wiped out by penalty, before departing with a knee injury. (That injury, plus difficulty recovering from January knee surgery as a result of the 2011 season, has forced Coles into a medical hardship waiver. He will sit out the rest of 2012 and have the option of returning in 2013.)

Marcus Davis caught a team-high six passes for 82 yards (tied for the team high), but the player that surprised casual outside observers was Corey Fuller. Fuller pulled in five passes, tied Davis for the team lead with 82 yards, and caught two passes on the Hokies’ final drive of regulation. Fuller provided a critical fourth-down catch that moved the Hokies from the Georgia Tech 47 to the GT 24, setting up Cody Journell for the game-tying field goal with six seconds left.

One big reason the Hokies were in that position to tie was a 42-yard TD catch by redshirt freshman Demitri Knowles … who was replacing the injured Marcus Davis.

Knowles and Fuller’s emergence was part of an overall trend that saw untested, unproven players account for 79 of the Hokies’ 96 rushing yards and 134 of their 230 receiving yards.

  • Rushing: Michael Holmes 13 carries, 54 yards; J.C. Coleman 4 carries, 25 yards.
  • Receiving: Corey Fuller 5 catches, 82 yards; Demitri Knowles 1 catch, 42 yards, 1 TD; Michael Holmes 1 catch, 7 yards; Ryan Malleck 3 catches, 3 yards.

As much as the Hokies would like to put everything on Logan Thomas’ broad shoulders, they won’t be able to. The Virginia Tech offense was out of synch for much of the night and didn’t really take off until the young guys started making plays. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Coleman and Holmes combined for five rushes for 47 yards, and Fuller and Knowles had 4 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.

The Hokies had 196 yards of offense in the fourth quarter and overtime, and those four young players accounted for 146 of those yards (almost 75%).

That dependence up on the young offensive players at the skill positions won’t change as the 2012 season continues. With Coles out for the season, Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts are the only graybeards at the wide receiver and running back positions.

Will it be enough to carry the Hokies to another Coastal crown? Beating Georgia Tech was a big step in the right direction, but many tests loom ahead. The young guys will have to continue to produce.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of TechSideline.com, covering Virginia Tech athletics since 1996, when the Interwebs was still just a baby sucking on a paci. Will believes college football is the greatest sport known to Man, even better than women’s beach volleyball and lingerie football. Will occasionally tweets at @WillStewartTSL, but he mostly keeps his tweeter shut and his eyes and ears open.

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