BLACKSBURG – Though he won’t have to house hunt or sleep on a cot in his office like he did for part of this past winter and spring when he got to Blacksburg, the job isn’t getting any easier for Scot Loeffler.
After spending a fall working with a quarterback he admired but had never seen prior to January, and personnel he couldn’t quite get to jive with his thought process, Loeffler couldn’t help but be a little unfulfilled at the end of his first regular season as Virginia Tech’s offensive coordinator.
“At the end of the day, you’d love to line up like Stanford in two-back and pound it, but that wasn’t us,” Loeffler said.
Indeed, the plan may have been to bring smash-mouth to Tech, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Tech heads into its Dec. 31 meeting against UCLA in the Sun Bowl with a rushing offense that’s 110th in the nation (117.8 yards per game) out of 123 FBS programs.
Even more disconcerting for the run game in particular is Tech will enter the spring with as much uncertainty about who will carry the ball as it had coming into this season.
Redshirt freshman running back Trey Edmunds, who leads Tech with 675 rushing yards, broke his right tibia against Virginia. He might be able to do some running around by spring, but he won’t be ready for contact.
Marshawn Williams, a running back from Hampton, Va., who ran for over 2,100 yards in 12 games this season as a high school senior, will enroll in January and participate in the backfield with J.C. Coleman, Chris Mangus and Joel Caleb in the spring.
Of course, running back is a secondary concern for Loeffler right now. He’s putting more thought into whom his quarterback will be – and hinting at some possible scheme adjustments.
“I think it all starts hands-down with, ‘Who’s your quarterback?’” Loeffler said. “You’re going to do and tailor your entire deal around that guy. The system has the ability to be full-blown spread. It has the ability to be true NFL as NFL can get.”
It should be noted he made his comments about Tech’s future quarterback and the direction the offense could take with incoming freshman quarterback Andrew Ford sitting in the room during a pre-Sun Bowl press conference in Blacksburg.
Ford, a 6-3, 180-pound pro-style quarterback from Camp Hill, Pa., was named the Gatorade player of the year in Pennsylvania this year after completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,776 yards and 35 touchdowns. He was at Tech in mid-December for a campus visit.
With Ford absorbing every word that came out of Loeffler’s mouth during the press conference, there was a not-so subtle message conveyed. Don’t assume rising senior Mark Leal is the default replacement for Logan Thomas at quarterback.
But don't assume that Ford would automatically then be the next option, either. On Monday, the Hokies landed another 2014 quarterback recruit - Chris Durkin, a former Michigan State commitment.
Take a look at what Durkin told Andy Bitter of the Roanoke (Va.) Times when explaining his decision to go with the Hokies.
“A chance to play early,” Durkin said. “At the other place I was looking at a two- to three-year wait before I really got a shot. And coach [Scot] Loeffler said he wants me to play early.”
Defense Has Challenges, Too
While Ford’s impending arrival could conceivably become more immediately important for Tech than originally anticipated (a redshirt season for Ford is still the plan), defensive coordinator Bud Foster may have to wait a few weeks to find out if Tech gets one of its prize defensive recruits in the 2014 class.
Derrick Nnadi, a 6-3, 305-pound product of Virginia Beach considered by most recruiting analysts to be one of the nation’s top-25 defensive tackles in the 2014 class, has his official visit schedule lined up.
After heading to Penn State, Florida State, Virginia and Ohio State for official visits, he’s saving his final official visit for the second-to-last weekend in January. His father is a Tech alum, and the Hokies are considered Nnadi’s favorite.
Running back, quarterback, the return of starting tight end Ryan Malleck from an early season-ending shoulder injury, replacing starting right guard Andrew Miller – all of those areas will consume Loeffler’s offseason plans. Though Tech’s defense has been dominant at time this season, Foster has his own list of worries.
It starts at the linebacker and safety spots, where Foster has to replace starters Jack Tyler at middle linebacker and Tariq Edwards at inside linebacker, and find some depth in the secondary at safety.
If junior Kyshoen Jarrett likes what he hears from the NFL draft advisory committee about his status if he decided to forgo his final season of college eligibility, Tech could have an even more pressing need at strong safety. Junior defensive tackle Luther Maddy has also submitted paperwork to the draft advisory committee.
“Sometimes these young guys, where we haven’t played a lot of guys at linebacker or some spots in the secondary like at safety, they get in that backup mode a little bit,” Foster said. “I’ve been challenging them to take that next step.
“We’re going to have to grow up. There’s not a lot of experience at those spots right now. That’s a concern as we go into next fall, but that’s still a ways away.”
Foster said he’ll be keep an eye on junior Chase Williams and freshman Andrew Motuapuaka, who is redshirting this season, as likely replacements for Tyler. Redshirt freshman Devin Vandyke, who tore an ACL in September, could also get into the mix at middle linebacker next fall.
Sophomore Deon Clarke, who since just before the Miami game in November had been serving an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules, is back on the team and working with the second team behind Edwards, according to Foster.
Clarke could factor prominently into Tech’s future plans at the spot currently occupied by Edwards. Redshirt freshman Dahman McKinnon, who has caught Foster’s attention on special teams, is another player to watch at inside linebacker.
Sophomore outside linebacker Ronny Vandyke, who was projected to be Tech’s starting outside linebacker in August before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, will soon be back in the picture.
“There’s a drop-off right now,” said Foster of the situation on his linebacker depth chart.
One aspect of Foster’s defense he doesn’t want to change in the offseason? Chemistry. He said this season’s group reminded him at times of the unit from 2004-07 that included linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall – a pair of players Foster has repeatedly mentioned as two of his all-time favorites.
“There’s not one time all year that I was disappointed in any kind of effort, any kind of passion,” Foster said. “This was one of the more fun groups we’ve had to coach.”