BLACKSBURG – In the days leading up to Virginia Tech’s 34-27 loss at Boston College, Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster talked about how the Hokies have made a habit in recent years of winning the hard way.
He echoed an old theme that has been repeated over and over in Blacksburg – how defense and special teams have gotten it done for Tech. Foster failed to mention a steady running game over the years, but maybe he left it out because that element of Tech’s attack has been mediocre this season.
Help may be on the way in the form of at least one promising incoming running back recruit in the 2014 class, but Tech hopes to add another one if coveted prospect Shai McKenzie decides to spend his college days in Southwest Virginia.
Though Tech certainly won’t write off redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds and sophomore J.C. Coleman, it’s clear at this stage they aren’t the saviors for the running game the program hoped they might be prior to the start of the season.
After nine games, Tech was 12th in the ACC and 107th in the nation out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing offense (116.8 yards per game). Not exactly the kind of production Tech has grown accustomed to under coach Frank Beamer, and certainly not what offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was hoping for when he took over in January with reestablishing Tech’s power running game as his top priority.
While Edmunds led the team through the first nine games with 447 rushing yards and five touchdowns, his production has dropped significantly in ACC play. In the first five conference games, he had 47 carries for just 95 yards – 2 yards per carry – and two touchdowns.
Coleman hasn’t been utilized as much as Edmunds, possibly because of a high left ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason that kept him out of three of the first four games. In the first five games against ACC teams, he had 27 carries for 86 yards – 3.2 yards per carry in a sample size.
Through scrambles, zone read decisions and designed runs, quarterback Logan Thomas has been Tech’s workhorse in the ground game in conference play. He carried the ball 89 times for 226 yards – 2.5 yards per carry – and two touchdowns in the first five conference games.
Of course, it helps being 6-6 and 254 pounds in short yardage situations, which is where Thomas has been most effective throughout his career. The fact Thomas has been Tech’s most dependable runner for the last two years when it absolutely has needed to get a first down on the ground speaks volumes about the diminished state of the running game.
Tech already has running back commitments for the 2014 recruiting class from Marshawn Williams of Hampton (Va.) High and Daniel Reid from Fork Union Military Academy.
Williams is a 5-11, 214-pound senior who is considered by most recruiting analysts to be among the nation’s top-75 backs in the ‘14 class. He gained nearly 1,800 rushing yards and scoring 23 touchdowns in the regular season this fall.
Reid is a 6-1, 220-pound back who was part of Tech’s recruiting class this past February, but he didn’t quality out of Thomas Dale High in Chester, Va. Both Williams and Reid hope to enroll in January at Tech to be able to participate in spring practices, which would make sense considering it appears immediate playing time could be on the horizon for a precocious freshman.
While Williams and Reid are already relatively known commodities for Tech in terms of its upcoming recruiting class, McKenzie is the wild card. If Tech could get a commitment from him, he’d qualify as a significant addition to the 2014 class.
McKenzie Would Be A Coup
McKenzie (6-0, 209), a senior from Washington High in Washington, Pa., is looked at by some analysts as one of the nation’s top-20 running backs in the 2014 class. He’s most interested in scholarship offers from Tech, Pittsburgh, Florida State and Georgia Tech.
In September, he tore the ACL in his right knee. He’ll miss the rest of the season, but he’d already run for 650 yards in just three games.
His injury doesn’t appear to have diminished the intensity of his recruitment. Loeffler and associate head coach and running backs coach Shane Beamer have headed up Tech’s pursuit of McKenzie.
He’s slated to take an official visit on the weekend of Nov. 15 to Tech, which is shaping up to be an important weekend for the Hokies. Melvin Keihn, a 6-3, 224-pound linebacker from The Gilman School in Baltimore, is also scheduled to visit Tech that weekend. Tech hosts Maryland on Nov. 16.
Keihn is being listed by most analysts among the nation’s top-60 outside linebackers in the class of 2014. His final list of schools in consideration are Tech, Virginia, Miami, Penn State and Maryland. Wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead and outside linebackers and assistant defensive line coach Cornell Brown are handling Keihn’s recruitment for Tech.
Given what Tech was expecting to get in its 2013 recruiting class but didn’t receive, it’s hard to blame the Hokies for pushing hard to load up on running back talent in next year’s class.
In addition to Reid, who obviously detoured to prep school, Tech picked up running back Jerome Wright from FUMA in the 2013 class. Though Wright could eventually play some tailback for Tech, he’s played some at fullback in his freshman season, and he projects as a fullback as his career progresses.
Tech was also hoping to get a long-awaited letter of intent this past February from Drew Harris, a 6-1, 220-pound native of Exton, Pa. who was considered by analysts to be one of the top-30 running backs in the 2012 class, before he had to head to FUMA.
After he had his transcript flagged this past January by the NCAA clearinghouse, he decided in May to head to ASA College, a top junior college football program in New York City. At this point, it seems like a stretch Harris will ever make his way to play in Blacksburg.
Tech has moved on from Harris. The future of Tech’s running game now rests on the shoulders of Edmunds, Coleman, Williams, Reid – and just maybe McKenzie.