Before every football game this year, The Blue Zone is going to sit down with a football writer from the opposing school’s student newspaper to get the scoop on their team and season.
This week, The Chronicle’s Andy Marguis spoke to The Collegiate Time's Sports Editor Zach Mariner about this weekend’s contest between Duke and Virginia Tech.
The Chronicle: The story of Virginia Tech’s struggles has been one of the more prominent stories in the media this season. Not to dwell on the negatives, but what do you think has been the biggest issue for the Hokies this year?
Zach Mariner: It’s sounds cliché to say, but the biggest issue has been an inability to put a complete game together. When the offense is on, the defense can’t stop anybody – as was the case with North Carolina last week. When the defense is on, the offense can’t seem to get a first down – as was the case against Cincinnati. They just haven’t played as a cohesive unit. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of fire in this team as compared to years past. They just don’t have that leader out there that
is getting them up and going.
TC: Junior quarterback Logan Thomas had huge expectations coming into this year after leading Virginia Tech to the Sugar Bowl last season. While he began the year strong, these last few weeks have seen a slow increase in his interceptions (seven in last four games). What has been his issue of late and what are some of his keys for success this weekend?
ZM: This year he doesn’t seem to be as comfortable in the pocket. I think you can credit a lot of that to the change in supporting cast from last season. Last year he had strong targets in Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin, and obviously David Wilson. He also had an experienced offensive line that had to replace four starters this offseason. Going forward, he’s got to be able to trust his receivers and offensive line. I don’t think he’s been able to do either one of those things through the first six weeks of the season. But if he gets time to throw and his receivers make the catches that they need to make, I think you’re going to see his numbers improve, as well as this team improve.
TC: The Hokies have been tested predominantly on ground in their two conference matches against North Carolina and Georgia Tech. However, Duke likes to focus its attack on the air. What new challenges or opportunities do you feel this presents, and how do you think Virginia Tech is going to prepare?
ZM: Tech’s defense has run a lot of nickel up to this point, including against Cincinnati and UNC in their spread offenses. However, I don’t think you’re going to see the same thing this weekend, as they’re just not getting any pressure on the quarterback. And they know that if Sean Renfree has time to throw, he’s going to make you pay. So I think they are going to switch from a nickel to a base 4-3 defense to try and mix things up with their blitzes. Will it pay off, I don’t know. The defense only has eight sacks on the year and has not been able to get any push whatsoever. On the outside, I think you’re going to see more man-to-man coverage with the corners. I think Antone Exum will probably match up with Conner Vernon, which will be a fun one to watch.
TC: What do you feel are going to be Virginia Tech’s keys to success this weekend?
ZM: I think that right there is going to be one of the keys to the game, Exum on Vernon. I think if Tech’s going to win, Exum has to shut Vernon down. The coaches are probably going to throw him out on an island and say, “Alright, you go guard No. 2, and I don’t want him catching the ball.” Offensively, Tech has to run the ball, something they haven’t been able to do whatsoever. They ran for only 40 yards against North Carolina, and haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in any game this season. Logan has half the team’s rushing yards. They just don’t have a guy there in the backfield that they can give it to. So I think if Tech can somehow develop a running game and get a good balance offensively, they’ll be in good shape. But if they are forced to go to the air early and often, it’s going to be a close game.
TC: So what’s your ultimate prediction for the game?
ZM: I just wrote my weekly “Why I’m Afraid of” the opponent column, and I think Duke is going to put some points up. With Renfree or even Anthony Boone leading that offensive, it’s going to be close. But in my column I put Tech 31 – Duke 27. I believe that Tech will open some things offensively as they had some success last week against UNC. But the matchup of the day is Exum-Vernon. If Vernon has a big game, Duke’s going to have a much better chance of winning the game so we’ll see.