Q&A with reporter Andy Bitter about Terps-Virginia Tech

November 14, 2013|By Jeff Barker | The Baltimore Sun

With Maryland set to play at Virginia Tech on Saturday, I responded to some questions from Andy Bitter, a sports reporter who covers the Hokies for the Virginian-Pilot and Roanoke Times.

In response, I asked Bitter some questions on Virginia Tech. Here are his responses.

Jeff Barker: Does Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas appear to be back on track? I know he had a few rocky games.

Andy Bitter: He had probably his best game this year against Miami, going 25-for-31 for 366 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. That’s been his downfall when he’s struggled is giving the ball away in crucial situations. It happened against Boston College the previous week, when his career-high 391 passing yards were overshadowed by the four turnovers. Not all of them were his fault, but the tide-turning pick-six he threw in the fourth quarter was, and it colored the perception of that game.

I’ve caught a lot of flak for saying this throughout the season, but I think Thomas has played pretty well, even though his numbers aren’t markedly better than they were last season. He just doesn’t -- or didn’t, prior to the Miami game -- have a lot of help. Obviously, everybody contributed against the Hurricanes in a 549-yard effort, but Thomas wasn’t too much better or worse than he’s been for a lot of the year.

The key with him will always be turnovers. He’s 15-0 as a starter when he doesn’t throw an interception. He’s 10-12 when he does. You can’t get much more clear-cut than that. If he plays within the offense and doesn’t try to go out and make the hero play -- which is where he runs into trouble -- he’s fine. He played under control against Miami. He tried to do too much against Duke and Boston College. There’s always a chance he relapses to that form, since his whole career has been up and down, but he knows what he needs to do to be successful.

JB: How does this strong Hokies defense rate with some of their good defenses of years past?

AB: It stacks up pretty favorably. The key is depth and experience. The front seven has five seniors, all of whom have started at least two years. The D-line goes about eight deep and gets contributions from every one of those eight. The linebackers are led by Jack Tyler, who’s on pace for his second straight 100-tackle season. And the secondary is deep enough that it weathered a number of injuries that would have derailed last year’s group. Senior cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum have only played together for two snaps this year. Fuller’s got a groin injury. Exum’s coming off offseason knee surgery and just hurt his ankle. But true freshmen Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson are playing well beyond their years as replacements, with nine interceptions between them. There doesn’t appear to be any dropoff at the position, even losing those veterans.

Talking to defensive coordinator Bud Foster, that senior leadership is a big reason for the difference between last year’s group, one that was supposed to be this good, and this year’s. There’s a great comfort in the system. There are more guys who know what they’re doing. And in times when it gets dicey, there are strong leaders that can right the ship, unlike last year, when the only season-long senior starter was inside linebacker Bruce Taylor.

The Hokies are good at getting pressure and forcing turnovers. And they’re flexible enough to be able to do that against a variety of offenses, which wasn’t the case last year. It looks like a vintage Foster defense, an aggressive one that sets the tone. It’s certainly the best one in the three seasons I’ve covered the team and would stack up favorably with the ones from the mid-2000’s that led the country in total defense.

JB: Hokies fans historically have a reputation for being good, but is there extra motivation on Senior Day?

AB: You’d think there would be. The sellout streak ended this year, though. And crowds have been slightly smaller than in the past (a ho-hum home schedule and lack of a night game probably has something to do with that, too). The fans have been very critical of Thomas over the years, with that vitriol hitting its apex after the Duke and BC losses, but I think the saner, larger group of Tech fans will see the big picture with him and show him the proper respect on Senior Day.

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