We are less than 24 hours from watching the Bruins kick off their final game of the 2013 season - and the last time ever for our graduating seniors - against Virginia Tech in El Paso. The Bruins and Hokies have never played each other before, and we don't have much experience in football against the ACC in general. Thankfully, chicagomaroon, managing editor from Gobbler Country has answered our questions about Virginia Tech football heading into the Sun Bowl.
Our questions are below in bold, followed by GC's responses. You can read our answers to their questions about the Bruins here.
1. How frustrating has it been to watch Logan Thomas struggle to improve as a quarterback? And what has been the biggest issue with him this season?
It has been incredibly frustrating. He had so much potential and never reached it for a litany of issues, some his own fault, some of his coaches/teammates doing. He's among the most enigmatic players I've ever watched in any sport, but the thing is, we all saw what he could be in 2011. So that version of him DOES exist, but more often than not, he's been bad or mediocre Logan Thomas. As for this season, outside of consistency, the biggest issue is that he has vitally no one else around him. As up and down as he's been in his Tech career, the coaches have really done a poor job of surrounding him with talent and preparing to replace former impact players via recruiting.
2. How big of a loss is the injury of Trey Edmunds to the VT offense, which is already a sore spot?
It is a big loss, but it will be impossible to tell how much until the game begins. For one, it doesn't really matter who is back there given how poor the Virginia Tech offensive line has run blocked. Far too often, the backs are hit by a defender(s) before they even secure the handoff, and that's a losing proposition every time. It certainly is a sore spot, as Logan Thomas has often been the Hokies' best and reliable rushing threat. But J.C. Coleman is not a chump, and at times this year, has been used as the feature back or the guy late in games to run the clock down, a curious choice given his diminutive size. He has been effective in that role, and last year was the second-leading rusher on the team to Thomas, showing big-time explosive ability. He's been hampered by injuries this year, but is healthy now. Without Edmunds, expect him and Chris Mangus, who's been good in limited opportunities, to get most of the touches.
3. Which unit has been more critical to the success of Bud Foster's defense, the secondary or the stellar defensive line?
I think you would have to credit each unit equally. As well as the secondary played, perhaps surprisingly so given the injuries to Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller which led to the Hokies starting two true freshmen for most of the year, the defensive line was often equally as dominant and aided them in their play. If I were to give a slight edge to one, it would be the secondary, simply based on their youth. But don't mistake that for saying either unit was any less dominant, despite a decline from both in the last few games.
4. Is Kendall Fuller going to end up being a better player than his older brother, Kyle? Could Brandon Facyson end up better than either one?
I think that he can be the best Fuller brother yet. Granted, the bar has set pretty high in that family, though none of the Fuller brothers has really been a statistical beast. They're just simply gamers that come to play every down on every day and are well-respected because of it. But Kendall has perhaps the most natural athleticism and ability of any of them, and his stats reflect that. As for Facyson, he surprised a lot of people outside the locker room this year as he was an average rated recruit coming in. But his instincts and ability to make a play on the ball give him an equally good chance to be just as good if not better than Kendall Fuller. I can't say with certainty at this point who will be the best, only that it's a good problem to have.
5. Who are some under the radar players for us to keep an eye on during the Sun Bowl?
I would say on offense, watch Chris Mangus and Josh Stanford. If J.C. Coleman struggles, they may try to get Mangus involved on some reverses, screens or option plays. Stanford was a reliable 3rd down target earlier in the year, but has recently come on to the point that he is questionably Thomas' top target right now along with Willie Byrn. Defensively, Dadi Nicolas is a monster, but there isn't really a spot for him on this talented defensive line. He has started at defensive end and whip linebacker, a hybrid between a conventional linebacker and a safety, if that gives you an idea of his athleticism. He had a 3-sack game earlier this season.
6. If the game comes down to a field goal, how confident are Hokies' fans in your true freshman kicker, Eric Kristensen, with just a couple of kicks under his belt - or Michael Branthover, who Frank Beamer has just told reporters may assume placekicking duties for the first time since high school on Tuesday? Or are the Hokies' faithful simply pleased to see Cody Journell off the team?
Kristensen was pretty bad in his first action, but was good in the Hokies' last game. As for Branthover, he hasn't done any kicking in game before, but has spent some time as the kickoff guy as well as the punter in 2011. I would imagine that Tech fans will be sweating it each time either of them has to kick, something that with the Hokies' offensive ineptitude, will likely happen a few times. As for the Journell situation, he was the best kicker, but it's hard to defend him with all of his transgressions off the field, some of which have not even been reported yet. So from my vantage point, most Hokie fans are glad he got the boot.
7. Defense and Special Teams have always been the reliable strengths of Virginia Tech football under Coach Beamer. While the Hokies defense has been excellent in 2013, the special teams seem to have struggled this fall. Has the turmoil with your placekickers taken a toll, or have other factors affected that unit?
While last year the Hokies' special teams units were much improved, this isn't just a 2013 thing. Over the last five years or so there has been a sharp decline in the play of Beamer's special teams units. As for this year, outside of punter A.J. Hughes, who might unfortunately be Tech's best player, special teams has been an unmitigated disaster. Both return units are completely inept, the kicking, as we've discussed, has been a big issue and cost the Hokies a few games, and there have been very few blocked or contested kicks. So I think this is more of a ongoing concern than something that's just specific to the players on the team this year.
8. Uniform issues have been a sore spot for the Bruins over the past few years. How does it feel to have better "UCLA stripes" than UCLA on your jerseys?
We love our stripes. We've done a little (or a lot) too much experimenting with the uniforms over the last few years and most of it has been bad. We're talking drunk guy operating a crane bad. So when Tech sticks to the standard unis with stripes, I smile pretty big, I'm not going to lie.
Thanks again to chicagomaroon and the rest of the crew at Gobbler Country for taking the time to answer our questions. Their guide to the Sun Bowl is here, along with all their other info on Hokie football heading into tomorrow's game.