Virginia Tech's Offensive Line Set To Dig In
By Jason Bailey
The Virginia Tech Hokies offensive line could produce a 2,000-yard thoroughbred running back in 2014.
Don't laugh, at least not much. It doesn't happen often. Truth be told, it hasn't happened for a long time in Blacksburg, Va.
In fact, it hasn't happened at all. And yes, it is a rather far-fetched projection since the Hokies finished last season by leaving many in Gobbler Country frustrated over the state of the offensive line's production and poor execution.
Virginia Tech's interior line appeared unsettled last season, as its running game waa embarrassing, and unacceptable in ranking103rd among FBS schools. Just as bad, the Hokies wrapped up their frustrating 2013 season ranked 102nd overall among FBS offenses. To add political insult to the ailing state of the Hokies' trenches, reputable offensive line coach Jeff Grimes booked it for LSU at the conclusion of the season after the Tigers athletics department engaged in a brief, covert courting of him.
Opposing defensive front sevens abused Virginia Tech's interior line all season and you could probably have decimated the Hokies' offensive front with a suppressed sneeze. The Hokies' ground attack (if you dare to call it that) rushed for a mere "119.8 yards per game last season," per the Roanoke Times, "the second-lowest total in Frank Beamer's time in Blacksburg. Only the 2006 squad, which posted a miserable 113.4 rushing yards per game, fared worse." The Hokies failed to rush for at least 100 yards six times last season, the first time that had ever occurred under Beamer for a 3.2 yards per carry average, tying the 2006 unit for third lowest in Beamer's era. Only the '87 and '88 Virginia Tech teams had worse numbers, (3.1 yards per carry) under Beamer.
Trey Edmunds, the Hokies' feature ball carrier last season, required a GPS to locate sufficient running lanes. The freshman All-American back considered it a win if he got back to the line of scrimmage, let alone took one to the house. Meanwhile, former Virginia Tech signal caller Logan Thomas was only allotted an average of 2.5 seconds to get rid of the ball in the face of surging defensive fronts.
The reality is that when a team cannot rank in the substructure of the FBS in any category of play, it's time to clean house and start over. Virginia Tech complied.
Former Texas offensive line coach Stacey Searels is in the house for this season. An excessive tailgating party to punctuate his arrival in Blacksburg wouldn't be premature. The seasoned offensive line mentor has had stops at BCS-level powerhouses all over the nation, including LSU, Georgia and Tennessee.
His offensive lines have relentlessly frustrated opposing defensive fronts, ranking 36th nationally at Texas (196.2 yards per game) as well as 53rd in 2012 and 21st in 2011). His units produced jaw-dropping numbers at Georgia to rank 37th nationally and he was even more successful at LSU, where he helmed the Tigers' ground assault during their 2003 national championship season.
It has been argued that Searels' successful units stemmed off the power running of Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) and Justin Vincent (LSU). Point noted, but even the most explosive running backs are worthless if their offensive lines can't execute. All reputable collegiate rushing games are fueled off of blockbuster recruiting up front and sound execution.
Searels' offensive interiors made their groomed thoroughbreds look good. His goal, much like that of his predecessor Grimes, is to make the Virginia Tech offensive front the most physical in the ACC. "You want to have guys that have the size to play the position," Searels said per Roanoke.com. "You want to have guys that have punch and power. You want to have guys that have that explosion."
He has the ingredients to inject that caliber of power into the Hokies offensive line.
Losing Grimes to LSU still smarts, but securing the services of an SEC/BCS-caliber offensive line coach in Searels significantly tempers the burn. After eyeing the awesome harvest of rising offensive linemen from the incoming class of 2014, the Hokies have a stable of charged horsepower — like four-star battering ram Shai McKenzie — and will be champing at the bit for playing time this fall.