The Thomas-led offense of 2012 struggled to find its form and ranked 81st in both total offense (376.8 ypg) and scoring offense (25.1 ppg). The power rushing attack tapered off from previous seasons, ranking 79th nationally (145 ypg) while the passing game put up 230 yards per game, good for 64th in the country. Thomas returns for his senior season following a mediocre 2012 campaign where he threw for 2,976 yards with 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The Lynchburg, Va. native will look to bounce back with the help of experienced receiver D.J. Coles (36 catches, 3 TD in ‘11) and Demetri Knowles (19 catches, TD) who showed glimpses of promise last year as a freshman.
The running game suffered major setbacks in 2012, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry as a unit and having no running backs rush for more than 500 yards individually. The starter at running back is an unknown commodity, although J.C. Coleman (492 ypg, 2 TD) and Trey Edmunds are expected to compete for carries this fall. Beamer decided to make a change due to the underachieving outings on the offensive side of the ball by replacing coordinator Bryan Stinespring with former Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who will have four returning starters at his disposal.
Defensively, the Hokies look as though they will produce a top unit for Bud Foster once again in 2013. Nine defensive starters return and five of those players received at least All-ACC honorable mention in 2012. Virginia Tech ranked 18th nationally in total defense allowing 333.5 yards per game. Foster's unit thrived defending the pass, ranking 14th in pass efficiency defense nationally and 24th in passing defense (199.1 ypg). The ability to stop the run wasn't much of an issue either as the Hokies ranked 29th in that category (134.1 ypg).
Historic Context: North Carolina and Virginia Tech have met on the football field 30 times. The Tar Heels trail in the series, 9-17-4. Since 2004, the Hokies lead the series with a 7-2 mark. UNC has level the playing field over the past four seasons, however, splitting the contests with its Coastal Division rival. The first win came in 2009 off the boot of Casey Barth as UNC upset the Hokies in Lane Stadium. The second came a year ago as the Tar Heels posted a 48-34 home victory in Larry Fedora's first game in the series.
"I think we've got our work cut out for us... I like this football team. We do have some shortcomings, and I'm not sure we deserve to be as high as you just mentioned. But that's why you play the games and that's why you play the season. You look at the teams that were voted above us and, you know, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, Florida State...they certainly deserve to be there." – Beamer
"You can't take a play off. You can't take a quarter off and expect to win 10 games. I'm excited about trying to get back to taking this football team and getting the chemistry right and building it to where we can have success." – Beamer
Player to Watch: Lockdown cornerback Antone Exum snagged five interceptions in 2012 for the Hokies. He also racked up 48 total tackles on the year while solidifying himself as big time contributor in the secondary. An injury to his ACL led to microfracture knee surgery and uncertainty as to his ability to have an impact on the field in 2013. Beamer admitted during the 2013 ACC Kickoff that Exum is "ahead of schedule but still working to get back to 100 percent." The Hokies will greatly improve their chances of impressing on the field this fall if Exum can overcome this injury and return to his playmaking form.
Notable Matchups: Virginia Tech opens the season in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff game against reigning national champion Alabama at the Georgia Dome. The Hokies will have to return to their usual top tier form to compete against the Tide. The rest of the schedule sets up favorably for Virginia Tech, as a three-game tear matched against Western Carolina, East Carolina and Marshall should help build confidence for the team before they face four consecutive Coastal Division opponents. The game that sets up to be the toughest for the Hokies will come at Miami on Nov. 9, which could have Coastal Division title implications.