The most heavily scrutinized Virginia Tech player when the Hokies take the field against Alabama on August 31st will be quarterback Logan Thomas. Logan suffered through a debilitating 2012 campaign where he took a physical pounding, never fully established trust with his receivers outside of Corey Fuller, and completely lost the touch and accuracy that made him look like a bonafide first day NFL draft pick towards the end of the 2011 season. Scot Loeffler was tasked not only with re-establishing the Virginia Tech lunch pail mentality on the offensive side of the football, but also rebuilding Logan Thomas as a quarterback.
Those efforts produced mixed results in the spring. In two scrimmages, Thomas had some struggles in the face of a heavy pass rush and a limited playbook. In one scrimmage, he looked dynamite throwing deep skinny posts, fades, and bootlegs. The spring game, against the back up secondary and basic defenses, appeared to be a vehicle to give Logan a dominant performance and build confidence for the build up to the Tide.
Instead, the wheels came off. Thomas threw three poor interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and the partisan faithful cheered when Thomas was replaced by backup quarterback Mark Leal. A return to the field following a lengthy absence only resulted in additional consistency, and following the game some in the fan base were even uttering the unthinkable words "quarterback controversy." It was almost as if a sadistic screenwriter wrote a brutal, worst case scenario. I hammered Logan immediately following the game. It appeared that he was locking on to his primary read, and was not looking to secondary receivers, which allowed defensive backs to jump his routes. TheKeyPlay.com readers have speculated that these problems can be attributed to the limited playbook options, poor route running, or great coverage. Was my initial assessment unjust? Let's take a look at the film.
Does Success Equal Successful Execution?
Since launching French on the Bench, the natural focus of the column is to break down big, game changing plays and highlight why they worked, or why they failed. While that makes the column more interesting and gives a different perspective for why things work or don't work on a football field, it also isn't always a terrific methodology for analyzing the individual performance of a player, especially a quarterback. For Logan, I decided not to focus as much on the three interceptions, and take a close look at some of his completions to see if he was scanning the field, examine his mechanics, and take a look at how the play was developing down field.
This film review yielded mixed results. Logan's mechanics throughout the game look vastly improved. He has shortened his throwing motion, and a much higher percentage of passes were in the right vicinity as compared to last season. At the same time, on far too many plays, he was completely locked in on one receiver, resulting in two of the interceptions and failures to locate other receivers down field. Here, we have a 2nd-and-11.
Thomas takes the snap from the shotgun and his head immediately looks to his left.
He stays locked on, and then fires a frozen rope on a deep out to Josh Stanford. Donovan Riley successfully breaks up the play. If you watch Logan closely, he is completely locked into Stanford on the play. His lack of head movement would allow defenders (if in zone) to rotate over to Stanford, or at least get a jump on making the play after the catch. Even a look off would help Stanford on the play.
On the first series, Stanford made a huge play on a slant route to nearly score a touchdown. Logan even handled a poor snap to make the throw. But, SHOULD he have made the throw? And, did he properly analyze the play?
After getting a low snap, Logan stares down Stanford. If you freeze the film at 1:05, Logan is looking dead to Stanford without any kind of lookoff.
Deon Clarke is looking into the backfield and follows Logan's eyes to where the football will be delivered. An experienced linebacker would ease back into the zone and likely either intercept the pass or break up the pass (see Bruce Taylor on the G-W interception for a touchdown against Florida State in the 2010 ACC Championship Game), but Clarke second guesses himself and eases up at the last moment (perhaps worried that he is being overaggressive; overthinking makes the brain tie up the feet.) This is a poor decision by Thomas that ends up working out thanks to Clarke's hesitancy and a terrific play by Stanford.
Staring down receivers ultimately resulted in the first two interceptions. On the fourth and goal, the Hokies ran an interior pick play, looking to get Josh Stanford open on a five yard in route. Knowles runs a similar route. The key to the play is a 10 yard flag route by D.J. Coles in the slot. Thomas reads the defender covering Coles. If the defender gets pushed off by Coles, Logan hits Stanford on the in route. If the defender jumps the in route, Coles has an angle on the inside defender covering him on the flag route.
On film, we see that Logan reads the play incorrectly.
Der'Woun Greene (lines up on Coles) backpedals as if he is in man coverage, then widens to leave the nickel to cover Coles man-to-man. Logan locks in on Stanford rather than reading Greene. Greene plants and charges the throw, which is late because Thomas hesitates. He has no window to throw into.The better decision would have been to loft a soft high arcing pass to the back corner of the end zone, where Coles was somewhat open on the flag route. The throw isn't easy, but Coles was open enough that the pass would sail harmlessly out of bounds or Coles would make the catch.
The second interception is more difficult to analyze based on this film (we can't see the routes develop downfield). At the snap Logan takes his first step away from center with the right leg , opening his shoulders and head to the right sideline. It appears that he is looking at the receiver flexed to the right side (who I believe is D.J. Coles.) His eyes move quickly from right to left as if he is tracking Coles, but if he is, Coles is open for a short window. I think that Logan was just turning his head to go with his second backpedal to lock in on Stanford, who appears to be running a 12 yard in from the left sideline. From his second step, through his plant and step into the throw, Logan is completely locked in on Stanford, even though Donovan Riley (who played a magnificent game) was in Stanford's hip pocket, and two other defenders were within 5-7 yards underneath the route. Even if Coles was the primary read, Logan should not have fixated and stayed with Stanford.
I am not sure if Stanford is at fault here, but it looks like the ball never should have been thrown.
Other plays, Logan does work through progressions, but misses open opportunities. One particular play drove me absolutely nuts while at the game.
After taking the snap, Logan blindly looks to his right, where Knowles runs a go route. A go route requires some time, but Logan checks down quickly to Ryan Malleck on a delayed out to the right flat. He gets a small amount of pressure from Ken Ekanem, but it is easily avoidable by taking a step up into the well-developed pocket. Instead of stepping up into the pocket and keeping his eyes focused downfield, he throws off balance to his second check down, Coleman on a delay to the left. This is also the one clear example of Logan's mechanics breaking down. The rushed throw forces Coleman to go down to a knee, meanwhile Knowles had more than 20 yards of wide open space down the right sideline because both the corner and the safety on the right side froze to jump Malleck coming out of the backfield. This is the classic example of poor pocket presence.
It is unfair to lump the failure of some of these plays strictly in Logan's lap. Some of the plays may have been poor route running, or perhaps even Bud Foster's "basic" defenses are more complex than most defensive systems that quarterbacks face in the spring game. Logan had major flashes of improvement. His throw to Stanford for the slant gets intercepted with anything less than elite arm strength and mechanics. The same stands true with the out pattern to Stanford highlighted earlier. His best completion play of the day involved a throw to McCray (lined up as a wide receiver) in between a corner and safety playing cover 2.
Prior to the throw, Logan looks short to the left flat to Edmunds who lines up as a slot. Logan looks hard to the flat, forcing the shallow zone to come forward. Logan then looks up and lays the ball into McCray short of the safety. He used head movement, made the correct read, and made a precision touch pass. He had numerous beautiful throws over the course of spring practice. The physical tools are there, but he has to incorporate all the skills of the quarterback position, every play, in order to elevate the Hokies to championship contenders. Alabama will mix and match defenses, bring edge pressure and drop defensive tackles into zone coverage. They will press, role coverage towards Logan's security blankets. Saban will do everything in his power to force Logan Thomas to try to win the game, with the hope that he loses it trying. In the face of that challenge, Logan Thomas will need to have his best game, and the staff has to make sure that he doesn't have to win the game. Run the ball, force turnovers, get the lead, and let Logan Thomas make plays on bootlegs (which I will highlight next week) and other play-action to move the chains. Do those things, and the Hokies will stun the world.