BLACKSBURG — After gaining a measly yard on just six carries last week at Georgia Tech, Trey Edmunds could've griped and moaned about lack of opportunities and Virginia Tech's ineffectiveness in the running game.
Instead, he took the experience as a sign of the times.
"It's definitely tough to get into a flow (in six carries), but I mean if the passing works, why go away from it," said Edmunds, who will lead Virginia Tech on Saturday against North Carolina (1-3 overall, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) on homecoming in Lane Stadium.
Edmunds is right, but his assessment of Virginia Tech's running and passing games is at odds with what it had planned to do this season. With the arrival of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, it was supposed to be a season of redemption in the backfield.
Through five games this season, the ground game has been even worse than it was last season.
Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0) enters the weekend 90th in the nation out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in rushing offense (139.8 yards per game), and averaging just 3.9 yards per carry (tied for 11th in the ACC). Virginia Tech finished 79th in the nation last season in rushing offense (145.85 yards per game).
Only 16 of Virginia Tech's carries have gone for 10-plus yards, which is fewer than all but 19 FBS teams. By comparison, Virginia Tech had 58 such carries last season. With David Wilson in the backfield in 2011, Virginia Tech had 85 carries of 10-plus yards.
Though Edmunds has 353 yards (including two 100-yard rushing games) and three touchdowns this season, quarterback Logan Thomas has been the focal point of not just the passing attack in the last two games, but also the running game. Edmunds has been dealing with a right hip injury since the fourth quarter of the Marshall game, but he said Tuesday night the hip feels better.
Thomas led Virginia Tech with a combined 39 carries in wins against Marshall and Georgia Tech, posting 116 yards and three touchdowns mostly with head-down efforts off designed plays. He also completed 19 of 25 passes against Georgia Tech for 221 yards and a touchdown.
"You'd like to run some other guys a little bit more, and him a little bit less," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose team had 55 rushing yards at Georgia Tech and faces a UNC defense that gave up just 40 rushing yards last season in a 48-34 win against Virginia Tech that Beamer has repeatedly referred to as "a pounding."
"At this particular time, I think we're a little bit better at throwing the football than we are running the football, but that's not to say we're giving up on it.
"I think you try to adapt to what you are right now, and I think we're doing a good job with that."
UNC also ran for 339 yards last season against Virginia Tech, which is the most rushing yards ever gained by a non-option-based offense against Beamer in his 27 seasons in Blacksburg. Giovani Bernard, who left UNC last season after his sophomore season and became a second round selection of the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL draft, ran for 262 yards, the most ever surrendered by a Tech defense to a single back.
Those days are long gone. UNC is last in the ACC and 112th in the nation this season in both rushing offense per game (100.2 yards) and rushing defense per game (234.5 rushing yards). Quarterback Bryn Renner is completing 59.9 percent of his passes (down from 68.8 percent in 2011 and 65.4 percent last season) and leading the ACC with an average of 279 yards passing per game to go along with seven touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Any production is good production, but it's taken a toll on Thomas, who is struggling with a sprained right foot that had him in a protective boot early this week and an abdominal strain.
"Any running back would like to take the load off their quarterback," Edmunds said. "You don't want your quarterback getting hit a lot. We're going to do the best we can to kind of minimize that ... but Logan, he's a stallion."
Loeffler, who played quarterback at Michigan in the mid-1990s, said he's had to deal with Thomas' abdominal strain injury, adding "that's not fun." Loeffler said Thomas, who didn't throw the ball at all in the short practice week leading up to the Georgia Tech game, has practiced more this week.
So, with Thomas starting to feel the aches and pains, how does Virginia Tech take the pressure off him and create more running room for its running backs? It would help if Edmunds had some assistance in the backfield.
A high left ankle sprain has kept running back J.C. Coleman from running the ball in all but one game this season. Speedy Chris Mangus and powerful Joel Caleb are better suited for specific packages of plays as opposed to being every-down back runners.
Loeffler was asked this week if Virginia Tech's poor yards per carry — including just 2.7 yards per carry in the last three games — were more a product of bad push up front, play-calling with Thomas representing the emphasis of the running game on short runs or teams such as East Carolina loading defensive players near the line of scrimmage to shut down the run.
All of the above, according to Loeffler.
"It's a combination of a lot of things, I think," Loeffler said. "We want to run the ball. Coach Beamer wants to run the ball. I want to run the ball. There's times when there have been optimal looks, and we haven't executed. There's been times when we said there wasn't optimal looks, and we're going to throw it, so I think it's a combination."
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