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Norm Wood's report card: Virginia Tech midseason report

It didn't take long for Virginia Tech's national title dreams to disappear this season after an 0-2 start.

Now, as Tech (4-2 overall, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) heads into the second half of the season, the remaining aspirations include reaching 10 wins for a school-record seventh consecutive season and winning another ACC championship.

"It's really going to be an emphasis for our football team to continue to get better here," coach Frank Beamer said on Tuesday. "I don't know if we did that – every person in all areas – last week (in a 45-21 win against Central Michigan). I felt last year we were really a good football team at the end of the year. I felt we kept getting better and kept working at it. We need to make sure we continue along those lines this particular year."

With six regular-season games down and six to go, here's a look at what Virginia Tech has done this season, and what may be still to come.

The grades

Overall

B- Virginia Tech gets a lot of credit for bouncing back after the 0-2 start, but even during the four-game winning streak, very little has come easy. Only last weekend's Central Michigan game was put away prior to the fourth quarter. Tech seems to lack killer instinct this season.

Offense

C While Tyrod Taylor (leads ACC in passing efficiency; nine touchdown passes and three interceptions), wide receiver Jarrett Boykin and Darren Evans and David Wilson have made Ryan Williams' absence less painful, there have been hiccups, including turnovers against Boise State and James Madison, early red zone issues, sacks (12 surrendered) and third down problems (converting just 34.9 percent).

Defense

B Tech's defense failed in huge spots against Boise State (last scoring drive) and James Madison (inability to defend read option), but a unit void of quality depth has improved. The second half of both the East Carolina and Boston College games were bright spots, and the secondary has been brilliant.

Special teams

B Tech has excelled in kicking (Chris Hazley is 9 of 10 on FG's), punting (Brian Saunders is averaging 44.3 yards per punt), kickoff returns (Wilson had a 92-yard touchdown return at N.C. State) and punt returns (Jayron Hosley had an 80-yard touchdown return against Central Michigan). Beamer's prediction that this should be the best blocking unit he has ever coached hasn't come true – no blocks in last five games.

Coaching

C A five-day turnaround in the first week was daunting, but the coaching staff had all offseason to prepare. Tech looked unprepared in the JMU loss, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster's defensive adjustments since then have gone well, and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has had the team looking sharp in the red zone in the last two games.

The storylines

Can Virginia Tech win the ACC again?

Despite the 0-2 start, Tech has positioned itself to win its fourth ACC title since joining the conference in 2004. It's going to take more of what the Hokies have done in the last four games: finishing drives and better tackling than they showed in the first two games.

Will the defense hold up?

Tech's starters at middle linebacker, one outside linebacker spot (Lyndell Gibson) and in the secondary have had to play with virtually no rest all season. You have to wonder if it'll take a toll in the brutal November stretch (Georgia Tech, at North Carolina and at Miami).

What kind of impact will Ryan Williams have when he returns?

Williams has missed the last 3 1/2 games with a right hamstring injury. Hamstrings are difficult injuries, and it's impossible to tell how he'll hold up when he returns (possibly this Saturday against Wake Forest). Considering Darren Evans and David Wilson have been solid in Williams' absence, he'll probably be brought back slowly.

The MVPs

Offensive

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor

With 1,030 yards passing and 449 yards rushing, he's just behind pace (rushing) to become one of the few quarterbacks in Football Bowl Subdivision history to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season. Only seven quarterbacks have done it. He also leads all Tech quarterbacks under Beamer in victories (27).

Defensive

Cornerback Jayron Hosley

Though it's hard to ignore what middle linebacker Bruce Taylor (third in the ACC in tackles with 49, second in tackles for loss with 11 1/2) has done while replacing the injured Barquell Rivers, it's also impossible to overlook Hosley's accomplishments. He's tied for the national lead with four interceptions, and he's second in the nation with nine passes defended.

The schedule

Sept. 6 -- Boise State 33, Virginia Tech 30: It was the third straight neutral site loss to start season for Virginia Tech, and a huge confidence deflator.

Sept. 11 -- James Madison 21, Virginia Tech 16: Ranks as one of the most embarrassing losses in coach Frank Beamer's 24-year tenure.

Sept. 18 -- Virginia Tech 49, East Carolina 27: Tech bounces back to hold ECU to 83 yards in the second half.

Sept. 25 -- Virginia Tech 19, Boston College 0: First shutout for Tech since 2006, as the Hokies hold the Eagles to 39 yards in second half

Oct. 2 -- Virginia Tech 41, North Carolina State 30: Tech recovers from 17-0 deficit for biggest comeback under Beamer.

Oct. 9 -- Virginia Tech 45, Central Michigan 21: With 38 unanswered points, including two touchdown runs and a touchdown pass by Tyrod Taylor, Tech wins after trailing 7-0.

Saturday -- vs. Wake Forest: Tech has won 10 of last 13 meetings against Wake Forest, which will be the last of the other 11 ACC teams to visit Lane Stadium since Tech joined conference.

Oct. 23 -- vs. Duke: The Blue Devils, who are last in the ACC in scoring defense and total defense, need to get a lot better at stopping offenses to make this a game.

Nov. 4 -- vs. Georgia Tech: Teams have split the last four meetings, and Virginia Tech's tackling will be tested against triple option in Thursday night game.

Nov. 13 -- at North Carolina: Despite UNC's NCAA troubles, the Tar Heels should be motivated for their first ACC home game in over a month.

Nov. 20 -- at Miami: Could possibly represent the equivalent of the ACC Coastal Division title game

Nov. 27 -- vs. Virginia: Tech hasn't lost to U.Va in Blacksburg since 1998, and have won six straight and 10 of the last 11 in the series.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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