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Hokies view defense as headliner

The SportsXchange

Virginia Tech is known almost every year for its suffocating defense and opportunistic special teams play, and its offense has sometimes lagged behind.

That's not OK with Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas, who has made it clear he wants to offense to hold up its end of the bargain this season.

Thomas said he has liked what he's seen out of the offense this offseason. It's clear to him that the unit is working hard not to be seen as the team's weak link.

"You don't want to be the side of the ball that lets down the other side of the ball," Thomas said. "Practice has been probably the hardest practices we've had since I've been here, and I'm excited to see what the rest of the year holds just simply because we don't want to let down each other."

There is little question Tech's defense has what it takes to be successful this season, with nine returning starters from last season's unit that finished 10th in the country in yards allowed per game (304.64) and seventh in points allowed per game (17.64).

But the offense must replace eight starters from 2011, including record-breaking tailback David Wilson, stalwart receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale and four offensive linemen.

The Hokies appear confident in their replacements, but they have decided to tweak their offense to take advantage of their strengths - team speed and a confident quarterback in Thomas.

Tech experimented in the preseason with an up-tempo no-huddle offense with the hopes of putting more pressure on opposing defenses. And the Hokies have installed a package of plays out of the Pistol formation to create more downhill running opportunities for Thomas, who had 469 rushing yards last season and a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns.

Tech has also installed more spread formations to take advantage of its speed.

"We just have team speed on offense, including the offensive line. We're very fast. We're very strong. And we're very smart as well, which has enabled us to go more up tempo," Thomas said. "We're able to call out plays from the line of scrimmage and our offensive line is able to pick it up and our receivers are able to pick it up. I think that's a big reason why we can go up tempo."

NOTES: Virginia Tech has played bigger-name opponents to open recent seasons -- No. 1 Alabama in 2009 comes to mind -- but the stakes couldn't be any higher than this year's opener against Georgia Tech in Blacksburg on Labor Day night. The Hokies and Yellow Jackets have been the top two teams in the ACC's Coastal Division since the two-division format was adopted in 2005, and the winner of this matchup has represented the division in all seven ACC championship games. Tech is 3-1 against Georgia Tech since Paul Johnson took over coaching duties and brought the spread option offense to Atlanta, but the Hokies have lost their last three season openers against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents (Boise State 2010, Alabama '09 and East Carolina '08).

--The Hokies follow up their season opener with a home game against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Austin Peay. The last time Tech played two opponents in a five-day span was 2010, when it lost to Boise State in the opener in Washington, D.C., and then suffered a shocking loss to JMU at home. Tech coach Frank Beamer hasn't forgotten that disastrous start, but he thinks this year is different.

"The thing that's different this year is we're playing at home (in the opener), whereas we were up at FedEx Field and got home at about 5 in the morning (in 2010), so I think that's the difference," Beamer said. "I think there's a certain risk there, but the opportunity to play on national TV on a Monday night, that's pretty special there."

--Virginia Tech debuted at No. 16 in the preseason Associated Press poll, four spots ahead of its ranking in the coaches' poll.
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