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STEVE DeSHAZO: Thomas, Hokies halt the Jackets

BLACKSBURG—Scouts from a dozen NFL teams visited Lane Stadium Monday night, and they wouldn’t have invested a holiday evening on the eve of the season unless they had a good reason.

They all wanted a first-hand look at Virginia Tech junior quarterback Logan Thomas, who has morphed from a tight end into a potential high first-round draft pick in just over two years. Impressing potential future employers wasn’t Thomas’ top priority Monday night—winning was—but by leading the Hokies to a 20–17 overtime win over Georgia Tech in a key Atlantic Coast Conference game, he accomplished both feats.

Thomas may have a mere 15 college starts at quarterback under his belt, but his size, strength and absorption of Tech’s offense have intrigued NFL scouts. Some see him as a rawer version of 2011 NFL offensive rookie of the year Cam Newton. In fact, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. projects him as the No. 2 quarterback prospect for the 2013 draft, behind Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley.

Thomas has similar size (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) and athleticism to Newton. He’s not as fleet as the Carolina Panthers’ star, but he can move the pile and outrun some defenders (as evidenced by his 469 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground last season). The Hokies’ early game plan certainly obliged the scouts’ desires; their first two offensive series looked like a pro workout day. Thomas either ran with or threw the ball on Tech’s first nine snaps, and he capped their second possession by floating a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Martin.

That toss showed off Thomas’ touch. He also demonstrated with a gorgeous 42-yard fade pass to Demitri Knowles for a touchdown midway through the fourth period. And he exhibited his strength by carrying 15 times for 40 yards.

But he also showed his accuracy still needs work, as does his ability to read defenses. His final numbers (21 for 38, 230 yards passing) were strong but not overwhelming against a Georgia Tech defense that allowed 26 points a game last season.

And he’ll get plenty of chances to show his abilities this fall. With eight new offensive starters, the Hokies have constructed their offense around Thomas’ skills more than any quarterback since Michael Vick. Offensive coordinator Brian Stinespring instituted some no-huddle and spread elements because he’s convinced Thomas could handle it.

With a month to prepare for Georgia Tech’s vaunted spread option offense, the Hokies’ defense was solid. It held Georgia Tech to 288 total yards (170 fewer than its ACC-leading average of last year), 192 on the ground (compared to 317 a game a year ago) and half of its 2011 scoring average.

Kyle Fuller’s overtime interception of an ill-advised Tevin Washington pass meant Virginia Tech needed only a field goal to win, and Cody Journell obliged from 17 yards out.

Brooke Point graduate J.R. Collins made several key stops, including a fourth-down tackle of A.J. Bostic near midfield early in the third period.

Former Virginia coach Al Groh—now Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator—also had time to scheme for Thomas, and the much-maligned Jackets swarmed Thomas at every opportunity. In the fourth period, when it counted, the Hokies’ offensive line gave Thomas time to throw, and he exploited it.

First, he hit Marcus Davis on a short slant pattern, and the speedy Davis turned it into a 35-yard gain. Then, Thomas lofted a rainbow into the hands of Knowles, who made his first career reception count despite pass interference.

And after Georgia Tech took the lead with 44 seconds remaining, Thomas led the Hokies on a 51-yard drive to set up Journell’s tying 41-yard field goal, leading to the first overtime game in Lane Stadium history.

Thomas may not have awed NFL scouts, but they surely left impressed. Hokies fans departed even happier.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

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