Well, well, well, I bet you Hokie fans are feeling pretty satisfied. I hate Lee Corso as much as any of you (although let’s be honest, Lou Holtz makes Corso look like a genius doesn’t he? I mean how does Holtz keep that gig? He’s a bumbling fool), but I’m here to say “Not so fast my Calm and Beloved Reader”. Why can’t the Hokies come out and play a sharp first quarter for once? Let’s review the first quarter scores of the games this season –
vs. Northeastern – 21-0
vs. UNC 7-3 (and down 3-0 early on)
vs. Duke 13-0
vs. Cincinnati 5-0
vs. Georgia Tech 7-21
vs. Boston College 0-0
vs. Southern Miss 7-6
With some quick calculations, that’s a total of 53-30 with the edge to the Hokies but honestly, look at that schedule!!! How can the Hokies only have that slight of an edge when 4 of the teams have 2 wins or less?!?!?
Again on Saturday night, the defense played awful early as well. Here’s a question to Bud Foster, whom I admire, but seriously – how many times on the first defensive series of the game are the Hokies going to get burned on a deep seam/post route for a big play??? I count 4 so far. Think the opponents have found something on film there Mr. Foster?
“Oh, but Mr. Madjay, the Hokies had the Golden Eagles stopped on the first possession, it was just a roughing the kicker penalty that let them get a field goal “. Really? Well then explain the second drive of the game when Southern Miss went back down the field and got a second field goal without the aid of any roughing penalties at all. Honestly, I am not questioning the level of heart shown by the VT defense, it’s the heart and soul of this team and they have had their backs up against the wall because of poor offense more times than I can count this season (or at least more times than I can count before I start crying). And I know they were pumped up on Saturday night against Southern Miss and I know they will be even more pumped up with emotions through the roof on Thursday night against Clemson. But the reality is that unless they come out from the first play and EXECUTE and play better than they did against the Southern Miss offense (which was missing it’s one real offensive threat), then my friends, it could be pretty ugly.
On the other side of the ball, I will be the first to admit there was improvement in the offensive unit on Saturday. Sean Glennon threw a great first ball and it was one of my key plays of the game. He pulled the ball down or got rid of it after his 2nd read almost the entire night and made more athletic plays than I thought he was capable of. The offensive line blocked valiantly and there was a commitment to the run that I hadn’t seen thus far this season. Some of that is attributable to better play by the tight ends, but did anyone notice that the Hokies used a whole lotta fullback Saturday night? I’m like Christopher Walken in the now famous Saturday Night Live skit, but instead of more cowbell, I’ve been pleading for more FULLBACK. Let teams fear the REAPER!!!!
Alas, amidst all the good warm fuzzy feelings from the offense, I had to go back and watch the game a second time. Oh dear. If you take away Glennon’s first pass, he was 3-10 for 59 yards, 1TD and 1 INT. I was in the stands for Grant Noel’s all-time worst performance against Miami in 2001 (4-16,71yds, 0TD,4INT and a fumble). I was in the stands for Marcus Vick’s 4 turnover performance against Miami in 2005. This performance by Glennon was not as bad as those, but this opponent wasn’t exactly national championship caliber Miami ; it was the mighty Southern Miss Golden Eagles. And in that context I thought Glennon’s level of play was such that if he doesn’t improve then there is no chance against Clemson. Even Sean’s TD pass to Josh Morgan was a poorly thrown ball that Morgan had to make a great adjustment to.
So I know what you all expect, but BOOOM there goes the dynamite. Ike Whitaker is not ready for the starting role on this team either. I saw flashes of star power in Whitaker on Saturday night. He gives the team another dimension and they will need that at some point in the Clemson game, as well as later this season and in 2007 if he’s not the starter, it is the wrong decision, period. But I will eat my crow with some salt and pepper and say that Whitaker is not NEAR polished enough to start. More than just a better grasp of the offense, he has some fundamentals that still need to be beaten into his head. I was still so glad to see him out there so we could actually evaluate him a little and I re-iterate that the game just seems to flow to him more naturally. But while he is the answer in the future, from what I saw against Southern Miss, Glennon needs to be the starter against Clemson and he needs to not only be better than he was on Saturday, but better than he has been all season.
One last point, and I am going to use a very specific play as an example, so bear with me, but football is a game of inches and I think this play illustrates the small difference between 2006 VT football and 2005’s national-best-defense that’s had a huge impact.
13:38 left in the game, Hokies up 22-6 and Southern Miss faces 3rd and 1 from their own 10 yard line. A stop here basically ices the game. The Golden Eagles snap the ball in the shotgun and the RB goes out wide and they fake a screen pass out there to the RB. Orion Martin, Brendan Hill and Brandon Flowers had it read and completely smothered vs. the one offensive tackle who has run out to that side. The wide receiver who would normally be out blocking on the screen has run inside however to the middle of the field. Vince Hall whose responsibility on this play is the middle of the field, sees the QB look over to that RB like he’s going to throw the screen pass, and Vince, despite having 3 teammates out there to cover the screen, forsakes his assignment and the aforementioned wide receiver sneaks up in the middle where the Southern Miss QB hits him for a 10 yard gain. This is different than a QB looking off a safety downfield. In that instance the safety has over-the-top-help responsibility and he’s trying to help the DB who the QB is looking at throwing against. But in the specific example I mention (and watch it yourself if you have TiVO), Vince does not trust his teammates to make the play and as a result gives up a first down.
Now I am not picking on Vince Hall, but I have seen that issue occur in quite a few instances (tons in the Boston College game), and it sickens me. Darryl Tapp is in the NFL right now because of his discipline on defense. He is nowhere NEAR a prototype defensive end in size or speed, but he was drafted by Seattle and is playing on Sundays right now because he is smart and plays his assignment on every play. How many friggin times are Noland Burchette, Orion Martin and Nekos Brown going to get caught looking into the backfield and giving up the perimeter to a QB rolling out after a fake handoff?????!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? Darryl Tapp is a millionaire because last year he blew that play up at least 10 times by staying on his assignment until teams just stopped calling it period. The 2005 team had many players like that and I would have thought that philosophy would have carried over to this team but it hasn’t. On display Saturday night were missed assignments and if teams like SOUTHERN MISS and CINCINNATI have exploited that weakness on this year’s team, just what exactly do you think a team like Clemson is capable of doing on Thursday night? They won’t be converting those mistakes into just field goals I can promise you.
It’s time to stop singing Kum-Bah-Ya about the win on Saturday night and see just what this team has learned in 8 games. Are they ready to execute early on in a game? Are they ready to trust each other? Can they pull it together for a classic Thursday night showdown against a team that I think is one of the 5 best in the country? My colleagues will do a much better preview of the game on Thursday night for you, so I leave these questions to them and look forward to a HUGE game.