Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Midseason Report- The Truth Hurts

TechSuperfans!


The Cold Hard Truth - MadJay

The loss to Boston College was like a splash of cold water on my face. It opened my eyes and so with this clear vision unclouded by what I wanted to be true, I went back and watched the Cincinnati, Georgia Tech and Boston College games again (thank you Tivo). I've spent 25 years intently watching football games and I offer up this insight into the 2006 Virginia Tech football season at the midway point. Be forewarned, this is the objective, often harsh truth about the team this year. Do not read on expecting empathy or compassion for the team or the program. Not today.

The "Next Step" has been the TSF theme for 2006 and while it was originally intended to support the team taking the next step on its path towards a national title, what it has become is what this team needs to do in order to avoid taking the "Next Step" backwards. Since Michael Vick left for the NFL draft in 2001, the obstacle has been high expectations. Many of you may have heard Kirk Herbstreit announcing the Boston College game on Thursday as he ripped into the Hokies for having a "me-first" attitude similar to the 2003 Hokies. I have been acknowledging this problem since the recruiting boom that has existed since Michael Vick played at Virginia Tech. Herbstreit has been quietly voicing this opinion for about 3 years and he was much more vocal about it last night than he has been in the past. This struggle is less about "me-first" than it is about expectations, but I'll admit they are somewhat linked together. The caliber of player brought in leads the players, coaches and fans to expect to be among the nation's elite every year. That in itself is a good thing. The problem comes in when that expectation is followed up by a feeling of entitlement.

Look at it this way – it is very likely that all of you reading this can accurately throw a 15 yard pass to a very particular spot. You are able to do it. If you practice a lot, you can even begin to expect yourself to be able to throw it consistently. However, you can't just go out and throw the ball up without focus or effort or and expect the ball to go to the right spot. You still have to go out and execute. You have to attempt to go through the same motion that you developed during your practice of throwing. You are not entitled to have the ball go exactly where you want just because you want it to. When the situation is upgraded in complexity with the addition of 11 defenders and 10 other players on your team, it becomes even more critical that everyone execute instead of just expecting that everything will be just fine regardless of their focus. The odds that you can throw a 15 yard pass to the right spot when someone didn't focus on the blocking scheme and you are being hit in the back are extremely low. So yes, Kirk has a point – the focus and discipline on offense and defense are not where they need to be. Plain and simple, the coaches from Beamer on down have not successfully driven the concept of TEAM home to this group of players (after all the TEAM is why you need to have focus and discipline) and the senior leaders have not stepped in and led to the level that is needed.

But my Calm and Beloved Reader, throwing our hands up and saying "Oh yes, the team has too many blue-chip recruits and prima donnas and they just don't have the focus and discipline" doesn't allow us to address the other half of the problem. The one we don't want to admit. That is, the level of play at some positions is not good enough this year. Yes the talent may be there (in some cases), but I think that the turnover in coaching staff combined with the flat-out inexperience at some positions has really been the key factor in VT's poor performance. Let's go group-by-painful-group through the 2006 Hokies.

Defense:
Secondary – I start with the defensive secondary because it is the perfect example of what I was just speaking of. A new coach (albeit one who I am convinced is right for the position in the long term) in Torrian Gray and a stunning array of physical talent but two sophomores who just don't have the reps and experience to turn it into results. Brandon Flowers is one of my favorite Hokies and he and Macho Harris will be stars in my opinion. But Harris needs a lot of work on his technique and Flowers has blown several coverages that have resulted in huge plays for the opponent. Aaron Rouse COMPLETELY blew the coverage on the nail-in-the-coffin TD by Boston College (hence the argument on the sideline with him and Vince Hall) plus he has far too many late hit fouls to lead by example at this point. D.J. Parker gave up the big pass on the first play of the Georgia Tech game two weeks ago among MANY other mental mistakes he's made this year. Watch for Cary Wade to get significant snaps at both rover and free safety unless or until Parker and Rouse can bring their level of play back up.

Linebacker – Linebacker play has been very solid for the most part. Vince Hall has blown three plays that I've seen (big rush by Cincinnati, the rushing TD by Georgia Tech that made it 21-0 and the big run by Boston College on the play after the critical facemask penalty committed by Chris Ellis). Xavier Adibi missed a few plays in pass coverage, but I am not asking for perfection. The issue at linebacker isn't in the level of play, but rather in their contribution to the lack of focus and discipline. Hall and Adibi are jawing it up and pushing and shoving after every single damn play and Brendan Hill made a complete ass out of himself dancing on the field with the Hokies down 20-3 to Boston College. Symbolically, this is Bud Foster's group to coach on defense and you can be damn sure he is up these guys' ass so far he's coming out of their earhole following the BC game, so let's see how they respond.

Defensive Line – Chris Ellis is symbolically what is wrong with the VT team. Here is a guy who studied under Darryl Tapp and has the ability to become a dominant force but instead he bitches to the refs about being held all the time and doesn't do squaDOOSH in the Cincinnati game and then he commits a game-changing facemask penalty in the Boston College game (the 2 nd facemask penalty he got called for was BS). Oh yeah and he follows it up with a cheap shot personal foul when the game is out of hand. And this is supposed to be one of the leaders of the defense? All-in-all the defensive line has played pretty well against the run but the pass rush has been awful. Their technique on passing downs has been embarrassing – it's almost ALWAYS a spin move. Surely Charley Wiles has taught them more than that. Because of Clemson's offensive line, they have the potential to completely destroy this Hokie defense if the defensive line play doesn't improve and that is just a fact. And by destroy I mean it could be the worst home loss in 15 years.

Defensive Coaching – Bud Foster always has my respect. He has earned it. He isn't happy about what's happening on and off the field right now. But dammit some of this is his fault. Here's a stat for you – 4 sacks in the last 3 games. 1.3 sacks/game against the likes of Cincinnati, Georgia Tech and Boston College? I counted 1 blitz the ENTIRE GAME against Boston College. Their QB, who doesn't remind anyone of Vince Young when he's healthy, had a bum ankle for GOD'S SAKE!! What the hell are the Hokies doing dropping everyone back in coverage when we've already learned the front four can't get the pressure like last year? The defense is the only unit that can stack up on the field with other ACC opponents, but it must have the focus and discipline to execute a good gameplan. Too many plays by Cincinnati and Boston College were simply bad plays by those offenses ( i.e. dropped TD's, fumbles, etc) as opposed to good plays by the defense. If the defense doesn't improve, the Hokies will have a real fight on their hands to be bowl-eligible (wins against Kent State and Southern Miss were pre-season gimmies that now give cause for concern).

Offense:
Offensive Line – Here's some more cold, hard truth for you: this is the worst offensive line I have seen at Tech. Go back and watch some of the Cincinnati game and you will see just how bad the push was by the offensive line and how much work Branden Ore had to do by himself. Georgia Tech only had 6-7 guys in the box and the Hokies couldn't run on them at all. Boston College only had 7 in the box on 3 RD AND DAMN 1 AND FOURTH AND GODDAMN 1 and the Hokies couldn't get a yard. Realize, for those of you counting at home, that with 7 defenders in the box there's a blocker to hit every defender, and even with a stud like Ore running the ball the Hokies couldn't get 1 yard on 2 attempts. The pass blocking by the tackles and center have been very good but the pass blocking in terms of recognition and even physical ability by both guards is an embarrassment. Holding has cost the Hokies three huge scoring plays this year (which, with this offense, is like taking water away from a man in the desert). This offensive line is outmatched by ACC opponents and frankly will be tested by Southern Miss. The only thing we can hope is that the big recruits on the offensive line this year will be able to contribute next year and that the returning starters on this offensive line have one hell of an offseason.

Tight End - only the biggest disappointment on the entire team. Greg Boone can block but he can't catch the ball and the other two guys, Wheeler and Wang, can catch but can't block. I think it's become evident just how huge a weapon tight end has been over the past two years for this offense. Having a big target on a seam route keeps linebackers from blitzing as often and keeps the safeties honest in the middle of the field. Without that big target, nor the good blocking that has typically been a mainstay for the Hokies, the tight ends have essentially contributed zero to this offense. That will be brought up again when I discuss coaching, but we'll come back to that.

Wide Receiver – Overall the wide receiver play has been excellent. Justin Harper has turned into a serious threat. It'd be nice if this unit could show some respect for the program and themselves and quit getting arrested, but their on-field play has been solid. I also wish David Clowney would spend as much time working on holding onto the damn ball once he catches it as he does talking in the locker room. But the receivers have blocked extremely well this season and really their only trouble has been some drops. Eddie Royal had one HUGE drop against Georgia Tech, David Clowney had a tough drop against Georgia Tech, and Justin Harper had one against Duke. Josh Morgan could have had a TD catch against Boston College if he had turned his head one second sooner. But again perfection is impossible and while is there is plenty of room for continued improvement this is one area where I have to credit the new receiver coach for not screwing up an extremely talented bunch of receivers.

Running Back – Branden Ore is an example of a player who has handled expectations. He can serve as a leader on this team next year. I am proud he is a Hokie and he plays hard and plays well. Yes he missed the block against Georgia Tech that led to the fumble return for a touchdown by the Yellow Jackets, but nobody is perfect and his positives have far outweighed his negatives. As for the rest of the running backs, we have forsaken the fullback for some reason and the backup running back position is a disaster. Billy Hite is too nervous to put Elan Lewis or Kenny Lewis in the game to give Ore a much needed breather. This is required and if Hite doesn't play Elan or Kenny Lewis extensively in the Southern Miss game he won't know if he has the type of player he needs to relieve Ore in later games. The bullet needs to be bitten. Either Elan Lewis or Kenny Lewis can get the job done or they can't, but you're not going to find out the answer by keeping them on the bench.

Quarterback –Ah yes, the position you've all been waiting for. Quite an unexpected result came from my review of the game footage. I expected to blame Sean Glennon a lot more than what he actually deserves. Let me explain, because this will take a while. You see, Sean Glennon is focused and disciplined. He is being coached well. I think he is actually playing at about the peak of his ability. In high school football, the coach would say "he is doing all you could ask" and he'd earn his playing time. Unfortunately this isn't high school football. This is Division I-A football and we are talking about a program that expects to be competing for the ACC Championship and eventually a national title. Glennon is giving it everything he has. Unfortunately the game does not come naturally to him. He has to work at it very hard, and to his credit he does. He benches 350 pounds but his throwing motion is deliberate and the ball doesn't seem to have that "zip" it should have. And I notice nearly all of his mistakes come because he is trying so hard NOT to make a mistake. He is coached not to throw a pick because the offense can't afford a turnover. The result? He holds the ball too long or always checks down to the 3- 4 yard pass. He is coached not to watch the rush, but to keep his eyes downfield. The result? He isn't feeling the rush from blind or front side and keeps fumbling from big hits. And so what we have is a situation where you can't BLAME Glennon but at the same time to give the team their best chance to win you have to start Ike Whitaker. The reason is that if the offense is going to suffer from sacks, fumbles and interceptions, why go with the guy who doesn't have the playmaking ability. Why not give a playmaker the chance to get experience? Follow me here for a second – I work in the composites industry. I can tell you that you can pour resin over carbon fiber and mix it up and re-organize it however you want and all you get is a big mushy pile of resin and carbon fiber. However, if you add a catalyst to that mixture you get something that can stop AK-47 bullets or function as the wing for a jumbo jet. Whitaker can be a catalyst for this offense; he can be the X-factor that defenses have to account for freeing up the receivers and Branden Ore not to mention take a little pressure off the offensive line. And consider the alternative – let's say Glennon starts the rest of this season and Whitaker gets few meaningful snaps. What has the team done to itself for next season? In 2007 how can the coaches justify benching a guy they started the entire 2006 season for a guy who has never started a game? And don't even say Tyrod Taylor to me. At this level of college football, almost all quarterbacks (99%) need a season to get stronger, smarter and learn the system. So there you have it. The answer at quarterback is to thank Glennon and start Ike Whitaker. By the way, if Ike Whitaker doesn't get it done in the remaining 6 games, I have no problem with re-opening the QB competition next spring. Who knows, maybe consistency at quarterback is the only thing the offense will need next season? Unfortunately Beamer won't bench Glennon. It's a hard decision, but it makes sense, and yet Beamer is loyal to a fault sometimes and he will play Glennon until Glennon gets hurt.

Coaching – Well, it should come as no surprise that Stinespring coaches the tight ends. They have been terrible. And let's briefly discuss the gameplan against Boston College. I see that the Eagles were 109th against the pass in Div. I-A headed into this game. The Hokies gameplan? Throw two deep passes the entire night. One was an interception on a miscommunication and the second one was a TD to Clowney which was called back due to holding. I like the short pass to the running back in the flat and Stinespring has used that this year to his credit. The wide receiver and running back screen have also been effective weapons. However you cannot construct an offense with those being your central plays unless you run an entire West Coast offense. And the Hokies still try and run the ball a lot. They also don't utilize the tight ends (because they can't right now). And so trying to run a half-baked West Coast offense leads to no identity on offense. An offensive coordinator has to be able to answer the question "What are you trying to do on offense?" I have no idea what Stinespring's answer would be to that question and I wonder if he does. The fact is that with the tight ends so inept, Stinespring should build gameplans that better utilize the Hokies very good fullbacks. But he doesn't. I said above that Glennon isn't the answer, but people are going to debate that. After this many years, there can be no debate left about Stinespring. Just watch the footage on Beamerball.com. The halftime videos contrast Stinespring talking to the offense with Bud Foster talking to his defense. It is painfully evident that while Foster knows exactly what he wants to do with his defense in the second half, Stinespring fumbles around with vague statements and heads off in 4 different directions. After this season he can no longer be the offensive coordinator. Let him move on.

Special Teams:
Kicking/Kickoffs – the single best unit on the entire team. Pace on Field Goals is a machine and Dunlevy/Develli have been stellar on kickoffs. The blocked extra point issue has been resolved. End of story.
Punting – Insane. Schmitt has the leg of a professional wrestler and when given a chance booms 50 yarders, but the blocking and snapping have been ridiculous. For a coach like Beamer to hang his hat on special teams and have poor punt coverage, safeties due to bad snaps to the punter and blocked punts, I mean it just makes a mockery of Beamerball. This has to be addressed as again, the lack of focus and discipline is just so blatant here.
Coaching: Frank Beamer failed to reel in his players with $100 fines and 6:00 AM Wednesday morning runs. What difference do those penalties make to a guy who will make a minimum of $500,000/year in the NFL? The only way to enforce how serious Beamer is about on-field and off-field discipline is to have it affect playing time. You can't hurt a draft choice anymore than by taking away his chances to get on the field. Not to mention the black-eye it puts on his "character" which, while seemingly meaningless once you're in the NFL, appears to have a huge impact on where you get drafted. I look forward to seeing what Beamer does here because, just as he was in 2003 against West Virginia, he and his football program were shamed on national TV in a horrible loss, not just by losing but in the way they lost. The easy comparison for the 2006 Hokies is to those 2003 Hokies because of a similar lack of focus and discipline. But the 2003 version was more talented (they destroyed Miami – the GOOD MIAMI - 31-7 that year) so this 2006 team is going to have to go above and beyond to save the season. It won't be easy and requires tough decisions by the coaching staff. It also requires a willingness for the team to be disciplined and focused and I can't overstate how hard that is and how easy it would be for them to just phone it in the rest of the year.

My Calm and Beloved Reader, I told you at the beginning, I would be offering harsh truth in this entry and in the spirit of being honest, I don't expect the coaches to make those tough decisions and those players to respond positively with focus and discipline. If they prove me wrong they have an excellent chance of turning this season into something positive, but if they continue on this path, the Hokies will be playing in a very bad bowl, if one at all and the "Next Step" for 2006 will have been backwards. Your one last ray of hope is that according to The Blonde I am wrong approximately 98% of the time and the other 2% of the time we are both right. You can cheer the team on and help prove me wrong starting this Saturday night against Southern Miss.

9 comments:

Brent said...

Overall I think this analysis is right on the money, with the exception of one area. Get off the Ike Whitaker thing. For one thing, its not, absolutely not going to happen. Second, it shouldn't happen. Glennon can be a great passer. If we had a decent O-line and he got to play, you'd be singing his praises. Barring injury, Glennon is the QB this year AND next, even with Taylor coming in.

Brent said...

Sorry didn't finish that. ^

I just don't think adding fuel to a QB controversy is helpful at all right now. With the receivers we have and Ore, there is no reason the Hokies should not be able to win the ACC IF THEY ONLY HAD A DECENT OFFENSIVE GAMEPLAN!

I expected to see more deep throws at the beginning of the BC game than I had ever seen in a VT game before. I am no football expert but it seems like anyone could see the passing game is where the Hokies should have attacked. And what do we get? Stinespring trying to prove the Hokies can still run the football? With no change in the gameplan when it is obviously failing miserably.

And somebody tell Beamer to kick the field goal on 4th down!

MadJay said...

Brent,

I agree 1000% that Beamer should have kicked the field goal, and Beamer agrees with both of us. Beamer acknowledged the mistake in his postgame interview. You and I also share the same opinion about Stinespring and how useless he is as an OC as evidenced by the BC gameplan.

I knew I would take some heat for the QB thing and I hate sounding like the other people trying to hang this on Glennon, so let me just clarify my point. This is NOT me jumping all over Glennon. I like him. What I am telling you is that he is at or near his maximum potential. What you see is what you get. If VT had a decent o-line and a good offensive coordinator he would definitely be the right guy for the job because in that situation we'd just need a Trent Dilfer type QB who isn't going to lose games. In fact, I contend that for the first 3 or 4 games this year Glennon was the RIGHT choice to be the QB to help get the team's feet under it and Whitaker/Holt needed more time to learn the offense.

Unfortunately the Hokies DON'T have an o-line or good offensive coordinator and at this point the ACC title is all but mathematically gone from consideration. Under those circumstances, I believe the team needs a playmaker back there and even if I'm wrong and Glennon can learn the offense better, I still contend he's not a playmaker.

Again, this is not the "blame the QB for the losses" which is what I hear a lot of other people saying. If anything, Glennon has shown remarkable toughness and been as much of what you want as a Hokie as anyone on the team. I suggest his role is better served as being a team guy and calling the plays in from the sideline the rest of the year. I also have to agree with you that Beamer won't make that tough call, but if you are suggesting that because I don't think Beamer has the guts to make the change that I should stay mum on the issu, well we will have to agree to disagree there my fellow Superfan.

MadJay

Anonymous said...

three things.

1) I have actually liked stinie's playcalling this year. He's ran plays that SHOULD have worked for the most part. But this team keeps hurting itself. Most of those screen passed against BC should have gone for a long gain, but they just weren't executed very well. Mostly missed blocks and sometimes sloppily thrown passes have killed any offensive consistency that we should have had. I don't hang this on the playcalling as much as getting the O to execute, which by the way is also Stinie's responsibility.

2) I would have liked to see the deep ball a little more often against BC. But when they don't have to respect the run and can always put 6 or 7 guys in the box it makes it harder to go deep. That said, if you can't be consistent on O you may as well take some deep shots and see what happens. Sean's INT on the miscommunication was hardly the worst thing to happen to the Hokies all night. I would hate to think that play scared us away from going deep more often. At the very least, since we can't move the ball anyway, I'd throw a jump ball to Harper or Morgan all day.

To sum up: is there a better play caller out there than Stinie, yeah most likely; but it could be a lot worse, see Ricky Bustle.

2) I actually liked the 4th down call. We needed it, the way our O was playing we needed to get at least three more shots at the end zone. Plus it's not a gimmie field goal either.

What I DON'T like is the third down call. Hell, CINCINATTI stuffed that play last time we called it, as LUDICROUS as that REALLY REALLY REALLY is, it needs to be acknowledged and learned from.

If you are going to go for it on 4th you need to make that decision on 3rd down. That way you can call the wide reciever screen or any 5 yard route and actually get it done on third or at least make them think a little bit on 4th when you really are going to run it.

3) Sean is the man in my mind too. He has shown me a little something the last couple games. I've waffled on this issue a lot so I can hardly claim consistency here, but I don't think Whitaker is the answer.

The answer is O line play. We need to realise that we just can't drop back and pass, Ike, Sean, anybody. We need to start moving the pocket, rolling out. Something to take some pressure off. Maybe Ike's mobility would provide that spark that the O needs, but I am just not sure, and I would err on the side of sticking with a pretty good QB in Glennon. On the other hand... well maybe Ike could be... ohhh I don't even know...

4) I know I said three things but one quick hit and I'll go. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. I used to watch the Hokies play football and wait for something good to happen. Now I watch them and wait for something bad to happen. Boston College plays like we used to. When was the last time that someone said "The Hokies don't beat themselves." Now they say that about Boston College. With the O line as bad as it is, some teams CAN beat the Hokies. But, MANY more can do so if the Hokies continue to help them do it.

-Skelator

MadJay said...

Skelator,
You actually dropped 5 things of knowledge on us, not three or four. Thanks for the comments.

You may have a point about the playcalling vs. the play execution, but they are both Stinespring's job and the playcalling was subpar at best in the BC game. You already pointed out the examples of staying away from the deep ball because of miscommunication on one play and going for it on 4th down with the exact same play run on 3rd down. Just not going to cut it, Stinie.

Good points about waiting for bad things to happen vs. the good things and how BS played like VT used to. I think a playmaker like Whitaker maybe has us holding our breath in excitement for the good things. Maybe not. But I'm dropping the QB issue here. Beamer has made his decision and it's time for the team to act in the Southern Miss game. Preview for the game will post tomorrow.

Upperdecker-5q said...

Your insights are uncanny and right on. I hope that visiting coaches aren't plugged in to your site!!

Obviously the VT coaches are seeing the same things and made some appropriate adjustments for the USM game. Still a ways to go, but a much better effort from most positions on both sides of the ball.

VT seems to be a little flat, defensively, in the first 6-10 minutes of every game, and that cost us dearly when GT came to play and stuck it to us before we could get our helmets cinched up.

We better be ready for Clemson, or we are going to be tiger bait early on, but you already said as much.

MadJay said...

upperdecker,

I couldn't agree more about being flat early in the game. This is actually a phenomenon that goes back 3 years or more. Offense and defense just normally do not look sharp at the beginning of games and that will have us down 21-0 to Clemson.

I also liked the effort from the USM game but I have some serious bones to pick about the game which you can read in the game review later tonight.

Keep reading TSF and thanks for your comments!!

MadJay

Anonymous said...

I agree with many of the observations about Stinespring...as a former NFL Offensive Coordinator and part time fan, I have reservations regarding Coach Stinespring's ability to manage the offensive game. He seems to lack the ability to adapt quickly during a game. I am unsure if this is the culture inherent in the Tech Coaching Staff or his inability as a coach. Coach Beamer needs serious assistance in this area in my opinion. For obvious reasons, I will remain anonymous but I wanted to share this observation.

MadJay said...

anonymous,
We always welcome the opinions of those who have been involved in the game. If you are still interested in coaching, we'd love to have you throw your hat in the ring if (or hopefully when) the OC position becomes available in Blacksburg. Until then keep reading and keep posting!

There's no such thing as a part-time fan as far as we're concerned, just full-time fans who have to take a little time off in between football games!