Thursday, September 27, 2007
This week, the Virginia Tech Hokies host the Tarheels of North Carolina. The Hokies have a record against the Tarheels of 15-9-6 across all the two’s contests and look to increment the wins column by one more. This match serves as the Hokies’ last of several opponents they have used and should continue to use to steadily build back their confidence after a crushing, historical defeat at the hands of the LSU Tigers. This also serves as the Hokies’ first ACC contest of the ’07 season.
The ‘Heels season has gotten off to a rocky start with only one win and three losses which include two close games against ECU and Virginia. South Florida handed them their only real blow out to date just last week. While UNC does not have the makings of a real contender for an ACC championship, their program does have the ability to knock off an unsuspecting team marching their way towards the title game. If Virginia Tech doesn't keep their eyes fixed on this team, UNC could very well do just that.
So what do the Hokies need to accomplish on Saturday? Tyrod Taylor will once again get the starting nod from head coach Frank Beamer. Taylor has thrown a remarkable zero interceptions over sixty-two attempts, and he has done so while often scrambling from opposing, defensive squad pursuers. This game, one that will bring a gradual but noticeable escalation in the ability of the opposing squad, provides more opportunity for growth for the young, un-redshirted Fresman. Not to sound like a broken record, the Hokie offensive line needs to focus on their ability on protecting their quarterback. Taylor, all too many times, had to scramble in the game against William and Mary, which lead to many odd throwing angle passes.
Ore to date has had a sub-par season with only 205 yards of rushing. His numbers in yardage only amount to roughly half of what he had by this time last year and roughly equal the total amount of yards he rushed in his two previous games against UNC combined. Unlike many of our quarterback woes I don't think this is purely because of the offensive line. Ore put up stellar numbers with much of the same O-line members in the 2006 season when they had less experience. Don't get me wrong; Ore is a good running back, and his numbers now aren't terribly bad. They just don't amount to what he has the potential to achieve. Ore is a key piece of the Hokie offense. Not even Tyrod Taylor can consistently throw accurately while scrambling to Virginia Tech's talented wide receivers. The Hokie offense doesn't have a strong tight end this season to catch the clutch-play passes. For the Hokies to succeed this season, Ore needs to jump from his most recent mediocre performance to something much better.
So what does the Hokie offense face this Saturday? They have to contend with the likes of 6'3" 245 lbs linebacker Hilee Taylor. Taylor has amounted a great deal of tackles this season, caused fumbles, and disrupted pass plays. He has exactly what it takes to give the Virginia Tech struggling O-line some serious trouble, especially on Tyrod Taylor's right side. The key to success on offense for the Hokies lies in containing Hilee Taylor.
And on to the UNC offense, quarterback TJ Yates has a 60% completion rating to two very capable receivers in Hakeem Nicks (243 yards) and Brooks Foster (277 yards). These two should keep Hokie cornerbacks Branden Flowers and Victor "Macho" Harris very busy. Also kicker Connor Barth has shown accuracy in going three for three in his field goal attempts. The UNC running game may seem somewhat lackluster with running back Johnny White rushing for only 188 yards on the season to date, but nearly half of those yards came against South Florida, one of the Big East's powerhouses this season and UNC's toughest opponent so far.
Overall, UNC could very well give Virginia Tech a well matched game well into the second half, and even late into the third quarter. We are definitely correct to consider the Hokies the favorite for this game, but overlooking UNC could make for a potential season wrecking mistake. In all fairness UNC should give the Hokies about as much trouble as did ECU, not exactly a worry free game for us Hokie fans as you may recall. However, this match-up makes for a good ACC opener where the Hokies have a chance to start their in conference schedule off with a good win.
North Carolina Tar Heels (1-3, 0-1 ACC) at
#14/#17 (AP) Virginia Tech Hokies (3-1, 0-0 ACC)
Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007 • 12:10 PM
Lane Stadium/Worsham Field
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Starting with what I can stomach - the special teams. The Hokies forced a bad punt snap from the Tribe, had 135 yards in punt returns and Punter Brent Bowden is your All-ACC 1st team punter right now. Try over HALF of his punts have been downed inside the 20 and he's had eight inside the 10 yard line!!! The gunners on punt coverage also deserve some credit as the Hokies are 2nd in the nation in punt return defense right now. Jud Dunlevy is kicking well and special teams is just working in all phases.
I would be remiss without crediting Bud Foster and his 1st string defense as well. They held W&M to basically nothing throughout the first quarter and did what they were supposed to do - overwhelmed a less-talented but still very sound offense that was just badly outmatched by the speed and size of the VT defenders.
I think it's important to mention something about this defense and how they responded. After the LSU game, VT was 95th in the nation in total defense and 79th in scoring defense. I can't ever remember VT ranking that low in those categories. Now after playing Ohio and W&M they have done what they were supposed to do against less-talented opponents and they have already recovered to rank 29th and 19th in total defense and scoring defense respectively and that INCLUDES the debacle in Baton Rouge. Granted the schedule gets much tougher starting this weekend, but from what I've seen the defense has been playing better. I vastly underestimated the importance of team chemistry on defense and earlier this season, the inexperience of rover Kam Chancellor and whip Cam Martin really took a toll on the defense despite their physical talent. They are still not where they need to be mentally but at least the defense is playing more sound in their fundamentals.
2nd string defense had a lot of good things and some terrible things. First the good - Purnell Sturdivant is a STUD at outside linebacker and would be starting at at least 60 other schools in the country. While he's not a 1st/2nd round NFL talent like Xavier Adibi, still expect good things next year at linebacker from Sturdivant. Steven Friday played at backup DE and if the coaches would have just kept him there instead of trying him at whip for a while, he would be even better than he is right now. He will be playing at about 265 next season and if he can keep his speed, watch out. He and John Graves look good on the defensive line.
Mentally, however the 2nd string defense played like the 1st string did during LSU (with the previously noted exception of Sturdivant who was super sharp) which means mental breakdowns at different positions throughout the game. Corey Gordon demonstrated how he got passed by on the depth chart at whip, Brett Warren couldn't get deep enough in his drop to stop a TE seam pass on 3 different occasions (I though Coach Foster was going to have a coronary after the 3rd one), and Stefan Virgil is probably going to be 2nd string corner again next year (stud true freshman Cris Hill will be ready next season to start as a sophomore from what I hear). Dorrian Porch played very well at rover and Davon Morgan is going to be an upgrade from DJ Parker when he takes over free safety next season but he gets too tangled up mentally out there right now. Overall it was awesome experience for the 2nd string defense which really helps the team a lot. Getting this much game film on these backups will prove to be valuable to the coaches in knowing who's a "gamer" and who just looks good in practice.
In STARK (I'm talking Yin-Yang/Up-Down/Red State-Blue State) contrast stands the Hokies offense. Here's a gem from offensive mastermind and coordinator Bryan Stinepring in response to the Hokies ability to outgain William & Mary in this contest by a paltry 25 yards and hold onto the ball a measly 3 FRIGGIN SECONDS longer in time of possession - "Those guys showed some looks on film that they haven't shown before and we didn't do a good job handling it".
Now I don't care if William & Mary was MOONING THE DAMN CAMERA on the game film they sent Tech's coaches to review, if the Hokies can't overcome a scheme change mid-game when they have their opponent so physically dominated in size and speed, what in good heavens are they going to do when they play ACC teams?!?! And by the way, what in the hell does Stinespring NORMALLY get from his opponents when they send over game film - a breakdown of series-by-series ANTICIPATED DEFENSIVE PLAY CALLS for the game?!?! I can see it now -
"Mr. Stinespring, here's footage of what we plan on doing in your third series of the 2nd quarter. We wanted to bring a blitz off the corner with our outside linebacker and drop our defensive end into coverage. Now watch our safety because he may cheat up some anticipating a hot route and we are going to try and pick off that pass."
What an absolute joke. Look, if you want to blame some scheme changes in the secondary for throwing off young Tyrod Taylor who is still just a true freshman, fine, I won't lay all of that at Stiney's feet. Taylor had a poor day going 6-13 for 72 yards and he threw a should-have-been interception that the linebacker just flat dropped. But don't tell me that the Hokies inability to move the ball on the ground or when backup Sean Glennon came into the game is because W&M played a different defensive front. Hey wait a minute, I know - we've reviewed how much the defense improved following LSU when playing outmatched teams. Let's take a look at the offensive improvement after having played Ohio and William & Mary. After LSU, the offense was 109th in yardage and 99th in scoring. Currently the offense is 107th in yardage and 79th in scoring. Of course two of those touchdowns in the past two games are from Beamerball (interception return for TD and punt return for a TD) and without those the offense would rank 96th in scoring. Basically after playing LSU, the Hokie offense has not improved its ranking compared with other teams. For those of you who may be new to the game of football - this is very bad.
Looking back on the game against William & Mary, and knowing that starting right guard Sergio Render is benched for the 1st quarter of the UNC game due to disciplinary reasons, it doesn't exactly take Vince Lombardi to recognize that the offense is in big, big trouble. The amount of execution on offense is so far from acceptable and yet I get the sense that Coach Beamer is going to lay that on the fact that Ed Wang got hurt on the offensive line this preseason and his quarterback is a true freshman. I don't buy it. Let's hope that somehow the magic bullet is found in time for the UNC game on Saturday. Stay tuned for TSF's full game preview.
2) At the beginning of the 2nd qtr, Eddie Royal houses a 59 yard return to put VT up 34-0. This was the first big special teams play of the year for the Hokies and it was a great one. The special teams has been so solid in all phases and they finally had a break out game. Eddie Royal is also now the all-time punt returner in VT history.
3) With 2 minutes left in the half, Tyrod Taylor finds Branden Ore on a screen pass, and Ore takes it 48 yards for the final play from the 1st string offense. It was a good confidence builder for Taylor who had run well in the first half but passed very poorly.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
by Mad Jay
Normally, the Hokies playing a I-AA (I protest the renaming of the college football divisions and will continue to call them I-A and I-AA) opponent would be considered a waste of a week. I have never liked it when teams scheduled I-AA opponents because there’s not much in it for the I-A opponent. If they kill the I-AA team, they were supposed to. If the game is close, it’s cause for panic. And if they lose to say, someone like Appalachian State, the season goes to hell in a handbasket. Meanwhile they are exposing the players to injury risk and when it’s all said and done, a win against a I-AA opponent doesn’t even count towards total victories in determining bowl eligibility.
This week is different. The offensive line needs a confidence builder, which is a very polite way to put it. Putting it my way, these guys need a swift kick in the ass. They need reps to work on timing and just playing football together. This offensive line has to look at every week as a chance to get better and make massive improvements over the week before. The size of the improvement can get smaller as the year goes on, but based on their play right now, there is HUGE improvement needed before the ACC part of the schedule begins. The interesting thing about offensive lines is that they, moreso than any other unit on the entire team (with the possible exception of long snapper-holder-kicker), have to work together in order to be successful. Sure you need teamwork in all of the groups, but in every other group special individual achievement can sometimes overcome a mistake by one of your teammates. Individual super-achievement on the offensive line means very little because if one of the members breaks down on the play it almost always doomed to failure.
Freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor, despite all the hype - some of which you may have read here – is still a true freshman. Lord knows he needs as many opportunities as possible; from making reads and throws all the way down to simple things like handoffs and play fakes. More snaps can only help but he has to remain cautious that plays that might be there against William & Mary won’t be there against faster, tougher competition. That being said, if the Hokies are up by more than 4 touchdowns at the end of the third quarter, Taylor doesn’t see a single 4th quarter snap if yours truly was the coach. That would give Sean Glennon a chance to play some more as well as a deserving Cory Holt who has been a real team player amidst all of the chaos at the QB position in 2007.
From a defensive standpoint, I do truly expect William & Mary to move the ball and score some points, something in the 10-13 ballpark. Their QB Jake Phillips is outstanding and as long as their offensive coordinator isn’t Bryan Stinespring, he will have some quick pass plays like slants, hooks, and screens available to offset the heavy rush that will result from William & Mary’s offensive line being so vastly outmatched by the Hokies. Remember that this is the top offense in Division I-AA and unlike when the Hokies offense is on the field, the Hokies defense will be seeing schemes and playmakers that are closer to what one would see in Division I-A football.
This is also a perfectly timed week in that it gives several injured Hokies a chance to continue their recovery. Jason “All” Worilds, the Hokies defensive end with the high ankle sprain, won’t play and this will give Steven Friday some HIGHLY anticipated reps at end. I can’t wait to see what this young man brings to the table. Branden Ore, who has bruised ribs, probably won’t play in the second half at all and it will finally force Coach Hite to play Kenny Lewis, Jr more as well as Jahre Cheeseman. I also don’t expect to see any 3rd or 4th quarter snaps taken by Macho Harris, who still has a sore hamstring and Brandon Flowers, with his ankle unless the game is nightmarishly close. All in all, it gets these players more recovery time and gets more valuable snaps for the backups.
While I still disagree overall with I-AA opponents playing I-A, Appalachian State did prove that the best of the lower division can compete with the upper division. I would put William & Mary’s offense up as one of the best of the lower division so don’t think that the Hokies can sleepwalk through this game and get a blowout. I want to see crisp execution by the first string on both sides of the ball and the most made by Taylor and the offensive line of the reps they do get. I expect to be able to tell a lot about the Hokies headed into the UNC game next week based on what I see on Saturday. But the team better leave that “looking-ahead” business to Superfans like me and focus on playing their best against William & Mary.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
by Brian "Where's the Ice?"
This Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies host the Bobcats of Ohio. Virginia Tech will try to recover from the most devastating loss in Frank Beamer's coaching history at Virginia Tech. The most notable, but not surprising, news from the Hokie clubhouse comes in the announcement that Tyrod Taylor get's the starting nod at the quarterback position from coach Frank Beamer this week. This will sideline Sean Glennon who previously had the starting spot until Beamer made the bold move of un-red shirting Taylor in the midst of a twenty-seven point deficit against LSU last week.
The Hokies will, with certainty, seek some kind of redemption from last week's beating on both sides of the ball. (Side note: I would hate to have been a Hokie on the defensive squad after the LSU game in the same locker room as what I can only imagine to have been an absolutely livid Bud Foster.) And redemption is anything but far from out of hand. The Hokies will need to refocus their sights on the next game with their heads held high knowing that a loss to who is arguably the best team in College Football right now is no reason to consider the season lost. Virginia Tech has all of their conference games ahead of them and some very beatable opponents in the next few games to jump start their optimism for getting their season back on track.
The last meeting between these two teams in 2005 resulted in a 45-0 Virginia Tech victory. But to avoid overconfidence, the Fighting Gobblers (Lane Staduim may be too good for that phrase,
but not for TSF! [Editor's note: Where's the Ice does not speak for all of us. I, for one, am glad to see it go.]) need to take away lessons learned from Michigan's loss to Appalachian State and their subsequent failure to rebound against Oregon. The Bobcats have two wins under their belt and would love nothing more than to march into Blacksburg and add another page to the history of upsets in College Football. Let's not forget how one Miami of Ohio of the same conference shattered a Hokie season with a single, monumental upset just a handful of seasons ago.
So what exactly do the Hokies face in Saturday's contest? What does the Hokie defense have on their plate? 5'11' and 208 lb running back Kalvin McRae returns as a starter this season after accumulating 1252 yards in 2006. He also finished second in receiving last season with 280 yards, only surpassed by wide receiver Scott Mayle. Brad Bower heads the team up at quarterback and has a 60% completion rate in passing for the first two games of his season. 444 yards of passing in just the first two games is not bad at all. He also has some mobility that he'll most certainly need to use with the likes of linebackers Xavier Adi and Vince Hall attempting to penetrate the Bobcat offensive line. The Bobcat offense line brings an element where the Hokies have felt a bit of a void since the departures of Jared Mazzeta and Jeff King. Tight end David Carter averages 22 yards per catch. A good tight end can serve as the key factor in clutch plays where an offense needs only a few yards to keep a struggling drive alive.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bobcats lack a little size on their line, but all are returning starters. This could give the Hokie offensive line some trouble; most critics, pundits and fans agree this is Virginia Tech's weakest area. Linebackers Taj Henley, Michael Brown, and Jordan Meyers, however, are all young and replacing graduating starters, so they will likely make mistakes due to inexperience upon which the Hokie offense should seek to capitalize.
And on special teams, the Bobcat squad has a streak of Beamberball in their game. Josh Abrams blocked a whopping three punts last week against the Runnin' Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb. Place kicker Michael Braustein seems to be the real deal drilling a forty-three yard field goal against Gardner-Webb last week as well and showing all-around consistency in his attempts.
Coming back to a topic already introduced, the biggest question in the Hokie performance lies in how the offense will react to one Tyrod Taylor making the signal calls. Virginia Tech's offense really isn't built for a drop-back passing quarterback. Such a player may have the most accurate throwing ability in all of the NCAA, but if he consistently has to throw with two to three opposing jerseys coming at him nearly at full speed, he's not going to play the position successfully. Sean Glennon has the ability to throw long and accurate, but Virgina Tech's offensive makeup needs the additional threat of a quarterback who can scramble. Grant Noel found himself in quite a similar situation back in his day. Tyrod Taylor has the ability to scramble, run, and most importantly throw with some level of accuracy while running. He displayed all of those assets against LSU, not necessarily the easiest of circumstances in which to introduce oneself to the game of football at the Division I-A level. Just as importantly, his ability to scramble means the opposing defensive line cannot focus their attempts to the thwart the rushing game on Branden Ore alone. Ore's sub-par performance in this season's first two games may attribute to that to some extent.
Some other notes about the game, should the Hokies walk away with the win, this will make for Frank Beamer's 200th win as head coach. This would make the forty-seventh coach in NCAA history to achieve this milestone.
Ohio Bobcats (2-0, 0-0 MAC) at #17/#18 (AP) Virginia Tech Hokies (1-1, 0-0 ACC) Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007 • 1:30 p.m.
Lane Stadium/Worsham Field (66,233), Blacksburg, Va.
Series: VT leads, 3-0
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Passing the Reinsby Mad Jay
To those of you expecting a big ol’ dose of “I-told-you-so” about Sean Glennon I am sorry to disappoint, but that is not what this blog is about. No, I was never a fan of Sean Glennon’s performance on the field, but let me tell you something about this young man: he is a Hokie and a competitor and as a person he deserves our respect.Glennon was recruited to play for the Hokies and usually what happens is that the offensive coordinator molds his offensive philosophy, game-plan and play calling around the talents of the starting QB. It should be designed to maximize the QB’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Glennon did not get that from the Hokies’ offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. Glennon was thrust into the role vacated by Marcus Vick and that was that. Stinespring’s changes in the offensive gameplan between 2005 (Vick) and 2006 (Glennon) were subtle to put it very kindly and completely ineffective to put it truthfully. On top of all of this, Glennon played the entire 2006 season making the best of it that he could while fans EVERYWHERE (yours truly included) piled on and called for a change at QB. Follow that up with one of the worst 2nd half performances ever displayed by a Hokie QB in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and the insults got even worse.
All Glennon did was double his efforts in the weight room and film room and return in the spring without hanging his head. After a spring and summer of hard work, he threw a pick on the first play against ECU and proceeded to follow that with one of his best days as a Hokie playing up to the best of his ability. He may not deserve to be the starting QB from an ability standpoint because it’s not fair to the rest of the team, but he took accountability and he never threw his porous offensive line under the bus. Those of you deriding his comments about transferring and being mad about the change, put yourself in his shoes and see if you wouldn’t be pissed about getting benched. See if you would have the moxie to face reporters not only after the LSU game itself but then on Monday after the announcement is made that Taylor is the starter for the Ohio game. I hope Glennon stays with the Hokies and gets his focus back on the team because he goes about things the right way and can serve as a good example to the other QB’s on the roster. And I bet you that whatever field he goes into, he will be successful in the long run because he seems to be made of the right stuff as a person.Ok, now let’s turn our attention to the new young leader of this offense – Tyrod Taylor. This sounds crazy (hopefully you, my Calm and Beloved Reader, know me well enough to know that I don’t just jump on bandwagons) but I’m drinking the Taylor Kool-Aid right now after only seeing 2 ½ quarters of game play. There are three reasons why.
I can already tell that he has more ability – running AND throwing- than Glennon had. He made a play (if you TiVO-ed the LSU game, skip ALL the way to the end for the final possession with 15 seconds left) that is what being a play-maker is all about. This play is what I’ve said for two years that you have to have at the QB position of an elite football program. It’s a play that you say “Wow, there are only a handful of QB’s playing college football that can do that.”On 4th and 18, Taylor takes the snap and, of course, the offensive line breaks down. One defensive lineman rushes in and Taylor dispatches him with a quick juke to the right. The 2nd defensive lineman has an angle, but Taylor outruns him and while on a 3/4 speed gallop to the right, he throws a ball 40 yards down-field to the goal-line right into the hands of backup WR Brandon Dillard who happens to be well covered. Obviously, being the type of night it was, Dillard dropped the ball (man I wouldn’t have wanted to be Dillard jogging to the sideline after that play). But my first point is made – the kid can play and he’s only a true freshman.
He ALREADY has the respect of his team and they are ready to follow him. In watching and reading interviews from Branden Ore to Richard Graham to Carlton Powell (who nicknamed him “The Prodigy” after the first scrimmage), Taylor has won them over and they’re ready to play for him. You could see the spirit of the entire offense lift when Taylor came into the game against LSU. Keep in mind he was going up against probably the best defense in the country and in his first game ever he led the Hokies on their only scoring drive. If you’re still not convinced, read what Eddie Royal had to say to columnist Kyle Tucker contrasting Taylor and Glennon:
"He throws a harder ball. It comes out with a lot of pop, and you’ve really got to look the ball all the way in."
"You’ve got to play with your eyes. Tyrod definitely does that. He’s not afraid to put it up there and let us make plays. That’s what we really like about him."
"Tyrod brings a certain type of swagger to the offense. He brings a confidence to the offense. You know that you can win behind this guy."
I have said on here several times before that Glennon is the strongest QB the program has ever had. And I have dissected why his ball doesn’t have any zip. Taylor has a compact, quick throwing motion and he delivers the ball with “pop”. But the bottom line is to read what Eddie doesn’t come out and say but certainly implied in those quotes – Taylor brings X, Y and Z to the table and Glennon didn’t. Remember that Royal was a high school teammate of Glennon and is one of his best friends on the team. Imagine what those players who don’t have that type of relationship with Glennon must think.
Poise, poise, poise. Old timers like me remember a run that Herschel Walker had as a true freshman at Georgia in his first game ever (for you young folks, search “Herschel Walker” on Youtube).
Against Tennessee in the fourth quarter, Walker took the handoff and broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage. On his way into the end zone he smashed into highly touted (and future NFLer – Go Cowboys) safety Bill Bates and completely ran over him. The Georgia color commentator entered this gem into the radio broadcasting annals "OH YOU HERSCHEL WALKER!!! He ran right over two guys. My God a freshman!!!"
Fast forward to last Saturday night. Taylor in his first ever game as a freshman is faced with a 2nd and 7 on the VT 38 yd line. On a called pass play, Taylor dropped back and then sensing the rush he stepped up into the pocket and ran wild for a 25 yard gain against the incredibly fast LSU defense, moving the ball deep into LSU territory. Now remember that this is his first ever big play as a college football player, and I’ve seen 5th year seniors get up and dance and primp for the cameras like actors on an audition when they make even a decent play. Taylor just gets up, flips the ball to the ref and jogs back to the huddle. Not even a Tiger Woods fist pump!! It was just as impressive as Herschel’s run because it was just so atypical of a true freshman.
Of course there were freshman mistakes like not stepping into his throw on an out route that was almost picked off and throwing behind guys on a few short passes, but Taylor can be coached up in those areas. I think the coaches made the right move in going with Tyrod Taylor as the starter and I look forward to seeing what he can do with a full week of 1st string snaps under his belt. Stay tuned for TSF’s Game Preview later this week.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Mad Jay’s version of War & Peace
I really don’t know how to liken watching the LSU game tape twice for this analysis other than to say it’s probably what a forensic doctor goes through who has to do an autopsy on a dear friend. There’s nothing that can be done to change the outcome, and you want to make sure everything is properly understood and documented, so there is a clinical sense to the task. But as soon as it’s finished there is no holding back the emotions. This was a tough one to watch.
To be sure there is a lot of blame to be assigned for this performance, but let’s make two points very clear up front – a) LSU is an excellent team, not just in athletic ability but in the way they are coached and the way they execute. b) Virginia Tech has the athletes to compete at this level of college football.
I doubt anyone will argue the first point, but I have heard far too many rumblings out there about how LSU just out-athleted the Hokies. It’s simply not true. I saw a ton of speed and ability on both sides of the ball. Look at it this way - the Hokies have faced quite a few elite teams over the past several years – USC, Miami and Auburn in 2004, Louisville and West Virginia in 2005, and in last year’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl against a Georgia team filled with top SEC athletes, the Hokies were DOMINANT until the Sean Glennon Show cost them the game. In fact, all of those teams are top shelf programs with elite athletes all over the field and VT was in every game until the end, going 3-3 in those games. So it wasn’t the athletic ability.
It also wasn’t the crowd. Not a single game mentioned above was a home game. Death Valley looked like a great atmosphere but when the Hokie defense was on the field, the crowd was hardly what I would call loud (just like a smart home crowd should be – quiet when their offense is on the field). And the offense only had 2 false starts the whole night. It wasn’t the crowd.
So what was it you may ask? As in any situation where the final score is 48-7, it wasn’t one thing, a whole lot of things went wrong. But boil this game down to its most fundamental level – in the trenches on offensive and defensive lines, blocking, tackling and playcalling, and LSU won every battle. Note that I don’t mention special teams, because the Hokies’ special teams were outstanding all night. But let me demonstrate my point by breaking down the first two series of the game in detail – 1 defensive series for the Hokies and 1 offensive.
First defensive series – great kickoff coverage (as I said great special teams in all phases) starts the Tigers on the 12. This defense has given up a total of 2 drives of more than 85 yards in the past 3 years so Hokie fans everywhere felt good about that starting field position. After giving up a good run by Jacob Hester, the Hokies STUFFED him on 1st and 10 from the LSU 25. Unfortunately, Brandon Flowers had a personal foul on the play and instead of facing 2nd and 14, LSU got a big break. But the Hokies D tightened again and facing 3rd and 10 from the LSU 40, Bud Foster called a zone blitz (two defensive ends drop into coverage and two linebackers rush the middle). Matt Flynn got plenty of time and delivered a good ball to his WR for a first down. Watching it again, the play took a while to develop and an actual blitz would probably have stopped the Tigers. This is the one area that Bud Foster shocked me. He did not make an adjustment on this throughout the game. Ineffective zone blitz, after ineffective zone blitz resulted in only 2 sacks for a loss of 2 yards the entire game. Later in the drive, LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton (VT can only dream of having this guy as their OC) followed up with a nicely executed shuffle pass to Jacob Hester. The key here was that Jason Worilds – an extremely physically talented but very inexperienced DE – released Hester after an obvious fake block attempt by the LSU RB. A more experienced defensive lineman recognizes this and either takes the play away or at least forces it to take too long to develop. After the huge gain on the shuffle pass, Hester followed it up by pounding it in for the first LSU TD.
First offensive series – Eddie Royal busts a HUGE kickoff return out to midfield. After a modest gain on first down, Sean Glennon threw a great ball to Josh Morgan who proceeded to drop it. This would have resulted in 3rd and 3 which is very makeable, but instead it stayed 3rd and 8. Now note the contrast – on LSU’s first 3rd down, Coach Foster brought a 4 man rush with a zone blitz. On VT’s first 3rd down, LSU brought a full-blown 6 man blitz and got Glennon (who for the record still had a chance to make a throw) for the first of only 3 sacks given up by the offensive line. But the point here is that LSU brought a full blitz (six, sometimes even seven players) on 10 out of the 14 3rd downs the Hokies faced. This difference in blitzing approach made a huge difference in the game, especially because normally Foster makes those type of adjustments. I hang that on Foster.
In the two above series as in most every other series, the line of scrimmage was controlled by LSU. I actually expected the Hokie offensive line to play worse – they only gave up three sacks to an incredible LSU defensive line, they had two false starts and one holding penalty for the whole night. They didn’t get much push in the running game and they were certainly outplayed but that wasn’t surprising. What was stunning was the defensive line. I was apparently far too optimistic when I said in the season preview that the D-line would be the weakness of the team but still be solid. There were two sacks of LSU QB’s for a total loss of two yards!!!! Some of this was the poor blitzing scheme illustrated above, but the Hokie defensive line just wasn’t beating their man in the one-on-one battles. It shocked me how poorly the defensive line played when I was watching the tape.
The back seven, which is the strength of the defense, was so poor in the basic fundamentals of the game that I just can’t go through them all here. I will say that of LSU’s six TD plays, there was the only one where there wasn’t a fundamental defensive breakdown.
Let me list three especially egregious examples of poor discipline on defense:
1 - On LSU’s second scoring drive they faced a 1st and 20 from the Hokie 35 after they had a holding penalty. A sweep to the far side of the field was LSU’s call and how many times did we see Whip LB Brenden Hill make that play for a big loss or at least no gain last season? Yet Cam Martin, a first year starter at the same position came WAAAYYY too far inside and completely gave up his outside contain and the result was a 15 yard run.
2 - Kam Chancellor bit up too close on play fake after play fake (finally getting burned on a TD pass to Early Doucet late in the game).
3 - Xavier Adibi didn’t break down and make a basic TACKLE on a RB out in the flat facing a 3rd and 6 from the Hokie 21 that would have stopped a drive. Let me get that straight – redshirt freshman Xavier Adibi breaks down in textbook form and sacks Georgia Tech’s Reggie Ball with the Hokies’ ACC season on the line in 2004, but redshirt senior Xavier Adibi just comes bulling out into the flat with arms flailing and no knee squat and whiffs on the tackle. As my friend the Caveman says in that great Geico commercial – “What?!”
The addition of Chancellor and Martin will prove to be solid in the long run, I do believe that. But they played like they hadn’t played very much football, and that’s simply because they haven’t. As for Adibi, I have no explanation for that play, nor any of Vince Hall or DJ Parker’s complete mental lapses and forsaking of gap responsibility. I can recognize that’s what happened, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why the defense played the way they did. We will probably never know and I’m certainly open to suggestions.
Let’s make sure to give credit to the LSU offense. Unlike the Hokies, LSU’s offensive playcalling was very imaginative as they ran plays from at least 7 different formations in the first half. They also executed those plays with precision and Matt Flynn was smart with the ball. Had the Hokies been playing fundamentally sound defense and holding their gap responsibilities and tackling well, I still think LSU would have won because of how ineffective the Hokie offense was, but the game would have been nowhere NEAR a 48-7 blowout - the worst loss of the entire Frank Beamer era.
Going back to that VT offense for a second, there was nothing imaginative about Stinespring’s offense. The execution was poor, the mental preparation was poor, I mean there was just nothing positive in any area in the way that Tech played the game on offense. My sister – who knows nothing about football - asked me after the game, “is it normal for you guys to snap the football real low all the time?” She’s right, why were the snaps so low? Those low snaps were the difference between sacks and big plays on two occasions.
Where was the focus from anybody on that offense? On Glennon’s interception, I couldn’t tell from the game footage whether he made the wrong read or whether Justin Harper did but that miscommunication was just embarrassing for both of them. I will say that if Glennon makes the same read as Harper that play would have been a Hokie touchdown, but who knows how they practiced that during last week. Hell, knowing Stinespring, who knows IF they practiced it last week? And where does Stinespring get off in his post-game assessment? Contrast his response to Bud Foster’s.
Stinespring – “We're just not playing well enough across the board to be a successful offense. We need to get better and we need to get better in a hurry.”
Foster – “Ugly. That's the only way I know how to describe it. That's the first time in a long time that we've given up that many big plays and that many yards. I take it personally. The buck stops with me. It's my job to get it corrected.”
Hmmm, it sounds as if Foster took ownership of the defensive breakdowns, but whose responsibility is a completely INCOMPETENT offense? Apparently, Coach Stinespring thinks it's all on the players. Listen, he seems to be a decent tight ends coach, and people have made rumblings about his skills as a recruiter, but I contend that any abilities he has as a recruiter are hurt more by the fact that many skill players won’t want to play in his offense. He is just out of his league as a coordinator. Something tells me we’re never going to be reading a book called “Stinespring on Offensive Football” unless it’s being done by the same publishers helping Miss South Carolina put together her volume of essays “Geopolitics Today – We Need More Maps”. What I’m saying here is that Stinespring stinks.
In closing, let me address one nagging fear that I have coming out of this game. The team has a chance to win the ACC title, but if they play as poorly as they did last Saturday they won’t even beat UNC. And I don’t think that improving their play is a given. Let me remind you of a rampant case of NFL-itis that was contracted by the 2003 Virginia Tech Hokies. That team had nine (I’ll repeat that – NINE), defensive players that made NFL teams. They shut down #2 Miami at home in an amazing performance, giving up 7 points late in the game. That same defense ended the season giving up 35 points/game and 460 yard/game AVERAGE to the following opponents: Pittsburgh, Temple, Boston College, Virginia and Cal (before Cal was really good), and they finished going 1-4. The entire team gave up on their season and each other and just looked out for themselves.
So this 2007 team has a choice to make as well. Pack it in because they are eliminated from the national title race, or get to the bottom of the causes of last week’s complete disregard for football and teamwork. They can’t glaze over this one folks. They can’t just say “well shucks LSU is a great team, what do you expect?” This wasn’t some turnover-filled, kickoff-return-extravaganza that resulted in a blowout. Yes, LSU is a very good team that played up to their potential, but this is also a very good Virginia Tech team behaving as if they were just learning to play football as high schoolers. There is a serious problem underlying that type of performance and they had better be able to figure it out quickly in order to move past it and come together as a team.
I think there may be a catalyst for that to happen, but I’ve bored you enough for one night, so I will have a complete breakdown of the Sean Glennon-Tyrod Taylor situation later this week.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
In the recent years, the Hokies have been known, at times, to play to the level of an opponent. Whether it was playing up to the USC Trojans in the opener at FedEx Field in 2004 or Florida State in the BCS Championship in 2000, the Hokies have traditionally been able to play up to teams that were as high or higher caliber. [Both games were losses which could have gone either way late.]
The same could be said about the Hokies when they are playing teams of lesser caliber. The Hokies struggled against NC State in 2005. They were, in fact, losing that game until deep into the third quarter when Marcus Vick hit David Clowney in the endzone.
Going into last Saturday, Virginia Tech, on paper, was clearly the better team. The Hokies were favored by several touchdowns by that little town in the middle of the desert. However, once the teams took the field, it was clear that East Carolina was playing better football.
Some have tried to lay out excuses for the effort put out by the Hokies. Head Coach Frank Beamer shrugged off the notion that “It was so emotional that I forgot to go here and block this defensive end that’s about to hit my quarterback right in the back.” [It is possible he was indirectly referring to Brandon Ore who missed an assignment that led to a sack and fumble.]
Others, including ours truly, MadJay, have speculated that the team might have been drained by the emotion leading up to the game. This is also potentially true.
Yet others would call it first game jitters, bugs, kinks, etc. They would say that these are to be expected. It certainly was true in that NC State game. It is notable to say that the Hokies went on to beat their next three opponents, albeit Duke and Ohio were two of them, 141-7 including two shutouts.
We can hope one of these is true. For the Hokies to come back from Baton Rouge on Saturday with a win, the Hokies will have to play up to a team that many say is a higher caliber team. The Louisiana State University Tigers are hungry. They are a huge force on both sides of the ball. They are number two in the country and many think that they should be number one. Their offense struggled some in their opening game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs and they will be looking to prove to the voters that they are for real.
Quarterback Matt Flynn had a mediocre game against Mississippi State last week and yet still managed 149-yards of passing and two touchdowns. Early Doucet is his favorite target for a reason. At 6-1, 210 lbs, the boy is fast and wily. The Hokies will most likely have Victor “Macho” Harris stick to him like white on rice. Harris will need to shut him down if the Hokies want to minimize the damage this offense can produce.
On the other side, we’ll see wide receiver Brandon LaFell. LaFell will probably match up with Brandon Flowers. However, at 6-3, LaFell will tower over the 5-10 Flowers. Flowers will have to play clean and tight as the Tigers will probably try to use this height differential to their advantage.
Behind Flynn, there’s Jacob Hester. Hester had a decent game against the Bulldogs. He ran for 69-yards and caught a 10-yard pass.
Flynn himself can be a scrambler and this may be the most dangerous aspect for the Hokies. Against ECU, the Hokies were struggling to read the different play-action options that quarterback Patrick Pinkney was running. Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster needs to find a way to defend this, or Flynn will have another field day against the Hokie front.
Overall, the Tigers had a mediocre game offensively last Friday. They will be looking to prove that they deserve the number one ranking. Many expect them to come out firing. They will be very aggressive on defense and this may prove to be advantageous to the Hokies. Aggressive plays can lead to mistakes and the Hokie defense is well known to capitalize on offensive mistakes.
Conversely, the Tiger defense is down right scary. In the last two years the Hokies might have had the number one defense in the country but the Tigers held the number three spot in both those years. Many say that they have cranked it up a notch and will challenge the Hokies for that number one spot this year.
This defense caused a record-tying six interceptions last Friday. Safety Craig Steltz made three of them. Glennon will have to play mistake free and not let Steltz have the ball as easily as Bulldogs quarterback Michael Henig did. In fact, Glennon will have to do one thing all season: not lose the game. Glennon has good ability and can play well, if he plays within his means. The time he tries to make a play that’s just not there for him is when he gets into trouble.
Others to look out for in the backfield are the other safety Curtis Taylor and Jonathon Zennon. Both had an interception and were all over the field in the MSU game.
In the box, we have the scariest man of all: left tackle Glenn Dorsey. Easily a first round pick this man will be a wake-up-screaming nightmare if the Hokie offensive line doesn’t pick things up. He’s fast. He’s strong. And he knows how to get through an o-line. Right next to him at left end is Tyson Jackson. These two will be attacking our right side which is known to be our weakest side. Right tackle Nick Marshman had a terrible game against ECU. He came to practice heavy and out of shape and it looks like he’s still working on it. Ore will have to come to this side to help on passing plays but he was obviously not in football shape on Saturday as well.
LSU’s linebackers, led by Ali Highsmith, are arguably as good as the Hokies’ linebackers. The offensive line will struggle to push through the line and these guys make sure Ore doesn’t have an easy day running.
The Hokies have two options in terms of game-plans against this defense: be just as aggressive as we expect the Tigers to be or play the conservative field position game. No one really knows what Beamer and Offensive Coordinator Bryan Stinespring will concoct but one can only hope it’s not the standard old hat. TSF believes that the Hokies will need to be aggressive to open the game. If they can be successful on a few big plays, the Hokies will be able to keep the Tigers a bit off balance. This may be the key to walking away with the upset.
- Game time is set for 9:22 PM EDT.
- The game will be broadcast on ESPN-HD.
- The ESPN GameDay crew will be present for the second straight game for the Hokies.
- This is the second ever meeting between the two schools.
- The Hokies defeated the Tigers 26-8 in 2002.
Sean Glennon played extremely well last Saturday. There, I said it. And I believe it too. Other than the opening interception and four to five other miscues, the man played to his ability. He went 22-33 for 245 yards. When was the last time the Hokies passed for more yards than they ran? It’s a rhetorical question that I’m sure has an answer, but you get the picture.
That said, I would like to ask, no I implore you not to boo your own team! How dare you fare weather these boys, and yes they are boys between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two.
Many of us have called for a change at quarterback and many of us have called for a change elsewhere, but booing has no place in Lane Stadium or anywhere else for that matter.
These players, especially Glennon since we’re talking about him, work their tails off. Booing is just plain inexcusable. It is not something the Hokie Nation should do to anyone. It’s not Hokie Respect-able. It doesn’t add to our Hokie Pride. Just don’t do it.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
1) Trailing 7-3 late in the 2nd quarter Brent Bowden and Brandon Dillard combine for a BeamerBall special. Bowden punts a booming ball that lands at the
2) On the opening drive of the 3rd quarter, ahead 10-7 and facing a 3rd and 9 on the ECU 26, QB Sean Glennon drops back and gets blasted by ECU lineman CJ Wilson. Glennon fumbles and the Pirates recover. This play was so symptomatic of the Hokies’ day. It was the first drive of the 2nd half. The offense was moving the ball successfully and was on its way to score at least 3 points when disaster struck.
3) Trailing 17-7 the Pirates make it all the way down to the Hokie
The important part of the game against ECU was very successful. We, as Hokie Nation, all came together in that stadium, finally joined as a 66,000+ member community mourning a tragedy. The memorial, the video tribute, the released balloons, the F15 flyover, the handshake at midfield between coaches and seniors on both sides and the emotional entrance to “Enter Sandman” were even better than I had expected. I felt invigorated, empathetic, sad, happy and ready to move on into football season.
Now onto the football analysis which can be summed up in two words- “Uh-oh”.
They say that the biggest improvement a football team makes is between the first and second game. Well, I hope that is the case, because it’s hard to grasp just how much improvement is needed on this team right now.Defensively, I was nothing short of shocked at the lack of production by the defensive line. They were repeatedly single blocked, there were zero QB sacks by the Hokies and frankly I thought Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown outperformed Chris Ellis and Orion Martin at defensive end. I said before this would be the weakness of the defense, but I still thought they would be good.
ECU had a solid gameplan mixing and matching their QB’s but in typical Bud-Foster-fashion he made the right adjustments and held ECU to
I was very frustrated that due to the lack of separation from ECU, the 2nd string back seven got almost zero reps. The starting linebackers and secondary played nearly the entire game (with the exception of Dorian Porch who came in midway through the 3rd quarter when Chancellor tweaked the knee).But my level of frustration at the defense PALED in comparison to the frustration I felt at the offense. Let’s start in an unexpected way here.
Sean Glennon is responsible for very little of my irritation. The reason is that he played almost up to the very best of his ability. That TD pass to Sam Wheeler is the single greatest throw he has made since he’s been at Virginia Tech. Yes he missed several reads (two easy ones that would have been touchdowns) and he also demonstrated very poor accuracy on 5 passes (one that would have been a 2nd touchdown to Wheeler). But if the team has decided to throw its lot in with Glennon than that’s what you’re going to get. Yes, the interception on the first pass was completely unacceptable (terrible decision followed by an even worse throw) but Glennon showed a lot of heart in bouncing back from that and playing to the best of his ability. What you saw on Saturday (minus the pick) is the ceiling for Glennon. If you believe he’s going to rise up and be Superman and win games for this team on his shoulders, well then buddy, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you over in this little neighborhood called
The receivers also played pretty well. I love how Justin Harper and Josh Morgan are blocking and catching right now. Eddie Royal wasn’t nearly as involved in the game as he probably should have been, but I’m not worried about his play either. He is now Tech’s all-time punt return leader and had a nice one against ECU (a quick salute to Andre Davis who was the previous record holder). The tight ends as a whole were VASTLY improved from last year. Even beyond Wheeler’s career day, Greg Boone had some great blocks. I will believe in Boone’s hands when I see him catch a pass, and considering he wasn’t even thrown to on Saturday, Glennon isn’t the biggest believer right now either.What this means is that all of my vigorous disappointment is reserved for
The fullbacks on the other hand, played great- for the 15 snaps they got!!! Let’s see, the offensive line stinks (yeah I’m still going to address that), the running game is going nowhere, Carlton Weatherford is blocking well, what to do? I know, let’s run a lot of shotgun and one-back sets to keep the fullbacks off the field. I can only hope that Coach Stinespring was attempting to keep the play calling as vanilla as humanly possible in order to give LSU zero inkling as to his all-encompassing master plan that I’m sure we’ll all be in awe of as it is revealed next Saturday in Baton Rouge. Bah, Stinespring is a lost cause and I lose heart just thinking about him calling more games this season. The team starts at a disadvantage.
Speaking of losing heart (and hope and sanity and years off the end of my life) there’s the offensive line. I will give the ECU defensive line its obligatory credit, but COME ON!!!!!!! Actually “come on” does not do justice to my true sentiments but this is a family site.
You know how they record “pancake” blocks for offensive linemen on running plays when they knock the defender over? I wonder if anyone has ever seen an offensive lineman get pancaked on a RUNNING play before. It happened to Richard Graham three times Saturday. And when he wasn’t pancaked he was being thrown out of the way. Ryan Shuman called the right protections most of the time, I’m sure, but Graham missed assignment after assignment. Shuman himself was pushed back a few times, but that’s going to happen to the center now and again and Shuman is still fighting off a knee injury. He’ll need better push this weekend but I think he’ll be ok.
Sergio Render was very physical but he also missed his block a few times and he actually ran right past his man on one play. For those of you who saw him thrown to the ground on a pass rush he was actually the victim of an illegal hit (no flag thrown) by the defensive linemen who got his hand up under Render’s facemask. Render will be fine, but he needs to be more focused next week.
Left tackle Duane Brown is supposed to be the leader of the offensive line. He didn’t appear to miss any assignments but he was badly beaten on several occasions, especially in the second half. I don’t know whether he was getting tired or what. His first step was anything but explosive on running plays and he turned his shoulders far too quickly in pass protection. I was sorely disappointed in a guy that seemed to hold his own at right tackle last season. The only shining light is that I think he can play better than this and just had a bad day. At least I hope that’s what it was.
Nick Marshman at right tackle was beaten off the edge with a speed rush at least 5 times. If he can’t move fast enough to contain a speed rush from the ECU defensive ends, just how much chance do you give him against LSU’s ends? He was decent in run blocking on the occasions where he blocked the right guy.
The offensive line performance was so incredibly bad that I think drastic changes are in order. First of all, Richard Graham has to come out of the lineup. I said in the season preview that he would be a boost but I was sorely mistaken. The coaches need to move Nick Marshman back to left guard. Yes guards need to be able to pull, but his lack of speed at tackle is going to get somebody hurt and maybe he knows the guard assignments better than the ones at tackle. The gaping hole that leaves is at right tackle, and it sounds crazy but if I’m Coach Newsome I spend a ton of time this week working with true freshman Blake Dechristopher and give him his chance. This sounds drastic, but you have to have someone that can move better than Marshman at right tackle. With the line as it is right now, this offense will not be able to move the ball against ANYONE other than maybe William & Mary.
Of course Coach Newsome appears to disagree with my assessment. Just to keep you warm at night my Calm and Beloved Reader, read these word – when asked by Kyle Tucker about making changes on the offensive line after their performance Newsome says “I think we are what we are, and you can’t change that.” Very encouraging.
Coach Frank Beamer said following the game – “I don’t buy into: it was so emotional that I forgot to go here and block this defensive end that’s about to hit my quarterback right in the back.” The reality is that it wasn’t because the team was emotional that they screwed up; it’s because they were drained. The media circus, the constant questions about things other than the game, the emotions leading up the entire week to this game – I don’t think the team had much gas left in the tank and they certainly weren’t focused. But they fought and clawed their way to a win and do to that on top of carrying the flag for the university is something to appreciate. I’m glad that my family and I were there.