Monday, September 10, 2007

Game Review - VT vs. LSU

Game Review

a.k.a.

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.

1 comment:

My left foot said...

Spot-on sir. I remarked to several people that I didn't see many, if any, blitzes from Bud. Good to know I wasn't the only one. We've got the DB's to cover their guys, put some damn pressure on the QB!