Sunday, September 02, 2007

VT vs. ECU Game Review

Ugly Wins Still Count



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 47 yards rushing in the 2nd half. I saw some VERY VERY poor tackling in the first half but that was also cleaned up a great deal in the 2nd half. It is stone-cold obvious to anyone with a brain that the defense better bring their “A+” game from the very beginning of the LSU game. You wait until the 2nd half to start tackling well in Baton Rouge and the game will already be out of reach.

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 Brooklyn. I’ll cut you a good deal.

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 Branden Ore, Bryan Stinespring and the offensive line. Going from least to worst offender-

Branden Ore: This guy had better not have come down with a case of Draft-itis. This disease plagues running backs who are trying to avoid getting injured the season before they plan on leaving school for the NFL. I’ll get to the o-line in a minute, but Ore is the one who missed the block on the defensive end that clocked Glennon, causing a momentum shifting fumble early in the 3rd quarter. Ore is the one who dropped a screen pass that would have been a big play later in the game. And not to take anything away from the ECU defense (which played damn well thank you very much – especially Quentin Cotton, look for him on Sundays) but Ore was tentative on his cuts and went down awful easy. And then there’s Billy Hite who swore up and down that he finally had a two back system. Yeah, if by “two back” he means that he’ll use a second running back for 6 snaps a game. That’s ridiculous. Look, I know Branden Ore has NFL level talent, but if he wants to go high in the draft he needs to play his tail off this season. And if he does go into the league after this season, then Coach Hite needs a guy with serious game-time experience to get in there next season.

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.

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