Monday, October 29, 2007

Game Review – VT vs. BC

“The plaque for the alternates is down in the ladies room” - Iceman from the movie Top Gun

After watching the game footage of the Boston College-Virginia Tech game from last Thursday night, I felt the same nausea I felt while watching it in person. It just hurts to lose a game in that fashion and it hurts to watch it again. But I’m glad I did because I saw some things that changed my understanding of why the Hokies lost. And it only cost me a broken remote watching it on TV when I already knew the outcome. If I had been watching the game live at home when this happened, who knows what household items would have been lost?

First of all, with 4 minutes left in the game and ahead 10-0 with BC on their own 8 yard line, Bud Foster did not go to a prevent defense in the strictest sense of the word. Yes, he dropped the defensive secondary and the linebackers back a few yards, but that’s not really a prevent defense. However, what had worked throughout the game was mixing up the defense. Sometimes bringing a five man rush, sometimes bringing three. Sometimes dropping a defensive end into zone coverage, sometimes blitzing a cornerback. This confused and bewildered Matt Ryan into a 16-37 performance for 128 yards and 2 interceptions until that fateful drive with 4 minutes remaining. Truly it was one of Foster’s crowning achievements and the defense played its tail off. But then, Foster ran his standard defense nearly that entire drive with the secondary playing back. It was always a three or four man rush and there was a busted coverage on the tight end twice. What that did was let Matt Ryan get into a rhythm. And we saw what happened when Ryan got into a rhythm. He led two TD drives making some phenomenal throws that were certainly Heisman-worthy. So Foster deserves some blame for going to a vanilla defense, if not technically a “prevent”.

The special teams deserve some of the blame as well. The game may have ended very differently had Josh Morgan either recovered the onside kick or let it go past him to be recovered by another Hokie. I can’t remember and can’t find anywhere the last onside kick the Hokies kicked and recovered. If you know, please post it below. But I do know that three of the last four onside kicks tried against the Hokies have been recovered by the opponent. That is ridiculous. The special teams have been special all season, but if Morgan wants to step up and get the ball before it has gone 10 yards, he had better be damn sure he GETS THE BALL!!!

Interestingly, the failure to recover the onsides kick wasn’t the worst screw-up on special teams. Even if the onside kick been recovered by Tech it wouldn’t have guaranteed a victory. BC had two timeouts and had they forced the Hokies into a three and out (very likely), they would have gotten the ball back with about 1:10 left deep in their territory. The way Ryan was playing against VT’s vanilla zone defense, he very well might still have led the Eagles to a TD or a game-tying FG.

No, the worst mistake on special teams was the personal foul on BC’s punt attempt from the back of their endzone late in the 3rd quarter. With BC facing a 4th and 32, the Hokies decided to come after the punt. This was an awful decision. Similar to Beamer’s decision to kick onside with 3:30 left in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl last year, he demonstrated a complete lack of recognizing the game situation and just went to what he’s done in the past. In this situation, the Hokies had all the momentum. The defense had just pushed BC from their 20 yard line back to their 4 yard line. The crowd was into it. The Hokies had the 2nd leading punt returner in ACC history at midfield and were already ahead 10-0. A safety, which is all you would get if you block the punt there, would make it 12-0 which is still only a two score game and you would get the ball back in worse field position. It was a terrible decision to not set up for the return that might have led to a game clinching TD or at least run more clock off on the BC side of the field. I was yelling and screaming my head off about this as soon as I saw that the Hokies were going to come after the punt. But even with that bad decision, it looked like Tech was going to get away with it when Dustin Pickle bumped the shoulder of the punter with his facemask as he tried to pull up. It was very clearly a 5 yard running into the kicker penalty and BC would have declined it. But the Hokies already had a running-into-the-kicker penalty earlier in the game and the ref wanted to make an example showing that he was going to protect the BC kicker, so he called the 15 yard personal foul variety and gave BC a first down. This “flipped the field” and when the Hokies finally got the ball back they were in their own territory instead of taking over at midfield. Worse than that, the BC drive burned away all the energy and momentum the Hokies had built up. It was a devastating play, a bad play call by Beamer and a bad call by the ref that added up to keeping the Eagles in the game.

While at the game, the atmosphere was so electric due to the high caliber defense, I didn’t notice just how many opportunities and screw-ups the offense made. The offense had three critical drive killing penalties, two of them in BC territory. After what should have been a game clinching interception by DJ Parker with 6 minutes left, the Hokies didn’t do jack or squat with the ball and ended up only running off a minute and a half from the game clock. I am sure you are thinking – MadJay, it was the defense that lost this game, the offensive play calling was pretty good. Well, I will admit the play calling was decent. In fact, the play calling is definitely improved over last year. But the execution is far worse and to be worse than last year’s execution, you really have to dig deep into the Pit of Terribleness, which is not a good place to be.

The reason I chose the quote I did at the top of this piece is that Virginia Tech has been trying to join the college football elite for some time now. They have definitely secured their position among the “good” teams due to a nationally elite defense and solid special teams play. This has been enough to win against other good teams that they play. But in order to sit at the table with the big boys you have to win the big games. VT is now 1-27 against Top 5 opponents all-time. Folks that is embarrassing. That gets your name put on the “alternates” plaque in the ladies room. Sure, for years VT was a doormat, but with the teams the Hokies have had the past 5-6 years, having only one win against an elite team shows that despite getting the athletes and the talent, Tech is NOT elite yet. The mentality on offense is “just don’t lose the game”. That’s pathetic. The offense is a lead balloon keeping this program from reaching the heights that the players, coaches and fans aspire to. That national trophy case will stay empty until a well-executed offense joins the defense and special teams. And by “well-executed” I simply mean among the Top25 offenses in the country. The Hokies don’t need the most yards or points in the country to win, they just need more than what they are getting in order for this program to become elite. Whether the offensive coordinator is replaced, or suddenly finds a well of inspiration to tap into, I don’t care. But neither one seems likely to happen and that is a real problem. The Hokies use a three legged stool to symbolize the total team. Right now they are trying to stand on a two-legged stool to reach the big boys table and it isn’t working.

Let’s go over what an elite team that knows how to finish off games does in almost the exact same situation VT found itself in on Thursday nightOhio State vs. Michigan State two weeks ago. The Buckeyes dominated the entire game and were up 24-0 with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Suddenly Michigan State scored on two straight Ohio State turnovers and then got a field goal to make it 24-17 with 3:42 left in the game. Despite Michigan State having two time outs left, Ohio State proceeded to run out the clock getting three straight 3rd downs and winning the game. That is how a good overall team gets it done. Since 2005, have the Hokies won a game because of a clutch play by their offense? It didn’t happen on Thursday either. The defense is phenomenal but you can only go to that well so many times.

Despite the loss on Thursday, the Hokies do have a chance at redemption. As in life, you either pick yourself up after getting knocked down or you curl up in a ball and cry for your mommy. The goal of this team that was laid out at the beginning of the season – winning the ACC championship – is still completely in their control. If they win the rest of their games they will have a chance to play for the title. If they don’t they can sit around one day when they get old and tell about how this one time, they beat the #2 team in the country for 56 minutes. And that will have been the highlight of this season for them. How they respond will be on display this Thursday night against Georgia Tech.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

3 Key Plays - VT vs. BC

1) With 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, BC punted from their own endzone. The Hokies, already up 10-0, had all the momentum and were about the get the ball in PHENOMENAL field position. Inexplicably, Coach Beamer calls for a punt block and Dustin Pickle gets through the line and misses the ball but bumps the kicker. It was clearly running into the kicker, a 5 yard penalty, but the ref called the 15 yard variety and the Eagles advanced the ball all the way to their 37 yard line before being stopped. A huge swing in field position prevented the Hokies from icing the game, which became a theme the rest of the way.

2) From his own 8 yard line on 2nd and 10 and the crowd at it's most deafening with 4 minutes left in the game, Matt Ryan delivers a 23 yard strike and begins a TD drive. This ball gave Ryan his confidence and a rhythm despite being tossed around all game and he responded by catching fire. I contend the entire game ends differently if the receiver doesn't make that catch.

3) Obviously the final TD pass of the game is the third key play. Facing 3rd and 20 with 23 seconds remaining, Ryan rolls to his right, looks back across his body and finds Andre Callender who had gotten behind the defense for a 24 yard touchdown to win the game for the Eagles. Despite a mental breakdown on the defense's part, you have to admire how difficult that play was for Ryan to make and he made it to win the game. It should have never come to that, but it did.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Game Preview - VT vs. Boston College

Well the time has finally arrived - an ESPN Thursday night game in Lane Stadium against the #2 team in the country! Friends, this is what bigtime college football is all about and the entire nation will be watching. Virginia Tech was embarrassed on national TV earlier this season. They may not win but they have a chance to show the rest of the country that the LSU game was an aberration and THIS is the Virginia Tech that Hokie Nation is so proud of (minus the offensive coordinator).

I typically don't bother looking too in-depth at statistics early in the season. Virginia Tech has consistently ranked 100th or worse in total offense this season, so I referenced that in earlier comments, but for the most part I don't put much stock in stats, just like I don't put much stock in poll rankings until week 7 or so. By now, however, certain basic stats are very helpful in understanding how teams compare. And there are even a few deeper stats that can be very insightful.

First of all, let's examine the defensive rankings in the following table:
Virginia Tech Boston College
Scoring Defense 8 18

Pass Defense 40 105

Rush Defense 17 1

Total Defense 13 29

The two teams both obviously have VERY solid defenses. The only stat that jumps out as bad is BC's 105th ranked pass defense. But keep this in mind - BC has been blowing out their opponents who have resorted to passing a great deal to try and come back in the game (hence BC's likely overinflated ranking in rush defense as well). As a result BC has given up a lot of passing yards. However, BC is also #1 in the nation in interceptions with 18 so this is an example of a misleading stat that needed closer inspection. Overall, I'd say the defenses are comparable with a slight edge to the Hokies. Yes Cody Grimm starts at whip (though Cam Martin will definitely play) and Brett Warren starts in place of Vince Hall at MLB but I view that as a minor drop off as Warren played phenomenally against Duke.

Let's examine the basic stats on offense. Actually, let me warn that this is some material that may not be suitable for our younger readers, so if you have any young children you may want to ask them to leave the room for a few minutes.

Virginia Tech Boston College
Scoring Offense 55 28

Pass Offense 101 8

Rush Offense 90 72

Total Offense 112 16

!*@#($*&#@%&**&@#*^@#*&$.......Yikes. The Hokies are badly beaten in every category except rushing offense (where they are simply 'beaten'). So what this means is that Beamerball is going to have to be in full effect. There will have to be a defensive score or the Hokies will have to press their huge advantage in special teams play (Hokie special teams as a unit are among the top 5 in the country this year) in order to put up enough points to try and win.

You know what this means, my Calm and Beloved Reader? You are going to have to shed the Calm part of your name for one night and help the crowd be absolutely insane for this game. If you are going to the game you need to go read Pepsi Guy's post at TechSideline's football forum on how bad the crowd is needed for this one. Do whatever it takes. Start tailgating at 7:30 AM, don't use your voice at all the entire day (nods and head shakes can communicate a great deal actually), get your 'fired-up' music going on your iPod, pull out all the stops. The team needs this crowd to be like the Miami game in 2003 because the Hokie offense is simply outmatched in this game by the BC Eagle offense.

Even with Beamerball in effect, the Hokies might still be a bit outmatched. There is one KEY statistic and several intangibles that tilt the scale back to dead even however. The key stat is 3rd downs. The Hokies defense is 2nd in the nation in 3rd down defense (26%) while the Eagles are 25th in the nation in 3rd down conversions. If VT can get BC off the field on 3rd downs and prevent sustained drives, then the defense will still have some gas left in the tank in the 4th quarter where the game really will be decided. This is even more necessary because the Hokie offense is 114th (out of 119, folks, please send your "We'd like Bryan Stinespring to resign" letters care of Jim Weaver in the Virginia Tech Athletics office) in 3rd down conversions only converting 28% of their attempts.

The intangibles are pretty obvious - Lane Stadium, Thursday night, revenge for the 22-3 beatdown in Chestnut Hill last year on Thursday night, all these tilt in the Hokies' favor. If the crowd brings it, the offense scores early, the defense gets off the field after 3rd downs, well, who knows? This could end up being on HELLUVA good game. Whether you're in the stadium or not, cheer long and loud and we'll see what happens. TSF will be there doing the same.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Game Review - vs. Duke

In their latest contest, Virginia Tech triumphed over Duke with a 43-14 victory on Saturday. This game made me feel the best about the offense I have in a long time. While it is the Bluke Doo Devils that the Hokies played, the offense did something they have not done all season: protect the quarterback. And WHAT a difference it makes. Ed Wang's return to the offensive line helped in the regard to now doubt, but the entire team really gave the passer the amount of time and protection needed to execute the play calls.

Tyrod Taylor left the game in the second quarter due to an ankle injury, and we saw Sean Glennon return to fold once again. There couldn't have been a better opportunity for Glennon to show the many dubious onlooking Hokie fans of what he's really made as a quarterback. With the extra precious seconds that a passer needs to wait for his receivers move into open field, Glennon threw for 258 yards with a 76% completion rate. Yea, it turns out that Glennon's not such a bad quarterback after all. Let's not get carried away, because Tyalor is still number one for the job because the offensive line isn't going to perform the same way against the likes of Boston College and Florida State, only to name two. But let's give credit where credit is due. Glennon entered the game as the demoted player from the position, yet took the leadership role heading the offense to some of the best performance of the season. Glennon made regular use of the Hokie receiver core. Receivers Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, and Justin Harper all had greater than 60 yards in receiving on the day. Royal alone actually caught for 90 yards. And best of all, Glennon began to make regular use of tight end Sam Wheeler who caught for 94 yards. It's about [explicative removed] time that Bryan Stinespring once again began developing the tight end pass play.

However, I'm not all smiles on the offense. Branden Ore continues to have a lackluster season. For the Hokies to finish the second half of their season with a winning ACC record, they need the running game to improve. If that means that Kenny Lewis Jr. does more of the heavy lifting than does Ore until he shakes the funk off himself, then that's what it has to mean. Unfortunately, the game against Duke was the opportunity to try to figure out what's wrong and how Lewis could perform as the number one tailback, but offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring left this aspect of the game unaddressed for the most part.

A quick update on Talor's status, he suffered a high-ankle sprain against Duke forcing him to leave the game in the second quarter. As of October 15, he is wearing a boot until October 20, when the trainers will reevaluate him. Every player can heal differently from this injury, so there's not an immediate prognosis. It's likely, however, that the Virginia Tech coaching staff won't be too anxious to make a public announcement about who will start against Boston College. An opposing defense preparing to go up against Taylor would very likely approach the task much differently if going up against Glennon. The Eagles' coaching staff not knowing which makes their preparation just a little more difficult.

We don't rebuild on defense; we reload!

If you need evidence to support that quote, look no further than Brett Warren. Vince Hall injured himself against Clemson leaving some very big shoes to fill by one Brett Warren. And considering the void, Warren did a fantastic job. He made 11 tackles, 4 of which resulted in lost yardage and one sac. He also returned an interception for 23 yards. Don't get me wrong; for me, like every other Hokie fan, Hall can't return to the lineup soon enough. That, however, will not happen in time for the game against Boston College. That being the case, if Warren can perform as well as he did for Bud Foster's squad against Duke, I'm optimistic about the Hokie defense's ability to keep the game close.

The defensive performance didn't stop at Warren. Stephan Virgil made Virginia Tech's first punt block of the year. The Hokie defense held Duke to two touchdowns, one of which Duke scored quite late in the game. They held Duke to only 194 yards of total offense and caused three turnovers.

All in all, I'm happy with the Hokie performance against Duke. I was worried that they'd put up a sloppy win that only left me to think we have no chance to stand toe to toe with the Eagles of Boston College. But the performance of this win gives me optimism, especially since it's at Lane Stadium on a Thursday night. Stand by for "Mad" Jay's preview of that game.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Game Preview - VT vs. Duke

Let me begin by offering up a quick story. Last Saturday, the Stanford Cardinal took their offense up against the USC Trojans who have one of the most renowned defenses in all of college football. By the way, don't you just love that singular mascot name there? Can you name the other college football names that don't end with an "s"? I'll post the list at the end of this entry. Anyway back to the Trojans (obviously they are not on that list), they have four 1st or 2nd round NFL draft picks playing on that defense. Not just draft picks, but first and second rounders. The Cardinal had to play their backup QB because their starter had been having seizures. There are zero NFL draft picks on the Cardinal offense. And yet, on the road, against USC, the Cardinal put up more offensive yards (249) than the Hokies did against ECU, William & Mary and Clemson. How? There were no trick plays. No fancy schemes. It was simply execution. Granted Stanford wasn't very effective for much of the game, but when the game was on the line, the QB had protection, the RB had holes and the receivers made tough, TOUGH catches. Must be nice.

The Hokies get Ed Wang back into the starting lineup at RT against Duke this weekend. He will be very rusty and likely not in full game shape. I expect his effectiveness to drop off in the second half. As a result the return of Wang doesn't upgrade the right tackle position very much. What it DOES do is upgrade the left guard position by a factor of 23,000. Nick Marshman is a good guard and a poor right tackle. And now he gets to replace the disastrous combination of Dick Graham/Matt Welsh at left guard.

Much has been made of the various examples of poor execution on the offensive line. I'm not sure enough has been made of it. Yet again, the Hokies will find themselves against a VASTLY outmatched defensive front. Duke has lost six starters to injury this year, four on the defensive side of the ball including their best player Pat Bailey. I don't care one tiny bit about offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring's excuses. He talks about a different guy breaking down each time, not just one guy. As if that's supposed to make me feel better? If Fedex doesn't deliver a package, I don't care whether the driver got lost or they forgot to put the package on the truck at the distribution center, if the package doesn't get delivered, Fedex stinks. I also don't care about Coach Beamer's comments about how "close" the offense has been. What I know is that the offensive line has been stinking time and time again this year and on Saturday against Duke they finally have a chance to set the lineup, get confidence by dominating the line of scrimmage, and come out of Durham with a big win.

A lot of that will revolve around the running game. I think Coach Billy Hite is making a terrible mistake. He is playing a hurt Branden Ore and sitting a healthy Kenny Lewis, Jr. Now I am a huge Ore fan as many of you know. He is a superb talent. But it is obvious to any and everyone that something is wrong. We can opine and surmise all we want, the coaches can say ankle, hamstring, flu, whatever. Ore is not 100%. And by not giving Kenny Lewis significantly more snaps what Coach Hite is actually saying to the young man is "Kenny, I can't trust you right now, so I have to play Ore". What does that mean for Lewis, Jr. when if, God forbid, something happens to Ore and he can't play? Knowing that he doesn't have the full trust of his coach? I have seen a spark in Lewis, Jr when he's played this season and it's being wasted on the bench. Let Ore come back when he is full speed and go from there. I think this is yet another poor coaching decision (one of MANY by the offensive coaches this year). Mark my words - at some point this season, the offense is going to have to answer the bell or the Hokies will lose at least one more big game.

Defensively, the Hokies will need to watch Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis. There is no Duke ground game to speak of, but their QB and receivers are playing lights out. The Blue Devils have been in almost every game until the end, including at Miami. They hung 36 points on Wake Forest. This is going to sound insane, but losing Vince Hall to injury may help prevent the Hokie defense from sleepwalking through the game against a talented offense. Now I hate it for Hall who is one of my favorite players and a true leader on the team. And I hope he is able to come back effectively for the Boston College game. But Brett Warren has a chance to step up and the rest of the defense gets to ratchet their game up a notch against the Blue Devils. Knowing Coach Foster that's just what they are going to do. But I had better see some pressure from the defensive line and some hard hits early just to show that they are serious.

Special teams for the Hokies have been just that - special. I would like to see Jud Dunlevy miss one (ONLY one, Jud) field goal this game for several reasons - first, the Hokies should be able to afford a miss in this game and second, it will take the pressure that is starting to build about having not missed one yet. I recall Brandon Pace talking about the added pressure of making all those field goals consecutively last year and how it built as the season went on. I'd rather see Dunlevy get that off his chest in the Duke game and focus just on kicking the ball solid the rest of the season. Other than that let's see some more Beamerball and I'm going to go ahead and jinx the whole deal and call the first blocked kick of the season for the Hokie special teams.

This is the very definition of a traditional trap game. The Hokies are coming off an emotional road win and face the BC Eagles in two weeks. As such if they play flat they can lose this game. Period. But the poise of Tyrod Taylor at QB has been uncanny despite the lack of help from his supporting cast (it really is remarkable if you stop and think about the fact that he was taking his senior high school classes last year at this time). And the change up on the offensive line may be just the recipe the team needs to find its chemistry on that side of the ball. I am excited about watching them close out the first half of the season on a high note.

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!

By the way, the teams (in Division I-A) besides Stanford whose names don't end in "s" are - Syracuse Orange, Notre Lame Fighting Irish, Alabama Crimson Tide, Illinois Fighting Illini, Tulane Green Wave, the North Texas Mean Green, Navy Midshipmen, Marshall Thundering Herd, Tulsa Golden Hurricane and the NC State and Nevada Wolf Pack.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Clemson

1) Obviously the first key play was the interception by DJ Parker on Clemson's first series. When he returned that for a TD it set the tone for the first half, shut the crowd up, and shook Clemson's confidence especially following their loss to Georgia Tech the previous week. Clemson would go without a first down for 21 minutes to open the game. Wow.

2) Facing 4th and goal in the 4th quarter with 11 minutes left and trailing 31-15, Clemson QB Cullen Harper escaped pressure and found C.J. Spiller for a TD.........BUT Spiller had stepped out of the back of the end zone first before he caught the ball, nullifying the score and giving VT the ball. This play was HUGE because Clemson had all the momentum and a score in that situation might have made it a one score game with a ton of time left.

3) Despite stopping Clemson, VT which hadn't converted a first down in 9 minutes faced a 3rd and 4 with 8:30 left in the game from it's own 12 yard line. Failing to convert here would give Clemson the ball back, in good field position, still with enough time to make it dangerous. Despite being harrassed and hassled all night, Hokie QB Tyrod Taylor again showed the poise and athletic ability that made him the starter. Dropping back to pass, his read was covered, so he pulled the ball down and escaped down the near sideline for a 52 yard gallop. This led to the clinching FG that secured the game for the Hokies.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Game Review - vs. Clemson

Special teams, special teams, special teams, and did I mention special teams? Yup that was the number one Hokie success story of this game. Second to that was the defensive pressure the Hokies put on Cullen Harper, James Davis, and CJ Spiller. On the other side of the coin, the Hokie offense just looked plain dead for most of the game.

Let's look at the special teams accomplishments. This is why Beamerball is so much fun to watch. The surprises and unexpected outcomes of a routine play gone awry to the benefit of the Hokie squad is just one of the most exiting things in football anyone can watch, and viewers got exactly that short of a blocked kick. Eddie Royal returned a punt for an 82 yard touchdown. Royal had another touchdown on a subsequent punt return if not for an illegal block in the back that called it back. Even without getting the points on the board, the act was still quite demoralizing to the Clemson special teams' squad. Then, after the Tigers achieve the moral victory of getting themselves on the board with a 33 yard field goal, Victor "Macho" Harris returns the ensuing kickoff for a 100 yard touchdown. Josh Morgan himself may well have returned a kickoff for quite a bit more than 33 yards had he not tripped over his own shoes. The Hokie special teams delivered in Saturday night's game, and they delivered big time. By the end of the first quarter, they had Clemson's leading players screaming and yelling at the rest of their team about how their play was unacceptable. The kick returners in almost every case read the Clemson players and the Hokie blockers very well successfully finding the open field they needed to gain big yards.

The Hokie defensive play was stellar for the majority of three quarters, only to let up late in the third quarter. They kept the Cullen Harper and the Clemson offense disoriented, created turnovers, and forced punts regularly throughout the game. The speed of the Hokie defense nullified Clemson's running game. I remember on one distinct play where Xavier Adibi and much of the Hokie defensive line seemed too far away to get to Clemson running back James Davis before he could gain significant yardage, but they put on an impressive display of speed and strength to stop Davis for a zero gain. Seemingly, almost every short passing play Clemson completed resulting in a Hokie defensemen leveling the receiving player just after the catch. Many of those plays resulted in the Clemson training staff having to help their players off the field. When that happens a lot, it makes a receiver think twice about catching a pass because he KNOWS what's coming after he does. That causes hesitation. Hesitation causes mistakes, and those types of mistakes lead to turnovers. And that's what the Hokie defense gave us. I would have liked to have seen the Hokie defense hold Clemson to zero touchdowns, and I am a little disappointed that they didn't. But I also realize the Clemson does have a good offense that has put up pretty good numbers this season. The Clemson offense nearly mounted a late game comeback. In the midst of a fourth quarter drive, a receiver's mistake of stepping out of bounds by a distance of two inches prior to making a touchdown pass completion is all that prevented Clemson from closing the scoring gap such that a comeback was very much in the making.

The Hokie offense just still doesn't have it. I think a lot of fans expected the move to Tyrod Taylor to just change everything, but now a lot of the people who could do nothing but bad mouth Sean Glennon should have begun to realize that much of Glennon's underperformance was a symptom of other problems. Don't get me wrong, Tyrod Taylor has much more ability to throw a blanket over those problems, but they are still very much present. Number one, Branden Ore is underachieving big time. This is partially due to injuries he's sustained and from which he has not fully recovered. That being the case, why are the Hokies playing him to the extent that they are? The Hokie schedule only gets tougher as the season continues, and Kenny Lewis, Jr. also has some talent as a running back. Why hasn't the Hokie offense leaned more on him? And the safety Virginia Tech took on Saturday night highlights the shortcomings of the offensive line more than anything else. Tyrod Taylor took a snap on the 3 yard line, and two Clemson linemen ran straight at him, one from each side, literally unhindered by the Hokie offensive line resulting in a safety. The Hokies have a fantastic receiving corps, and they can't make use of them to their full potential because the Hokie passer doesn't consistently have the time to let them get downfield and open to receive a pass. On top of that, our tight ends have not shown the ability to give an alternative play to the long pass. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stiensring has got to do something to get past the successive three-and-out's of which we've seen too many this season. I don't know what the solution to this problem is. Ed Wang should be returning soon from injury, but I don't think that alone will fix this problem. But whatever it is that the Hokie offense does, they better do it soon, because special teams and defensive scoring will not be enough to win against Florida State and Boston College. The Hokie offense did, however, put some a few points on the board. Tyrod Taylor threw for a touchdown pass, and kicker Jud Dunlevy kicked two field goals, one of them from 47 yards. Putting 20 points on the board isn't half bad, but the offense needs to produce longer, more sustained drives than they have thus far to at least give the defense a chance to rest.

On the downside of things linebacker Vince Hall broke the ulna in his right arm in a collision with fellow teammate and linebacker Xavier Adibi. This is the same injury that Cedric Humes sustained as a Hokie two seasons ago. Hall will make use of the same type of brace that Humes did to protect his arm when he's able to return. I don't know how functional that will be, however, given that Humes simply needed to tuck the ball and run as a running back while Hall needs to make tackles. Right now, reports say that Hall is out four to six weeks, but there is speculation that he may be able to return sooner.

Virginia Tech Scoring
Special Teams: 14
Defense: 7
Offense: 20

Friday, October 05, 2007

I WANTED to do a game review but I got fed up

You know, the task I set out to accomplish seemed easy enough - review the UNC game from last Saturday. I watched it twice as always, made my notes and wrote a game review. It stunk because the game was so formulaic - Hokie offense is terrible, Beamerball puts offense in position to score some points, offense capitalizes and then turns around and stinks some more, tired Hokie defense has to rise up and show heart and win the game. Damn I am TIRED of that story and I hope you are too.

So I decided to scrap the review and write a full blown, position-by-position, 5-games-into-the season-review. You know what, my Calm and Beloved Reader? It's a waste of my time to write it and would have been a waste of yours to read it. I need to learn to give you more credit. There is little I can add to the analysis of this Hokie football team right now because the situation is so obvious. That being said, I scaled it back to the most basic statements just to put a stake in the ground marking the Hokies' current level of play. That way we'll be able to look back on this at the end of the season and see if there was any improvement.

The offense is led by a true freshman who has all the talent in the world but he's still a true freshman. He has poise and can make a clutch play but he has trouble reading defenses. He can run exceptionally well and pressure the edge of the defense but his footwork is awful and leads his passes to float on him most of the time.

The offensive line is much improved from the beginning of the season but that's not saying much. The line play was so bad that the large improvements have just upgraded the line to "below average" right now. Richard Graham, as great a guy as he seems to be and as hard as he plays, just isn't an ACC-caliber offensive guard. Coach Beamer says there's a lot of "want-to" on the offensive line which makes him feel better. Hey Frank, with all due respect, I "want-to" be a sports columnist assigned to the Hokie beat making Kyle-Tucker type money, but I don't have the talent which is why he's a paid columnist and I'm a hack, writing out of my @#$! You need execution and quickness and talent up there blocking for that offense.

Speaking of execution, the skill position players are flat-out not doing that and overall the offense is just ineffective. Everyone can weigh in with their opinion of "it's close", "there's progress", etc. RB Branden Ore has a nick here, a bruised rib there. It doesn't matter. The offense heretofore has been ineffective and if massive strides aren't made by Saturday night at 6 PM in its proper execution of fundamental football (blocking, route running, catching) the game will be ugly. It comes down to plays having to be made. There it is in black and white, forget the talk.

Just as obvious is the defense. The line has been getting no push because Carlton Powell is getting double teamed and Chris Ellis is the only end beating his man in one-on-one battles. The linebackers have been stellar with the exception of the LSU game and the secondary has been up and down due to the inconsistency of Kam Chancellor. The defense has improved overall and played with solid fundamentals lately when they haven't been tired. If the offense can just give the defense at least an even split in time of possession with the opponent, I'll take the Hokie defense every time.

Special teams have been best in the ACC. Punts, punt returns, field goals, kickoffs, kickoff coverage, punt coverage, everything except blocks have been tops in the conference. That needs to continue in order to have a chance throughout the season against the better teams starting Saturday with Clemson.

So there it is. That's where the team is right now. As I said above, all the conjecture and comments about "we are a foot away" or "the team is close to breaking out" don't mean anything starting this weekend. The Hokies have used up their Ohios, and William & Marys where they have dominant talent advantages. Playing anything but solid football against the schedule from here on out (and that includes Duke who pushed Miami til LATE in the 4th quarter) has a high probability of getting the Hokies' butts kicked. This is the 6th game of the season. This team either is what it is - an underachieving, sloppy, 112th out of 119th teams offense, matched with good defense and great special teams - or it will start to play up to its capability. Like my main man Yoda said "There is no 'try'. There is only 'do' or 'do not'". May the Force be with you and the Hokies on Saturday.


Game Preview – vs. Clemson

Game Preview – vs. Clemson

This Saturday, the Clemson Tigers host the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Hokie’s second ACC meeting of the season. The Hokies come off a 17-10 win over North Carolina while Clemson comes off a devastating 13-3 loss to Georgia Tech, which the pundits expected Clemson to win. Clemson looks to rebound off of that loss after a poor performance of allowing six sacks, four missed field goals, and a lackluster 62 yards in rushing between their two top running backs. Clemson’s past two seasons have begun with high expectations, good performance early in the season, and degrading performance late in the season at the hands of upset losses. (Does this sound familiar?) The Tigers have in the forefront of their minds not repeating this given that the Hokies have contributed to that in the past and defeated them in the last four contests. Virginia Tech’s win over UNC ended with the game going down to the wire, something most expected Tech to have in the bag safely be the end of the fourth quarter.

Let’s examine the Hokie offense. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has demonstrated steady improvement, but still makes many rookie mistakes. Frank Beamer says that he asks of Taylor, "Are you looking where you need to be looking? Should the ball be getting out of there or should you be scrambling?” Taylor is undefeated as a starter to date, but faces his toughest opponent as a starter in Clemson. His performance against UNC ended with roughly 50% pass completion, 66 yards in passing, one interception, and eleven yards of rushing. Taylor faces a stronger defensive squad in Clemson than he did in UNC, and significantly so in Clemson’s 17.4 points allowed per game versus UNC’s 24.8. Clemson’s defense has also produced seven interceptions on the season so far.

Furthermore, while Branden Ore improved some in the game against the Tarheels, he continues to have a mediocre season. He’s far from the pace of his 1137 yards of rushing and 17 touchdowns from last season. The Hokie offense needs to create the third dimension in a dependable tight end passing play. So far, neither Greg Boone nor Sam Wheeler has developed into a player that delivers on this; however, they are just Sophomores, and still have experience to gain. But the offense MUST incorporate this aspect of the game more so than it has. Sam Wheeler has demonstrated the ability to run the routes and get open, but he still needs to work on finishing the play with clutch receptions that produce the third down gains that keep a struggling offensive drive going. I think Wheeler has the potential to develop into a dependable tight end in this manner, but Brian Stienspring needs to ensure that the Hokies develop it. With a weak offensive line, an underperforming number one running back, and inexperience, Taylor needs the option of a reliable tight end for pass reception.

Moving on to Clemson’s offense, I’m very optimistic here. If there’s anything that their performance last week against Georgia Tech showed, it is that a pressuring defense force them into mistakes. Bud Foster’s defensive squad has every bit of potential to do this. If the Yellow Jackets’ defense could make it happen, you better believe that a defense with two of the top linebackers in the counter in Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall could disorient the Clemson offense too. Clemson does however have a good arsenal of offensive weapons. Quarterback Cullen Harper has thrown for a 63% completion rate so far this season. Running back James Davis has amassed 454 yards of rushing, and the secondary running back, CJ Spiller, has run for 201 yards, not too far behind Branden Ore!

Overall, if Clemson can keep their composure and not let a sack or turnover throw them off of their game, they could just very well come away with the win. But it won’t in all likelihood be an easy win for either side. I expect that the clear victor won't emerge until midway through the fourth quarter.

#14/#15 (AP) Virginia Tech Hokies (4-1, 1-0 ACC) at
#22/#22 (AP) Clemson Tigers (4-2-1 ACC)
Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007 • 6:00 PM
Clemson Memorial (81,473)
Clemson, S.C.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

3 Key Plays - VT vs. UNC

1) Driving down to try and tie the score at 10 in the 3rd quarter, the Tarheels make it to the Hokies 5 yard line. Orion Martin strips the ball from RB Ryan Houston and Kam Chancellor falls on it in the end zone (man you don't even want to know the nastiness that went on at the bottom of that pile) and makes the recovery, thwarting the Tarheels drive.

2) 4 minutes left in the game, Hokies ahead by 7 and Tyrod Taylor who despite struggling miserably in the passing game all day, delivers a perfect strike on 3rd down to ice the game, only to see Josh Morgan drop it. This was key for a few reasons - it showed amazing resilience for a true freshman QB who delivered with the game on the line AND it showed just how underachieving this group of receivers is right now. These are "gotta have" plays and that catch doesn't get any easier. Coach Kevin Sherman the spotlight is on you right now.

3) Final drive, Hokies defense is holding a 7 point lead and tired due to being on the field the entire 2nd half. The Tarheels have 3rd and 2 with just over a minute remaining and Cam Martin comes screaming off the edge to sack Heels QB T.J. Yates. This puts the Heels in 4th and long and they fail to convert. Unlike the offense, with the game on the line, the VT defense was up for the challenge and won the game.