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.
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.