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

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