Wow. That's the first thing I thought of when I watched the game footage of this week's big Hokie win. To go up against Florida State without Vince Hall, Ryan Shuman, or Eddie Royal (all of whom will be back against Miami) and get a win like that says that this team has truly adopted the blue collar mentality and come together to show great resilience.
From the opening snap this was the hardest hitting game since LSU. Sean Glennon got knocked out and Tyrod Taylor came in and had a monster game (more on that later). Players on both sides were getting knocked silly and having to sit out for several plays the entire game. Drew Weatherford took a wicked but clean shot from Brandon Flowers and Weatherford had to sit the rest of the game.
So imagine this - you are a freshman who hasn't taken a snap in college football and your opening snap is on the road in one of the harshest environments in college football with your team trailing. Tyrod Taylor faced that situation against LSU in the 2nd game and FSU backup Christian Ponder had to do the exact same thing on Saturday. Give Ponder credit - he played incredibly well until the very end of the game. Under those circumstances to play like that? I would say that bodes well for the Seminoles down the road. I have always been underwhelmed with Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee for the Noles, but I think they may have a good one for the future in Ponder.
And believe me - the Hokie defense smelled fresh meat and was bringing the lumber. Noles RB Antawn Smith had 50% of his team's rushing yards on the season. Saturday he had less than 10%. The Hokies held FSU to 267 yards of offense. They had 2 picks and a safety. They didn't get any sacks but they had 10 QB hurries on the afternoon. I picked on the defensive line at the halfway point of this season and claimed they were the weakness of the defense and they truly were. But after picking my teeth with some crow bones, let me be the first to say - welcome back Dline!! The level of play from that unit has absolutely been as productive as I've seen since 2004. Every position is playing at the level we all expected at the beginning of the season. Jason Worilds showed the kind of closing speed that VT defensive ends have gotten famous from and he was in the QB's face nearly every snap he played. Barry Booker had a HUGE hustle play chasing down FSU's surprisingly speedy QB and forcing a fumble. Carlton Powell has elevated himself to a 3rd/4th round pick in next year's draft the past 3 weeks. And Chris Ellis' play speaks for itself. He will join former Hokie Darryl Tapp in terrorizing NFL quarterbacks next season as well.
Oh well, just another day at the office for a defense that is REALLY hitting its stride right now at the right time. You may remember that I questioned Foster's calls at the end of the BC game, and I still think he was wrong in that instance, but I wouldn't trade him for any defensive coach in football, period. How's this for a stat - after the LSU game, the Hokies were 95th in defense and 79th in scoring defense. After the FSU game the Hokies rank 8th and 3rd in those respective categories. Can you comprehend how RIDICULOUS that is?! If you throw out the LSU game (and Lord knows I wish I could), or even if you just replace the game stats from LSU with the current Hokies average, the Hokies would lead the nation in scoring defense and be 2nd in total defense with a chance for that third straight year I was talking about at the beginning of the season. In a way, I think by including the 600 yards and 48 points that LSU hung on the Hokies it almost makes their current national rank on defense even MORE impressive because they've had to be that much more dominant over the rest of their opponents.
The special teams on the other hand were well below subpar. How on earth does Frank Beamer give up a fake punt to Bobby Bowden when the entire buildup to this game was how Bowden outdoes Beamer in special teams? Fortunately the Hokies were able to recover the onside kick that Bowden tried later in the game. But Jud Dunlevy missed an extra point and a FG, there was very little in the way of the return game (although I agreed with this - no reason to risk Macho Harris getting hurt on a return with Eddie out) and Brent Bowden went into the TANK. He averaged 35 yards/kick in a game where field position was the key battle and early on the Hokies were losing that battle. I hope this can be chalked up as a fluke and the special teams roar back next week to continue there heretofore stellar level of play.
But the real key to this game was the offense. Just a few weeks ago I was asking when the last time the offense had made a clutch play to win a game and sure enough Tyrod Taylor answered the bell in the 4th quarter. Down by a point with 10 minutes left in the game, Taylor (who had thrown a pick six earlier) rolled to his left and throwing on the run he delivered, and when I say perfect I mean a PERFECT, pass 50 yards downfield to Justin Harper on the sideline at the FSU 2. It's impossible to understand how hard it is to run to your left, and while running, throw the ball to the left, when you're right handed, that far downfield, along the left sideline and keep the ball inbounds, in the one spot where your receiver can make a play on the ball. It was as if Taylor ran the ball 50 yards downfield and handed it to Harper.
The main key to the win was Taylor on offense but let's give some credit where credit is due here. Beau Warren, stepping in for injured starter Ryan Shuman has faced, in 3 consecutive weeks, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Florida State's defensive lines - otherwise known as Murderer's Row in the ACC. He has given up two sacks in those games but more often than not he has fought and scrapped and with great technique and talent, gotten the better of the guy lined up across from him. He also made good line calls (I am sure he had a few mistakes in there, but look at the results). Way to go Beau! Also stepping up were the receivers in place of injured Eddie Royal. Josh Hyman and Josh Morgan attracted coverage and drew penalties against the Seminoles, but Justin Harper rose up and became a true playmaker. He made catches all over the field and he blocked extremely well. It was fun to see him playing at that level.
And now let me address the QB situation in a little more detail. I came up with an analogy (it's great in my mind, see what you think) to describe my thoughts more clearly. Brett Warren has been playing for an injured Vince Hall and I think he's been better than admirable, he's been very solid. I love his effort, he's faster than I thought he was, and I feel pretty good about him competing for the starting job in the spring. Saturday's game against FSU was the first game where I thought, while watching the footage, ok Vince's absence is being felt. Warren wasn't quite able to make a few plays on the QB when he ran the ball and he missed several coverages in the middle of the field that Hall would have made. But Warren was stout in run support and I contend he has been every bit as good in relief of Vince Hall as Glennon has been in Taylor's absence, if not better. However, no one is remotely questioning the fact that when Hall is healthy for the Miami game he will return as the starter. It's a given. You put a player like Vince Hall on the field when he's healthy, end of story.
It's no different at QB. Saturday against Florida State was Exhibit A-Z, your Honor, of why Taylor should be the starter. Glennon played hard but, for example, his first deep ball to Josh Morgan should have ABSOLUTELY been a touchdown. I mean Morgan was as open as you can reasonably ask a receiver to get on a deep route. The bad underthrow of the ball resulted in pass interference, true, but it should have been a touchdown, instead of expecting Morgan to make the super tough play. Taylor had a nearly identical throw later in the game, in much tighter coverage and he threw it perfectly. Glennon has made several very nice passes this season that he never made last season, that is for sure. But he has never made some of the plays, running OR passing that Taylor made on Saturday. It's just the difference between NFL and college talent. Taylor threw some balls like an NFL QB would have (on a good day). And his poise was utterly unshakeable. The perfect throw to Harper when the team was down by a point was thrown as if Taylor was rolling out on the practice field. Now keep in mind, I am ignoring Glennon's stat line (1-4 for 3 yards). I know he can play better than that, and I know that his value in this game was forcing FSU to prepare for both QB's but with an ACC championship on the line, you go with the best guy. Vince Hall at MLB and Tyrod Taylor at QB and you don't look back.
Lastly, let me just pat the crowd on the back for a second. Just like against BC that fateful Thursday night, last Saturday the crowd was the old Lane Stadium again. It was rocking, the atmosphere was electric and it was really tough on the Seminoles. They had to burn a timeout, had a key delay of game penalty on a 3rd and 1 and had two false starts, all of which Hokie Nation contributed to. In watching the telecast, Bill Curry announced that his son Bill Curry, Jr. a center for Virginia, claims that Lane Stadium at night is the toughest place to play in college football. Let's keep it that way this coming Saturday for the hated Miami Hurricanes.