Tuesday, September 09, 2008

10 Things We Know After Furman

Here are 10 things that Superfans know after watching the embarrassment that was the Furman game on Saturday. The Hokies should have been trailing 7-0 except for an illegal man downfield penalty on Furman.  VT did go up 3-0 on a FG with 29 seconds left in the first half and then came back and finished the job winning 24-7. The offense played uninspired for most of the game and the defense, while certainly better, wasn't as dominant of a Div. I-AA school as I would have hoped.

1) Tyrod Taylor is the answer at quarterback. 

The Hokies moved the ball when he was the QB more effectively than when Glennon was the QB and that's why Taylor took the vast majority of snaps in the second half (where the Hokies scored 21 points). 

You know, I found it EXTREMELY interesting to look at how another program has handled a very similar quarterback situation to the one the Hokies are in this year. This program has a QB who has been a starter for 3 seasons, has over 7400 yards and 39 TDS and won an ACC title with his team, capturing game MVP in the process. 

Sounds like Glennon, but it isn't. It's Drew Weatherford at Florida State. Despite his stats and the fact that he's a senior this season, I've always been unimpressed with Weatherford. In fact, if you read the TSF game review for the FSU from last season (here), you will see that I was very high on Christian Ponder and thought he was the future for their program.  I've always viewed Weatherford as an average QB who looks the part but just doesn't have that intangible "it" that Ponder did in his performance (and which Taylor exhibits as well). And the Florida State coaching staff led by Jimbo Fisher, coming off of a poor offensive campaign in 2007 - sound familiar? - made a very tough decision this year and benched the rising senior Weatherford in favor of the sophomore Ponder. The coaches were obviously able to see that their offense was more effective with Ponder running the show and made the right call. Weatherford is a great safety net to have in case of injury, but you start your best option at QB, and that's that.......

Unless you're the VT coaching staff. They wanted to run the two QB system this year, and then when Taylor and his parents suggested that he wanted to redshirt if he wasn't the outright starter, the coaches agreed to give it a try (a decision that we at TSF certainly respected as being good for the long term success of the program). Then when it became obvious that the offense just wasn't going to be effective with Glennon as the sole option, they pulled the redshirt off of Taylor. Taylor masks the ineffectiveness of the offensive execution and playcalling (much more on that later) with his ability to improvise and turn broken plays into big plays. And while there is a glimmer of hope that Taylor will be the sole starter (a la Florida State), for some reason the spectre of the two QB nightmare still lurks. 

Please keep in mind that despite how tough we've been on Glennon for his play over the years, he is a stand-up guy and a Hokie through and through. The booing he hears is tough to stomach and I hope he knows it's directed at the coaching staff for mismanaging this situation. If you think you have two QBs you don't have any, and that will always be true. Taylor should be the starter the rest of the season with an experienced Glennon able to come in if Taylor gets hurt.

2) The defense is fast as hell but they are still learning to play as a team. 

If there were growing pains early last season breaking in three new starters, there are growing agonies trying to break in 8 new starters. Unlike the offense, I have great confidence that by the end of the season, Coach Foster will have a very strong unit. But right now they get out of position a great deal. The biggest surprise here is that Brett Warren has been surprisingly quiet for a 5th year senior. Sure there'd be an expected dropoff from Vince Hall but Warren hasn't been very disruptive at all and his weakness (pass coverage) has been exploited by both ECU and Furman.

3) Stephan Virgil is the real deal at field corner. 

His level of play at field corner has been nothing short of stunning and explains why Cris Hill hasn't been able to break in over there. Virgil had a pick and some big hits in the secondary against Furman. With Eddie Whitley and Lorenzo Williams showing signs as true freshmen, this is definitely becoming Defensive Back U.

4) Macho isn't yet at full speed. 

The coaches probably have a few plays they'd love to run with Macho on offense against Georgia Tech, but unless he can get himself healthy, he needs to take all of his snaps on defense and maybe split time at punt returner with Dyrell Roberts.

5) The offensive line - WHAT?!

All we heard all off-season is how we finally wouldn't have to worry about the offensive line. Now granted Blake DeChristopher went out early against ECU and hasn't been back (get well soon BDC!) but goodness where is the left side of the line? Nick Marshman and Ed Wang have been very underwhelming in run blocking and the pass protection is piss poor due to ineffective communication. The defensive lines are running stunts and are throwing the o-line into a tizzy. It is no good and needs to get one HELLUVA lot better in order to even remotely have a chance against Georgia Tech. Furman stuffed a 4th and 1 for the Hokies on their first drive and were getting pressure on both QB's all day. Bad O-line makes for a sick Mad Jay. 

6) The defensive line - WHAT?!

Ok so I said there were huge depth concerns at D-line in my season preview position breakdown. And that the backup defensive tackles had me curled up in the fetal position with worry. But lo and behold, NOBODY expected that the starting defensive line would have 1 sack in two games. I mean, seriously?! And there's been very little push upfield, either off the edge or up the gut on run plays either. Coach Wiles is ready to kick ass and chew some bubble gum and he's all out of bubble gum. I wouldn't want to be on the d-line in practice this week. Granted, against the option you aren't trying to rush upfield like against the pass heavy offense Furman used, but I'm nervous about the d-line's performance against Georgia Tech anyway. 

7) ECU is even better than I thought.

And I though the Pirates were very good. They just whooped up on West Virginia. Just makes me more sick that the Hokies threw that pick at the end of the first half and couldn't tackle a scarecrow in that game or they'd be ranked pretty well right now. 

8) Ryan Williams will get a redshirt. 

Barring - and let me use a great Coach Hite quote here - "a grenade going off in the backfield", Ryan Williams will first see the field in 2009. He's agreed that with a year of Gentrification and learning the playbook he could be a scary player next season and may not be fully ready this year. I'm sure there's still a small chance of him seeing the field this season, but if the play from Darren Evans continues to be so solid, with decent support from Kenny Lewis, Jr, there'd be no reason to burn Williams' redshirt. The coaches are saying the final decision will be made after the UNC game, but reading the tea leaves here, Ryan Williams won't play in '08 (I see a Williams-Evans backfield being phenomenal next year).

9) The Greg Boone Experiment has been a total failure.

Two of the interceptions thrown this year were tip balls off of Greg Boone's hands. He has had a twisted ankle and hasn't been running the ball effectively. And Boone was the guy who missed the block on the ECU player that blocked the punt in Charlotte two weeks ago. A rational person would believe that Boone has been kept under wraps and used as a decoy to set-up his introduction as a key cog in the offense for the Georgia Tech game and the VT coaching staff just didn't want to give the Yellow Jackets any film on him. But that leads me to the final thing we know about the Hokies after the Furman game.

10) A change is needed at offensive coordinator.

The offense, which has been so capably carried by the defense and special teams for 4 years, has not been able to pick up the slack when the defense and special teams have returned to just "good" instead of "ridiculously amazing". Many of you have heard Coach Beamer, both Monday night and today on the teleconference, talk about how he doesn't want to hear any of this talk about ineffective offense over the past several seasons. In fact, he cited the scoring offense has had 4 of it's best 5 years in the past 8 seasons. 

Obviously, you Superfans will know, based on the scoring offense vs. total offense analysis we did a few weeks ago that the Hokies have an ENORMOUS gap between their scoring offense and total offense. The reason is Beamerball. The defense and special teams score a ton of points and those go down under "scoring offense". Also, the defense gets great field position for the offense (blocked punts, turnovers, or just pinning the opponents deep and forcing them to go three and out and punt to midfield or so). 

Nothing wrong with that and it wins games, even ACC Championships, but don't go citing the scoring offense, Coach Beamer, as your defense for Coach Stinespring. I will grant that, to Beamer's credit, he is doing what a head coach with integrity does - he takes the heat from fans and critics alike and deflects it off of his coaches during the season. The question is - Will Coach Beamer do another thing a head coach does and that is make a change when the results indicate one is needed? If not now, at least before the 2009 football season??

After all, there is no doubt anymore that a change is needed. We've certainly pleaded vocally for a change for a minimum of 4 years (the inability to pick up the blitz against NC State in 2004 was really the tipping point). Recently, the calls from the ECU game have been skewered all over the internets (though none quite as well as our own EhhTee) but then Stinespring added incredible fuel to the fire with the offensive (pun so very intended) performance against the mighty Paladins.

Just to pick out the most egregious example, let's look at the end of the first half. Tyrod Taylor has finally gotten a drive where he could take all of the snaps - the first time that had happened all half - and he led the team down to the 5 yard line on an 8 minute drive, a real beauty. It's 3rd and goal from the 5 and here's where Taylor has shined throughout his brief career. Against UNC, Florida State and Virginia, he has been deadly near the goal line. So what does Coach Stinespring do? He subs in Sean Glennon who's been on the sidelines for 8 minutes, to come in a throw a pass to the back of the end zone, which shockingly enough was incomplete. While watching it, I thought I had accidentally taken acid and was on a seriously bad trip. It was a surreal moment, watching Glennon come in and take that snap. Even if he had thrown a TD pass there, the decision was beyond baffling. 

Now in the interest of fairness, let me post Coach Stinespring's response when asked about this very decision:

"It was a specific call, it was a worst scenario, third and seven or so," he said. "It was a route we worked on, run and two point play, down low kind of scheme, read in middle of field, for a high ball where he has to throw it over people and read the linebackers. It was a better setup at that standpoint, that was a prominent reason for change in."

First of all, have you noticed lately that Stiney's responses have started to include a great deal of football jargon? I think he's trying to show the "average fan" just how much football he knows. Of particular interest is the Furman post game interview he gave (which you can read on Kyle Tucker's excellent blog here).

Second of all, Stinespring can spout every read, scheme, setup, route and call he wants. Anyone who has been involved in football at that level should know that you don't bring in a cold QB off the sideline to throw a ball on 3rd and goal, especially if you have a hot QB, who's just led the team 70 yards down the field and the cold QB actually ELIMINATES your run/pass option which is so effective near the goal line. Once our daughter learns how to read, one of the first books we'll be going over is Bill Walsh's "Finding the Winning Edge" and she will learn all sorts of great football jargon. But guess what - she'll still be 4 years old and while she'll walk around saying stuff like "zone blitz" and "outside leverage", she won't understand the nuances of the game......yet. But an offensive coordinator of a perennial Top 25 program should damn well better know this stuff and when he doesn't it's time for a change. 

So that's what we've learned after the Furman game. It's going to be a bumpy ride fellow Superfans and probably pretty exciting. This year is the fire to harden the steel for next season and it may get pretty hot. The coaches need to coach up these players and get a lot of growth over the course of this year. At TSF, we'll always be behind the Hokies and we just hope that at the end of the year there's an honest assessment of each coach and the improvement the players in their group have made. 


Lefty said...

Love that you pointed out how BS's responses have been jargon-laden recently. It's one of those ancillary indicators that things behind the curtain are not as we have been led to believe.

One thing that someone pointed out this week (can't remember who) that is noteworthy: we have had a lot of success in the recent past. However, we have had two extremely gut-wrenching bowl losses in a row. If one or both of those games are wins, I think the fan base is much more content with the "success" we've had recently. 10 wins is fine on paper. But ten wins capped off by a kick in the balls by an SEC or Big 12 team is not so great.

MadJay said...

Excellent point Lefty. This was brought up by Coach Beamer as well.

Let me just say that we all would be happier with bowl wins, but a few more bowl wins would NOT change my views about this offense, which have been formed watching it closely over the past 5 years.

In fact, if it's the bowl wins that are leading to this movement to get rid of Stinespring, it's a worthy trade-off in my opinion. Short term pain of losses (and I'll grant you that they hurt like a sunuvagun) traded for the long term benefit of the program.

The point I've always made is that Kevin Rogers was brought in to become the offensive coordinator because Stinespring was just a stop-gap when Bustle left. Hell, Stinespring was coaching offensive line when they gave him the offensive coordinator position in 2001. For some reason (my guess is that the 2003 offense was decent) Beamer didn't pull the trigger and Rogers left for the NFL. How different Hokie fortunes would be if Rogers had been named offensive coordinator. Wow.