Thursday, October 23, 2008

Game Review - VT vs. BC

First of all - ouch. The gut wrenching losses to BC now total three in the past three seasons. And the worst thing about it is that unlike rivals UVa, Miami and West Virginia, I find myself unable to hate BC for it. They play hard, they don't talk a lot of trash and they do it with decent but not stellar talent that is nonetheless VERY well coached and plays extremely hard with a blue collar mentality. Hmmmmm, I know a school that used to follow a similar formula, until the talent started getting better and the coaching (in some quarters) began heading the other way.

At the end of the game the scoreboard said 28-23 in favor of the Eagles, which moved them into a tie for first place in the Atlantic Division and dropped Virginia Tech a half game behind Georgia Tech in the Coastal. In the postgame locker room, Coach Frank Beamer talked to all of the players about how people outside the program would try and divide the team and how it was important to stand united. Special teams, defense and offense all contributed to the loss and therefore the team, needing to improve in all phases, was not to begin pointing fingers.

This is the exact right way to handle the situation and the locker room needs to stay tight. The team cannot afford to fall apart in the midst of a battle for the ACC title. But at the same time, you, my Calm and Beloved Reader, probably wants to know what the hell happened in Chestnut Hill on Saturday night and it's my duty to lay bare the carnage in all its graphic detail.

Let's handle the easy one first - the defense. After getting the jump on BC in the first two minutes of the game, the Hokies were up 10-0 and Kam Chancellor had his hands on a 2nd interception that could have changed the entire complexion of the game and he dropped it. Had he picked it and kept his balance he would have scored and up 17-0 that quickly, I think we'd be looking at a different result in the outcome of the game. But he didn't. And the momentum that BC was able to gain from that drop, combined with 3 offsides penalties on one drive on the defense (I can't remember ever seeing that before) took the Eagles to the end zone and brought them to within 10-7. 

At various times in the first half Stephan Virgil was beaten like a rented mule by some awfully slow BC receivers. The read option running play was mixed in to good effect and the defense was left scratching their heads while BC built up a 21-10 lead. However, the momentum in the game took a series of gigantic swings in the final two minutes of the first half. First of all, great pressure by Hokie defensive end Jason Worilds forced Eagles QB Chris Crane into a bad pass and Macho Harris picked the ball off and returned it for a score. With the lead cut to 21-17 and the Hokies forcing BC into 3rd and 11 with time running out on the half, the defense seemed to have survived the onslaught. As we mentioned in 3 Key Plays, Macho suffered a mental breakdown and let Brandon Robinson get behind him for a huge gain. The Eagles converted and took a 28-17 lead into the half along with all of the momentum. And if you were on defense, you know the ass-kicking was going to begin. 

Begin it did. Bud Foster spoke with great intensity to his players at halftime and they made some phenomenal adjustments. The results speak for themselves. In the 2nd half, BC had zero points (including a blocked FG), 55 total yards of offense and lost two more turnovers to a possessed Hokie defense. BC intercepted a pass and forced Tech into a 9 yard punt and the Hokie defense didn't let them get ANYTHING. Anyone who wants to see great coaching adjustments in action just needs to watch the two halves of this game when BC is on offense. That being said, Foster and his defensive staff should have had his players prepared better in the first half and the mental breakdowns were completely unacceptable. Let that happen against Florida State and the Seminoles will hang 50 on VT by halftime. 

But the defense was stellar compared to the vaunted Hokie special teams. Brent Bowden continued to punt extremely well, but his support team is playing, well, terribly. A wide snap resulted in a partially blocked punt in the 2nd half and when VT was trapped DEEP in its own end in the first half, Bowden responded with a 50 yard boomer, only to have a sudden attack of gravity strike the punt coverage team as they allowed Rich Gunnell to house the return and put BC up 14-10. Yes, VT blocked a FG of their own and Dustin Keys made 3 FG's but he missed a 44 yarder and frankly that punt team outweighs any good things happening anywhere else on special teams. It is nothing short of a pants-down EMBARRASSMENT to Coach Beamer that the special teams on the punt unit (again aside from Bowden for the most part) have been this bad this season. However, he probably is having to spend too much time at practice watching what the hell the offense is doing instead of focusing on special teams. And that brings me to.......

The offense. Abysmal. Tragic. Extinct. These are all adjectives that fall short of describing just how bad the offense is right now. There were times watching the game footage that I would rewind it and watch a play over and over. Folks, there were Hokies just FALLING DOWN all over the place. Blake DeChristopher, Chris Drager, Darren Evans, Sergio Render, Greg Boone, I mean these guys looked like a vaudeville act out there for God's sake. Either the BC equipment people sabotaged the cleats on the Hokies' footwear as in like, removed them, or (more likely) guys just don't know where to run or how to maintain leverage. 

I will freely admit that the Hokies' run game was not just hand it off up the middle into the heart of the BC defense. They tried several off tackle plays and even one option play, along with a variety of other outside runs. But, and give BC credit here, they read the plays and outmuscled the receivers on the edge. Their linebackers were as good as advertised. That being said, developing a running game is about execution. Everyone needs to be where they are supposed to be and block who they are supposed to block and they are SUPPOSED TO BE STANDING UPRIGHT ON TWO FEET IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO DO IT. They looked like stumbling clowns and that is a symptom of not knowing exactly what to do and being comfortable doing it. Who is responsible for that?

Let's try a different area - the pass game. Let me dismiss this whole "hitch" thing in Taylor's throwing motion right now. Forget about it. He can throw the ball accurately with it in there, which means he's fine for the rest of the season and it can easily be remedied in the offseason. Look at a guy like Brett Favre - he has a bit of an odd motion but it's very compact and powerful in his normal throwing motion. When moving around though, he has used sidearm, underarm, and a variety of throwing motions to get the ball there. I foresee that Taylor can develop a very nice throwing motion, but that he will always resort to this natural "hitch" when on the move and that's fine as long as it's accurate. 

The hitch isn't the issue. Right now, it's finding the open guy and being on the same page as the receivers. And then it's stepping into the throw and putting it in a catchable place. Taylor has not advanced in that department and I put that squarely on the shoulders of Coach Mike O'Cain. As far as where the safety valves are (tight ends and running backs in the flat) that is right back on Coach Stinespring. All we heard all pre-season was about these tight ends, and to be quite honest, when they get the ball they have done well. However, getting them the ball has been a zero priority in the gameplan and I can't figure it out. Against BC, Taylor threw a total of 3 passes out of 27 to the tight ends and none were completions. 

I planned on reviewing each offensive series, but it was getting ridiculous. Essentially, the Hokies moved the ball when Taylor made a miracle play with his legs after the play broke down. If that didn't happen the Hokies didn't move the ball. Any other good plays were either dropped by the receiver (including two should have been TD catches) or called back due to penalties. Yes the least penalized team in the ACC coming into the game had 10 penalties for 76 yards to go along with the rest of the ineptitude. 

I have already reviewed the 3rd and 1/4th and 1 fiasco in the 3 Key Plays segment, but let me take a second and point out something that any Stinespring apologists (if there are any left) may want to consider. If the Hokie offense was a top 40-50 offense over the course of the past 7 years and suddenly this year, with all this "youth and inexperience" dropped to 110th, I would be the first person to go on the warpath if I heard any anti-Stinespring talk. Bandwagon fans jump whenever they see things start to head south and I have no patience for that. I think it's obvious, however, that that is NOT the case here.

Consider that last year the Hokies had 5 NFL caliber players on offense (Ore was NFL talent) and had the 100th best offense. We have well documented the ineptitude on offense over the past 7 seasons. Let me be very clear about something - Tyrod Taylor is the ONLY reason the team is 5-2 this year. His ability to make a play when things break down is essentially the offense. That cannot be the gameplan for a program trying to compete for ACC titles and eventually national titles. If I am wrong and Bryan Stinespring knows more about football than any living human, I still say he needs to be demoted or fired, because it just means he is ineffective at communicating that knowledge and getting the execution out of the players and the coaches responsible to him. That is what you need your offensive coordinator to do. I mean honestly, did anyone expect the Hokies, when they got the ball back with over a minute left at their own 29 to go down and win the game? How about against East Carolina? Those are tough odds, but usually you want to think that you at least have a CHANCE in those situations.

It's tough to do that when you realize the following - the Hokies had 23 points against the Eagles. 14 of those were on defensive touchdowns. 3 points were on a FG after the Hokies recovered a fumble on the BC 28. 3 points were after the Hokies fielded a punt at midfield after the defense sacked Chris Crane for a 19 yard loss back to the BC 16 yd line. Essentially the Hokies had one scoring "drive" in the entire game and that was for a FG. Seven games into the season, the Hokies look like they did against every other opponent except for Nebraska. There has been no improvement in the offense for neither the past 7 years nor the past 7 games, and certainly not between the first and second half on Saturday night. It is with great dramatic effect that you can compare the Hokie defense from the first and second halves on Saturday night and see a unit that made all the right adjustments. Meanwhile, the Hokie offense was swimming in the same quicksand on every drive. On Saturday night what was shown is that when the player, who you are counting on to bail you out every time, has an off game, you have no chance of winning. I am willing to table the discussion on where they responsibility for that lies until after the season, because a) you already know what I think and b) it doesn't do any good between now and then. 

In closing, give credit to the Eagles for playing a good game, but what I saw out there was a Hokie defense that knew it played poorly in the first half and gave the offense every chance to win the game in the 2nd half. I saw Hokie special teams that were anything but special. And I saw an offense that looked like a bunch of guys playing hard and having no idea what they were doing. 

So Coach Beamer is right that they all need to stick together because they all have room for improvement and a divided locker room doesn't do the team any good. But they are going to group hug themselves right into the cellar of the ACC conference if the offense doesn't play better over the final 5 games of the season. 

Whew, now I can go burn that game footage (also known as the delete button on TiVo).


Hokie Guru said...

MadJay, awesome post.

MadJay said...

Hokie Guru,
Thank you. I can't wait for the day when our offense holds up its end of the deal.

Hokie Guru said...

My focus is slowly moving to Hokie Basketball. We are going to be good this year; 4th in the ACC and in the NCAA Dance.

Hokie Guru said...

I have two new posts up.

Anonymous said...

So I've got to put in my two cents on the FSU game.

I was proud of the effort and heart that our players showed throughout the game. Unfortunately, a couple breaks didn't go the hokies way. FSU DID fumble before the RB crossed the plane and the angle from behind clearly showed that. Also, I still think it was offensive pass interferance on FSU's first long pass play. But hey, that's football.

On the bright side, Sean Glennon and Cory Holt both rose to the occasion and played their asses off. They both showed desire and determination and really played well. Which makes the next part so damn aweful.

This was one of Frank Beamer's worst coached games. Why do you go after the punt there... you just need the ball back... our O was moving it... just get the ball back.

While I may be able to excuse him being aggressive there, what I cannot excuse is not taking a timeout after holding the noles to a FG and saving 40 seconds.

Yeah it is still improbable to get a win. I know you're down to your third string QB. I know your up against a good defense. But what if he misses the FG? You're down by 7 with either 2:00 min and a timeout left, or 2:35 and no timeouts left. NOT A DIFFICULT CHOICE.

And you know what else. Then maybe you don't punt the ball away and GIVE UP on a game that your players tore their hearts out for and that cost you your two best offensive players.

Go down swinging.

A very annoyed,


**note: this post edited by the author to remove numerous profanities.