Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hokies Leave Questions Unanswered in Victory

I have to admit I’ve struggled with writing this review. Tech went up early and pretty much held the lead the entire game. There was not an ounce of doubt that the Hokies would beat the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, whose recent admission to Division 1-A hasn’t been going all that well. And yet, the questions that remain after the Hokies 27-13 victory Saturday afternoon outnumber the questions answered.

The Hokies began well. After the kickoff, despite a penalty by Kam Chancellor, the Hokies defense held the Hilltoppers to a three and out which led to a terrible punt by the Hilltoppers. The Hokies had the ball in good field position and started out moving the ball well. Kenny Lewis Jr. began the first drive with a pair of good looking runs. Darren Evans had some good runs as well. Tyrod Taylor, however, still looked shaky. It’s hard to tell from the television coverage, but one of three things is happening. We’ll get into those three things later. Taylor had a completion and a good looking scramble. He also was sacked. The drive stalled and the Hokies sent in Dustin “Clutch” Keys for a twenty-seven yarder. The Hokies went up three.

The Hokies defense would continue to hold the Hilltoppers well. WKU would not have a first down in the entire first quarter and looked like they would have to punt as the quarter ended as they failed to convert third and nine. They lined up for the punt to start the second quarter but faked it and ran all the way down to the Hokie nineteen-yard line. If not for a block in the back, the Hilltoppers were in the red zone with a chance to score a touchdown. The Hilltoppers would not be able to convert for another first and would settle for three.

On the previous drive, the Hokies had their best looking series of the game. Taylor converted on five of five passes including Josh Oglesby’s first reception of his career, two to Victor “Macho” Harris, one to Chris Drager, and the big strike for a twenty-seven-yard pass for a touchdown to Greg Boone. Oglesby also had three carries for good yardage each. Oglesby looked really good. He had good vision and will be a force in the coming years. Taylor looked comfortable in the pocket and only had to scramble on one play to make the completion. The big story about this drive was the positive yardage completions. All three words – positive, yardage, and completion – were important in that sentence.

The drive following the WKU field goal was, by comparison, horrid. Taylor was flushed out of the pocket on several occasions. When Taylor took off he was able to pick up yardage on a few plays. When he tried to get the pass off he would not have anyone open. He was sacked once and fumbled twice. The second would give the Hilltoppers the ball on their own eleven-yard line. The only things moving the drive forward were the penalties by the Hilltoppers. It was an ugly but moving drive that was eventually thwarted by the fumble.

Later, the Hokies would score on a good drive led by the rush of Evans. It was the Darren Evans show as he was handed the ball seven of the nine plays in the drive. The Hokies scored and went up 17-3 with a little under two minutes to play in the half.

The Hilltoppers would only gain one more first down the rest of the half. Quarterback David Wolke threw a key interception to Victor Harris with 0:25 to go in the half. Harris took the ball forty-nine yards and was knocked out at the five-yard line. Unfortunately, the Hokies would only get three on the play. The score was 20-3 at the half.

Taylor opened the second half with what looked like renewed confidence. He hit a twenty-eight-yard pass to Danny Coale and a seventeen-yard pass to Andre Smith. The rest of the yardage came on the ground as the Evans, Lewis, and Taylor led the Hokies to another touchdown.

After another three and out by WKU, the Hokies next drive stalled and ended in a Brent Bowden punt. Starting at their twenty, the Hilltoppers were able to drive on the ground with ease. The Hokies did have their second sting line in at this point, but it still should have been able to stop the run. It wasn’t until it was first and goal did Coach Foster swap back in the first string line. The line held and the Hilltoppers would settle for another field goal.

With the third quarter coming to a close and the Hilltoppers still down three scores, WKU was able to recover an on-side kick. Again the Hokies were able to stuff the Hilltoppers for a fourth and three. The Hilltoppers still down went for it and converted for nineteen yards. Again the Hokies would struggle to contain the run and the Hilltoppers would score easily on the drive. This time the difference was the Hokies had their starters in.

With the score now in hand, Sean Glennon came in to take the remaining snaps. He was immediately sacked twice. In fact, in three possessions under Glennon, he was sacked four times. Glennon, obviously not as mobile as Taylor, was not able to avoid the rush. The game would end with the score 27-13, but that’s not the story.

It brings me to the three things I alluded to earlier. Some combination of the following is happening such that the Hokies have a passing offence ranking of 114th. (That’s fifth from worst.)

The first possibility is that the receivers are not getting open. This could be attributed to a multitude of things: they’re running the routes incorrectly, they’re running the routes correctly, but don’t adjust to the coverage, or they don’t recognize when the quarterback is in trouble and don’t come back to him. At this point in the season, as MadJay mentioned, one cannot still attribute this to lack of experience. They have six games under their starting belt and should know how to work a defense better by now.

The second possibility is that Taylor (and Glennon for that matter) does not have confidence in the receivers and therefore check off a receiver they normally would not.

Another possibility is that Taylor does not have confidence in himself, or more importantly his arm, and checks off when there is a potential play there.

Whichever it is, coming off the bye, the Hokies will begin facing teams where getting by on the rush alone will not produce the results to continue the winning ways.

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