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Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Game Preview - VT vs. Maryland
There are two teams left in the ACC that control their own destiny, meaning that if they win out they are in the ACC title game no matter what anyone else does. And they play each other Thursday night in primetime on ESPN in the CRAZY CONFINES OF LANE STADIUM!!!!!!
Virginia Tech-Maryland is a matchup between two teams that have gotten to this point in the season in strikingly different ways. Maryland has been essentially bipolar – they have beaten three ranked teams and lost to Middle Tennessee State. They shut out Wake Forest on the road and were shut out by Virginia at home. They are straight out of a split-personality case study.
The Hokies on the other hand have been extremely consistent. They play solidly on defense, shutting teams down for the most part but giving up a few big plays every game. It certainly hasn't been the dominant defenses of the past few seasons but it's still been very respectable. The special teams have been great from a kicking standpoint (field goals and punts) and horrible in the blocking and return department. The offense has fluctuated to a lesser extent, ranging from the 7th circle of hell to halfway decent but hasn’t had a great game yet. Sometimes this combination has been enough to win, sometimes it hasn’t but the Hokies have played at about the same level all season...............
Which is eating at me like the Black Plague! A team is supposed to improve during the course of a season. I will grant that the defense has improved from the ECU game, but from the 2nd game to now, it hasn’t gotten that much better. The offense and the special teams have been fighting the same demons all season. Now you may be tired of autopsies on this offense, but I had a moment of clarity watching the Texas-Texas Tech game on Saturday night, and this may put things in a new light for you.
To be sure, it was a classic battle between Texas and Texas Tech, that came down to a TD pass with 2 seconds left to win the game for the Red Raiders. One of the things that jumped out at me was the Texas offense. It's really not a very complicated, exotic offense like Texas Tech's. But you know what? They execute. Period. Yes Colt McCoy made some insane throws earlier this season against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State that were as good as it gets. But against Texas Tech, most of the throws, while not pedestrian, didn't require a Heisman candidate to complete. They were simple dig, hook and crossing routes and a few times there were some double moves by the wide receiver, like on their 90 yard TD play. Now the Texas Tech secondary isn't the best in the country but they played proper zone defense most of the night (more on that later). Texas mixed in two or three screens to RB's and WR's which are effective when you mix them in sparingly. But the basic concept was as vanilla as it gets. The receivers try to find the holes in the zone and go there. Colt McCoy either throws it to the first guy, or if he is covered effectively, McCoy goes to his second read. If that's covered he pulls it down and gets what he can. But the first or second read are open 75% of the time because they know where to go and he knows where to look. And you mix in the run when you can, although Texas Tech was very good against the run the other night. All that said, Texas almost won the game playing their 4th or 5th best offensive game of the year and it was LIGHT years ahead of what Stiney and Tech have done in their best game in the past 4 YEARS!!!!!
And I thought "Wow this is a pretty good point to make on our blog." But that paled in comparison to what suddenly hit me at the end of that game, what put into sharp relief the biggest point that we at TSF have been making for years about the Hokies. It was a narrative about Texas Tech that came flying into my head like one of those dreams that causes you shoot up in bed in the middle of the night and go "ah-HAAAAAAAAA!!". Ok so maybe you don't have moments like that, or if you do, maybe you're just nuts like me. Either way, see if you see any parallels in the story I'm about to tell.
Texas Tech has been an offensive juggernaut for years. Going back to 2002 they have been in the top 10 in total offense 5 of 6 seasons. Head Coach Mike Leach is one of the great offensive minds in football. But the Red Raiders have bounced around between being ranked in the top 15 to top 20 and have never been able to break through to compete for a national title because their defense was always so awful. It was typically ranked 90th or worse. So guess what happened after several games into the 2007 season? Mike Leach had enough and he bagged his defensive coordinator. The new defensive coordinator took over and sure enough there were signs towards the end of last season that improvements were being made. Coach Leach took the "interim" tag off of his new DC and in 2008 the Red Raiders have a respectable (54th in the nation) defense. Suddenly they are 8-0 and ranked second in the BCS. They may not make it through the slate of games they still have left and play for the title this season, but at least they are a contender now that they have a decent defense to go along with their fantastic offense.
If it hasn't occurred to you yet, a) you need to read this blog more often and b) yes, this is the Bizarro world version of what's happening in Blacksburg! A dominant defense is left out of the party because the offense can't hold up its end, when all the defense needs the offense to do is be Top 50 and suddenly the team could compete with anybody. When you are 113th in offense out of 120 teams, what risk is there in making a change. Are we really concerned about dropping down those last 7 spots?! Anyway, Texas Tech has blazed the trail and we thank them for helping us make our point.
Now, taking all of that into account, Thursday’s game against Maryland comes down to 3 key factors:
1) Injuries- The Hokies have a ton, including their top two QB’s, Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor. Who takes the most snaps? How effective can either guy be with a hurt ankle? Can Cory Holt play as well as he did against Florida State if neither of the first two guys can go? And on the Maryland side, their all-universe running back Da’Rell Scott and their second leading tackler, linebacker Dave Philistin are both questionable for the game. Whether those guys can play at a high level or not will have a HUGE impact on the outcome of the game. 2) Can the Hokies finally show some semblance of an offense? Yes Cory Holt is taking the snaps, but hey, he is tied for the team lead in touchdown passes, so he has as good a chance of winning the game as a hurt Taylor or a hurt Glennon. What I want to see is if the team can just execute a basic offense. I’d like to see a nice mix of run and pass and the receivers properly reading the defense so that they know where to take their route. I’d like to see the tight ends VERY involved in the passing game and I want Darren Evans to average 5 yards/carry. I'd also like fries with that, a winning lottery ticket and a front row seat at the Victoria Secret Fashion Show. So to bring things back down to earth, if the offense can score 20 points on its own, the Hokies can win the game. 3) Which Maryland team shows up? If the Maryland team that played Middle Tennessee State shows up, the Hokies will win the game and potentially re-charge their season. But honestly, if the Maryland team shows up that whipped Cal and shut out Wake Forest, I just don’t think the Hokies have enough on offense to overcome a Maryland team playing like that, even if Tech plays better than it has all season. It almost seems to be too much to ask for the offense to begin performing now when the only consistent part of the offense has been Tyrod Taylor making magic out of broken plays.
In terms of motivation, neither team could ask for more. When the game is over, only one team will still control its destiny in ACC play. Perhaps we will all be shocked and the Hokie offense will rise to the occasion. Maybe they won’t and ACC dreams will have to wait until next year. But for certain, at 7:45 PM Thursday night, in a game being shown on ESPN, Lane Stadium is going to be rocking and SUPERFANS EVERYWHERE WILL BE GOING BALLISTIC!!!!!