Needless to say, the Hokies 14-3 win against Duke was a microcosm of the season only worse. The one good offensive weapon (Tyrod Taylor) the Hokies had played poorly and was pulled from the game.
The good news is that the Hokies WR's got their first TD reception on the final drive of the 1st half when QB Sean Glennon hit Jarrett Boykin for the score. Boykin seems to be the only guy able to make plays at the WR position right now. Danny Coale is dependable and Dyrell Roberts has more explosiveness but he can't hang on to the ball. Boykin is making catches and playing very hard, but he's rarely open. And that goes to what I'd like to talk about with the offense.
Not only did the offense not build any momentum after their one scoring drive to end the first half, but in the 2nd half they were worse than the first. Now you may be thinking "Mad Jay, how can you be worse than 5 turnovers?. Well the turnovers were bad, don't get me wrong, but in the 2nd half the Hokies had no turnovers, and STILL managed to not get within FG range with a grand total of 109 yards for the half. AGAINST DUKE!!! Here's why
It comes down to something that LB Purnell Sturdivant admitted in an interview with Aaron McFarling early last week. The defenses know what's coming. Now I don't like a player speaking out like that to the media - that stuff should stay in the locker room - but P-Stump as the players call him, is right. While Coach Bryan Stinespring's offensive playcalling is not very good and the level of execution he gets out of his players is downright horrible, it is his gameplanning and play design that are his real downfall as a coordinator. All you have to do is watch the game film (actually my Calm and Beloved Reader, all you have to do is read TSF, since we watch the game footage several times for you).
The bottom line is that it's very hard to run when the defense knows right where you are running. There was clear evidence of this all season, and it happened again on Saturday as Duke's LB's were moving themselves and shifting the defensive line before the snap to the spot where the run was supposed to go. Yes, Darren Evans got 100+ yards, but he is a good running back and the offensive line was able to get by on simply being bigger and stronger than Duke (minus defensive lineman Vince Oghobaase who is a future NFL'er). The Duke players certainly knew where the runs were going.
Now pass defense is a little more complicated but not much. Basically what teams do is jump the Hokies first read and check down routes. The first read is just what it sounds like - where the QB looks to throw the ball first in his progression. If that's covered he usually looks to a 2nd read (in the NFL there's often a 3rd read as well) and if that's not open either, he goes to a safe route called a check down. This is usually a tight end in the middle of the field or a running back out in the flat.
Based on the Hokies' formation, and game film, Duke (and most other teams this year as well) usually knows exactly who the QB's first read is and where the check down will be. They try to double cover the first read and then send a safety or LB to run with either the RB in the flat or the TE over the middle to either force an incompletion or a short gain. The way to beat this of course is to get to your 2nd read since that player will typically be in man-to-man coverage or be open in a zone. What happens is with Taylor in there, he's not always 100% on making his progression plus he has a tendency to want to run it anyway so he rarely gets to the 2nd read. With Glennon, teams rush more and worry less about contain, often eliminating the chance he has to get to his 2nd read (this happened some against Duke but it happened a lot against Miami, leading the coaches to give Taylor most of the snaps in that game). By the time Glennon would be ready to throw to his 2nd read he'd either be sacked or under heavy pressure, or the receiver wouldn't beat their man (this is Boykin's one problem area).
Now in the instances where the QB has time and finds his 2nd guy, the play can be very positive (like the TD at the end of the first half against Duke, where young Boykin did beat his man very nicely). And when Taylor gets better at reading defenses he will be a more effective weapon as well at fighting that. But that's where QB Coach Mike O'Cain has really failed this team in my view. He hasn't developed Taylor's ability to read defenses. And again, Stinespring hasn't done either QB any favors but failing to design pass plays that offer more flexibility in a formation so that teams don't always know where the pass is designed to go. Taylor's two interceptions against Duke were incredibly tightly covered (although Boykin made a much better effort on the pass thrown his way than Andre Smith did. Half of that interception on the pass intended to Smith falls on big ol' #88).
Earlier in the season, the receivers weren't reading defenses correctly, and that has certainly improved. The overall execution by the offensive line still leaves a lot to be desired, but they have shown against Maryland and Nebraska that they ARE capable of getting the job done. But until the offensive gameplan isn't easily deciphered by defenses, the offense is going to have a very tough task considering Duke was the weakest defense they will face the rest of the season.
The Hokie defense on the other hand, well what else can you say that hasn't been said? The offense committed 5 turnovers in the first half and the Hokie D held Duke to 3 points. Sheesh. In fact, the Hokie defense has taken the field following 15 turnovers by the offense this season and given up a grand total of 19 points. That is just amazing. The defense gets put in a bad spot by the Hokie offense, the other team has all the momentum and BAM the defense almost always shuts them down to keep the game from spiraling out of control. It makes Coach Foster's achievements this year that much more remarkable. Oh and by the way the Hokie defense scored a TD of their own against Duke and created 4 turnovers and limited the Blue Devils to 136 yards for the game. I know that Duke was missing it's starting QB and starting RB, but wow, that was an impressive defensive performance.
Ironically this win over Duke might have sealed the fate of both coordinators. Coach Foster showed yet again that his ability to coach a defense is unparalleled and Coach Stinespring showed that his inability to coach an offense is only matched by 6 other coordinators in college football - the 6 coordinators whose offenses have a worse average ranking since 2006 than Coach Stinespring.
Hopefully we will see the offense play at a level like they did against Nebraska and Maryland when the Cavaliers come to Blacksburg on Saturday. That being said, the defense will certainly need to be at their best, because a trip to Tampa hangs in the balance and if I'm the defense, I'm not counting on the offense for anything right now.