Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tech Loss to Pirates Not Surprising

Charlotte, NC – If you followed any of last evening’s coverage of the day in college football, the story that the national media played most was that of the surprise 27-22 loss suffered by the Hokies to the East Carolina Pirates. However, those close to the HokieNation should not be surprised. In fact, at least two out of us here at TSF, in fact, predicted a loss to the Pirates.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will lay it out there: this will not, repeat NOT, be a good year for Virginia Tech football. I, however, would like to clarify the definition of "good year". The Hokies have been blessed over the past fifteen years. The Hokies have been to fifteen straight bowl games -- Fifteen! Who can tell me what the Hokies record were in 1992?? Anyone? Anyone?

2-8-1. That's right. Not 11-1; not 12-1; not even 9-3 (the following year). Now can anyone tell me how many ten win seasons the Hokies have had since 1992? Anyone? Anyone?

Seven. Correct again! Seven of the last nine seasons, the Hokies have had at least ten wins, including all of the last four.

So taking these two stats into consideration, what would be a "good year"? Nine wins? The ACC Coastal Division? An ACC Championship? Eight wins? Seven? A bowl game? A winning season? It's all relative, really. The Hokies have become a perennial powerhouse that is expected to win the ACC. The Hokies are expected to win double digit games. The Hokies are expected to dominate. They're expected to do all these things, that, when faced with a rebuilding year – which this is – the Hokies may and will disappoint all those that are doing the expecting. Let's call these folks the "Expectors."

Yesterday afternoon’s game, my friends, will be just one of a series of disappointments for those Expectors of any of some of the bigger results listed above. However, there is some light to what happened yesterday afternoon. Let's break down some of the things that went wrong yesterday. After the recap I have listed some of reasons, maybe not all inclusive, from least troublesome and most remediable to most troublesome and most chronic. Many can be addressed and in all likelihood will be. But do not be fooled. The Hokies will continue to lose games this year as they try to build experience and the ebbs and flows of working a young team into a powerhouse again. Some of the Expectors will cry for some immediate changes to save this season. However, these Expectors are being short sighted and in the long run this season’s pains will bear fruit for seasons to come.

The Recap
The Hokies opening drive started beautifully. First, they had an excellent kickoff return by Kenny Lewis Jr. The drive began with three excellent runs but Sean Glennon's first pass of the game was intercepted as he threw the ball over the head of Greg Boone. The interception was one of Glennon's few mistakes during the game, but it puts the question into the Expectors’ heads of whether the Hokies should lift the redshirt off of Tyrod Taylor's shoulders. I shout at you Expectors, “NO! NO!” If Glennon should struggle this year, so be it. Should he get injured, put in Cory Holt. DO NOT lift the redshirt on Taylor.

Glennon came back on the very next drive with a solid pass to Danny Coale, his first reception of his career, a solid pass to Ike Whitaker, and another to Coale. The third pass to Coale was under pressure as he dodged a would-be tackler and accurately hit Coale on the numbers. He then hit Xavier Boyes (Fr) for his first career reception (see a pattern?). He went 4-4 on that drive. It could have resulted in three points had the coaches not decided to go for it on fourth down.

On the next drive, Glennon had a pass to a somewhat open Ike Whitaker. It went through the hands of a defender but Whitaker had a chance to catch it and had he, it would have been for six points.

The Hokies would eventually strike first on defense after the Pirates fumbled a lateral pass which was run in by Stephan Virgil.

The ensuing kickoff was an unplanned squib kick that caught the Pirates off guard and led to a Hokie recovery.

Glennon hit his first two passes to TE Andre Smith. That puts Glennon at 6-8 with one that should have been caught! The Hokies then put themselves up 14-0 on the ground by Lewis.

The Pirates easily drive down field to the Hokies 22 but the drive stalled there only to miss the field goal attempt. This could easily have been a dagger into the wounded Pirates.

However, Glennon made his second mistake of the game. The Pirates intercepted and ran it to the 1-yard line. The Hokies held strong for two downs but the Pirates punched it in to bring the score 14-7 with the point after.

Glennon hit his next two passes during the last drive of the second quarter. With less than a minute to go, Glennon was not able to find any of his receivers and ran smartly to the sideline. That brought up 2nd and 9 with :08 left out of Dustin Keys range. A bad snap would cause Glennon to fumble. It was recovered by Tech and the clock ran out.

The opening kickoff of the second half was returned to the 39-yard line by ECU after a very short kick by Freshman Tim Pisano to the 20-yard line. Pisano’s kicking was a little suspect all game, though one of those kicks worked in Tech’s favor.

The Pirates were once again able to move the ball well on the ground using Patrick Pinkney, on the scramble, as well as Brandon Simmons and Jonathon Williams. That set up the pass and two passes later they were once again in the end zone and the Pirates were in a position to tie the game with a point after attempt. Beamerball was able to come up once again with a block of the kick by John Graves which was run back by Virgil. This prevented a tie, and gave the Hokies a 16-13 lead.

The Hokies drove well from here with a good balance of rushes and passes. Glennon went 3-3 on this drive. It would stall, and Dustin Keys came in to attempt a 44-yard field goal. This is difficult for anyone, let alone a freshman kicker. Nonetheless, Keys had the distance on his kick but it hit the right upright and failed to go in.

On the next drive Virgil was shaken up. The Pirates would once again march down the field. The Hokie defense looked very tired and there were a lot of “hands on hips”. However, the Hokies were able to bring up 4th down and four. The Pirates with a decision of a long field goal, a short punt, or going for it the Pirates, decided to go for it and were stuffed. The Hokies would get the ball on downs.

On the very next play, Glennon hit Dyrell Roberts for his first career reception. It was for 62 yards! Darren Evans finished the job and the Hokies increased their lead. Keys missed the extra point and that would make the score 22-13.

The Hokies pounded the ball with 10:18 to go but would only take off a little more than two and a half minutes off the clock. There was an incredibly stupid call to throw on second and six with eight minutes to go! Can we please get rid of the idiot that called that one?!? Now they had to throw on third down and it was incomplete again.

The Pirates would take advantage and marched down the field again against a very tired Hokie defense. The Pirates scored bringing them to within two points.
Now comes perhaps the worst part of the entire game. Virginia Tech takes the kickoff to the 25-yard line. On the next play the Hokies would move to the 40 after a 15-yard face mask penalty on ECU. There’s 3:21 on the clock. Tech lets the clock run down and calls a time out??? Why not run a play? The game is too close to be wasting timeouts. Run a run play. You’ve been running well and you could get maybe three yards and keeps the clock rolling. Two plays later, the Hokies throw a screen play that loses nine yards. Two plays after that, the Hokies had the punt blocked and ECU ran it in for six. With the extra point the Pirates go up 27-22.

Glennon would not be able to move the ball and the Hokies would go four and out. The Pirates would be able to run out the clock and the score would end-up 27-22.

Why The Hokies Lost
As I said earlier, here is a list of some of the reasons, maybe not all inclusive, from least troublesome and most remediable to most troublesome and most chronic.

10) The heat
Yesterday's game was played in 90+ heat with high humidity. Weather like that has not been seen in Blacksburg this late summer during fall practice. Blacksburg and much of the Mid-Atlantic has been blessed with very mild weather and the sudden turn to heat may have affected the Hokies. The Pirates coming out of Greenville, may have had weather like that of yesterday and been better prepared for it.

9) Macho Harris
Macho is the leader of the defense. After considering an early exit to the NFL, Harris came back to lead the defense this year, to return punts and kickoffs, as well as to potentially help out on offense as a receiver. An all-around star, Harris hurt his foot in the last scrimmage of fall practice and did not play yesterday. This definitely changed the entire dynamic of the defense. Specifically, his leadership was probably the most missed aspect of his absence.

8) Nerves
Nerves on defense could have been quelled with the presence of Harris. Nerves on offense may have been a factor from the inexperienced receiving corp. Nerves are something that can be remedied over time with experience.

7 (tie) Inexperience D
ECU was able to move the ball relatively easily on the ground. Between their very elusive scrambling quarterback Pinkney and the tandem of Simmons and Williams, ECU racked up 158 rushing yards. Pinkney was able to move the ball well through the air mostly on short routes. The defense had too many missed tackles.

7 (tie) Inexperience Receivers and Backs
The Hokies are rotating two backs and three receivers who have never played a single snap. Lewis is the only experienced tailback and Whitaker the only experienced receiver (if three receptions can be called experienced!). Greg Boone at tight end would have been expected to be the primary target for Glennon, but he only had one reception for nine yards.

6) Sean Glennon
Breaking down each drive we see that Glennon really only made two mistakes. Some may say that some of his failings were not what mistakes he didn’t make, but what dazzling plays that Taylor could have made in his place. While true, this is not the year for attempting grandeur. Use a rebuilding year for what it is: rebuilding.


1. Interception #1 – This was the first pass of the game. It was unfortunate, but just one mistake.
2. He would redeem himself by going 4 for 4 for 24 yards. The drive stalled and someone made the call to go for it (see 3,2, and 1 below)
3. Even though he was sacked he came right back to thread the needle to Ike Whitaker who should have caught the ball. It would have easily gone for six.
4. After a kickoff recovery by the kicking team, Glennon led the team by completing 2-2 for 21 yards. At this point he is 6-8 for 45 yards.
5. On the next drive he would make his biggest mistake:
a. First down: Started with an incomplete pass that should have been caught by Xavier Boyce
b. Second down: He would be sacked as the Pirates sent six defenders on a blitz.
c. Third down: Inteception #2 – His second mistake BUT see 5 below. He had a very poor snap and could not see the defender. Granted he had time to make a better decision.
6. Again he would redeem himself on the next drive:
a. 2-2 for 21 yards (8-12, 66 yards)
b. Good rushing decisions when no receivers to be found. He was able to get out of bounds with the clock winding down in the first half.
c. Bad snap (again) led to a fumble that was recovered. It ended the half because the Hokies had no more timeouts.
7. 3-3 for 22 yards! (11-15, 88 yards) But the drive didn’t get it to the end zone and would end up with a missed field goal.
8. 1-1 for 62 yards. (12-16, 150 yards) A beautiful strike to Dyrell Roberts.
9. 1-3 for 4 yards. At this point he has been 13-19, 154 yards.
10. The last two drives I won’t even put in here. The first of which, he should not of been passing. The second he had no choice and could not find a receiver to throw to.

Bottomline, if anyone says Sean Glennon lost this game, I will slap them silly!

5) Snaps???
All game the balls were being snapped low, high, and all sorts of other problems. The center-quarterback exchange needs and will be worked on I’m sure.

4) Kicking/Special teams
Freshman Tim Pisano had a few "interesting" kickoffs. The first was a squib kick that worked out for the Hokies. The second also worked out but was a slow dribbler that went to two-yard line as Jerek Hewett could not handle the bounce.

To open the second half Pisano barely made the 20-yard line with his kick giving the Pirates excellent field position on their 39-yard line.

Last but not least, 3, 2, and 1) Bryan F*&#ing Stinespring
Below is the three drives that killed us. Call them MadJay’s Three Key Plays, but I won’t steal his copyright.

3) Going for it on fourth down with 5:00 left to go in the first quarter, with the score 0-0. What are you thinking! Who is the moron who came up with that idea? Oh wait, Bryan F*&#ing Stinespring. Let's go into the red zone twice and come away with zero points. Yeah, that's a good idea. A good offensive coordinator would realize that 3-0 is much better than 0-0, especially when the heat and other factors are not on your side.

2) You’re winning the game. The score is close, but the clock is on your side. Why would you pass on 2nd and six with 8 minutes left on the clock? It would be incomplete and the clock would stop. Who would call a passing play when the rush was getting consistently two to four yards on the ground? Bryan F*&#ing Stinespring, that’s who. It forced another passing situation at 3rd and six. It would be incomplete again and the clock would stop at a little under 8 minutes.

1) Tech's second to last possession. How many things can we point out?

1a) Letting the clock run down and taking a timeout with 2:56 instead of running a play??? Timeouts with the score so close are invaluable. Why would you burn a timeout instead of running a run play and hoping the clock would run? Why? Because you’re Bryan F*&#ing Stinespring!

1b) Lets set this one up: Two minutes to go and you’re down by two. Your opponent has the ball. It’s second and nine on the 40. You have three timeouts left but the clock is running. You’re opponent set up with one man in the back field. Who do you spot?? Who do you mark like he’s Jesus’s second coming? The back!!!!! What does your opponent do? Sets up a screen play TO THAT BACK TEN YARDS BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE!!!!!! Who would do such a thing? Who would be that dumb? Who would basically hand the Pirates more momentum then they could possibly know what to do with?? Hmmm, would it be Bryan F*&#ing Stinespring!?!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Game Preview - vs. ECU

On August 30, 2008, the ECU Pirates square off against the Hokies in the same match-up that kicked off both teams' respective seasons last year. Virginia Tech handed the Pirates a 17-7 loss, and they are back this year to give the Hokies a better game.

Throughout the Hokies' pre-season the coaching staff has looked for a clear distinction between the success of Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon, the two candidates for the starting quarterback job. As recently as to date, nobody from the Hokie staff has indicated one to have the starting job over the other. They have kept the competition in the picture to motivate the two. Last season, after Taylor returned from a high ankle sprain, head coach Frank Beamer kept his cards close to the vest about who would play in which situations. For the most part, coaches and fans alike prefer to have a designated starting quarterback, but signs (until most recently with the redshirting of Taylor) have shown that we could see a similar approach to the QB spot again this season. Taylor was un-redshirted last season, and while the initial decision to do so in the begging of this season is also a good idea, I'm sure the coaching staff won't rule out un-redshirting him again if it mean competing for another ACC Championship. With a healthier offensive line and more experience, Glennon's opening day play should show improvement from last year's.

Moving on to the Hokies' opponents, the Pirates are hungry to improve their football program in performance, recognition, and stature. They have loaded their out of conference schedule this season with West Virginia, Virginia, NC State, and of course Virginia Tech. They are seeking to improve their program in a comparable way to the Hokies in late 80's and early 90's. And with Virginia Tech's loss of returning starters and some inexperience on both sides of the ball, ECU can smell blood in the water. The iron is hot for the Pirates to strike against an ACC championship winning school. If their coaching staff has studied the history of Virginia Tech football, they've determined most probably what they should: Virginia Tech has a track record of winning when they're not supposed to win and loosing when they aren't supposed to loose. Saturday's contest has all the elements for the latter to happen.

So what do the Hokies face on Saturday? On offense, the Pirates have two seniors and two juniors returning from last years team. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney threw for a 61% completion rate and a total of 1358 yards. 400 of those passing yards came in a single game against North Carolina last season leading the Pirates to at 34-31 win. He has demonstrated the poise and experience of a quarterback over the past season, and has an attitude of enthusiasm that he brings to the field. The ECU coaching staff thinks it's only a matter of time before his talent caches up with that attitude. In the running back position, ECU will have to turn to Brandon Simmons as the primary ball carrier after a knee injury sustained by Dominique Linday, the running back groomed to succeed Chris Johnson, who ran for 1423 yards last season. So the running game could be a weakness in the Pirate offense that the Hokies could exploit. Looking towards the ECU receiving, Jamar Bryant received for 704 yards last season and caught six touchdowns. Tight end Davon Drew caught for 579 yards last season with only two touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, ECU allowed a total of 3487 passing yards and 436 rushing yards. In spite of these numbers, holding Virginia Tech to only 17 points last year demonstrated how the ECU defense is capable of containing the Hokie offense, especially in light of the Hokie '07 season receiver core graduating.

The bottom line is that the Hokies have a tough opponent in front of them in Saturday's contest. ECU has their mouths watering for a victory against a high profile team like Virginia Tech, so the Hokies better have a new attitude after their Orange Bowl loss to Kansas, or they'll be dropping as the favorites to a team they have the favorability to beat.

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. ECU Pirates
Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008
Kickoff: 12 PM
Bank of America Stadium
Charlotte, N.C.

Let's go Hokies!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

VT Coaches Decide on QB Situation

I have never been so happy to be wrong. Coach Beamer made a STRONG decision in redshirting Tyrod Taylor and naming Glennon the starter for the 2008-09 season. As noted previously, the QB carousel is a disaster over the course of a season. This is a better decision for the long term success of the Virginia Tech program and for Taylor personally. If the coaches weren't going to start him, then redshirting him is the right move.

TSF is also happy for Glennon. Hell if the coaches can prove us wrong and show they have the guts to make a good decision and redshirt Taylor, maybe Glennon will prove us wrong about his ability this season....................................well ok, maybe not, but still, this is a good move for the team, for Taylor and for Glennon. Now we've heard rumblings that when the players heard the news on Sunday, some were stunned and a few were disappointed, but publicly the team will rally behind Glennon, especially if he doesn't lose games for the team (a la 2007 Chik-Fil-A Bowl). If the only downside is that we, as fans, have to grit our teeth more this season then so be it. Watching Hokie football games takes years off my life anyway.

Last but not least, I had to watch Glennon make the following quote about 15 times because I couldn't believe he said it with a straight face. He was asked if the young WR corps would be ready come game day on Saturday. Here is what he said -

"A lot of guys are great practice players, then when they get on the main stage, not so good. But to be honest, there’s just as many that in practice aren’t anything special, then all the sudden when the lights are on, the game’s on the line, they rise to the occasion. So it’ll be kind of wait and see, but I just have to have faith they’re going to get the job done.”

I can barely keep my head above water. I'm drowning in the irony of Glennon making that statement about someone else.

Monday, August 25, 2008

TSF Preseason Team Breakdown - 2008-09 Hokies

Well the critical scrimmages are complete, and the battles, while far from over, are settled for at least a week as the ECU game depth chart has been set. The final week of pre-season practice will be spent preparing the two-deep for the season opening battle with ECU. With that in place it's time for us to take a look at each position and see where this version of the Hokies is strong and where they are not. 

Keep in mind that, in a sign of how far VT football has come - despite losing 8 players to the NFL - there is still talent at every position. Unfortunately there is a major lack of experience in some areas. Looking back at Kam Chancellor and Cam Martin, at the beginning of the '07 season, those two were just awful, not due to a lack of talent, but a lack of experience as starters. Now look at them - they are leaders on this defense and Chancellor is probably the best safety in the ACC. So recognize that this team will be getting better as the season progresses and the talented first time starters get game experience. Well without further ado here we go:

Special Teams:

Kicker - Dustin Keys beats out Justin Myers who made a STRONG push the last week for the job. Keys missing two FG's in the scrimmage didn't help anything either plus Keys has been battling a hamstring. The Hokies are in the same spot they were last year with Jud Dunlevy (redshirt senior starting for the first time) and I think it's safe to say that Dunlevy more than lived up to expectations, so hopefully Keys can do the same. There is some consolation for Myers though as he will take the kickoff duties and keep in mind that Myers is just a freshman, so between him and current verbal commitment Cody Journell, the Hokies cupboard isn't bare at this position going forward.

Punter - Brent Bowden has a firmer grip on this spot than any other starter has on their position. Laugh if you want but he could be the MVP of the ECU game while the rest of the offensive talent begins learning to play football together.  Bowden has had an insane pre-season and thankfully he's just a redshirt junior so he can punt again for the Hokies next year. He has a chance to be a Ray Guy finalist this season, that's how good he looks. Brian Saunders backs him up but Saunders is basically the scout team QB who can kick the ball more than 40 yards so he gets the position by default. If the offensive struggles of the past few seasons continue this year then a) the Hokies should demote Bryan Stinespring and b) Brent Bowden becomes a very important player for the team.


CB - Macho Harris moves over to boundary corner from field corner where he gets a chance to play more physically and improve his stock for the NFL draft. I love Macho, but he's so valuable to this defense that I am a bit wary of all this kick returner/punt returner/part-time receiver talk, especially as his run support duties increase in the boundary corner position. Macho needs to stay healthy and fresh. Hopefully we're just talking about a WR screen and a WR slant and a decoy play or two and that's it for his duties on offense. Backing up Macho is Rock Carmichael who, to be perfectly honest, just hasn't been that impressive this summer. Field corner is Stephan Virgil who's held off the more physically talented Cris Hill as Hill can't quite put the whole package together right now. Virgil is always in the right place at the right time and earned the spot. Hill has blazing speed and will make for a great field corner in the future.

But the real shocker of the summer at corner has been the play of true freshman Eddie Whitley. This kid has been a monster, doing his best Brandon Flowers impression from the time he set foot on campus and hitting any and everybody. I foresee him being the boundary corner when Macho leaves as he just appears to be born for that position. His open field tackle of Greg Boone out in the flat during the final scrimmage was one of several phenomenal plays he's made this preseason. 

Rover - In probably the best contest on the defensive side of the ball, Davon Morgan barely beat out Dorian Porch for the starting spot. Porch is actually one of the most complete athletes on the entire team, he just found himself out of position a few too many times for Coach Cav's liking. Meanwhile Morgan continues to show that he's simply a football player and the game just seems to come to him. This is a strong and deep position that gives the Hokies the luxury to throw a redshirt on Jeron Gouviea-Winslow who has been another pleasant surprise this camp. Jeron GW is one of those players who doesn't necessarily pass the "eye" test but when you toss the stopwatch away and put the pads on he just seems to make play after play even against 1st team offense. With a redshirt year to get Gentrified, Jeron will have his chance to make a mark in two years.

Free Safety - Kam Chancellor. If you have even remotely followed Hokie football the past 3 seasons, that's all you need to know about the starting position. Now regarding the backups things get a little more dicey. Walk-on Ron Cooper played himself into the two-deep and then blew out his knee costing his season. Fortunately Dorian Porch is flexible enough to fill in some at free safety to provide a little depth. Easing the burden somewhat has been the play of yet another true freshman ('08 was just a sick recruiting class) Lorenzo Williams. Williams wearing Coach Gray's former number (14), has shown the potential to follow his coach's path to the NFL. Williams is blazing fast (he ran down Ryan Williams - no relation - on a big run in the scrimmage) and he brings the bricks when he hits. He's listed as the number two safety but here's how I think it will play out - if it's cleanup duty Dorian Porch probably gets the snaps, to protect Williams' redshirt. If something happens to Chancellor injury-wise it will probably be Williams who plays the spot. 

Linebacker - Another amazing battle occurred this summer in the two-deep at the backup Mike and Backer positions. Mike LB is the middle linebacker position and Brett Warren, who filled in VERY capably for Vince Hall last season has that under control. Backing him up is one of my favorite players - Barquell Rivers - a tackling machine/Vince Hall look-alike who's just a redshirt freshman this season. Rivers held off two amazing incoming freshmen (Jake Johnson and Allen Stephens) to keep the backup position which should tell you something about his level of play. 

Meanwhile, Backer is the strongside position vacated by Xavier Adibi and currently owned by Purnell Sturdivant who, by all accounts, has played like a man possessed this pre-season. He's not as fast as Adibi but he hits harder. The backup spot was a FIERCE battle between Jonas Houseright, Hunter Ovens, Bruce Taylor, Quillie Odom and Lyndell Gibson. Taylor is the most physical of that group but the coaches rightly decided at the end of the summer to move him to defensive end as a more natural fit where he can also get a redshirt. Lyndell Gibson played hard but was mentally overwhelmed. So it came down to Houseright, Ovens and Odom and it went down to the final scrimmage. Houseright is the least physically talented of the group but he also is a redshirt senior who just seemed to never blow an assignment when he was on the field. Foster trusts him and named him the backup - for now. Ovens should have had the spot but missed several tackles and was out of position a few times in the final scrimmage and got bumped behind both Houseright and Quillie Odom who made a pick in the final scrimmage (on an INSANELY ill-advised pass by Tyrod Taylor). Look for Odom or Ovens to possibly move up during the course of the season. 

Whip is likely the deepest position on the team with Cam Martin being a potential all-ACC linebacker and Cody Grimm backing him up. Grimm has plenty of experience from last season and is another playmaker (son of former NFL lineman Russ Grimm). Alonzo Tweedy is a blinding fast kid who the coaches are torn on keeping a redshirt on or putting him on special teams. Tweedy and incoming freshman Austin Fulller both showed flashes at whip but neither is mentally ready for that position right now. 

Defensive Line - The first string defensive line is extremely solid - John Graves and Taco Thompson are tough in the middle and in Orion Martin and Jason Worilds at ends you have a team captain (Martin) and a contender for defensive player of the year in the ACC (Worilds). Unfortunately depth is a huge issue on the defensive line. Backing up Orion Martin is Nekos Brown who really showed up on film in the final scrimmage as a force off the edge and he has some game experience, so that side might be ok. But backing up Worilds is Steven Friday, a guy who Coach Wiles has labeled an underachiever since he got to Tech. Friday appears to have take a true step forward this summer but we'll see if Friday is for real on Saturday (I know, I know, I kill myself). 

At tackle, Demetrius Taylor is undersized as a backup - though the strongest man on the team - and he doesn't have meaningful game experience. The 4th tackle spot was another huge battle this summer between Justin Young, Kwamaine Battle and true freshman Antoine Hopkins. Coach Wiles threw everything at Hopkins to give him every chance to win the spot and while Hopkins was ready physically, mentally he needs more time. He just was out of position too often in the final scrimmage. Meanwhile the guy who no one gave a chance to win this 4th spot (including us here at TSF), Justin Young, ended up winning it. He needs to be much more physical at the point of attack in the run game but he does get after it on the pass rush. He's just a redshirt freshman so he should also progress as the season goes on, but so is Kwamaine Battle and I think the two of them will continue this fight throughout the season. 

I do want to take a minute and point out that the line is a real Achilles' Heel of the defense this year. Yes, the first string matches up with anyone but in today's college football, defensive line is a rotation game to keep everyone fresh. The backups at every position on the line must produce when they are in the game or else you have to play your first string too much and they get worn out by the end of the game. I think any losses the Hokies suffer this year will be losing late due to not enough production out of the defensive line. 


Offensive Line - The offensive line is 180 degrees from where they were last season at this time. It is cohesive, talented and has lost 100 pounds collectively making them much more active in the running game and quicker off the snap in pass protection. The 1st team offensive line just simply dominated the 2nd string defensive line anytime they were matched up this summer. Ed Wang moves to left tackle and while he won't be Duane Brown, he has a great first step. His backup is Greg Nosal, another former TE, who has shown flashes, but needs to improve his consistency. At left guard, Nick Marshman lost the most weight of the entire line and at 330 lbs he has a chance to truly be a top guard in the ACC. His backup, in a STUNNING move, is Hivera Green who beat out highly touted Will Alvarez. I have a feeling this is a message to Alvarez, who was supposed to be the next big thing at guard, telling him he better step up his learning of the offensive playbook.

The center position is a rock this year with Ryan Shuman at starter and Beau Warren backing him up. I thought Warren might win the starting position this summer, but Shuman played through pain in his knee and kept the spot. Either way both have shown up in big games before. Right guard is where the best player on the line sets up shop - Sergio Render. Render is nasty and tough and plays to the "echo of the whistle" as Bobby Bowden always said. Render's backup is Jaymes Brooks, an inconsistent but very talented young man who has made the two deep as a redshirt freshman. 

Finally right tackle is manned by Blake DeChristopher. DeChristopher has unlimited, NFL-type potential, but he is also a redshirt freshman and it's the little things that are getting him right now. His first step needs to be more decisive and he can be better with his hands. While he rebounded from his awful 2nd scrimmage to play very well in the final scrimmage, it's clear he still doesn't have all of the mental kinks worked out. Similar to Cam Martin and Kam Chancellor last year, DeChristopher will be much better by the end of the season. Backing up DeChristopher is Richard Graham who is Mr. Utility and can play 4 positions on the line. He plays extremely hard and he knows the offense, but he's just not at the physical talent level of the rest of the group.

Tight End - Quite simply the deepest, best position on the entire team. If the good Lord is listening to my prayers every night, he will guide Coach Stinespring to somehow utilize the weapons at tight end on offense this year. Greg Boone is a freak - 6'3", 280 lbs running a 4.65 40 yard dash?????? You have to get that man the ball. And backing him up are two phenomenal youngsters in Andre Smith and Chris Drager. TE is so good that last year's starter - Sam Wheeler - is 4th string (granted he's been hampered in recovery from his knee injury) and Andrew Lanier, an extremely promising incoming freshman, got moved to offensive tackle. In an offense devoid of experience at the WR and RB positions, having all of this talent at TE is a gift that the Hokies must make use of to have a successful season.

RB - Setting the three deep at RB has been the most competitive battle on the entire team and I'm willing to bet it continues to get tweaked over the course of the season. For the ECU game Kenny Lewis, Jr. gets the start and three weeks ago if someone had told me that I'd have grumbled "That damn Coach Hite, playing seniority again". But the way Lewis practiced and performed this summer I'd have a hard time arguing that choice right now. Lewis has been very fast, sound in his blocking and he hasn't put the ball on the ground - sounds like what you want in your starter. Of course, I've always been a firm believer in starting who the gamer is, regardless of who looks better in practice, and Lewis hasn't ever blown me away in games, but we'll see soon enough. Up until the final scrimmage Jahre Cheeseman was the backup, but Evans and Oglesby performed so well in their final scrimmage (and the mini-scrimmage last week) that they both elevated themselves to backup duty, moving Cheeseman to 4th string. Evans in particular made up a lot of ground by becoming a man who would not be denied with the ball in his hands. 

So where does all of this leave SuperFrosh Ryan Williams? Well it's obvious that he is scary with the ball. He is quick, elusive and has great vision and balance. He will be a star at Virginia Tech before it's all said and done. But right now he's still struggling a little with the offense when he doesn't have the ball. I'd be pleasantly surprised if he got a redshirt and burst onto the scene next season, but that's unlikely. The coaches will find a way to get him on the field returning kickoffs this year (he's on the travel squad for the ECU game even though he's listed as the 6th tailback along with Dustin Pickle) and probably in the slot or on some screen plays on offense later in the year.

FB - This was the battle of the Kennies although in reality the Hokies were going to win either way. Kenny Jefferson won the spot because even though Kenny Younger is a better runner. Jefferson is simply a beast in blocking. He also is very mentally sound and hits the right man every time. The FB doesn't get the ball in this offense so this decision makes sense to me. Devin Perez is a house but he's out for the first 4 weeks of the season with a foot injury. In goal line situations, he's like having another guard in there.

WR - Certainly the craziest position on the team during the preseason. Brandon Dillard was going to be a star this year and tore his Achilles. Zack Luckett had a chance to start and threw it away with his second DUI. All of a sudden three true freshmen are thrown into the mix along with a redshirt freshman and then Ike Whitaker - a former QB. Granted the physical skills are present in this group, but none of them has started a game as a WR. In this offense 4 WR's are going to get 99% of the work, but there are 6 players who will get snaps in the first few games of the season to finalize the depth chart going forward. The battle certainly isn't over at this point. 

Currently at split end Danny Coale is the starter and if you refer to our 2007 recruiting class review, we identified him as one of the three most underrated recruits in the class (the others being Quillie Odom and Kwamaine Battle). He plays smart and catches everything. Backing him up is Ike Whitaker so split end looks like the "possession receiver" spot of the offense where the two most consistent players are. Flanker, on the other hand is going to be the position where the Hokies stretch the defense, with Dyrell Roberts getting the nod over Xavier Boyce as the two freshmen battled all preseason. Two other players will be in the mix for the first few games as well - Jarrett Boykin and Ervin Garner. Boykin made a very strong push in the final scrimmage and Garner is a spark plug in the Eddie Royal mold. The plan is to throw these guys into the fire and see who can get it done, when the lights go on and its gametime instead of just the practice field. The top 4 will likely be finalized before the team heads to Nebraska.

QB - As I said the instant last season ended, even though I wish it wasn't the case, the Hokies will be going with both QB's this season. The coaches aren't going to say anything so as to avoid tipping their hand about the ECU game, but it's clear that Glennon will start and Taylor will come in for certain plays. If it were going to be about who gives the team the best chance to win, Taylor would be the starter. For any of you who disagree with this, let me refer back to the point I was making while discussing the WR's. It's all about who's a gamer not who looks good in practice. Glennon has ALWAYS shined in practice. He looks the part (and has admittedly improved some in games as well). Taylor has improved his practice performance this season to be sure, but when it counts, he is just amazing. His poise counts for little in practice but it means everything in a live game. Consider that he won all of his starts last season and led the Hokies on their only scoring drive against LSU IN DEATH VALLEY AT NIGHT in the very first game he ever played in. 

On the other hand if it were about looking past 2008 to the future, Taylor would be getting a redshirt to preserve his eligibility into 2010. At this point it looks like it will be neither as the coaches try and balance a lot of peripheral factors. For example, not redshirting Taylor greatly helps the Hokies in their recruiting of Kevin Newsome (the SuperPrep QB at Hargrave who just recently re-opened his recruitment, backing out of a verbal with Michigan). And sitting Glennon might cause a split in the locker room, though I think the vast majority of the players think Taylor is a better QB, I'm sure there is a small faction that could be divided on this issue. Still, I disagree with the coaches' move to play QB carousel, and even though I understand some of these real-world factors outlined above, it's Beamer's call ultimately and he should either start Taylor or redshirt him. 

So to summarize, the Hokies starting back seven on defense are up among the elite in the country. The starting defensive line is certainly Top 5 in the ACC. The depth in the secondary is good, the depth at linebacker is ubertalented but with zero experience and the backup defensive tackles have me curled up in the corner holding my blankie hoping they are going to be ok. Runs up the middle could potentially be a problem for the Hokie defense. On offense, the starting offensive line is fantastic and there is some inexperienced talent in backup roles. The TE's are tremendous. WR has the potential to be special but is currently a gaping hole in the offense and RB, despite losing Ore will be better off as a whole than it was last season. And QB is a potential strength but also a potential weakness. I like the make-up of this year's team, but their success will depend on three things - 

1) Can the defense can shore up the middle?

2) Can the young WR's step up and play beyond their years?

3) Can Stinespring manage this offense, including shuffling QB's and improve on a ranking of 100th?

We begin answering those questions on Saturday. TSF will be there and we hope you will too!

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

2008-09 Hokies Football - Here We Go!

TSF welcomes you back to Hokies football fpr the 2008-09 season!!! We will be providing a season preview/positional breakdown as the roster clears up closer to the end of spring practice. Then we will break down the ECU game that kicks off the season. But first, let's get into a topic that's near and dear to our hearts - the coaching staff, specifically the two coordinators.

Did you ever see the M. Night Shamylan movie Unbreakable? For context, Bruce Willis played the indestructible super hero and Samuel Jackson, as the villain, had a genetic disorder that resulted in broken bones, even if he just tripped and fell over. Keep those two characters in mind, I'll come back to that later. 

This year, in order for the Hokies to have success (defined as 10 or more wins), both Bud Foster and Bryan Stinespring are going to have to perform at a very high level. There is so much experience being replaced on both sides of the ball. The season will come down to the ability of Foster and Stinespring to identify talent, put together a gameplan to fit the talent and then motivate the players to play up to their potential and execute.

I think we can all rest easier at night when looking at the defensive side of the ball, because there has probably never been a better defensive coordinator than Bud Foster to coach in the game of college football.

Consider this - when Oklahoma led the nation in total defense in 85, 86 and 87 (the last team to do it and one of only two to ever do so) their offense was a dominant juggernaut and they were simply head and shoulders above every other team in the Big 8 except Nebraska. Recently over the past 4 years LSU has had the 3rd best total yardage defense in the country, and an offense that ranks 34th best in the country. Impressive numbers to be sure and it's no surprise that both the Sooners and the Tigers won national titles in those timeframes.

The Hokies for comparison purposes have had a 4th, 1st, 1st and 4th in total yardage defense in that same timeframe for an average finish of 2.5, just ahead of LSU. But unlike LSU and Oklahoma, the Hokie offense has averaged 80.5 out of 119 teams over the past 4 years. That sounds crazy. How can the defense be that good without help from the offense? Hmmm, well you know what they say about statistics, right? There's lies, damned lies and then there's statistics. You can make a number say anything. Tell you what - let's dig a little further.


What about scoring defense? LSU’s average scoring defense over the past 4 years is 17th. Okahoma in their defense dominant years of 85-87 had on average, the 2nd best scoring defense. Both Oklahoma in the mid 80’s and LSU recently almost always were playing with a lead and/or the opposing offense was deep in its own end following a kickoff. Teams had to drive the field an awful lot to score on LSU and mid-80’s Oklahoma which certainly helped their defensive numbers. Not to mention these dominant offenses were able to keep their defenses well-rested (especially in Oklahoma’s case). 

Meanwhile, the Hokies average finish in scoring defense the past 4 years is 2nd!! Their worst finish in that timeframe has been 3rd which was in 2007 and that included giving up 48 points to who? You guessed it – LSU. Ok so that is impressive and I think the numbers are starting to tell us something here. Let's keep digging.

A-ha! I think I've found something. I'd like to compare total offense ranks to scoring offense ranks. After all, the scoring offense and total offense should be close to each other in the rankings. So let's look at LSU and mid-80's Oklahoma.

2004-2008 LSU Total Offense - 26th, 11th, 60th, 38th

2004-2008 LSU Scoring Offense - 11th, 9th, 42nd, 41st

1985-1987 Oklahoma Total Offense - 10th, 2nd, 1st

1985-1987 Oklahoma Scoring Offense - 11th, 1st ,1st

As you can see, those numbers show a close correlation between total offense ranking and scoring offense.

Now look at the Hokies from 2004-2008 (I know it's painful but grit your teeth)

Total Offense - 100th, 99th, 57th, 66th

Scoring Offense - 53rd, 49th, 17th, 24th

I think what really elevates Foster to demigod status is looking at this difference between the Hokie total offense and scoring offense. The scoring offense on average ranks 35 PLACES HIGHER than the total offense!!! The defense scores (and so does the special teams) but the hidden reason why there is a huge discrepancy in total offense and scoring offense is how often the defense gives the offense a short field. Turnovers or big returns that don't lead to scores but still give the offense great field position to score from. Now I'm completely convinced that there is one reason, and one reason only, that Virginia Tech has been competing nationally over the past 4 years - Coach Bud Foster.  Remember these years fellow Hokie fans, I think we are witnessing once-in-a-lifetime greatness by a defensive coach. The Hokie defense will probably be alright in 2008 despite the huge loss of NFL talent because Foster is the defensive coordinator. He's like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable.

Dare we even discuss the offensive side of the ball? You've already seen the disastrous rankings on total offense and scoring offense. I mentioned the importance of keeping the defense well-rested. In reviewing how the Hokies fared in Time of Possession over the past 4 years, the answer is 66th, 83rd, 7th, 49th. 

Other than 2005 (is it a coincidence that the Hokies had their best record in 2005? Hmmmmm) the offense did nothing to help keep the defense rested. In fact, when you put all of the information together in one place like I've done, imagine if you were an employer paying an employee over $250,000/year and you were seeing results like what I've outlined above. Wouldn't you make a DAMN CHANGE?!?!?!?! Wouldn't any sane person???

Ok, so it's insane that Stinespring is the coordinator, but guess what - that's the deal for 2008. And frankly in 2008, he can repair an amazing amount of damage due to the size of the coaching task in front of him. This offense is going to require a great deal of misdirection and utilizing the tight end weapons the Hokies have. Yards will be at a premium so there needs to be excellent downfield blocking to spring tailbacks for big gains when they make it through the line. Speaking of the line, it looks like it will be ok, for a change. But balancing all the complexity needed is the need for simplicity early on in the season due to the inexperience at RB and WR and the QB carousel that is bound to occur in the backfield. 

Now I have said on several occassions that I could have done a better job as offensive coordinator than Stinespring and I've meant it. Just look at the WR talent (looks like three of the four Hokie WR's from last year's team are going to be playing on NFL rosters and two of them appear to be headed for starting jobs). I honestly could have produced better results than Stinespring; however, the task on offense this year is a bear and I'll freely admit it would be more than I could do. So if Stinespring surprises, (don't hold your breath), I will gladly give him a great deal of credit. But before we start singing Kum-Ba-Yah and lighting some incense let's do a quick recap.

Bud Foster has had the best yardage defense two consecutive years (’05 and ’06) and a top 4 total defense in 4 consecutive years. And the Hokies have an average finish of 2nd in scoring defense in that same timeframe.  HIS DEFENSE HAS CARRIED THE 80th BEST OFFENSE IN THE COUNTRY WITH THE 52nd BEST TIME OF POSSESSION OVER 4 STRAIGHT YEARS. What he and those players have done is essentially impossible. They play the game with one-hand tied behind their back by an offense that is completely inept and yet, somehow the defense isn't just competitive, it's dominant. Foster and Stinespring are the two opposite ends of the spectrum, just as Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson were in the movie Unbreakable. If the offensive performance matched the defense or was even within shouting distance of it, the trophy case in the Hall of Legends would have a diamond football in it already. That being said, 2008-09 is Stinespring's chance to prove that he has made a quantum leap and is ready to lead the offense of a top-flight football program. Here's to hope {raises glass} and to the 2008-2009 Virginia Tech Hokies!