Monday, September 28, 2009

Game Review - VT vs. Miami

The year was 2003 and the "U" was coming to Blacksburg, VA. The 'Canes were ranked #2 and the Hokies at #10 weren't being given a chance by anyone. During the tailgate and walking to the stadium I kept telling my friend Recruitnik D that I really felt confident about the team's chances. He indicated I had had FAR too much to drink, and while that was true, I also felt confident because whenever Tech is an underdog at Lane Stadium, it seems to bring out something otherworldly in the squad and the fans. Sure enough, that night lives in Hokie lore as being a time when the team and the fans rose to the moment and the Hokies destroyed Miami 31-7. In fact, including that game in 2003, and heading into Saturday's game against Miami, the Hokies had only been home 'dogs 5 times in those 6 years and they had only lost once (to BC in 2007, also in the pouring rain).

But the fog of time sometimes hides the warts of glorious moments like that one back in 2003. The Hokie offense was terrible that night, generating only 219 yards of total offense - 44 measly yards passing - and really only won because of DeAngelo Hall, 3 Brock Berlin interceptions (whenever that young man closes his eyes I GUARANTEE you he still hears chants of "BERRR-lin, BERRR-lin".) and a dropped fake FG pass that would have been a sure Miami TD. It was the first time at TSF that we began to question the offensive coordinator, because unlike 2001 and 2002, in 2003 there was some full-blown NFL-caliber offensive talent at more than one or two positions.

Anyway, thanks to our trusty friends at CFB Stats since the 2003 game against Miami (and including that game), the Hokies have played a ranked opponent 23 times. They are 12-11 in those games and the offense has only averaged 281 yards/game against those opponents. That is horribly bad. What's even worse is that the offense only had more than 350 yards in six of those games and four of those came in the 2005 season. Basically, outside of 2005, in big games, the Hokie offense simply hasn't shown up and for the Hokies to be 12-11 against ranked opponents playing with so little help from one entire phase of their football team is a tribute to Bud Foster and the Hokie special teams. This was even addressed in Sean McDonough's comment at the end of the 3rd quarter in last week's game against Nebraska.

All of which brings us to Saturday. Again the "U" came to Blacksburg, and they were BACK, at least according to college football analysts on every network who were pining for the return of a "big name" to ACC football. Nobody was giving the Hokies a chance and once more they were the home underdogs. The crowd and the team were in a frenzy and then BAMMO, just like in 2003, the Hokies whipped Miami 31-7. But this time, and for the first time since Superfans can remember, the Virginia Tech offense played at the level of the defense and special teams and the true potential of this team was revealed to College Football Nation as they walloped Miami in all three phases of the game.

So how on earth did this happen? When dealing with a problem as deeply rooted as the Hokie offensive struggles have been, there has to be a "perfect storm" of circumstances to bring about change. I think the combination of the Nebraska game the week before and the rainy weather in Blacksburg for the Miami game helped create this "perfect storm".

The Nebraska game forced, for the first time I believe, a genuine acceptance of responsibility by Coach Stinespring. Prior to that game, unlike his counterpart Coach Foster, in the aftermath of losses, Coach Stinespring never seemed to accept responsibility for the poor play of the offense. It was always players needed to execute better, someone took a wrong step here, missed a block there, etc. But after the Nebraska game, where the Hokies escaped with a win and the only offense was on the final drive thanks to miraculous broken plays by Tyrod Taylor (which is so symbolic of this offense since the beginning of 2007), Stiney couldn't sleep. He went to work that Sunday at 5 am reviewing the film in-depth and seemed to grasp the role that he had played in the poor showing by the offense. During film review Monday morning, he showed the team several plays and pointed out who messed up and how it hurt the offense. But on some of the plays (handing the ball off to Dyrell Roberts immediately after his big kick return, or not running the ball on the 2nd drive of the 3rd quarter), he asked who was to blame and no player could come up with the answer. Then Stiney stood up in front of the team and took responsibility for those plays himself.

This wasn't some watershed moment where the whole offense then got in a circle and had a good group cry and sang Kum-Ba-yah. But what it did do was force Stinespring to learn what he expects his players to learn during film review every week - namely look critically at himself and understand how he was being an obstacle to the success of the offense. Once that step was accomplished, that knowledge could be applied to making improvements, which in this case, meant designing and calling plays suited to the strengths of his players that they could practice religiously the rest of the week.

The second factor was the rainy weather that was predicted all week. The rain would limit Stiney's desire to air the ball out at strange times in the game. He also knew that there would have to be a serious commitment to the run in order to keep the potent Miami offense off the field. This matched up very well with the abilities the offense has - extremely talented running backs, an aggressive and athletic offensive line and a dual threat quarterback - and more importantly than that it simplified things for every player, making it easier for them to focus on their assignment and properly executing it.

From the beginning of the game, this commitment to the run was evident and was proving effective which I was pleased about. But the moment where I knew something radical had happened up in the press box where the VT offensive coaching staff sits, came at the 4:54 mark in the 1st quarter. Ahead 7-0 facing 3rd and 8 from the Miami 48 yard line, the Hokies faced a certain blitz. This has been the blight of the offensive existence for all of Stinespring's tenure. He has never effectively handled a blitzing defense, even when everyone in the stadium, from the ticket-takers to the turkey-leg makers, knew it was coming. Sure enough, the blitz came AND STINESPRING HAD CALLED A ROLL-OUT FOR TAYLOR!!!!!!! I almost fell over as soon as I saw it and that was before Taylor stopped and threw a perfect strike back across the field to Jarrett Boykin for a 48 yard touchdown. Even if that catch would have just been for a first down, or even a drop, I would have been beyond excited to finally see a properly designed play that counters a blitz.

Then in the 2nd quarter, up against a 2nd and 15 from the Hokies own 28 yard line, a perfectly executed middle screen to Ryan Williams went for 17 yards and a first down and I knew, I KNEW, that a sea change had occurred. A paradigm shift. A moment of clarity. Something in Coach Stinespring was different. After all, he's never called a screen play at the right time, at least that I can remember. That play was part of an 84-yard drive that ended with a missed Matt Waldron FG, but it was the greatest drive, not only of this season, but since last year on the road against UNC. There were misdirection runs, there were up-the-gut runs, Blake DeChristopher was FLATTENING people, Tyrod Taylor made some plays with his feet, it was in a word - spellbinding. Another Achilles' Heel of Stiney's tenure has been a desire to give up on the run, even when it is working, to try and pull some long-developing pass play that usually leads to a sack or a turnover. The Orange Bowl loss against Kansas is the shining example of this. But in Saturday's game, the commitment to keep running the ball until the other team stopped it (which Miami was not able to do) was evident, and oh, so refreshing.

Sorry to spill so much ink on the offense, but please consider how radical a departure this game was. The Hokies had more than 350 yards of offense against a ranked opponent for the 2nd time in 3 1/2 years!!! Now, lest you think I've gone completely to the Dark Side of the Force, the inane attempts to throw deep balls to Dyrell Roberts instead of one of the receivers with better ball skills and under-utilizing TE Greg Boone are still special features of this offense that get me so riled up and pissed off that I can't digest my food. But this was a Neil Armstrong-sized leap for the offense, so I will try and be patient and hope that continued improvements can be made.

That said, we would be remiss to ignore any longer the other two phases of the game. First, how 'bout that DEFENSE?! Much has been made of the drop-off in defense this season, in particular against the run. There was never doubt as to who was going to accept the responsibility for that this week, and Coach Foster had his fellas revved up. By the time kickoff hit, those guys were ready to kick ass and chew bubble gum and they were all out of Big League Chew. Barquell Rivers and Cody Grimm deserve special mention for being playmakers extraordinaire. They were almost always in the right position and kept making play after play. The 'Canes mustered only 59 yards of rushing and 20 of those yards came in the 4th quarter when Miami was just trying to run the clock out and get the heck out of Blacksburg. Jacory Harris was sacked 3 times after having only been sacked once the previous two games, but even when he wasn't getting sacked, he was hit, hurried and hassled all day.

Really what impressed me more than anything about the defense, was the level of play regardless of personnel. Lyndell Gibson got 10-15 snaps at Backer because of how well he practiced this week and some self-admitted tackling mistakes from starter Jake Johnson. All Gibson did was get two tackles, make one huge hit and he almost had an interception. Kwamaine Battle and Demetrius Taylor were bigtime disruptors in relief of John Graves who sat with an ankle injury. In fact Battle, nearly single-handedly blew up a Miami screen pass. Eddie Whitley got some snaps at cornerback and was flying around. To a man, whoever was in on defense had their ears pinned back and they were looking for someone to hit and wrap-up.

Special teams had two disastrous plays - a fumbled snap by P Brent Bowden that gave Miami the ball in VT territory and a missed FG by Matt Waldron. But both redeemed themselves in huge ways. Bowden averaged 40 yards a punt in a driving rain, pinned two kicks inside the Miami 20 and the 'Canes ended with -10 yards in punt returns for the day. Matt Waldron hit all of his XP's and also, in treacherous footing, nailed a key FG to make the game 24-7 and answer an earlier Miami score.

I don't think the pundits were that far off, talking about how talented this Miami team is. What made this win so impressive is, in fact, just how good Miami really is. And that's saying something for me, because I HATE Miami. Despite being pressured for the first time all season, QB Jacory Harris responded strongly. Down 21-0 he led the Canes on an efficient scoring drive to open the 2nd half and then delivered two phenomenal throws later in the 3rd quarter that were flat-out dropped by his TE Jimmy Graham. He won't face a rush that fierce the rest of the season, and I'm excited to watch him play in subsequent games because he's the real deal. Miami might not beat Oklahoma next weekend but now, having faced the Hokies they will be better prepared for that level of speed. They are going to show that they can play with the Sooners who have as much talent as anyone in the country. On defense the' Canes are extremely fast as well, but being so young, they weren't able to respond to being down 21-0 that early in the game. Make no mistake - this performance by the Hokies was stellar precisely because of how good of an opponent they beat.

Back in 2003, a poor offensive performance against Miami marked a turning point, a foreshadowing if you will of the collapse of Tech's offense. No, it didn't occur immediately, but the decline after that Miami game is indisputable, even allowing for the spike in offense during the 2005 season (QB coach Kevin Rogers' final year on staff). In 2009, does this Miami game mark the impending return of an offense that can elevate Virginia Tech up among the elite of college football? My gut tells me, no, not immediately. But this could mark the beginning of an upward trend and give Superfans hope that the days might be coming to an end where 50% of VT drives look like this: off-tackle, delayed handoff, incomplete pass, punt. If that's so, we can let some of the nightmares of the 2003-2009 Hokie offense fall victim to the fog of time and prepare for more triumphant days ahead.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Miami

With the beginning of ACC conference play, it's time for the return of 3 KEY PLAYS!

1) After a Hokie three and out on their opening series, the 'Canes took over and converted a third down (their only one on the day) and looked like they were going somewhere. Then on 2nd and 11, Coach Foster dialed up an 8 man blitz and Dorian Porch hit Jacory Harris jarring the ball loose, and then amazingly Porch ended up with the loose ball. The Hokie offense converted it into the opening score to make the game 7-0 and set the tone for the entire day. Bigtime play by Porch.

2) Still ahead 7-0 midway through the first quarter, the Hokies had momentum and the crowd was into it after the defense had stopped Miami on a three and out. The punt came to Jayron Hosley and he flat-out mishandled the ball. It kicked free and out of nowhere came Kam Chancellor to slide in and land on the ball, preventing a turnover on the Hokies' own 11 yard line. Had Miami recovered this ball, they might have punched in a score and altered the complexion of the entire game. What made this play even bigger was that following this fumble recovery by Chancellor the Hokie offense went on an 89-yard scoring to make the score 14-0. This was just an enormous play in the game, reminiscent of the dropped fake FG attempt by Miami in 2003 that also would potentially have turned that game around.

3) Ahead 21-7, early in the 3rd quarter, the Hokie defense was being riddled in the middle of the field. Before Coach Foster could implement the necessary adjustments, the 'Canes had driven to the Tech 30 yard line. Jacory Harris found TE Jimmy Graham open on 3rd and 13 and hit him in the hands. It would have been a first down and continued the 'Canes momentum, but as Graham went to bring the ball in, he dropped it and then Tech's defense stopped Miami short on 4th down. After this, Foster dropped the LB's deeper in coverage and had Kam Chancellor play a little closer to the line of scrimmage to clamp down on the middle of the field and VT finished the game off holding Miami to 43 yards passing the rest of the game.

Bigtime win for the Hokies and a full game review will post tomorrow.

Hokie Hospitality

Over the years of sports fandom, I've witnessed some of the most inhospitable treatment of people for the mere fact that they support the opposing team. When the Capitals host the Flyers, many Philadelphia fans descend on the nation's capital and bring their bad sportsmanship with them, and they often display it even their team wins. In the days prior to Caps home game sellout crowds, you could hardly get five steps down F Street without a Flyer fan saying something offensive directly at you. Hokie fans and fans of other Big East schools alike have endured batteries tossed at them during games against WVU. Even though I miss that rivalry very much, I don't miss hearing the stories about fans choosing not to go to Morgantown for fear of an altercation. These examples of course exist amongst many others. They by no means stand alone.

In contrast, I'm very proud of the way Hokies treat fans of the visiting opposition. The Virginia Tech athletic department has orchestrated a media campaign called Hokie Respect. The overall message embodies welcoming opposing fans to Blacksburg, VA and wishing them a good stay and pleasant visit. It doesn't mean that we hold back in expressing our hope that the Orange and Maroon beat the pants off the opposition, but Hokie Respect aims to keep all interaction as pleasant and good natured.

I attended the game against Nebraska, and seeing how we don't have many opportunities to interact with Big 12 fans, I took it upon myself to wander through my tailgating lot and intermingle with some 'Husker fans. They treated me as polite and nice as anybody could imagine. They offered food, drinks, conversation, and even live music, and they couldn't have been more happy to have come anywhere but Blacksburg, VA to watch a football game. I enjoy sports fandom much more when we can have our passions for our favorite teams, but all the while keeping things decent, amicable, and fun for everyone.

After hosting Nebraska in Week 3 of the season, some Cornhusker fans took the trouble to write Virginia Tech's athletic department to express how much they enjoyed the trip, save for the game's outcome. I've listed a few of my favorite excerpts from letters written.

"Absolutely HATED the outcome of the game, but it doesn’t diminish the reception that Tech provided to the Husker fan base!"

"Don't give me anymore beer. I can't handle another Tech fan inviting me to join their tailgate."

"I’ve never been treated better or made to feel more welcome by a town, a school and its fan base than what I encountered at Tech."

"We parked in a guy’s yard and my wife asked where the nearest restroom could be found. He said, 'Oh, just go in the house. Top of the stairs.' And then he just walked away."

"Hokie fans are a class act. Nebraska fans are also well known for treating visiting fans well in Lincoln. Many Hokie fans mentioned their experience in Lincoln last year, and hoped that we would be treated the same way in Blacksburg. We were."

You can read a few letters in their entirety here:

Not to suggest that readers of this blog haven't done otherwise and even more, I hope the next time you're at a home game you'll say, "Welcome to Blacksburg," to some opposing fans as you make your way from your tailgating lot to Lane Stadium. Let's keep Hokie Respect going strong.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Storm Surge Predicted - Hurricane Advisory

26 September 2009
Lane Stadium, BLACKSBURG, VA

It's Hurricane season and one is on it's way to Blacksburg.

Courtesy of hurricane

Pundits would be hard pressed to argue that the Miami Hurricanes are not back. With two solid wins against two good teams, Florida State and Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes offense looks extremely potent. Third year Head Coach Randy Shannon has built quite a solid program. Question still remain on defense, but the Hokies defense will have it's hands full with the elite play calling of Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple.

Whipple shows the kind of creativity and in-game understanding to call plays that produce movement. Movement, regardless of scoring, is one of the most overlooked statistics. Movement creates time of possession. Time of possession keeps your defense off the field. A lot of talk has been made recently about how poorly the Tech defense has been playing this year. They talk, specifically, about the rush defense. The Hokies are ranked 108th out of 120 in rushing defense (measured by yards per game) and 77th in total defense.

Brian a.k.a. "Where's The Ice?" has brought up the fact that if the defense is on the field a lot, they'll be tired and tired defenses let up more yards. A moving offense keeps the defense fresh. Could you imagine if we had an OC of the caliber of Whipple? Combined with Bud Foster on defense, Frank Beamer's special teams, and the amount of talent we have, the sky is the limit.

Miami QB Jacory Harris
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has calmly took charge of the offense this year and had success leading that unit down the field. His on the field composure is mind-boggling for a sophomore. Last week, Harris completed 20 of 25 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Three! That's as many as Tyrod Taylor's had through three games. (And that's not a swipe at Taylor's ability). Whipple's play selection was phenomenal in the Georgia Tech victory allowing Harris the ability to succeed. Offensive Coordinator Bryan Stinespring doesn't provide Taylor this opportunity.

Foster's defense will most certainly be challenged. Corner Stephan Virgil, defensive tackle John Graves, and defensive end Jason Worilds are all listed as probable for the game. Having these three back would be a little bit of a relief for a defense struggling to stay fresh. Virgil and Worild's leadership is also key to success.

On offense, much talk is being made about the pressure being placed on Taylor to succeed in this game. I am glad that he has the discipline to maintain his feet and continue to look down field as opposed to automatically taking off for a run. With questions regarding Ju-Ju Clayton's readiness, it helps in keeping him injury-free too. However, it would help if he used his God-given abilities when it comes to no options being available down field. Every yard will help in tomorrow's contest.

The Miami defense was extremely disciplined against the Georgia Tech spread option.

“If it was that great of an offense, every team would be running it,” Miami safety Randy Phillips was quoted saying before the Georgia Tech game. “It’s unique, but it’s just assignment football. We have to do our job.”

If Miami can maintain that "assignment football" mentality--such as spying on Taylor, marking the Ryan Williams/David Wilson duo, etc.--Tech will struggle to move the ball. And moving the ball...

One final note: the word "swagger" has been thrown around a lot when the media refers to Miami. The Canes are certainly exuding confidence in their two wins against ranked opponents while Tech seems to have lost much of its confidence. Miami looks to beat its third consecutive ranked opponent while the forth, Oklahoma, is lurking, with the week off, in front of the televisions watching intently. It's a tall order to beat four ranked opponents in a row. Should they be able to do it, there's no question in my mind... the Hurricanes are back.

EhhTee's Picks (Week 4)

Again not so good against the line this week. Twice as good as last week though at 2-5. I'm not 8-12 overall. Straight pick'ems are still on target though. I went 4-3 this week to put my overall at 15-6.

Georgia Tech @ Miami E. Carolina @ N. Carolina
Line: Miami -4Line: North Carolina -7
Pick: GTPick: UNC
Score: GT 27 - Miami 23Score: ECU 13 - UNC 35
Actual: GT 17 - Miami 33Actual: ECU 17 - UNC 31

BC @ ClemsonTennessee @ Florida
Line: Clemson -7Line: Florida -27
Pick: Boston CollegePick: Tennessee
Score: BC 28 - Clemson 23Score: Tennessee 21 - Florida 45
Actual: BC 7 - Clemson 25Actual: Tennessee 13 - Florida 23

Michigan State @ Notre Lame Virginia @ Southern Mississippi
Line: Notre Lame -11.5 Line: So. Miss. -14.5
Pick: Notre Lame Pick: So. Miss.
Score: MSU 15 - Notre Lame 34 Score: UVA 3 - So. Miss. 35
Actual: MSU 30 - Notre Lame 33 Actual: UVA 34 - So. Miss. 37

Florida State @ BYU This week (Overall)
Line: BYU -6 Line: 2-5 (8-12)
Pick: BYU Picks: 4-3 (15-6)
Score: FSU 17 - BYU 45
Actual: FSU 54 - BYU 28

This week's picks:

Mississippi @ South Carolina
Line: Mississippi -3.5

I'm really looking forward to this game. It might be the many weeks that brought me down to Columbia to hang out with one of my best friends who move there recently. I kinda wish I was down there. So leaving emotions at the door, I got the bet in for tonight:

Pick: Ole Miss
Score: Ole Miss 37 - USC 21

South Florida @ Florida State
Line: Florida State -14

Florida State comes off a huge win over BYU. I think FSU wins but closer.

Pick: South Florida
Score: S. Florida 14 - Florida St. 24

North Carolina @ Georgia Tech
Line: Georgia Tech -2.5

Tech comes off a disappointing loss to Miami. Miami is looking like one of the best teams in the country and was able to play good assignment defense to stop the Tech spread option. Can Butch Davis's Tarheels do the same. Not the whole game.

Pick: Georgia Tech
Score: UNC 10 - GT 31

Marshall @ Memphis
Line: Memphis -3.5

Marshall bounced back well after a big loss at Tech last week. Memphis is favored but Marshall should pull this one off.

Pick: Marshall
Score: Marshall 24 - Memphis 9

Wake Forest @ Boston College
Line: Wake Forest -2.5

Wake will probably cover here, but BC will make it interesting until late.

Pick: Wake
Score: Wake 17 - BC 13

Rutgers @ Maryland
Line: Rutgers -3

Rutgers is hard to figure out so far. I think I'm going to have to say that Maryland has been terrible enough to say that Rutgers will more than cover.

Pick: Rutgers
Score: Rutgers 22 - Maryland 3

Notre Lame @ Purdue
Line: Notre Lame -8.5

Notre Lame will be tested by a potent Boilermaker offense that's struggled in the last two games. Purdue wakes up for a big home field upset.

Pick: Purdue
Score: ND 27 - Purdue 43

Emergengy EhhTee's Pick (Week Four)

So the Jay-Oh-Bee had me later than I'd like tonight. So rather than rush all my picks, I will put out my one pick for tonight's game now:

Mississippi @ South Carolina
Line: Mississippi -3.5

I'm really looking forward to this game. It might be the many weeks that brought me down to Columbia to hang out with one of my best friends who move there recently. I kinda wish I was down there. So leaving emotions at the door, I got the bet in for tonight:

Pick: Ole Miss
Score: Ole Miss 37 - USC 21

Monday, September 21, 2009

Game Review - VT vs. Nebraska

By now, if you're like me, you've read about 11 different game recaps on the Hokies thrilling 16-15 victory over the Cornhusker, each recapping what happened in a similar fashion. That's not why you came here. A Superfan wants the juicy tidbits that go beyond the pale. Here, my Calm and Beloved Reader you will find them.

1) Drama? TNT thinks it knows drama? Nuh-uh. "The Closer" has NOTHING on the finish to this game. Here's how nuts this finish was - after the final touchdown and then the Hokie interception to seal the victory, we began filing out with the rest of the thousands of fans down the ramps behind the stadium. Suddenly it was pandemonium behind us. People were yelling, sirens were going off and two big guys charged into the crowd to spread us out ahead of one of the handicapped transport carts. Except instead of transporting a handicapped person, there was a driver and two paramedics atop a lifeless Nebraska fan who had apparently collapsed of a heart attack following the insane finish. Huskers and Hokies alike found a way to clear a path for the cart as they rushed the man to the ambulance at the very bottom of the ramps.

Two thoughts popped into my head: first, "Whoa, I sure hope that guys ends up ok" and second, "There but for the grace of God, go I, following the loss to BC in 2007 on a Matt Ryan TD pass into the same end zone with seconds left." It made me realize that there are Superfans of Hokie opponents as well and finishes like these aren't healthy for any of us. Whew.

2) WR Dyrell Roberts returned the opening kick 76 yards, but because of the weaving, he probably ran closer to 100 yards. So the first play from scrimmage, and I really wish I was making this up, was not just a play called for Roberts who was obviously gassed from the huge return, but it was an END-AROUND where he had to run from one side of the field all the way to the other (53 yards if you're keeping track at home). Needless to say he wasn't very fast at that point and was thrown for a loss of 3 yards. One would have to be either completely incompetent, or actually trying to sabotage the offense to call his number without giving him even one play on the sideline to grab a Gatorade splash and catch his breath. I know which one I think it is. This is Exhibit "A" as I build my case.

3) Zac Lee for Nebraska is going to be one helluva good QB. He reminds me of Christian Ponder from Florida State in his first start in Lane Stadium; not very good numbers, but you could tell that the situation didn't have him rattled and there's really almost no tougher place to play on the road when you only have a few starts under your belt. He was cool, calm and collected and made some big plays for the Huskers including that called back TD on the holding penalty. Lee got rid of the ball just before being sacked in several critical situations and saved his team field position and likely at least one FG because of it.

4) Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive tackle I've seen this year for any team (yes that includes Cody from Alabama) and actually is probably the best one I've seen in the past three years or so. He is unbelievably strong and quick and has great hands. Suh had 8 tackles along with 4 pass knockdowns. Jaymes Brooks and Beau Warren played their asses off and got a stalemate on 40% of the plays, won about 20% of the plays and then lost the other 40% of the plays against Suh. That isn't great overall, but I'll take it when you consider that Suh is going to be a top 5 pick in the NFL draft next season. I feel very good about those two guys now that they've faced Cody and Suh in their first three games.

5) Straight from the 'Can our Personnel Management on Offense Be Any Worse" Department, the Hokies threw seven crossing routes against Nebraska. Three were complete, two were dropped and two were deflected. NONE were to Dyrell Roberts. Not a single one. Why are the Hokies not hitting a playmaker like Roberts on the run with a crossing route? Conversely how many deep balls were to Jarrett Boykin and Xavier Boyce? One. Any fade routes to anybody? No. Exhibit "B" as to the incompetence of the offensive coordinator. If you know why this willful misuse of the receivers is occurring please post it below. Better yet tell Tyrod Taylor. He is getting very frustrated at the play calls and play designs. The wrong people are running routes, not taking advantage of their different skills, and the whole thing is identified pre-snap by the opposing defense. I'd be getting frustrated, too.

6) You want more pre-snap read disaster? Here's my favorite example. So the Hokies are down 12-10 in the opening minute in the 4th quarter and are facing a 3rd and 1 from their own 29 yard line. The Huskers shift their defensive line so that nobody is lined up over the center. All Tyrod Taylor would have to do is run forward behind Beau Warren, as long as a run was called and a first down would have been guaranteed. Instead of guarding against this play (taught to QB's all the way down to middle school I might add), Nebraska cheated to the left side of the field and sure enough, the Hokies called a running play to David Wilson to the left. He was met in the backfield for a loss of two yards. How demoralizing do you think it is to the offense when they know the defense knows what play is coming before it happens? I'll just say Exhibit "C".

7) All the press is going to the great play by Tyrod Taylor and Danny Coale, but back that up a few plays. None of that happens without an INCREDIBLY gutsy performance by the Hokie defense on their series to get the ball back. Seriously, these guys had been on the field most of the 2nd half and had to be exhausted. The offense had let them down for the umpteenth time, this time on a 4th down dropped pass by Dyrell Roberts. So what does Coach Foster's bunch do? They rise up and stuff the Huskers on three straight plays forcing the punt that gave the Hokie offense another chance to win. Champions are made of that stuff. It gave me chills watching the defense, even though at the time I thought it wouldn't matter and that the offense wouldn't produce.

8) Speaking of the miracle finish by the offense, let's briefly review the two huge plays that happened. First of all, the 81-yarder to Danny Coale was a broken play. Taylor wanted to go to the left but everything was covered. Coale saw Taylor scramble and broke his out route off and took off up the field. Taylor saw him just in time and let it fly JUST as he got blasted by Suh. Then on the TD to Roberts, that was nothing but pure sandlot football. Taylor and Roberts made a play, and again, Taylor had Suh draped all over him but the throw was nothing short of spectacular. My point? Neither of the game winning plays was a called play from the offensive coordinator. Both were by playmakers on broken plays who overcame the odds to win the game. I'll take the win, but it sure would be nice to see the offense have more success on intended plays. It will probably be necessary against Miami.

9) One last point I'd like to make about these great plays at the end - the offensive line deserves a lot of credit. On the huge pass to Coale they gave Tyrod more time than he had all day to make that play. And even more critically, remember that the pass to Roberts was a play that took 12 seconds. It was a called rollout to the left and both Ed Wang and Sergio Render were engaged with their defenders. When that side was covered and Taylor ran back to the right, if you watch closely, Ed Wang and Sergio Render both look over their shoulders and see him scrambling back and they show their senior experience by making sure they stay within a yard of the line of scrimmage so as not to be flagged for "ineligible man downfield" even though they're not blocking anyone anymore. That attention to detail is what allowed the amazing ending to occur.

10) For all those fans who are saying that the offensive struggles are because Tyrod can't throw the football, let me explain why that is not the case. Sure he had some bad throws on Saturday, there can be no doubt of that. He wishes he had some of those back. But there were several key drops on some good throws and several other stupid formation and holding penalties that nullified very good pass plays. With the game on the line, Taylor's throw to Coale was as he was getting hit by a first round NFL defensive tackle and it travelled 60 yards in the air and couldn't possibly have been thrown more accurately. His play to Roberts, I am telling you for a fact, is a play that probably five quarterbacks in all of Division I-A football could have made. Tyrod Taylor is a physical talent who has had the bad misfortune to play for a terrible offensive coaching staff. He's not being prepared for the next level and I hope you guys can get some sense of how sickening this is for me. There are many things I am not good at (I'm sure we could do an entire series of blog entries on that list) but one thing I can do is gauge football talent. Taylor has a lot of it. Enough to play in the NFL if he were properly coached. It's too bad he's not and on that note......

Let me close the tidbits with this gem from ABC announcer Sean McDonough to his compatriot in the booth, Matt Millen, as they went to commercial break at the end of the third quarter. And I quote:

"Maybe you can explain to me how the Hokies win 10 games or more every year with this kind of offense. I mean how great does your defense and special teams have to be to do that?"

Case closed, Your Honor.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Game Preview - vs. Nebraska


3:30 PM ET, September 19, 2009
Lane Stadium , BLACKSBURG, VA

After dropping the season opener to Alabama and rebounding with solid play against Marshall, Virginia Tech squares off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The 'Huskers come off of two wins against Flordia Atlantic and Arkansas State. They won both games in lopsided fashion, and the Hokies present them with their toughest opponents of the season to date. Much of the Nebraska fan base share the sentiments that last season's loss to the Hokies came as a fluke as only their third non-conference home loss since 1991. On my way to the Georgia Dome two weeks ago, I stepped out of the car at the gas station, and on the other side of the pump stood a 'Huskers fan who saw my bright orange VT shirt and playfully said, "We're gonna' get you back this year." Ranked #19 in the AP poll and #18 in the Coaches' poll, Nebraska's squad and their fans definitely have payback on their minds for Saturday. As favorites to win the Big 12 North, they will want to go into their conference schedule with a strong out-of-conference victory.

Quarterback Zac Lee leads the 'Husker offense. The footage shows Lee's ability to throw accurately over long distances behind an offensive line that gives the kind of protection that many would envy. He has the starting job for the first time in his college career, and he has gotten off to a good start. In his first two games, he has thrown for an impressive 553 yards and completed 42 of 57 attempts, and just as impressively, he has amassed that pass yardage throwing to 11 different receivers. One may write off these accomplishments given the opponents of Nebraska's first two games, but make no mistake, a quarterback who can execute this successfully can spell trouble for even a Top Ten defense.

Roy Helu, Jr. (RB) weighs in at 215 lbs. and stands 6'0" tall. He has run for 212 yards on the season thus far. Also within the Cornhuskers' offensive arsenal, receivers Curenski Gilleylen and Mike McNeill have caught for 243 yards of passing combined. Lee will unlikely have as many opportunities to go to all eleven of his receivers, so these two will probably catch for most of the passing yardage. However, Lee and the rest of the Nebraska offense should not expect so much success against the Hokies' defense. The Hokies finished the 2008 season safely as a top ten defense, and they have seven of their eleven starters back. However, Lee has the kinds of tools for playing against a defense like the Hokies. He can pass accurately while floating away from the pocket. How well he executes stands out to me as the biggest variable in whether the 'Huskers develop offensive rhythm or not against the Hokies. The Cornhusker offensive line presents a force to be reckoned with as well. Kyle Tucker notes on his blog that they average 6'5" and 300 lbs. The Hokie defense will likely rely on speed over strength and size to get to Lee.

On the Defensive side of the ball, Nebraska doesn't have quite the same punch as their offense. They only rank 50th in yards per game (321 ypg) after playing against two far weaker teams from the Sun Belt Conference. MadJay praised the Virginia Tech offensive line in the game against Marshall from last Saturday. This Saturday's contest serves as the perfect opportunity for the Hokie offensive line to bring their play up a notch by giving a strong performance against Nebraska. If they can do so, Tyrod Taylor may well have a very successful day throwing the ball. Ryan Williams (RB) has opened up this season with 235 yards of rushing, dusting teammate Josh Oglesby (RB). David Wilson (RB) has shown some success as well with 165 yards. If those three can ride the wave of a successful day against Marshall and carry that into Nebraska, that may ease some Hokie fans' concerns about the Darren Evans injury. The 'Huskers defensive efforts will focus on containing Hokie quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They remember Taylor's 87 yards and a rushing touchdown during last season's contest. Their coaching staff views Taylor in the same light as Michael Vick during his career as a Hokie. This may open opportunities up for the Hokies' running game if the Nebraska defense gets overly focused on Taylor.

On the injury front, the most recent reports indicate that the Hokies currently plan to play without the services of Greg Boone (TE, chest injury) and Stephan Virgil (CB, knee tweak). The coaching staff has said, however, that Boone and Virgil have practiced and may well have themselves game ready by Saturday. If Virgil can't go, Rock Carmichael will play boundary and Eddie Whitley will likely start at field corner.

As we look towards the rest of the season, as much as I would have liked to have watched the Hokies triumph over the SEC powerhouse of Alabama, I don't take the loss with too much hardship. The Hokies played a Top 5 team to a 10 point margin, and they did so while making some rookie level errors. Virginia Tech has most of the season lying ahead of them, and an SEC loss for the greater good may only serve to instill some humility in the squad that will give them the focus they need to plot their course back to an ACC title. But I think this upcoming game against Nebraska, given the time in the schedule and the opponent, makes for the most probable launching pad for another ACC campaign in terms of winning momentum.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

EhhTee's Picks (Week 3)

Wow. Not a good week for my picks against the line going 1-6 (6-7 overall). Still got the classic picks down at 6-1 putting my overall picks to 11-3. Let's see if we can do a bit better this week.

Clemson @ Georgia Tech North Carolina @ Connecticut
Line: Georgia Tech -4.5Line: North Carolina -3.5
Pick: Georgia Tech Pick: North Carolina (big)
Score: GT 32 - Clemson 24Score: UNC 45 - Connecticut 15
Actual: GT 30 - Clemson 27Actual: UNC 12 - Connecticut 10

Stanford @ Wake ForestArkansas State @ Nebraska
Line: Wake Forest -1.5Line: Nebraska -24
Pick: Wake ForestPick: Arkansas State
Score: Wake 21 - Stanford 18Score: Nebraska 31 - ASU 28
Actual: Wake 24 - Standford 17Actual: Nebraska 38 - ASU 9

Notre Lame @ MichiganEast Carolina @ West Virginia
Line: Notre Lame -4.5Line: West Virginia -7
Pick: Notre LamePick: ECU to cover
Score: Notre Lame 33 - UM 12.Score: WVU 16 - ECU 10
Actual: UM 38 - Notre Lame 34Actual: WVU 35 - ECU 20

USC @ Ohio State This Week (Overall)
Line: USC -6 Line: 1-6 (6-7)
Pick: USCPicks: 6-1 (11-3)
Score: USC 45 - Ohio St 31
Actual: USC 18 - Ohio St 15

Here's this week's picks:

Georgia Tech @ Miami
Line: Miami -4

Miami can be a tough place to play on Thursday night. Georgia Tech has won the last four in the series.

Pick: GT
Score: GT 27 - Miami 23

East Carolina @ North Carolina
Line: North Carolina -7

North Carolina should breeze by the Pirates.

Pick: UNC
Score: ECU 13 - UNC 35

Boston College @ Clemson
Line: Clemson -7

Boston College faces its first real challenge of the season. BC had a rough offseason and I think their losses will inspire them to play their hearts off.

Pick: Boston College
Score: BC 28 - Clemson 23

Tennessee @ Florida
Line: Florida -27

Florida faces it's first SEC challenger and Lane Kiffin will have to put his money where his loud mouth is. The Vols cover the spread but still lose big enough.

Pick: Tennessee
Score: Tennessee 21 - Florida 45

Michigan State @ Notre Lame
Line: Notre Lame -11.5

Notre Lame is good. We can definitely give them that. But I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell Lou Holtz and all the other morons that predicted a national title for the Irish.

Pick: Notre Lame
Score: MSU 15 - Notre Lame 34

Virginia @ Southern Mississippi
Line: So. Miss. -14.5

Virginia sucks. There's no doubt about it. My worst nightmare: An 0-11 Cavaliers beat the Hokies in Scott Stadium

Pick: So. Miss.
Score: UVA 3 - So. Miss. 35

Florida State @ BYU
Line: BYU -6

Florida State had a tough loss against the Hurricanes. Then they struggle to beat a lowly FCS team. BYU is perhaps a bit under-rated.

Pick: BYU
Score: FSU 17 - BYU 45

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hokies Bound Back After Tough Loss

After the loss to Alabama last week, the Hokies had two choices: hang their hats up and hope for the best, or come back and prove that they had played a tough three quarters in that game and, in the end, the Kickoff Classic was a good learned lesson.

The Hokies chose the latter.

Much of that can be attributed to the play of the offensive line which created many of the Hokie opportunities including many of the big showcase highlight runs by running backs Ryan Williams (r-Fr) and David Wilson (Fr). MadJay is about to cover much of this in his post to our Raycom Sports Virginia Tech Blog. Look for it later this week.

On Saturday, the Hokies--wearing the throwback uniform and helmet as a tribute to 1965-1967 defensive back Frank Loria who went on to coach defensive backs at Marshall but perished along with most of the Marshall Thundering Herd football team in the 1970 plane crash--defeated the 2009 version of the Herd team soundly by the score of 52-10.

Offensively, Tech did things against the Marshall that we didn't see done against Alabama. Proper line control was one of the biggest of all of these. The line control helped the Hokies gain 444-yards rushing and 161-yards through the air. Both Williams and Wilson finished the game with over 160-yards rushing. This achievement is a school history first.

Courtesy Don Petersen, AP (via
Williams and Wilson combined for four touchdowns on the ground. Williams had three including one for 57 yards. Wilson's one touchdown was on a 36-yard run. Wilson also had a long run of 51 yards on the day setting up a Matt Waldron (Sr) field goal.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor (Jr) was nine for sixteen throwing for 161 yards for two touchdowns with one interception. Mind you, those two touchdowns are as many as he had all season last year.

Freshman backup quarterback Ju-Ju Clayton made an appearance in the fourth quarter. Despite struggling (0-3), getting Clayton on the field is key, if for nothing else, for the experience of being in the game.

Taylor's throws hit six different players: Danny Coale (So), Williams, Jarett Boykin (So), Dyrell Roberts (So), Xavier Boyce (Fr), and Josh Oglesby (So). Coale had one reception that went for 43 yards and Williams had one for 36. Boykin and Roberts had passes for 20 and 21 respectively. Other than that, due to the exceptional running game, the passing game was pretty quiet with the remaining passes making 6-12 yards each.

The Hokies punter Brent Bowden (Sr) had it easy all game. Bowden had to punt only three times. In total, the Hokies did not score on six possessions. They included two kneel downs that were taken at the end of the half and the game, these three punts, and the single interception by Taylor.

On defense, the Hokies also dominated as expected. The Hokies held the Herd to 126-yards rushing as well as 126-yards passing. The Herd made four first downs in the first half with never more than one per drive. They went three-and-out on five drives in that same half. The second half was equally dominate with two three-and-outs and only five first downs amongst two other drives.

The Hokies special teams also made up for some of it's first game woes. With all the punts that Marshall had to make (ten), the Hokies' punt returner Jayrod Hosley (Fr) gained 88 yards on three returns including one for a 64-yard touchdown return. Two other punts went for touchbacks and the rest were downed or fair-caught giving Hokies decent field possession on each.

Overall, this was an impressive bounce back for the Hokies. Let's hope they can maintain the momentum into this week's match-up against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

TSF Enters Partnership with Raycom Sports

This season, TSF has entered into a partnership with Raycom Sports -- owner of the television rights to the entire Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Basketball television package, and the regional television syndicator of ACC Football.

It is an honor to be partnered with such a well recognized name in the sports broadcasting. TechSuperFans, along with other Virginia Tech bloggers will be regularly covering all things Hokies both on our respective mother sites as well as on the Raycom Sports Virginia Tech blog network. Follow us, as well as bloggers across the ACC, on the ACC blog network.

About Raycom Sports

Raycom Sports is a production, distribution, and event management company with over 28 years of experience and a reputation of being on the nation’s finest independent sports syndicators and producers. With deep roots in college football and basketball, Raycom Sports has also expanded its portfolio to include a vast array of sports opportunities on the local, regional and national level.

Currently, Raycom Sports owns the television rights to the entire Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Basketball television package, and is the regional television syndicator of ACC Football. The company manages ACC Properties, the marketing arm of the Conference that administers the official ACC Corporate Partner program. For the last seven years, Raycom Sports has owned and operated the Meineke Car Care Bowl, one of the most successful non-BCS bowls, , featuring the ACC versus the Big East. The bowl game, played each year in Charlotte, NC, was ranked one of the most successful start-up sports ventures by the Sports Business Journal in 2003. Raycom Sports also produces and distributes the Emmy-award winning Football Saturdays in the South, an annual six-episode summer series that highlights the passion and tradition of college football in the region.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Game Preview - vs. Marshall

Marshall vs. Virginia Tech
Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA
Saturday, 9/12/2009, 1:00 p.m.

The Virginia Tech Hokies come off a disappointing defeat at the Georgia Dome against Alabama after a lackluster performance by the offense. On Saturday, they face the Marshall Thundering Herd. Over the past few seasons Marshall's program has sought bigger and tougher opponents than those of their conference. They want to take their program to the next level by causing some big upsets. Losses to such teams in the past have not deterred them. In 2008 they faced West Virginia and Cincinnati. In 2007 they faced Miami(FL) and again West Virginia. Virginia Tech faced them back in 2005. They haven't yet mustered a performance that gave any of these automatic bid conference opponents a scare, but the day that they will may come sooner than expected.

Marshall ranks as the one of the powerhouse teams of Conference USA. That conference usually includes a team that from year to year carries the potential to spoil any given opponent from an automatic bid conference such as the ACC. East Carolina, also of Conference USA, did exactly that last season to the Hokies on opening day. Marshall would love to jump on the opportunity to that in 2009. Marshall has a few adjustments to make from their previous week's contest. They just barely squeaked out a three point victory against Southern Illinois, a team most expected them to beat handily. It took a Southern Illinois illegal substitution penalty while lining up for a punt to keep the Marshall drive going that lead to the game winning field goal.

Quarterback Brian Anderson leads Marshall's offense. He has the starting job for the first time at the 2009 season start. After last week's game, he has four starts overall going back over the previous two seasons. Although Marshall struggled against Southern Illinois last week, his numbers didn't look too bad. He threw for a 75% completion rate, 316 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Wide receiver Charles Walker caught for 119 yards, and tight end Cody Slate caught for 114 yards. Slate returns as a Senior and a reliable contributor to the team on offense. Standing at 6'4" and weighing 220 lbs, he's a lot for any defense to handle. The team mustered less than 85 yards of rushing, so their proven assets clearly lie in the passing game.

The Marshall coaching staff expressed most of their disappointment about last week's struggle for a win to the defensive play. They allowed 206 yards of rushing and 105 yards of passing. An offensive powerhouse from an automatic bid conference would probably have this defense for lunch.

Turning towards the Hokies, College Football fans consider them the favorites to win Saturday's contest. Like any hungry team from a weaker conference, they can't take Marshall too lightly. At the same time, they need to use the opportunity to exercise some of their weaker aspects of the game, namely offensive aspects. Last week against Alabama, the Hokies offense did face what some argue as the number one defense in the country, so let's keep that in perspective as we move forward. That said, let's review some of the numbers from which the Hokies must improve.

First Downs: 11, half as many as Alabama
Rushing: 64 yards, less than 25% of Alabama
Receiving: 91 yards, less than half of Albama

This offense has a lot of returning players, so we can't make the claim that they have just begun to learn how to read each other. That should have happened throughout a majority of last season. I think the offense should put most emphasis on consistent, textbook execution of their plays on Saturday. Going for the home run pass or the dazzling the fans with great showmanship may have a place at some moments of the game, but for the most part, the Hokies need to demonstrate smooth, consistent, and error free offensive play. I hate to raise the same topic year after year, but when I examine how the offense usually folds, it comes down to the line. Taylor's speed and quickness allows him to mask that to some extent, but only a very rare quarterback can consistently hit his receiver precisely while scrambling. On top of that, the constant thought of a looming collapse in the offensive line can make even a good quarterback underthrow or overthrow the ball. Plays run against Marshall need to give Taylor the confidence that he'll have the time to execute the called play. With receivers like Dyrell Roberts, Danny Coale, and Jarrett Boykin, Taylor has the offensive weapons to make great strides in yardage. The catch, he the offensive line and the playcalling need to enable him to use them.

Rushing for the Hokies introduces an unexpected challenge with the injury to Darren Evans. His injury leaves Josh Oglesby and Ryan Williams as the number one and two tailbacks. This situation presenting itself just before the season opener against Alabama makes nothing short of a great challenge, so let's not get too discouraged. The Virginia Tech running game has some great gains lying ahead of it. Playing against Marshall on Saturday presents the perfect opportunity to get some much needed confidence based on experience instilled into both running backs.

On the injury report, Cornerback Stephan Virgil injured his knee in practice on 9/9, but the Hokies have him listed as probable for the Marshall game. Tight end Greg Boone injured his chest against Alabama and has a status of questionable for Saturday's game. My guess is if Boone's not 100%, he won't see much action if any against Marshall.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

EhhTee's Picks (Week 2)

Here are the results from last week. I was 5-2 with picks almost nailing the LSU-Washington game. I was off by a point. Against the line I was 5-1 (The UVA game had no line because it was against a FCS team.)

Oregon at Boise State USC at NC State
Line: Boise -5.5Line: NC State -4
Pick: BoisePick: South Carolina
Score: Boise 35 - Oregon 27Score: USC 28 - NCSU 14
Actual: Boise 19 - Oregon 8Actual: USC 7 - NCSU 3

Georgia at Oklahoma State Maryland at California
Line: Oklahoma State -5.5Line: California -21.5
Pick: GeorgiaPick: Yup! California
Score: OSU 39 - Georgia 36Score: Cal 42 - UMD 17
Actual: OSU 24 - Georgia 10 Actual: Cal 52 - UMD 13

William & Mary at VirginiaLSU at Washington
Line: n/a Line: LSU -15.5
Pick: UVA Pick: Washington
Score: UVA 21 - W&M 17. Score: LSU 31 - UW 24
Actual: W&M 26 -UVA 14Actual: LSU 31 - UW 23

Brigham Young vs. Oklamoha Against Line: 5 -1
Line: Oklahoma -21 Picks: 5-2
Pick: Brigham Young
Score: OU 42 - BYU 28
Actual: BYU 14 - Oklahoma 13

Here are this weeks Picks:

Clemson @ Georgia Tech
Line: Georgia Tech -4.5
This will be a tight game but give GT the home advantage. The Yellow Jackets struggled early against Jacksonville State but should have things straight to start their run for the Coastal Division.

Pick: Georgia Tech
Score: Georgia Tech 32 - Clemson 24

North Carolina @ Connecticut
Line: North Carolina -3.5

Connecticut handled Ohio handily but North Carolina is a sleeper for a great run for the ACC title.

Pick: North Carolina (big)
Score: UNC 45 - Connecticut 15

Stanford @ Wake Forest
Line: Wake Forest -1.5

Wake's loss to Baylor had to have been a wake up call (no pun intented.) Wake will pull it together and beat the Tree... I mean Cardinal.

Pick: Wake Forest
Score: Wake 21 - Stanford 18

Arkansas State @ Nebraska
Line: Nebraska -24

Nebraska lines up Arkansas State and sinks them in the corner pocket as they get ready for the show down in Blacksburg. However, they will have a slight case of "look past-itis" and squeak a win at home.

Pick: Arkansas State
Score: Nebraska 31 - Arkansas State 28

Notre Lame @ Michigan
Line: Notre Lame -4.5

This could easily have been the game of the week if Michigan didn't suck so much lately. Notre Lame wins handily.

Pick: Notre Lame
Score: Notre Lame 33 - UM 12.

East Carolina @ West Virginia
Line: West Virginia -7

This might be a great match up. Both teams are coming off wins over FCS teams. It'll be interesting to see how well ECU does this year leading up to the late rematch with the Hokies this year.

Pick: ECU to cover
Score: WVU 16 - ECU 10

Game of the Week: USC @ Ohio State
Line: USC -6

Last week Ohio State proved that they're vulnerable with a near loss to Navy. USC cruised over San Jose State.

Pick: USC
Score: USC 45 - OSU 31

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Game Review - VT vs. Alabama

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" - Won't Get Fooled Again - The Who

USC and Auburn in 2004. Georgia in 2006. LSU in 2007. And now Alabama in 2009. These are measuring stick games when you go against the very best of the best. The elite in college football. These opponents are acknowledged as having the best recruits and the top coaches. They are perennial Top 10 programs.

The Hokies lost all 5 of these games so I think we can all agree that the Hokies are not at that level yet. From what I'm hearing out in Hokieland, there is not much disagreement as to why, but I have heard small pockets of fans throwing a few dissenting arguments out there. I'd like to use the Alabama game as a supporting argument for the one and only reason why the Hokies are not at that level - offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring.

Watching the game footage several times this weekend, I can assure you that the Hokies finally do have the talent across the board to compete with the very best teams in the country. Would you argue that any of these players didn't belong on the field with Alabama? First the easy ones - Ryan Williams, Dyrell Roberts, Jason Worilds, Nekos Brown, Stephan Virgil, Dorian Porch, Cody Grimm. Obviously they were at Bama's physical talent level. Less obvious? How about Ed Wang, Beau Warren (how many times was "Mount" Cody's name called Saturday night? He had one tackle), Sergio Render, Barquell Rivers and Jake Johnson. Tyrod Taylor didn't have a good night throwing the ball which we'll touch more on later. He certainly had the talent to be on that field the other night. The point is that these players went punch for punch with the Tide and didn't look physically outmatched to me until the end when the defense was exhausted having been on the field for 14 minutes longer than their Tide counterparts.

So if it's not the talent, did the Hokies lose due to turnovers? Well the two turnovers hurt, no doubt. When the Hokies turned the ball over it was on a punt and kickoff return which put Bama on the Hokie 16 and 20 yard lines respectively. Both times the defense held them to a FG. And keep in mind Bama did have two turnovers of their own which the Hokies converted into 3 points. It wasn't turnovers that cost them the game.

It certainly wasn't in the kicking game. Hokie kicker Matt Waldron hit his FG and XP's and punter Brent Bowden was astonishingly good averaging 45 yards/kick and only allowing Bama return specialist Javier Arenas three returns on eight punts while keeping all of them inbounds. That's SERIOUS hang time there on punts that long. Despite the turnovers on special teams, the Hokies had some great returns by Dyrell Roberts on kickoffs and Jayron Hosley showed some real promise on his shot at punts. Can't blame special teams for the loss.

I've heard a lot of arguments about the officiating being why the Hokies lost. Was the officiating good? Not really and AD Jim Weaver is right to insist on neutral conference refs in future neutral site games. But let's look more closely at the bad calls. That personal foul in the first half for roughing the passer on Jake Johnson was laughable - he hit the QB in bounds and the tackle ended out of bounds. Seriously if that's a personal foul, then it's time for the NCAA to just put a flag and a belt on QBs. But that drive ended in a Bama punt. The ridiculous interference call on Kam Chancellor when Julio Jones clearly ran right into him was bad at the time, but Roy Upchurch ended up fumbling the ball on that drive (amazing hustle from Cody Grimm). On the Hokies' first drive of the 4th quarter a lot has been made of the holding call on Greg Nosal on Ryan Williams' amazing effort run to convert a 3rd and 1. Here's the deal - if a guard is blocking a safety, the refs are going to call it a lot tighter than if he's blocking a lineman or linebacker. Nosal, with one big shove could have knocked the safety down or at least out of the play. By engaging the safety (and yes he did hold him a little but that happens on almost every running play) he gave the ref the opportunity to throw the flag. Nosal should have just mowed that kid over or shot his hands into the guys shoulders and knocked him off balance. With experience he will learn to do that. There was a bad call on that drive though because the subsequent 3rd down play was a 3rd and 9 and there was a non-call of pass interference by Bama on Danny Coale. That might have changed the game, but honestly with what the Hokie offense displayed up to that point, there's no assurance they would have gotten even one more first down. It was not the bad officiating that led to the Hokies' loss.

How about the argument that it was the defense, which I have actually seen by a few folks? Hmmmm. The defense that forced the Bama QB into 10 straight incompletions in the first half? The defense that held All-Universe WR Julio Jones to 4 catches for 46 yards and no scores??The defense that limited two turnovers DEEP in its own end to 2 FG's and caused two Alabama turnovers of their own??? Or maybe it was the defense that stopped Alabama on 3 straight drives in the 3rd quarter with the Hokies protecting a 17-16 lead and during that time the Hokie offense had a total of 2 first downs??????? Before the 9 minute mark in the 4th quarter, the Hokie defense gave up a total of 4 big plays (20+ yards). Two of them were situations where Kam Chancellor and other members of the secondary got their wires crossed on the coverage and I do put most of that on Chancellor. But this defensive performance was against an incredible power running attack and one of the top 5 receivers in the country and it was only when the defense did tire out that they couldn't prevent the Tide attack from scoring. I think the reason a few people have tried to blame the defense is because they are so used to the defense just being completely dominant over the opponent. Listen, at the very top echelon of college football you are not going to dominate the opposing offense. The best you can hope for with top talent and a great coordinator/gameplan, is to be able to line up and stop them when you have to (following a turnover or protecting a lead) and for most of the game, again until they were exhausted, the Hokies D did EXACTLY that.

Before I look at the main reason the Hokies can't compete at the top level of college football, let me give some credit to Alabama here. Their defense is fierce. Their offense is physical. Their QB is a warrior who kept getting pounded and had the aforementioned 10 straight misfires in the first half along with an interception. He showed admirable resiliency and made several great throws in the 2nd half despite his favorite receiver Jones being blanketed. Bama is tough and clearly showed that they do belong at the "grown-up table" of college football.

To that point, let me highlight one thing about the Alabama offense: this is an offense with an identity. They are a power running game which sets up play action into a vertical passing game. They were true to that offense the entire game. The reason Alabama lost to Utah in last year's Sugar Bowl is because with some early turnovers and quick stops, Utah got out to a 21-0 lead and Alabama had to abandon their offensive identity to try and claw their way back into the game and it was Bama that ran out of gas that time. But on Saturday night, even though it had led to a few three and outs, Alabama never gave up on their running game. Now Bama's offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain, was creative in that running game. Trap plays, sweeps, and runs out of the Wildcat formation highlighted how one can be creative yet committed to an identity on offense. The vertical passing game was shut down to Julio Jones, but McElwain called plays to give his other receivers shots at a deep ball. Eventually the running game wore down the Hokie defense and led to big running plays in the 4th quarter. But look at how the coordinator matched the gameplan to his players - don't ask the QB in his first start to do too much; use the running game to set-up the passing game; make adjustments to the defense (see the pass to the TE over the middle in the 4th quarter as a great example of this). McElwain deserves credit for implementing an offense with a clear philosophy and making adjustments within the confines of that offense.

What was the Hokie offensive identity? What was the gameplan? Can anyone tell me? I can tell you that whatever the gameplan was, it showed an INSANE level of mismanagement of the receivers which has now actually become a hallmark of a Stinespring-coached offense. The Hokies have Jarrett Boykin, who has proven ball skills and is a physical receiver who can jump and make plays. Xavier Boyce was supposedly even better than that, enough to overtake Boykin on the depth chart. These are the guys you want to throw a deep ball to. There were a total of three deep balls thrown by Taylor and so…….of course all three were to Dyrell Roberts and none were complete. In fact two of those were on one series of downs (a three and out, one of SIX three-and-outs on the night). Roberts was completely blanketed on the first deep ball on first down. So on third down, of course ol' Stiney went back to the same deep pass down the near sideline to Roberts. Roberts is the shortest receiver with the worst ball skills of the bunch!!! There were five passes to receivers in the flat or on crossing routes - three went to Danny Coale and two went to Jarrett Boykin. Why isn't Dyrell Roberts sent on THOSE routes utilizing his open-field skills with the ball in his hands? When the Hokies were in the red zone, Stinespring called a total of ZERO fade routes to Boykin, Boyce or Marcus Davis. The offense burned two timeouts in the first 8 minutes of the game because of different people on offense getting lined up incorrectly or too slowly. There were zero plays from the vaunted Wild Turkey formation. I mean the entire thing would be a comedy if it didn't just make me sick to my stomach.

Another hallmark of a Stinespring-led offense is an inability to beat the blitz. Here's something to chew on - Alabama blitzed (meaning brought six or more players on the pass rush) 10 times on Saturday night not counting goal line plays. Against those 10 blitzes the Hokies were sacked 4 times and attempted 6 passes with 1 complete for 4 yards and none of the plays against an Alabama blitz went for a first down. To defeat a blitz, you utilize a back in the flat or set-up a screen pass, or you hit a slant, or you roll the QB away from the pressure. There was a total of one called pass to a RB in the flat. The Hokies tried one screen pass to David Wilson (not against a blitz by the way) and Alabama read it so easily that one defensive lineman didn't even rush Taylor but instead immediately covered Wilson so Taylor had to throw the ball into the dirt. Three slants were attempted and none were complete, though one led to a pass-interference call on Alabama. There was a total of one QB roll-out called, which is amazing when you consider how athletic Taylor is and how effective that can be against a blitz. And for those of you wanting to lay the loss at Tyrod Taylor's feet, let me defer to QB coach Mike O'Cain here -

"He had only one mis-read on the goal line where I think he panicked a bit, thinking he could run it in when he had an open receiver and didn't get the ball to him."

That play was on 3rd and goal in the 2nd quarter after the Antoine Hopkins interception. Bama brought the blitz and sure enough Ryan Williams was wide open in the flat for a TD. A good play to beat the blitz and Taylor missed the read. The Hokies still got a FG out of it so it's not like that play was the difference in the ball game. But two things jump out at me here -

1) If that was Taylor's only mis-read during that game then that means the rest of the time, he made the right reads and if that's the case, my point above about the wrong receivers being in the wrong patterns for their skills is BY DESIGN.

2) This play with the RB in the flat against the blitz happened with 9:00 left in the 2nd quarter. It was wide open, SO WHY ON EARTH DIDN'T THE OFFENSE EVER GO BACK TO IT THE REST OF THE GAME?

Yes, Taylor could have certainly thrown the ball better but it doesn't belong on him either. No, the main reason the Hokies lost this game is because the offense had a grand total of two drives that lasted longer than 1:54 and that completely burned out a Hokie defense that showed it was indeed capable of stopping the Alabama offense. It was a miserable performance that was worse than any opponent the Crimson Tide played in all of 2008 - a list that includes such distinguished programs as Western Kentucky, Tulane and Arkansas STATE.

At the end of the day, the Hokies will have more talent than most of the teams they play the rest of this year. Because of that, the Hokies look like they will have another solid season, as long as they can shake off the psychological effects of this painful loss, which is something Coach Beamer is pretty damn good at after so much practice at doing it. When they do, they will be competitive in the ACC and as a Superfan, I admit to being happy about that. But what I am sick and tired of is getting patted on the head and being told collectively by the elite football programs -"Yes you play very hard and you can be good when you grow up but for now go eat your Cap'n Crunch at the kiddie table" because the offensive coordination and execution is not at the level it needs to be. I think it has been proven in this Alabama game, as it has so many times before, that if the program ever wants to sit at the "grown-up table", they will have to make a change at offensive coordinator.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Hokie Freshman Class of the NFL

The Hokies didn't graduate too many players to the NFL this season, but those who made it certainly warrant mention. This post give a little tid-bit about each of them.

Victor “Macho” Harris

To no surprise to the College Football world, an NFL team picked Victor “Macho” Harris during the draft. The Philadelphia Eagles selected the 5’11’, 187 lbs. cornerback as the 21st pick of round 5, the 157th pick overall.

High School Career

Harris high school career earned him many accolades. When playing for Highland Spring, he led the Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area teams in rushing during his Senior year. He scored 27 touchdowns that same season. Playing defense, he notched 22 tackles and made 3 interceptions. The Roanoke Times named him Offensive Player of the Year in Virginia’s AAA group.

He earned the honor of All-State first-team, and Prep Star named him as the second-best collegiate prospect in the nation. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer paid him a visit at home on a recruiting trip. During that visit, the kitchen in Harris’ house caught fire. While putting out the fire, Harris suffered third degree burns leaving scars on his face and requiring skin graphs on his arm. Very soon into his recovery, he committed to playing for Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech.

College Career

During Harris’ true Freshman year he played primarily on special teams. He blocked a kick, deflected two passes, and made 12 tackles (7 of them solo). During his Sophomore season, he earned the starting job at cornerback. He made 4 interceptions and 34 tackles (22 of them solo). In his Junior year he received All-ACC honors for starting all 14 games of the season. He began doing kick returns and performed a 100-yard runback against Clemson. Also in his Junior year accomplishments, he deflected 11 passes. As a Senior he made 46 tackles (32 of them solo), recovered a fumble, and caused two fumbles. He intercepted 6 passes, returning two of them for touchdowns. Performing runbacks on special teams, he did 25 punt returns where he averaged 15 yards per return. He also assumed some of the team’s offensive duties. Harris caught eight passes for a total of 63 yards as well as rushed during 5 carries. Harris’s enthusiasm and gusto made him evolve into a natural leader on the field. Many players of the 2008 squad looked up to him for that leadership as the only starting Senior for the defense.

Professional Career

NFL pundits predict that he will most likely fit into a zone scheme defense as a shutdown cornerback. (A “shutdown cornerback” earns that title for “shutting down” half of the playing field.) He may play that role in his traditional position, cornerback, but he may also fit well into a system as a free safety. Coaches take note of his strong playing instincts but note that he does not have the same speed as the fastest in professional football. To compensate for that at the collegiate level, he often made contact with opponents, but that may come under greater referee scrutiny in the NFL. Philadelphia will most likely position him where he can play to his strengths of short-bursts of quickness, awareness of the field, and well rounded abilities as a versatile player.

Sean Glennon

Although former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon did not receive a draft pick or even a spot on an NFL team, I think it worth noting his current whereabouts.

High School Career

Glennon started as quarterback for Westfield High School in Centerville, VA during his Junior and Senior years. In his Senior year, he led his team to win the AAA Division 6 state championship. The Associated Press and the Virginia Coaches’ elected him to their all-state teams and the Washington Post all-Metro first team. He earned High School All-America honors by PrepStar and SuperPrep. The Roanoke Times ranked him as the number four player in the state, and ranked him the number three player in the state.

College Career

Glennon’s career at Virginia Tech went for a roller coaster ride. As a true Freshman he backed up Bryan Randall while Marcus Vick served a year long suspension for off field conduct. Upon Vick’s return the following year he red-shirted and did not play that season. Then, Vick’s off field conduct once again resulted in disciplinary action, this time resulting in expulsion. In his red-shirt Sophomore year, Glennon took the helm as the number one spot at the quarterback position. Over the course of the season, he threw for a completion rate of 56.3%, 2191 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. His numbers had positive signs and negative signs, but he led his team to a well finished season earning a bid in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Georgia. Glennon and the Hokies played a strong first half, but broke down in the second half. Geogia exposed and took advantage of Glennon’s greatest weakness, and quickly collapsing pocket. Blitz after blitz lead to blind passes and three interceptions that gave the Bulldogs all the mistakes they needed to turn the game around for a victory in their favor. Glennon returned as the starting quarterback for his Junior season, but after a start against LSU reminiscent of second half Chik-fil-A Bowl, head coach Frank Beamer decided to forgo the red-shirting of true Freshman Tyrod Taylor who relieved Glennon. Taylor quickly rose to the starting quarterback; however, still early in the season, Taylor suffered a high ankle sprain. Glennon re-entered the picture and gave a stellar performance. He threw so consistently that he kept the starting job to finish the regular season with respectable numbers: 60.9% completion rate, 12 touchdowns, and 1796 passing yards. He received the honor of MVP against Boston College in the Hokies’ win in the ACC Championship. However, the entire team collapsed during the Orange Bowl against Kansas and dropped another post season contest. Beamer named Glennon as the starting quarterback the next year setting a similar stage to that of the previous season. The Hokies suffered a loss in the season opener against ECU, Beamer pulled Glennon and elevated Taylor back to the starting role. Taylor would suffer yet another ankle sprain, and Glennon would get his chance, but strangely enough Glennon himself suffered an ankle sprain only a few plays later. Glennon would have to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines for the most part.

Post College

No NFL pundits predicted that Glennon wouldn't receive a draft pick, and he didn’t. He received invitations to training camps from Pittsburgh, Houston, and Minnesota. He chose to accept Minnesota’s invitation where former Virginia Tech assistant coach, Kevin Rogers, now coaches. Full of hope and enthusiasm he headed for Minnesota and worked well through the training camp, but all the while the story of Brett Farvre returning to the NFL with Minnesotta began to loom. Suddenly, Farve decided to come back, and the Vikings released Glennon. Towards the beginning of training camp, Kyle Tucker wrote an article about the struggling quarterback. In the article Glennon seeks no sympathy, expresses no regret, and looks back fondly upon his years as a Hokie, even in the light of the booing that came from some of his own fans. For now, Glennon sits at home pondering what to do next while he waits for the off-chance call from an NFL franchise that has a sudden opening on a practice squad so that he can keep his football career alive with hope just a little longer. However, football doesn’t round out the Hokie quarterback’s talents. Glennon demonstrated one of his greatest assets as the speed at which he could lean a playbook. The Hokie coaching staff lauded his aptitude. In his article, Tucker notes that Glennon scores a 35 on the Wonderlic test. The average NFL football player scores a 20, the average person scores a 24, and the average chemist scores a 31. Sean Glennon may well be destined for great successes in something outside the role of a quarterback.

Orion Martin

Orion Martin didn’t receive a draft pick, but the Detroit Lyons have activated him on their roster.

High School

Martin played for George Washington High School. In his Senior season he earned a selection to the All-Western Valley Conference first-team.

College Career

Martin played a single season at Hargrave ilitary Academy Prep School prior to coming to Virginia Tech. He walked onto the Hokie Squad in his Sophomore year and red-shirted. He played on the scout team and won the Paul Torgerson Award, given to the scout team’s best new arrival. In the subsequent season, Martin played during all 13 games as a 2nd string defensive end. He received the George Preas Award, earned by the most valuable defensive player in the Spring. In his red-shirt Junior year he earned a spot on the starting lineup and also made strong contributions on special teams. By his Senior year, he had made team captain and put up stellar defensive numbers: 53 tackles (25 solo), 17 quarterback pressures, 14.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage, and 7.5 sacks. He truly has made his own college career beginning as a unknown to a key contributor and leader.

Professional Career

Martin goes to the struggling Lyons, who made NFL history last season in loosing all 16 regular season games, ironically after winning all 4 preseason games. Pro scouting reports note his all around athleticism, speed, quickness, and tackling ability. They also take note of his demonstrated leadership ability and versatility to move between defense and special teams. On the downside, they refer to his average size and need to improve on defending the run.