Virginia Tech (6) at Duke
12:00 PM ET, October 3, 2009
Wallace Wade Stadium , DURHAM, NC
This Saturday, Virginia Tech squares off against the Duke Blue Devils in Durham, NC. The Hokie coaching staff has publicly stated they won't look past this game, and I find that reassuring because for those games that you do can lead to trailing late in the fourth quarter while fans burry their heads into their hands asking how things got to such a state. Yes, Duke comes from a pair of states that have never produced a sustained powerhouse in Division I college football. Yes, Duke only completed two passes against Virginia Tech in last season's game. Yes, Virginia Tech turned the ball over five times in the 2008 contest, and still won handily. But you can't add all that together and come to a conclusion that the Hokies can just take Duke lightly and look onward to later contests against Boston College and Georgia Tech.
First, as MadJay noted in his game review against Miami, Virginia Tech's offense displayed a significantly positive shift in its performance. Playing Duke gives the perfect opportunity to keep that momentum going. I haven't reached the point to where I will credit offensive coordinator Bryan Steinspring because, as MadJay also notes, he may well have stuck with the running game against Miami because the weather left him very little choice to do otherwise. If the play calling sustains at that level through the Boston College and Georgia Tech games, I may drift more towards giving him some credit. But something did strike me as very positive, and I noticed it starting to happen during the Nebraska game. Tyrod Taylor has begun playing his position as more of a quarterback who happens to have great athleticism rather than as a great athlete playing the role of a quarterback. He looks for the pass and exhibits patience to find an open man. In seasons prior and even during earlier games in this season, he looked for the pass and if he didn't quickly a target, he went straight to the run. To state things fairly, he didn't always have the luxury of time because of missed blocks, but overall I notice that when the pocket breaks down, he has begun to roll away from pressure to buy time looking for an open man instead of reacting by sprinting for yardage seemingly in desperation. Don't get me wrong. He still executes well when rushing for yardage, but he makes his decision of when to rush with more calculation. Besides, we don't want our number one quarterback taking punishing hits during a rush that he doesn't have to sustain. During the Nebraska game, I started to notice this shift in his play, although many pass attempts in drops as well as overthrown and under-thrown passes, at least until the game's final drive. Against Miami, considering the pouring rain, he executed his passing game very well. While the running game dominated the offense's play calling, the passing game still racked up 98 yards and one touchdown.
Why do dwell on this point? I do so because I hope that he continues to exhibit this type of play on Saturday. To continue to win against teams from other BCS conferences, Taylor's play must continue to improve his passing game, and I think he may have gotten well on his way to doing so.
What to the Hokies face on Saturday? Duke's offensive line showcases some size in Kyle Hill, Jarrod Holt, Mitchell Lederman, Brian Moore, and Bryan Morgan. All stand well above six feet; Lenderman himself stands a towering 6”8'! Thaddeus Lewis takes the snaps for the Blue Devils, and his numbers don't look too bad. He has thrown for 58%
completion rate and 783 yards, although he hasn't faced a defense quite like that of the Hokies. Patrick Kurunwune and Desmond Scott have caught for a total of 221 combined yards. Receivers Johnny Williams and Austin Kelley have very comparable numbers rushing for a combined total of 492 yards.
Accross the ACC, Duke's defense ranks ninth allowing 25.3 points per game. Their offense, however, in the ACC ranks fourth scoring 29.0 points per game, just shy of Virginia Tech's 30.8. Upsets can happen, and Duke very well could make the front page of espn.com on Saturday shocking college football fans with an upset. The Hokies should win this game, and have earned the status of favorites for good reason. At the same time, this contest offers opportunity to exercise some improvements in the offense's performance to set the stage for games yet to come. Let's hope our Hokies earn a good win and execute well on offense!