Sunday, November 01, 2009

Game Review - vs. North Carolina


Just two short games ago, the Hokies held a number 4 ranking in the polls, and they had put together a great streak of wins against some quality opponents. Virginia Tech fans saw only one major contest ahead of them in Georgia Tech. After that, they could hope for smooth sailing until reaching the ACC championship game and with a victory there maybe even an arguable claim to the National Championship Bowl Game. A loss to Georgia Tech put a major setback on this great season, and now a loss to North Carolina has brought the season down to the point of simply striving for bowl eligibility. Hokie fans don't find this late season skid as terribly unfamiliar. I can think back to a number of seasons where the Hokies held a single digit ranking in the late weeks of the season but lost to an opponent over which the pundits had deemed them as favorites to win thus shattering fans' hopes of a major bowl appearance. That has happened this season, and it stings especially much because I think most Hokie fans agree that this season's team in particular does have the potential to play against any of the top 5 ranked teams. But as much pain as it brings, I go on with the review...

Let's recap the offense's performance. Virginia Tech opens the game with two plays gaining 45 yards between a Ryan Williams rush and a reception by Jarrett Boykin. Boykin then fumbles after his reception for a turnover to the Tarheels. Believe it or not, the Hokies made this as their best offensive drive of the quarter. The subsequent two drives would lead to a punt and then a turnover on downs. The second quarter offered more of the same. Virginia Tech went for two three-and-out's and another turnover on downs. All the while, the UNC offense had managed to put a touchdown onto the board. The Hokies went into the locker room scoreless. Over the past few games, we've watched Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring make some big strides with this offense, but his squad failed to make the adjustments needed to get into the endzone. That is absolutely unacceptable for a program aiming for success in the bowl season. I don't want to take away anything from the 'Heel's defense; let's congratulate them on the success. Their defense ranks as second best in the ACC, in points per game, trailing only Clemson. In yards per game, they rank first. The real possibility exists that the Hokie offense hasn't faced a defense this strong since the season opener against Alabama or against Nebraska.

The Hokie defense on the other hand, played a marvelous first half. They forced three consecutive three-and-outs, one of which happened right after the early momentum shifting fumble by Boykin. They only broke down on one drive allowing UNC to march 84 yards down the field for a touchdown.

The Hokie offense in the second half finally started to pick up. After the defense forced another UNC three-and-out, they marched down the field 82 yards to put up a touchdown and even the score. But the very next drive, the 'Heels put on another long sustained drive of their own for 84 yards to take the lead. At that point, we had begun to witness the Virginia Tech defense start to falter. The third worst offense in the ACC had just conducted two 84 yard drives resulting in touchdowns against Virginia Tech. All the while, the Hokies had kept themselves very much in the game. The defense came up big with Rashad Charmichael intercepting UNC quarterback TJ Yates' pass at the UNC 10 yard line, which he ran down to the UNC 5. This set up a quick Hokie touchdown to draw the score to 17-14 in favor of the Hokies. But on a crucial possession the Hokie defense allowed UNC to pile on one more long drive of 78 yards, finishing that off with a field goal. With the score tied, Virginia Tech had a short gap of time to get a late score to win the ball game. The offense turned to the explosive Darren Evans replacement, Ryan Williams, who fumbled the ball in Hokie territory. With only 2:02 left to play, the 'Heels effectively burned the clock down to the final seconds and kicked the winning field goal.

When I look back on this game summary, I think about the major failures of the Hokies. First, and foremost, the offense cannot play an entire half without putting points on the board. Just for sake of morale for the fans and the defense, they have to demonstrate they ability to get within scoring distance and execute. I restrain some of this criticism considering that UNC has one of the best defense's in the ACC, arguably the best depending on which stats you want to emphasize, but I can't restrain it too much due to their strength of schedule. They have not faced opponents such as Miami, Nebraska, and Alabama. The Hokie offense failed to adjust to UNC's pressure, and the successive three-and-out possessions underscore that. The lopsided time of possession, 36:14 to 23:46 in favor of UNC, also underscores that even further, and it translates to how well the defense plays. A defense on the field for that amount of time has to overcome fatigue and exhaustion. Allowing three drives ranging between 78 ad 84 yards to put points on the board means playing well against an offense of Florida, USC, Alabama, or LSU for example, but when the defense allows those kinds of drives by an offense that ranks third worst in the ACC, that means Bud Foster's squad didn't make the necessary adjustments. I have full confidence that Bud Foster can correct the problems, but I do find it unsettling that this defense has not played like the one Hokie fans have come to know and love for two games in a row now.

At this point in the season, we Hokie fans don't have a high profile bowl game to which we can look forward, but our squad can still make this into a good finish and earn a bid to play against another out-of-conference powerhouse team who has likewise had a few bumps in the road for their season as well. Let's get behind our Orange and Maroon and cheer for a good finish.


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