Sunday, November 15, 2009

Game Review - VT vs. Maryland

The Hokies throttled Maryland in Byrd Stadium yesterday 36-9. The offensive line picked up blitzes, RB Ryan Williams ran with authority and QB Tyrod Taylor delivered crisp passes mixed in with big plays downfield. The Hokie defense was dominant in every aspect with the exception of keeping contain on the Maryland QB Jamarr Robinson who had one of the craziest stat lines I can remember seeing - out of Maryland's 236 total yards, Robinson ran or passed for 233 of them. He accounted for all but 3 yards of Maryland's entire offense!

This is what Virginia Tech football should have looked like during the season. This level of execution is all I have asked for since the opening snap of the season and at rare points during this campaign (against Miami and BC) we have seen glimpses of what the team is capable of. Unfortunately, with the way the rest of the ACC has improved in talent and coaching, playing at a high level for some of a season isn't good enough anymore to win an ACC Coastal division title, much less the entire ACC championship or national title.

The game started off with a very positive sign for Virginia Tech. On their first series, they faced a 3rd and 4 and Taylor dropped back and delivered a strike to Danny Coale for 7 yards and a first down. I have been on coordinator Stinespring and Taylor all season for not developing any rhythm in the passing game but against Maryland, Taylor had a mental count in his head when he dropped back and he either delivered the ball or pulled it down and got positive yards with it. As a result VT only lost 8 total yards on two sacks. It's no coincidence then that Taylor also had his 2nd best passing day of the season.

While Maryland was determined to stack the box to stop Ryan Williams from rushing the ball in the first half, Taylor kept up the aerial barrage. He hit deep balls, he hit crossing routes, slants, WR screens, hell I thought it was a mirage at the time but yes, when I re-watched the footage each of the tight ends (Greg Boone, Andre Smith and Sam Wheeler) had a catch as well.

All of this led to a 20-3 lead (should have been 21 but for a botched snap on an extra point). And then Taylor delivered one of his signature plays of the season. I recall the play he made as a true freshman in 2007 rolling to his left and delivering a perfect ball to Justin Harper against Florida State late in the game. His sophomore season was marked by an impossible throw while being sacked on third down against UNC to turn that game around and a huge run against UVA to swing that game as well. Well 2009 has had plenty of highlights, but good heavens what a play Taylor made with 8:17 left in the 2nd quarter.

The Hokies had just forced a punt from Maryland and taken over at the 36 yard line. Taylor dropped back to pass to the left sideline but WR Danny Coale was covered. So he came back and found his 2nd read which was a deep post from left to right by WR Jarrett Boykin. Just before he got pummeled, Taylor stepped into the throw and delivered a 35-yard laser to Boykin in between two defenders. Boykin broke a tackle and jogged into the end zone for a 64 yard score which Taylor never saw because he was buried into the muddy field. The ball had almost no arc on it over that long distance. I've said it before but there are probably only 10 other QB's playing Division I-A football who could have made that play (meaning the read, and then being able to deliver that throw). QB's that come to mind are Kyle Parker from Clemson, Andrew Luck at Stanford, and Ryan Mallet at Arkansas. And none of those guys are ever going to have an 81 yard rushing day (although Luck has much better mobility than people think) which is what Taylor put on the board Saturday against the Terrapins.

In the 2nd half, I was very excited to see the Hokie offensive line grind the clock and get Williams on track. Everyone in the stadium knew the Hokies were going to run the ball and they just imposed their will and ran it anyway. Williams has that characteristic of his idol (Walter Payton) and other great runners in that he gets stronger as the game goes on. He started breaking tackles and big runs in the third quarter and ended the day with 126 yards and a TD putting Williams within 3 rushing yards of the freshman rushing record set just last season by Darren Evans.

As for the defense, they literally allowed 3 yards rushing by all the Terrapin wide receivers and running backs. More importantly the defense only gave up 3 points (the other 6 points were when the Maryland defense recovered a Tyrod Taylor fumble in his own end zone in the 4th quarter). Jake Johnson got in a game for the first time since being benched for Lyndell Gibson and played very very well, but there's a disclaimer. When Johnson went in at linebacker in the 2nd half, the Maryland offense was really pretty watered down. There was less motion and very little adjustment before the snap. You really got the sense Ralph Friedgen just wanted to run some plays and get out of the stadium. Johnson has always been aggressive and athletic and with nothing tricky to read, he made big plays including 2 sacks. It was good to see Johnson get on track though as competition for playing time is what brings out the best in a football team.

The defense had 5 sacks overall and Rock Carmichael played at an extremely high level, breaking up two passes including one in the end zone on 4th and goal. The defense while nice and aggressive, simply could not contain the QB scrambling and QB draws by Robinson who, despite the 5 sacks, rushed for 129 yards. I thought Foster should have been spying Robinson with LB Cody Grimm and kept the line splits tighter because every time a big pass rush came from the outside it would open up a running lane behind it and Robinson would take off.

Special teams were also very special for Virginia Tech in this game. Matt Waldron drilled 3 FG's in the 2nd half. Bowden only averaged 38.8 yards/punt but pinned two inside the 20 and one one 1-yd line and his hang time limited Maryland to -7 yards in returns. Meanwhile, Jayron Hosley averaged 14.3 yds/punt return which doesn't include a 42 yarder that was brought back by a very poorly called block in the back penalty on the Hokies.

All-in-all this was a complete victory for Virginia Tech. They beat a team that has been crippled by injuries on both sides of the ball, but it was a road win and most importantly the offense executed very crisply in the first half and controlled the clock in the 2nd half. The result was the 2nd best offensive performance of the season while the defense allowed 3 points for the 2nd week in a row. If Tech can keep this going, they have a legitimate chance at beating NC State soundly next week at home and really capturing some late season momentum headed into the rivalry game against the hated Wahoos.


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