Friday, October 30, 2009

3 Key Plays - VT vs. UNC

1) On the first series of the game, the Hokies gained 45 yards on their first two plays (they would have a total of 26 yards gained on the next 5 SERIES). At the end of the second play which was a 20 yard pass to Jarrett Boykin to the UNC 27 yard line, Boykin didn't secure the ball and for the second time in three games (@Duke) Boykin fumbled after a big gainer deep in opponent territory. The offense went completely into the tank the rest of the half, whereas if this play would have held up, the offense might have gotten into gear and certainly would have scored early. Good teams come out swinging and the Hokie offense for the 2nd week in a row, self-destructed in the first half wasting a brilliant half of football by the defense.

2) At the 11:51 mark of the 4th quarter having just taken the lead at 17-14, the Hokie defense was in the midst of holding UNC to a three and out and really swinging the entire momentum of the game towards VT. Rock Carmichael defended an extremely well-thrown pass on 3rd and 4 from the UNC 26 yard line and somehow the referee decided it was pass interference. It simply was not. The phantom holding call on Ryan Williams' "TD" run 1 minute prior was the worst call of the game (I have watched that play over and over again focusing on a different player each time. Not only did Blake DeChristopher not hold, no offensive player held, it was one of the cleanest blocked plays you can imagine. High school coaches should receive film of that play to demonstrate exactly how you are supposed to block). In instances like that, the refs usually give a make-up call going the other way. But in this instance they followed the non-existent holding call with a non-existent pass interference call and both were on VT?! The announcers, who are even instructed to take it easy on the officials, clearly questioned the interference call, it was so blatant. The Hokies didn't lose the game simply because of this call, but it certainly had a huge impact on the momentum of the game as UNC went on to score on this drive to tie it up.

3) You all expect the Ryan Williams fumble here on 3rd and 7, I suppose, but that wasn't the third key play (though that was an absolutely idiotic, let's-play-for-overtime, typical Stiney play call). The third key play was 3rd and 3 from the VT 17 yard line with 1:51 left in the game. UNC RB Ryan Houston ran for a first down on this play and it allowed UNC to run the clock out to give their FG kicker a chance to win as time expired. Had the Hokies stopped Houston on this play several things would have happened - a) Barth would have had to make about a 33-34 yard FG which, to win the game, would not have been a gimme and b) even if Barth had made it, the Hokies would have gotten the ball back with about 1:10 left and with the way the offense was playing in the 2nd half, and the kickoff return game was working, could have been plenty of time to get into FG range to send the game to overtime. Credit UNC here, but there's just no way, after having carried the ball two times previously, that Houston should have been able to gain 3 yards on this play. I can't believe a Bud Foster coached defense, with the game on the line, gave up 3 straight runs for 10 yards even after 2 timeouts were used to keep the players fresh. By converting that down, UNC secured the win thereby completely breaking my heart.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

EhhTee's Picks (Week 9)

Last week was one of my better days. Sad when 4-3 vs. the line is one of my better days. In straight pick 'ems I did much better with 5-2. I even nearly nailed the GT v. UVA score.

Last Week's Results

Florida St. @ UNCGT @ UVA
Line: UNC -2Line: Georgia Tech -4
Pick: Florida St.Pick: Georgia Tech
Score: FSU 23 - UNC 17Score: GT 33 - UVA 13
Actual: FSU 30 - UNC 27Actual: GT 34 - UVA 9

Maryland @ DukeBC @ Notre Dame
Line: Duke -6Line: Notre Dame -9.5
Pick: DukePick: Boston College
Score: UMD 0 - Duke 34Score: BC 17 - ND 21
Actual: UMD 13 - Duke 17Actual: BC 16 - ND 20

Clemson @ MiamiOregon @ Washington
Line: Miami -7Line: Oregon -7.5
Pick: MiamiPick: Washington
Score: Clemson 15 - UM 31Score: Oregon 21 - UW 33
Actual: Clem. 40 – UM 37Actual: Oregon 43 - UW 19

Penn State @ MichiganThis Week (Overall)
Line: Penn State -4Line: 4-3 (23-32)
Pick: Penn StatePicks: 5-2 (33-23)
Score: PSU 34 - UM 21
Actual: PSU 35 – UM 10

This Week's Picks

Georgia Tech @ Vanderbilt
Line: Georgia Tech -13.5

Georgia Tech steps out into non-conference play before finishing their conference play. Tech is looking solid all around and I see no reason for them to lose this one but it'll be closer than the odds indicate.

Pick: Vanderbilt
Score: GA Tech 28 - Vandy 17

Duke @ Virginia
Line: Virginia -6.5

Duke is on a roll and is looking to become bowl eligible with two more wins. This would be the first time since 1994. Virginia can become bowl eligible with a win on Saturday.

Pick: Duke
Score: Duke 34 - UVA 15

USC @ Oregon
Line: USC -3.5

This one's the game of the week. Both teams are vying for the PAC 10 championship and a shot at the Rose Bowl. USC still has an outside shot of playing a week later for the national title. Will they survive? Or will Oregon dash the Trojans hopes... again?

Pick: Oregon
Score: USC 24 - Oregon 43

Texas @ Oklahoma St
Line: Texas -9

Oklahoma State stands as Texas's last big obstacle to the Big Twelve title and on to the national title game. Oklahoma St is down a few players and is rolling since a disappointing loss to Houston. Texas still hasn't proved to me that they are a top five team. It took Sam Bradford going down for them to seal the deal against Oklahoma despite OU giving them the ball like a hundred times. A win here might change my opinion.

Pick: Oklahoma St
Score: Texas 27 - Ok St. 37

Miami @ Wake Forest
Line: Miami -7

Miami's loss to Clemson was a shocker. I couldn't believe it and had to look at it twice when I saw it. This team reminds me of some Hokie squads we've seen. Winning huge and looking top ten like one week and losing big and looking like a bottom dweller the next.

Pick: Miami
Score: Miami 31 - Wake 18

NC State @ Florida St
Line: Florida St. -7.5

With all of the national hype over Bowden/Fisher controversy subsiding, Florida St. can once again focus on football. The Seminoles need to win out to be bowl eligible and I don't foresee them having an issue picking up this win.

Pick: Florida St.
Score: NC St. 17 - Florida St. 34

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tech Must Avoid The Trap...

It's a trap!
- Admiral Ackbar

Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1) is coming off a disappointing loss to, now front-runner in the Coastal Division, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Jackets (7-1, 5-1), who soundly defeated the Wahoos on Saturday, need wins against Wake Forest and Duke to clinch the title.

Meanwhile, the Hokies have had to deal with having their outside hopes of playing for the national title AND hopes of playing for the ACC title stripped in one fell swoop. The Hokies have had extra time to think about those implications, but this Thursday night's game could very well be a trap game for them.
19:30 EDT
29 Oct. 2009
The North Carolina Tarheels (4-3, 0-3), under the direction of Coach Butch Davis, have had a rocky first half of the season despite high early expectations. The Tarheels are also coming off a disappointing loss. Leading big against Florida State, North Carolina watched a late 3rd quarter lead of 24-6 disappear. UNC may have a bit of bitter taste in their mouths after performing so well early only to end up losing 30-27.

Last year's showdown between Tech and UNC had similar results. The Tarheels held a 17-3 lead deep into the thirdth quarter, however three quick scores within a six minute span by the Hokies gave Tech the come-from-behind victory in Chapel Hill. The Tarheels will have both losses in mind and either will rally to keep bowl hopes alive or fold to the emotions of defeat. Coaching and desire will define which direction they choose.

During that contest in Keenan Stadium, Quarterback T.J. Yates (Jr, #13) left the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter ahead 10-3. The next play was a 50 yard run for a touchdown giving them the 17-3 advantage, but eventually the Tarheels killed their own momentum with five penalties that kept the Hokies' drive alive on several occasions. Committing three turnovers all giving the Hokies the ball in or near the red zone didn't help their case either.

This year Yates has been healthy but he is still turnover prone. Yates has had decent numbers this year with 1,028 yards passing for seven touchdowns, but his eight interceptions and fifteen sacks have led the Tarheels to a less than stellar start.

Yates' two main targets this year have been Erik Highsmith (Fr, #88, 295 yards with two touchdowns) and Greg Little (Jr, #8, 290 yards with a touchdown), were held to just 65 yards against Florida State.

Junior running back Shaun Draughn (#20) has 481 rushing yards and one touchdown. This pales in comparison to Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams (r-Fr, #34) who has 834 yards rushing with ten touchdowns.

Overall, the Tarheels are highly talented, but perhaps still too young and inexperienced to get the big victories.

In the Hokies' game against the Yellow Jackets, as MadJay predicted, the first play from scrimmage on offense was a play action pass setting the tone for what appeared to be a return to the old ways. If the Hokies are going to win this game, they will need to return to what worked in the weeks leading up to the Georgia Tech loss. Specifically, they need to commit to the run again.

Offensive Coordinator Bryan Stinespring has had flashes of brilliance [Never thought I'd use that word with Coach Stinespring in the same sentence, didya?], and had an actual complete game or two of good coaching decisions this year. He needs to take a good look at what worked in those games and what didn't against Georgia Tech and bring them to the field Thursday.

On defense, the Hokies need to focus on disciplined assignment coverage. Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt (Jr, #9) completed just two passes in just seven attempts. One of those was an interception! Would you believe a quarterback with those stats could lead a team to victory? Defending the run has hurt the Hokies this year and needs to be stepped up this week.

All of this needs to come together for the Hokies to have a solid victory. But what I haven't mentioned yet is that Lane Stadium, or should I say Terrordome, [Yes, Corey Moore realizes that Lane is not actually a dome.] is one of the toughest places to play on the planet on Thursday night. Tech is 15-4 overall and 9-2 at home in their previous 19 appearances on ESPN College Football Primetime. The only teams to beat the Hokies on Thursday night (in the modern era*) are Boston College and Miami.

However, one of those losses to Boston College came in October of 2006, when the Hokies had their national title hopes smashed by Georgia Tech and ten days later played on Thursday night. (Sound familiar?) The Hokies came into that game dejected and let Boston College walk all over them losing 22-3.

What it all boils down to is that this will be an exciting game to watch this Thursday. The last six games between the two schools had been decided by seven points or less. Break out the antacid. Strap in to your favorite chair. And lets watch some Hokie football!


* Tech used to play VMI on Thanksgiving Day each year between 1913 and 1969.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The second TSF poll sees little movement among the top six. After losing to Clemson, Miami falls eight spots to number 20. Boise State gets little respect here falling two spots as Oregon and Georgia Tech rise to front runners to win their respective conferences. The Hokies gained two spots with the Miami loss and perhaps some reconfiguring on the voters parts.

1 Alabama (2) 74
2 Florida (1) 73
3 Iowa 66
3 Texas 66
5 Cincinnati 62
6 USC 60
7 LSU 56
8 Texas Christian 55
9 Oregon 47
10 Georgia Tech 46
11 Boise State 45
12 Oklahoma St. 37
13 Pittsburgh 36
13 Virginia Tech 36
15 Penn State 35
16 West Virginia 31
17 Utah 30
18 Houston 27
19 Ohio State 21
20 Mississippi 12
20 Miami (FL) 12
22 Wisconsin 9
23 Notre Dame 8
23 South Carolina 8
25 Brigham Young 6

Thursday, October 22, 2009

EhhTee's Picks (Week 7)

This has been a tough year for the ole EhhTee. Boise, Notre Lame, and Alabama disappointed me by not making the spread. Last week, I went 2-5 for an overall abysmal 19-29. Score picks have been better but not by much. I went 3-4 last week putting my overall to 28-21.

Last Week's Results:

BoiseSt. @ TulsaCincinnati @ S. Florida
Line: Boise State -10Line: Cincinnati -2.5
Pick: Boise StatePick: S. Florida
Score: Boise State 43 - Tulsa 27Score: Cinci. 10 - S. Florida 17
Actual: Boise St 28 - Tulsa 21Actual: Cinci. 34 - S. Florida 17

USC @ Notre DameS. Carolina @ Alabama
Line: USC -11Line: Alabama -17.5
Pick: Notre LamePick: Tide rolls
Score: USC 24 - Notre Lame 27Score: S. Carolina 13 - Bama 45
Actual: USC 34 - Notre Lame 27Actual:S. Carolina 6 - Bama 20

Texas Tech @ NebraskaVirginia @ Maryland
Line: Nebraska -6Line: Virginia -4
Pick: Texas TechPick: Maryland
Score: TT 21 - Nebraska 24Score: UVA 21 - UMD 28
Actual: TT 31 - Nebraska 10Actual: UVA 20 - UMD 9

Oklahoma vs. TexasThis Week (Overall)
Line: Texas -2.5Line: 2-5 (19-29)
Pick: OklahomaPicks: 3-4 (28-21)
Score: Oklahoma 34 - Texas 24
Actual: OU 13 - Texas 16

This Week's Picks:

Florida State @ North Carolina
Line: UNC -2

Florida State is desperate for a win. Coaching issues aside, I think the Seminoles will pull together and make a decent second half of the season.

Pick: Florida St.
Score: FSU 23 - UNC 17

Georgia Tech @ Virginia
Line: Georgia Tech -4

Tech is the most likely of the 1 loss teams to run the table with a pretty weak schedule coming up. Virginia has been surging but they will not be able to handle the speed of the Georgia Tech offense.

Pick: Georgia Tech.
Score: GT 33 - UVA 13

Maryland @ Duke
Line: Duke -6

Duke is looking good this year and this team led by very talented Thaddeus Lewis will simply embarrass the Terrapins

Pick: Duke
Score: UMD 0 - Duke 34

Boston College @ Notre Dame
Line: Notre Dame -9.5

This game is always a thriller. Boston College will make this one close as always but the Irish will find a way to win this one.

Pick: Boston College
Score: BC 17 - Notre Lame 21

Clemson @ Miami
Line: Miami -7

Miami is a solid team and if not for the rain in Blacksburg might just be lossless.

Pick: Miami
Score: Clemson 15 - Miami 31

Upset Special
Oregon @ Washington

Line: Oregon -7.5

Oregon may end up looking forward a week to USC. Washington is firing on all cylinders. Injuries could be a factor too.

Pick: Washington
Score: Oregon 21 - Washington 33

Penn State @ Michigan
Line: Penn State -4

Penn State's loss to Iowa has left them for dead in the eyes of the media. All the talk about Iowa has left them in the shadows. And that's where they shine.

Pick: Penn State
Score: PSU 34 - UM 21

Monday, October 19, 2009

Game Review - VT vs. Georgia Tech

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...." - Charles Dickens

It would be simple to say that the Hokie offense and defense played great and terrible at different times on Saturday against Georgia Tech in the 28-23 loss. The first half the Hokie offense sucked and the second half the Hokie defense sucked. Sure, it's more nuanced than that but if you want the headline, there it is. Now I think that takes away too much credit from the Georgia Tech team. The Yellow Jacket defense was WAY more amped up in the first quarter than the Hokies' offense. And the Yellow Jacket offense in the 2nd half was a clinic, plain and simple.

So I am going to give a ton of credit to Coach Johnson and that offense for helping Georgia Tech win the game. And I will also break down the chess match between Johnson and Bud Foster in this game a little later on. It was neat to see and Coach Johnson won the battle this time. I think Coach Foster learned a whole heck of a lot about what to do in future matchups so that should be great to watch for years to come, as painful and gut-wrenching as it is right now.

But I am going to do this backwards. Rather than first blathering about the X's and O's of the Johnson vs. Foster battle, I am going to start with where this game was won and lost because when you really boil every single thing down, it had very little to do with the 2nd half. 'How can that be?' you might wonder. Well, look at it like this - the Virginia Tech offense was every bit as potent and unstoppable in the 2nd half as the Georgia Tech offense was. Each team scored 3 TD's in that half and answered each other's scores time after time. The problem was that Georgia Tech had a 7-3 lead at halftime. Even I can do that math.

So the real key to this game was the opening quarter. To wit - the Hokies had 1st and 10 inside Georgia Tech's 50 yard line three times on their first three drives (two of which BEGAN in Yellow Jacket territory). They scored zero points. Let's look at each drive and see where it went wrong:

1) After a big play on a 40 yard toss to Dyrell Roberts to get the ball on the Jacket 36 yard line the Hokies failed miserably in an old and painful (and familiar) way. They got blitzed. On 3rd and 12, the Jackets brought 7 rushers and sent one LB to cover the running back, leaving 3 DB's to cover Hokie receivers. The Hokies max protected with 6 blockers and sent the RB out on a route in the flat. This should have left one GT defender free to rush in, but as luck would have it, one of the Jacket linebackers was late to come up the middle. So this left all three WR's on the right side of the field in man-to-man coverage. Jarrett Boykin ran a post and without any safety help, he was 1000% wide open for a TD. Tyrod Taylor absolutely in this situation has to be coached to take a 1-2-3 step drop and lay the ball out on the post in that man-to-man situation. Instead, he took a deep drop and then tried to step up against the rush at which point the late blitzer ran up the middle and sacked him. Out of all the plays by the offense, this is really the one that got me, especially when going back and watching the replay. There is no excuse for this. None. O'Cain, Stinespring and Taylor need to spend time in the film room and on the practice field and get this down absolutely cold. Really, in this offense, with the players finally executing better, it is the one of the few remaining weaknesses (no tight end involvement) and it's been there for all of Stiney's tenure. For God's sake, burn one of the worst pass defenses in the conference if they come on a blitz like that. If they're not going to roll Taylor out against the blitz, then dammit, it MUST be a quick drop and "boom" fire the ball and count on the receiver to beat his man.

2) The second drive started on the Yellow Jacket 42-yd line. This was an old-fashioned run up the middle the first two downs and then throw in a passing situation. We've read this story before. Unfortunately the pass was completed short of the 1st down marker and the Hokies punted. I hate third down passes thrown short of the 1st down, especially on the sideline when there's no chance to have the WR (in this case, Dyrell Roberts) run for it. That should have been the 2nd down call, especially since it was a roll-out with a run/pass option for Taylor. But again, TE Greg Boone is a weapon that is supposed to be used on these 3rd downs and he just isn't. There is no repoire between Taylor and Boone and that is a result of those plays not being run often enough in practice until both are very comfortable with it. Boone wasn't even out in a route on this play. Again, Coach Stinespring called a 2nd down play on 3rd down and it gained five yards when they needed eight. Ridiculous.

3) This was a great play by Yellow Jacket defensive lineman Jason Peters. He jumped up and tipped the pass at the line of scrimmage and then dove to make an interception. Now unfortunately backup guard Greg Nosal was blocking Peters and he just doesn't have enough game experience to know that when his man tips the ball, he is to grab and tackle the opponent. Remember that once the ball is tipped, there is no such thing as pass interference and it's ok if your guy gets his arm up to tip a ball once in a while, but letting him make the interception is not acceptable. Nosal looked around for the ball instead of hitting Peters and it cost VT. He'll know for next time.

The end result of this is that the score at the end of the 1st quarter was 0-0 and the entire course of the game was set off in a particular direction that allowed the Jacket running game to play a huge factor while keeping the GT crowd in the game. That's when the game was truly lost for Virginia Tech. There really are only two ways to beat Georgia Tech - have them beat themselves (which is happening less and less this season) OR get out on them early.

In fact, just look at Georgia Tech's only loss this year against Miami. I did. I watched that game again. When they played GT, the 'Canes scored the first three times they had the ball to go up 17-3. Once the Canes got that lead, their defense played further from the line helping to defend the pass, but more importantly, to shut down the big running play from the Jackets. By forcing GT to try and drive the ball in the 2nd half, and then successfully converting on 3rd downs when Miami had the ball, the 'Canes made sure the clock was GT's worst enemy. And it worked. The Yellow Jackets threw the ball 15 times in an attempted come back (twice as many passes as they tried against the Hokies) which is definitely not their strong suit. Miami won the time of possession battle 34 minutes to 26 minutes and won the game.

If Virginia Tech would have been able to do the same in the first quarter, I can't say for certain they would have won the game, but it seems damn likely. Even if the Hokies would have only gotten 10 points in that quarter, the score would have been 13-7 in favor of VT at halftime and if the 2nd half would have played out exactly the same, it would have been 34-28 Hokies. Of course, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas. So let's move on and look at the epic battle between Coach Paul Johnson and Coach Bud Foster (can you imagine if these two guys were on the same staff? Holy Moses that would be an unstoppable team).

This battle kicked off with Coach Foster playing a different defense than he did against the Jackets last season. Maybe Foster was more worried about Georgia Tech trying to throw the ball deep downfield, but either way instead of the usual 8 man front to stop the run, Foster played a more traditional 4-3 defense in the front seven and played almost exclusively man-to-man defense on the receivers with the defensive backs. He blitzed the LB's several times and even sent a DB two times (playing zone behind them on those occasions) with good success in the 1st half. Dorian Porch and Chancellor had more freedom to read and react to the plays. One guy had backside coverage on reverse/mis-direction plays and the other guy ran and tackled whoever had the ball.

Also, in the first half, the defensive ends split duties between crashing down on Dwyer the diving FB, and coming off of the dive to hit the QB Nesbitt instead. In fact, if you watch at the 3:14 mark of the 1st quarter, Georgia Tech ran the exact same play they would score on to win the game at the end, and DE Jason Worilds rushed Nesbitt directly and hit him for a loss. There were very few misdirection plays, so Kam Chancellor got most of the work in run support and he played very well in the first half, making several tackles, including some solid hits on Nesbitt.

Thus the Yellow Jackets had one scoring drive in that first half and really, that only happened because they hit a huge pass play (their only completion of the game) on a great catch by Demaryius Thomas.

Now in the 2nd half, Coach Johnson made some phenomenal adjustments. I mean really, I was so sick watching this loss, but as a fan of well-executed football, that GT offense is very impressive. The first thing Coach Johnson did was begin attacking the perimeter early in the 2nd half, but this time, the A-back on the side the play was being run to dashed out to block down on Chancellor. Cody Grimm was having to read Nesbitt or the pitch and he guessed right about 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time on the outside pitch plays, the Jackets made big yards. By running to the outside with great success GT forced the defensive ends to start trying to play the QB as they had done in the first half. Like a boxer setting up the uppercut, Johnson kept attacking the perimeter and then began handing off to Dwyer on the inside. Eventually Dwyer, being a great back, broke some big runs and Coach Foster started letting his defensive ends have it on the sidelines hounding them to stay on Dwyer on the inside.

Chancellor was being very well blocked most of this half, much to my disappointment. He has to do a better job coming off of those blocks especially if he wants to have a good career at the next level. He also had two clean shots on Nesbitt in the 2nd half and missed making the tackle both times giving the Yellow Jackets big gainers on eventual scoring drives. Also in the 2nd half, Porch started cheating because the Jackets weren't running any misdirection. Until of course they did, and it went for 14 yards, because Porch didn't stay home. From that point on Porch absolutely HAD to stay at home (or he wouldn't dare come off the field to the sideline to face Coach Cavanaugh) to prevent that from happening again. So, of course, Coach Johnson didn't call a misdirection play the rest of the game. Very clever.

Despite all of this offensive dazzlement, there was one instance where, at the beginning of the 4th quarter, the Jackets were stopped about 2 inches short on a 3rd and 2, but inexplicably, the ref, for the first time in my entire life of watching football, rolled the football after the chains had been put in place and then ruled it a first down. Now I had to stop, drop and roll when I saw this, because my face caught on fire, but in reality, at this point of the game, what were the chances of the Hokies stopping GT on 4th and inches? I'm still mad about the call, and that ref should be disciplined, but it didn't decide the outcome in my view.

All of this punch and counterpunch, including that single mis-direction play were brought into brilliant playcalling at the end of the game when it really mattered. And the key here was the play of the defensive ends of Virginia Tech. At the end of the game, Coach Foster had instilled in the ends that they were not going to let Dwyer beat them and I don't think the fullback did. The genius of Coach Johnson is that he used this to set-up the game winner. Recall that in the 1st quarter, Jason Worilds didn't crash down on the FB, but instead played Nesbitt and smacked him for a loss. Well, with with 3:41 left in the game, facing 2nd and 9, Coach Johnson called an option to the wide side of the field. Nesbitt handed the ball off to Dwyer and sure enough DE Nekos Brown crashed down on Dwyer and stopped him for a 2 yard gain setting up 3rd and 7. More importantly, Cody Grimm ran out to double cover the pitch man and Dorian Porch stayed home to prevent the reverse that would never come.

Having seen his final verification that the Hokies were going to play their assignments that way and knowing that Porch was staying home to prevent the big mis-direction play, Coach Johnson called the exact same play on 3rd down and I bet he told Nesbitt to keep it. Sure enough, the Hokie defenders played it the same way - Grimm took the pitch man, Nekos Brown jumped down on Dwyer (I mistakenly said this was Jason Worilds in my 3 Key Plays and have since fixed that) and the A-back ran out to block Chancellor. Nesbitt kept the ball and outran Porch who was coming from the other side of the field for the clinching score. It was offensive football executed exactly as you would draw it up on a chalkboard. And I think the reason Coach Foster took responsibility at the end of the game for not getting the offense stopped is because he didn't alter the defensive alignment between that 2nd down and 3rd down play. By coming out and giving Nesbitt the same look, if Foster would have then changed HOW the Hokies defended the play, I think it might have caught GT off guard and stopped them (letting Nekos Brown take the QB for example). As it stands, Coach Johnson came out on top in that chess match and the Yellow Jackets earned a tough victory.

As for Virginia Tech, all the Hokies can do is tighten up the remaining issues on offense, realize that the defense won't be facing Georgia Tech for another year and get back to playing football. The goals laid out at the beginning of the season (for those within the program anyway) are still achievable. Win the ACC and go back and defend the Orange Bowl win. While that isn't completely within VT's destiny anymore, what they can do is put this game behind them and get ready to play their best football of the season against UNC.


TSF First Poll

As always TSF brings its poll at the proper time: mid-season. It gave us the proper time to get a real understanding of how good teams really are. Notably, the Crimson Tide are number one on our poll. Followed by Florida, Iowa, then Texas. The Hokies fell to 15th after losing to Georgia Tech.

1 Alabama 74
2 Florida 72
3 Iowa 66
4 Texas 64
5 Cincinnati 63
6 USC 59
7 Texas Christian 55
8 LSU 52
9 Boise State 50
10 Georigia Tech 48
11 Penn State 39
12 Miami 38
12 Oregon 38
14 Kansas 37
15 Oklahoma State 36
15 Virginia Tech 36
17 South Florida 24
18 Nebraska 17
18 Pittsburgh 17
18 South Carolina 17
20 Ohio State 15
21 Brigham Young 14
22 Houston 13
23 Utah 8
23 West Virginia 8
25 Notre Dame 7

Saturday, October 17, 2009

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Georgia Tech

1) With 3:57 left in the first quarter, and the score still 0-0, Tyrod Taylor tried to throw an out route and Georgia Tech defensive tackle Jason Peters leapt up and got his hand on the ball which flew up into the air. Peters then supposedly made a leaping interception before the ball hit the turf. Replay seemed to indicate the ball was loose on the ground but there certainly wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call on the field which was an interception. If it would have been ruled incomplete on the field, replay wouldn't have overturned it to make it an interception. But the reason this play was key was because honestly, the 1st quarter is where this game was lost for Virginia Tech. Three separate times in the first quarter, they had a 1st and 10 inside the Georgia Tech 50 and all three times they scored zero points. While the Georgia Tech offense was self-destructing early in the game, the Hokie offense could have put points on the board and changed the ENTIRE complexion of the contest. The Jackets would have been a totally different team playing from well behind (see the Miami game earlier this year, the Jackets' only loss). But the Hokies couldn't execute early in the game and that was the difference.

2) With 8 minutes left in the game, Georgia Tech was up 21-10 and had a 2nd and 8 deep in Hokie territory on the 14 yard line. A touchdown on this drive and the Jackets would likely ice the game. But on a pitch to the RB the Jackets fumbled and the Hokies' Davon Morgan recovered the ball ending the threat. This turned the game completely around and led to a quick Hokie TD drive to make the score 21-16.

3) With the game on the line at the 3:08 mark of the 4th quarter, facing 3rd and 7 from the Hokie 39 yard line, Georgia Tech QB Josh Nesbitt kept the ball on an option play and took it to the house to make the score 28-16. On this particular play, DE Nekos Brown came crashing down on the FB Jonathan Dwyer instead of leaving that to the defensive tackles and LB Barquell Rivers. Cody Grimm played the pitch man so if Brown would have gone after the QB on the play it would have very likely been stopped short of the 1st down. I'm willing to bet Coach Paul Johnson had recognized Brown crashing down on this play several times throughout the game and told Nesbitt to keep it because from the replay it definitely does NOT look as though Nesbitt ever considered actually handing it off to Dwyer. As it was, the Jackets blocked the play very well and Nesbitt made a big play to win the game for his team.

Gut-wrenching loss. I'm totally ill.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Week 7: Other Games of Interest

In this post, I'll touch on a few games of interest played by other teams that could affect the remainder of the Hokies' regular season as well as the post-season. I'll describe what they mean to the Hokies and comment on the impacts of either outcome.

Oklahoma (20) VS. Texas (3)
12:00 p.m. EDT
Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX

Texas holds the number three spot in both the AP and USA Today polls. Virginia Tech holding the number four spot need somebody on the Longhorns' schedule to hand them a defeat to move up to number three. Florida and Alabama, who hold number one and two respectively, will have to play each other in SEC conference championship if they hold on to those rankings for the remainder of the regular season. Texas' schedule thus far has not included any ranked opponents, and only the Red Raiders of Texas Tech gave them a good fight. The Longhorns' season gets tougher starting Saturday against the Oklahoma Sooners, whom Miami (FL) defeated to bolster Virginia Tech's strength of schedule. Thank you Miami! The Texas' squad vividly remembers last season all too well when a final pass to Michael Crabtree ultimately cost them their bid to the National Championship Game. They remember this in light of defeating the Sooners last season, who ended up playing for the national title. If Texas wins, they've taken a big step with a few more left to go before having a substantial claim to the national title. Should they lose, Boise State, USC, Ohio State, and of course Virginia Tech should pass them in the rankings. The official BCS standings doesn't factor the polls, but they usually don't differ too greatly from them either. Hokie fans should pull for Oklahoma to create an upset.

USC (6) VS. Notre Dame (25)
3:30 p.m. EDT
Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN

Notre Dame has played a season thus far only five points shy of not having a loss. They have lost to the USC Trojans in their last seven contests. The Fighting Irish are trying to turn their program around from a couple of lackluster seasons. An upset against USC would give their program exactly what it needs to put them back on the map as a well respected team. USC, only four points shy of having a no loss season themselves, doesn't have the same strength of schedule as the Hokies, but should both teams win the remainder of their pre-bowl season games, USC stands a chance, although not of overwhelming odds, to jump Virginia Tech in the BCS standings. The BCS has done stranger things. An upset, however, would put some comfortable distance between the Hokies and Trojans in the rankings, assuming only one Virginia Tech loss on the season.

South Carolina (22) VS. Alabama (2)
7:45 p.m. EDT
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, AL

This game's outcome holds significance for the Hokies in the way of strength of schedule. Alabama currently has a higher ranking and would quite possibly fall below Virginia Tech, at least initially, with a loss; however, they would eventually jump the Hokies in the BCS standings under the scenario of both teams finishing with one loss seasons. Since the Crimson Tide defeated the Hokies this season, they would deservedly earn the better bowl bid. Hokie fans should have their hopes on a Crimson Tide victory.

Now, you may think to yourself, "Where's the Ice? has gone insane! Why would a Hokie fan not want number two to lose when the Hokies hold number four in the rankings?" Well, I pose the following to explain.

Should Alabama win the rest of their regular season but lose to Florida in the SEC championship, a one-loss Virginia Tech would have a very strong claim to play for the national title. If the Crimson tide loses that game with a prior loss, that claim for the Hokies loses steam. Turning that around, if Alabama has a no loss season and defeats Florida, a one loss Hokie squad still has a strong claim to play for the national title against Alabama for a rematch. Could you imagine a more exciting scenario for Hokie fans?!

Contending for the invitation to play in the National Championship Game in the BCS not only depends on your wins, but also upon the wins of your opponents. Without losses later in the season, Texas, USC, and Ohio State could all finish with the same record as a one-loss Hokie squad, or even better in the case of Texas. At that point, who plays best on the field can take a back seat to which program directors and coaches play better BCS politics. If you don't believe that, look no further than last year when Oklahoma received the bid to play in the national championship instead of Texas who defeated Oklahoma and had only one loss due to a last minute play.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Game Preview - VT vs. Georgia Tech

On Saturday at 6 PM, the Hokies head to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech in a huge battle at the top of the standings in the Coastal Division. Here at the middle of the season I think we've learned enough about both teams to make an accurate assessment of what the keys to the game will be. In fact, after this weekend is when TSF releases our first rankings (which is also when the first BCS Standings come out and as we've argued countless times, should be about when most polls come out). There are many factors, some concrete and some intangible, that will play a role in the outcome on Saturday and I'll address those, as well as correct some of the misconceptions that I've seen elsewhere on the intertubes lately.

First let's set the stage for a minute - this game is bigger for Georgia Tech than it is for the Hokies. The Jackets are up against a wall here, because if they lose they will have two losses in the division and those two losses will be against their leading competition for the ACC Coastal title in Miami and Virginia Tech. They would need VT to lose at least twice and Miami to lose another time and even then it would end up in some crazy tiebreaker that comes down to who wins a game of duck-duck-goose or some such silliness. Suffice it to say, GT's hopes to win the ACC hinge on winning on Saturday and teams whose backs are against the wall at home are a TOUGH, TOUGH OUT. They will be playing with as much focus and emotion as they've shown all season.

So while Bobby Dodd isn't a legendary venue for home-field advantage, it's still a night game and if you're Georgia Tech it beats the hell out of playing this game in Lane Stadium. It also means that the Hokies need to try and get the crowd out of it early with a score, ANY SCORE. I recall in 2004, the Hokies got to the GT 20 yard line in the 1st quarter and on 4th and 1, with the score 0-0, instead of kicking the FG to take that early lead, they went for it (on a toss sweep to Mike Imoh for heaven's sake) and failed. Oh my, looking back on that it's a miracle I'm still alive to type this today. Following that play, the momentum swung hard Georgia Tech's way and it took a miracle 4th quarter for VT to escape Atlanta with a win that night. I just hope and pray this "new and improved" version of Coach Stinespring now better understands the ins-and-outs of those decisions.

The final intangible factor here is that the Hokies are favored on the road and ranked #4 in the nation. Uh-oh. All Superfans know that this team plays twice as well when they get a chip on their shoulder and play the Rodney Dangerfield card to the hilt - ''no respect, I tell ya, no respect". When everyone is telling these guys how great they are, they've always seemed to find a way to start believing the hype. Take a page from the Miami Hurricane playbook, Coach Beamer. To listen to the college football pundits, the Canes invented sliced bread on their way to Blacksburg earlier this year and those Miami players started thinking they didn't need to wear deodorant anymore. The Hokies walloped their perfume-wearing asses all the way back to Dade County. The shoe is now on the other foot and Hokie players had better be TiVo-ing a whole lot of WWF this week instead of anything on ESPN, because if they don't go down there ready for a full-on wrasslin' match they will suffer the same fate.

So the intangibles all line up against Virginia Tech for this game and that's a bad thing that has my stomach beginning to knot up already. However, there are some concrete keys to this game that will probably play an even bigger role in who comes out of this game with a "W".

When the Hokie offense and Yellow Jacket defense are on the field, the biggest key will be the play of the Hokie WR's. For some reason I think we're due for a bit of a regression on offense (the dream can't continue forever, can it?). I have this sinking feeling the first Hokie play from scrimmage on Saturday is going to be a play-action pass deep downfield to Dyrell Roberts which is sure to either be a sack or fall incomplete. Hopefully I'm wrong, but to return to my main point, the WR's hold this offensive gameplan squarely in their hands. You see my fellow Superfans, Coach Paul Johnson is sick and tired of watching his Yellow Jacket defense get beaten up and down the field. They rank 82nd in total defense and 77th in scoring defense. So Coach Johnson said stop with the different personnel packages. Stop with the disguising coverages. Against Virginia Tech, let's stack the box against this tough running attack and play some basic zone and man/zone combo defense in the secondary. He wants his guys to just line-up and play football without having to overthink everything because they're just not executing on defense right now.

That means the Hokie WR's have to do two things: a) block extremely well on the perimeter to help out the running game as much as possible since we know the offense has to be committed to the running game (right Stiney?) and b) they absolutely have to continue their solid level of play in the passing game. That means recognizing these basic coverages and beating their man or running an accurate route so that QB Tyrod Taylor knows where they're going to be and can get the ball to them. The time of possession battle is incredibly huge against an offense like Georgia Tech's because you want to limit the number of opportunities the Jackets get to try and score, and in order to win that battle the Hokies are going to have to convert some 3rd downs in the passing game. These WR's have to step up and keep playing like they have been, but it's going to be a physical game and they'd better eat their Wheaties.

And for one moment let me just interject here on all the stuff I've been seeing about Tyrod Taylor lately. People are saying things like, "NOW he's a good QB" or "he's made a huge improvement since the end of the Nebraska game" or "he's finally turning the corner". As you, my Calm and Beloved Reader, know because I've been saying so for 2 years, this kid has been sitting around the corner, smoking a cigarette, just waiting for the REST of this offense to turn that damn corner. He's been hamstrung, if not out-and-out had his Achilles' tendon slit like in the Kill Bill movie, by some of the worst offensive coordination I've ever seen in my entire life. As a freshman, when he had senior receivers with NFL talent, he also shared a QB rotation with a great guy who happened to be a sub-par QB, and a starting QB rotation has never worked successfully in the history of college football. But even then Taylor made phenomenal plays and throws, from his very first game when he led the Hokies on their only scoring drive on the road at night against the eventual national champs! Then in 2008 he spent an entire season with a group of four freshmen at WR who half the time couldn't get lined up correctly, much less run the right route or get open. All this behind an offensive line that often had one or two guys blocking the wrong player and yet, despite all of that, he led the team to an ACC title with games (UNC and Virginia come quickly to mind) that were filled with great plays and a burning desire to refuse to lose.

To those who still dissent, I grant that certainly Taylor has been playing with more confidence since that Nebraska game, but good gracious, for the first time in 4 years the offensive playcalling bears some resemblance to a rational plan, and his receivers are where he expects them to be. The line is playing at a high level, and he has a solid ground game to take some of the load off of him having to run to move the chains. Of course he feels more confident! Tyrod Taylor has been a top-flight QB since his arrival on campus and I'm stoked that he is finally beginning to realize his potential in this offense.

Moving to the other side of the ball, when the Hokie defense takes the field against Georgia Tech, there seems to be this crazy notion out there that the Hokie D is going to dominate the Yellow Jackets. I'll say unequivocally that I don't think that's going to happen because at the level this Paul Johnson coached-offense is playing at right now, they're not going to be dominated by anyone the rest of the season. When you're talking about Paul Johnson vs. Bud Foster you're talking about one of the top offensive minds against one of the top defensive minds in all of college football and there's just very little chance that either side will dominate that matchup. It's going to be a chess-match for the ages.

And to those of you laughing at the Florida State defense for not forcing a single punt against the Jackets, remember that last year despite it being only the 3rd game after Johnson installed his offense, the Hokies only forced two punts the entire game. And that was with a defense that had senior experience at both linebacker positions. Now granted, the Hokies capitalized on a few turnovers that game, but the Jackets have cut back on a lot of those self-inflicted mistakes this season. You've got to find a way to get off the field against this machine. How to do it?

The answer is a two parter. First the defensive line has to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Both Miami and Clemson (at least the final 3 quarters of the Clemson game) had amazing pressure from their defensive line. The end that the play is coming to has got to get upfield and force an early decision from Tech QB Josh Nesbitt. And they'd better hit him on just about every play whether he keeps the ball or pitches it. The defensive tackles and the end that the play is going away from have got to find a way to play off those cut blocks and disrupt FB Jonathan Dwyer on that dive play and they have to do it every time. And that's a lot easier said than done, because that Georgia Tech offensive line is a bunch of junkyard dogs and they are going to scrap and fight on every play. They aren't very big but they take those huge line splits and throw themselves at the legs of defensive linemen (which they do right after the snap so that they don't get called for illegal chop blocks) and they are in incredible shape, running up to the ball to snap it on almost every play. It's a high tempo deal designed to wear that defensive line out and prevent them from doing their job. Those Hokie linemen are going to get as worn out as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, but if they can beat up and relentlessly hit both Nesbitt and Dwyer on every play they can minimize the effectiveness of the running game.

The second part of the answer is scheme. And this part I feel pretty good about because you can be 100% certain that Bud Foster is not going to do what Florida State did last weekend which is play almost the same defensive formation on almost every snap. You do that to Paul Johnson and he's going to poke and prod and call plays to pick apart the holes which is exactly what happened to the Noles in their own stadium. By the way, before you chastise me for all these kind words about Coach Johnson, realize that I hate him and I think he's a jerk, but if you appreciate football in any way you have to respect his ability to design and call an offense. Now back to a man I love (in a very platonic way of course) - Bud Foster. Coach Foster has some experienced players on the defensive side of the ball especially on the line, in the secondary and at whip. And he's going to throw a variety of looks at Coach Johnson's offense, that require sound pre-snap reads by his guys so that they take the correct assignment when the ball is snapped. But they also will mess up some of the reads by the offense, and my understanding is that not every play is truly a "triple option" for their QB, Nesbitt. Sometimes, before the snap he already knows if he is going to hand off to Dwyer or keep it himself and if he tries to decide that based on how VT lines up, he might be in for some rude surprises.

Unfortunately, at linebacker, Coach Foster also has two very young linebackers. Now they are fast and instinctive which are normally two great characteristics for strongside and middle linerbackers, but against Georgia Tech those two things can be turned against you. If Jake Johnson or Barquell Rivers try and outguess a play after the snap instead of taking their assignment they will find themselves running out of position and doing it quickly. If they can somehow play within themselves they are certainly athletic and aggressive enough to come off of blocks by the aforementioned smaller GT linemen and make tackles, but they have to keep that focus every snap and that's just tough to do.

Watch the WR's when the VT offense is on the field and the defensive linemen when the Hokie defense is on the field. If those position groups win their battles and play at a high level, it will give Virginia Tech a chance to win this game. If for some reason, Georgia Tech self-destructs with penalties and/or turnovers, that would help me breathe a lot easier but I just don't see that happening with everything that's on the line for them. It's going to be a physical, desperate back-alley brawl and I'm glad that the Hokies get a bye-week after this game because win or lose they're going to need it to recover.


EhhTee's Picks (Seperation Week!)

This is an important week in college football. Five games will involve two ranked opponents. This includes the Hokies game in Atlanta against #19 Georgia Tech.

As for my picks last week was a mediocre week. Against the line I was 3-4. This makes be a very mediocre 17-24 overall. The picks were a little better at 5-2. Overall with the picks I'm 25-17.

Last Week's Results:

Nebraska @ MissouriAlabama @ Mississippi
Line: Nebraska -2Line: Alabama -6.5
Pick: NebraskaPick: Mississippi
Score: Nebraska 33 Mizzou 28Score: Alabama 31 - Ole Miss 27
Actual:Nebraska 27 - Mizzou 12Actual: Alabama 22 - Ole Miss 3

Wisconsin @ Ohio StateIndiana @ Virginia
Line: Ohio State -14.5Line: Virginia -6.5
Pick: WisconsinPick: Indiana
Score: Wisconsin 26 - Ohio St 31Score: Indiana 35 - UVA 17
Actual:Wisc. 13 - Ohio St 31Actual: Indiana 7 - UVA 47

Duke @ NC StateGA Tech @ FL State
Line: NC State -14.5Line: FSU -2.5
Pick: DukePick: GT
Score: Duke 24 - NC State 17Score: GT 42 - FSU 17
Actual: Duke 49 - NC State 28Actual: GT 49 - FSU 44

Florida @ LSUThis Week (Overall)
Line: Florida -9.5Line: 3-4 (17-24)
Pick: LSUPicks: 5-2 (25-17)
Score: Florida 19 - LSU 35
Actual: Florida 13 - LSU 3

This Week's Picks:
#6 Boise State (5-0) @ Tulsa (4-1)
Line: Boise State -10

Boise State faces what many are calling their last great challenge. The BCS suits will probably praying to the football gods for a Tulsa victory. However, they can relax. When the BCS numbers come out next week, Boise State's schedule will hurt them in the end.

Pick: Boise State
Score: Boise State 43 - Tulsa 27

#9 Cincinnati (5-0) @ #21 South Florida (5-0)
Line: Cincinnati -2.5

Poor Bearcats and the Big Least. Even if Cincinnati wins out, the likelihood of them playing for the national title are basically nil. The Big East is just not reputable enough to give them the respect to earn a ticket. No matter, the Bulls will eliminate that possibility anyway.

Pick: South Florida
Score: Cincinnati 10 - South Florida 17

#5 USC (4-1) @ #25 Notre Dame (4-1)
Line: USC -11

USC and the Hokies are comparably the two best one-loss teams. USC lost early to a terrible Washington but beat Ohio State. The Hokies lost late to arguably the best team in the country in Alabama. Notre Lame is looking to redeem their slow start with a signature win. I give you my upset of the week as Notre Lame tries to prove that they are at least better than the Washington Redskins.

Pick: Notre Lame
Score: USC 24 - Notre Lame 27

#22 South Carolina (5-1) @ #3 Alabama (6-0)
Line: Alabama -17.5

South Carolina can prove to be a formidable opponent. At 5-1 the Gamecocks are off to one of their best starts. Alabama is, however, just too well focused.

Pick: Tide rolls
Score: South Carolina 13 - Alabama 45

Texas Tech (4-2) @ #17 Nebraska (4-1)
Line: Nebraska -6

Nebraska is one of two teams that would be [insert U-word here] if it were not for the Hokies. (Miami is the other.) Texas Tech has proven to be the spoiler in recent years and they have quite a potent offense putting up 2661 passing yards through six games. Nebraska escapes this weekend but not by the line.

Pick: Texas Tech
Score: TT 21 - Nebraska 24

Virginia (2-3) @ Maryland (2-4)
Line: Virginia -4

This could be the battle of the worst two teams in the ACC. This game will give us good insight into just how bad. Virginia was able to sneak in a win against UNC and put up big numbers against Indiana.Maryland is at home and that's perhaps their only advantage... but it'll be enough.

Pick: Maryland
Score: UVA 21 - UMD 28

Game of the Week
The Red River Rivalry
#18 Oklahoma (3-2) vs. #2 Texas (5-0)

Line: Texas -2.5

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford returned last week and picked up where he left off defeating Baylor soundly. Star receiver Ryan Broyles may also return for the Texas game.

Texas may be down its two starting running backs in Vondrell McGee and Tre' Newton. If they're not able to play Saturday, the Sooners defense will be able to pretty much dial in on quarterback Colt McCoy.

Should these injuries keep the two boys off the field, Oklahoma will be able to pull off this win and keep their Big 12 title hopes alive.

Pick: Oklahoma
Score: Oklahoma 34 - Texas 24

Monday, October 12, 2009

Game Review - vs. Boston College


Something has started to happen with Virginia Tech's offense, and Hokie fans welcome the change. Tyrod Taylor suddenly starts playing the position of quarterback displaying some talent that we haven't really seen before. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring's playcalling has somewhat started to make sense. On Saturday, the Hokies earned an impressive victory over a struggling Boston College Eagles team.

Although struggling this season, the Eagles certainly amount to much more than an assumed victory, especially after the narrow scoring margin against Duke in last week's game and the Eagle's win over Florida State. Virginia Tech hands them only their second loss of the season, and even with this loss, they still stand a good chance of winning the ACC Atlantic division.

Let's take a look at Virginia Tech's display of offense during Saturday's game. Tyrod Taylor threw for roughly a 70% completion rate and for a 126 yards. Based on the type of the offense I watched and fluidity with which they moved the ball down the field, I think these statistics don't necessarily reflect how well Taylor and his offense performed. Taylor has always demonstrated the ability to scramble, but in the last three games, he has scrambled like an elite quarterback rather than somebody simply looking for the opportunity to rush. No play during this game better exemplifies that than his touchdown pass to wide receiver Danny Coale. On a third and nineteen play, the Eagle defense had broken through protection and put pressure on Taylor. Taylor scrambled, evaded tackles, and from a somewhat awkward position twisted to throw a perfectly placed pass to Coale cutting into the endzone. Taylor also connected with his receivers on some very long and well placed passes, such as Taylor's forty-one yard completion to Jarrett Boykin. Also, an eighty yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Ju Ju Clayton to wide receiver Marcus Davis left a good image in fans' minds of what lies ahead in the post-Taylor seasons yet to come.

Another pleasant surprise came in the relative loyalty of Stienspring's playcalling to the running game. Number one tailback Darren Evan's injury has not slowed down the running game. The Hokies have proven to have a lot of depth in that position. Ryan Williams has exploded in ways nobody outside of the clubhouse could have predicted. David Wilson and Josh Oglesby made a few carries as well to tack a few yards on top of those gained by Williams. The team ran for a combined 235 yards of rushing. Williams alone ran for 159 of those yards. The numbers don't tell whole story, however. During early games of this season and games of seasons' prior, such numbers resulted from successfully executed plays falling in between successive three-and-outs. But these running plays consistently gained first downs and moved the ball down the field with precise execution.

Only having access to radio for the first half of the game last week, I didn't really have a complete sense of how the game against Duke progressed, but the scoring updates I got on my cell phone made me feel quite uneasy, especially considering the point differential at the game's end. But the Hokie defense performed excellently against Boston College. The defense held Eagle rushing to just 45 yards and passing to 118 yards. The frequency with which the Hokie defense reached Boston College quarterbacks Mike Marscovetra and Dave Shinskie impressed me. To top things off cornerback Rashad Carmichael caught an interception and ran it back for a touchdown. The defense definitely showed up in full force for this game.

I've got a good feeling about Hokie football right now. I hope that I'm not simply setting myself up for disappointment, because we've all felt that sinking in our hearts when our beloved Hokies crumbled when we didn't expect it. Overall, however, I sense a buzz amongst the team and fans that I haven't sensed in a while.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

3 Key Plays - VT vs. BC

This was the best performance by the Hokies in all three phases against a good team since a 52-14 pasting of UVa back in 2005. Here were the three key plays:

1) Ahead 3-0 in the 1st quarter the Hokies got down to the redzone for the 2nd straight time but lost yards on 2 consecutive plays to set-up a 3rd and 19 from the BC 24 yard line. Settling for another FG here would mean that the Hokies would have been dominant but BC would still be within a single score which could have changed the psychology of the game. Enter stage right, the magical Mr. Tyrod Taylor as he escaped from the clutches of a sure sack. With LB Luke Kuechly (who had a helluva game as a freshman and is going to be a beast) bearing down on him, Taylor unleashed a dart to WR Danny Coale in the back of the end zone to make the score 10-0 Hokies and the rout was on.

2) The 1st play of the 2nd quarter was a 31 yard dash down to the BC 1 yard line by Ryan Williams. This play was so emblematic of the offense on the day. It was a perfectly blocked play (including a great seal block by backup RG Greg Nosal), and Williams hit the hole right up the middle going 100 miles an hour. He then made two guys in the secondary whiff completely with two devastating cutbacks and powered the ball down to the 1 yard line where he would proceed to knock it in for the score a play later. Williams demonstrated his speed, moves and power on this long run, demoralizing the BC defense.

3) After holding the BC offense to their 4th straight "three and out", VT went for the jugular with a play action bomb from Taylor to WR Jarrett Boykin to make the score 24-0 Hokies in the middle of the 2nd quarter. This was the 4th straight drive the offense had scored and with the defense playing that 'old school' Hokie defense, it essentially put the game out of reach, assuring that the backups would be playing by the middle of the 3rd quarter on both sides of the ball. The reason this play was so key is that it perfectly illustrated the change in mentality by Coach Stinespring. Prior to this season we have always been so disappointed at the TIMES when the Hokies have taken their deep shots downfield. At ridiculous times, one might have said. But when you've got an opponent shell-shocked, going for the kill off of play-action AFTER the running game has been well-established was an absolutely PERFECT time to take a shot downfield. And just like in the Miami game, I would have been ok with it not being for a TD or even incomplete. Just seeing the offensive playcalling join the realm of the sane is so damn exhilarating and the level of execution has certainly gone up a few notches as well. This was an exciting play on many levels and deservedly was the one that made it onto all the Sportscenter recaps.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

EhhTee's Picks (Week 6)

Ouch. UVA and Maryland showed they've got some stuff. MSU got their respect and Miami regained some. I went 2-5 in both against the line and picks. Overall that puts me at 14-20 against the line and 20-15 in picks

Last week's results:

Clemson @ MarylandMichigan @ MSU
Line: Clemson -13Line: Meeechigan -2.5
Pick: ClemsonPick: UM
Score: Clemson 35 - Maryland 10Score: UM 55 - MSU 17
Actual: Clemson 21 - UM 24Actual: UM 20 - MSU 26

Virginia @ North CarolinaEast Carolina @ Marshall
Line: UNC -14Line: ECU -3
Pick: UNCPick: Marshall
Score: UVA 10 - UNC 31Score: ECU 10 - Marshall 27
Actual: UVA 16 - UNC 3Actual: ECU 21 - Marshall 17

LSU @ GeorgiaFlorida St. @ Boston College
Line: Georgia -2.5Line: Florida St. -5
Pick: GeorgiaPick: Boston College
Score: LSU 21 - UGA 24Score: FSU 17 - BC 21
Actual: LSU 20 - UGA 13Actual: FSU 21 - BC 28

Oklahoma @ MiamiThis Week (Overall)
Line: Oklahoma -7Line: 2-5 (14-20)
Pick: MiamiPicks: 2-5 (20-15)
Score: OU 15 - UM 34
Actual: OU 20 - UM 21

This Week's Picks:

Nebraska @ Missouri
Line: Nebraska -2

Ndamukong Suh is perhaps the best defensive linesman I've seen this season. He and the Blackshirts should be able to shutdown the potent Missouri offense.

Pick: Nebraska
Score: Nebraska 33 Mizzou 28

Alabama @ Mississippi
Line: Alabama -6.5

Alabama is arguably the best team in the country. The Tide will have some trouble as they enter the meat of the SEC schedule. However, they'll come away victorious.

Pick: Mississippi
Score: Alabama 31 - Ole Miss 27

Wisconsin @ Ohio State
Line: Ohio State -14.5

Wisconsin is quietly 5-0. They travel to Columbus to face their first real challenge however. This weekend we find out just how for real the Badgers are.

Pick: Wisconsin
Score: Wisconsin 26 - OSU 31

Indiana @ Virginia
Line: Virginia -6.5

UVA pulled off an unlikely win in Chapel Hill this past weekend. Are the Cavs for real and can they win again? I don't think so.

Pick: Indiana
Score: Indiana 35 - UVA 17

Duke @ NC State
Line: NC State -14.5

Duke's confidence has to be sky high right now. Despite losing, the Blue Devils played an incredible game against the Hokies this past weekend. Look for that momentum to carry them to victory.

Pick: Duke
Score: Duke 24 - NC State 17

Georgia Tech @ Florida State
Line: FSU -2.5

Georgia Tech has two major contests in front of them. The Yellow Jackets face the Seminoles this weekend and next will face the Hokies. The offense is clicking and have only lost to Miami. Florida State will struggle especially in light of the latest distractions regarding Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher.

Pick: GT
Score: GT 42 - FSU 17

Florida @ LSU
Line: Florida -9.5

Here's my shocker upset of the year. Minus Tim Tebow, the Florida Gators struggle and lose to an LSU Tigers squad that's hungry to prove they deserve to be considered one of the nation's best.

Pick: LSU
Score: Florida 19 - LSU 35

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Penalties, Big Plays Keep Duke Game Close

One hundred five. That is the number of yards the Hokies piled up in penalty yards. In all, the Hokies were penalized 12 times over the course of last Saturday's 34-26 victory against the Duke Blue Devils. I hate to single out players, but I heard Ed Wang's name called twice in this game. Combine that with three times in the Miami game, and, for a senior, that's just not good disciplined play. Also, [someone help me out] was beat twice on punt return and, instead of allowing punt returner Jayron Hosley to make the move to beat the coverage, committed back-to-back illegal block in the backs.

For once however, no wait, actually twice in a row, the offense has shown dramatic improvement.
Who are you and what have you done with Bryan Stinesping?
First, the offense has shown a renewed commitment to the run game. For example, on the first drive, there was one pass in six plays. One of the runs was by a dramatically improved Tyrod Taylor as he checked down field, found nothing, and used his feet to pick up the first down. Using Ryan Williams and Josh Oglesby, who initially was held to limited production, consistently eventually produced yards as well as opened up opportunities for big, and at times huge, plays.

Speaking of big plays. Taylor, who's confidence has increase tenfold since the beginning of the season, was extremely poised in the backfield whether it be maneuvering in the pocket, or, when flushed, buying time with his feet. Converting on huge plays [see MadJay's 3 Key Plays], including a 62-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin and 37-yard pass to Danny Coale, Taylor went 17/22 for 327 yards and two touchdowns.

On defense, the Hokies were extremely aggressive. The Hokies allowed only 38-yards on the ground. However, aggressive defense without discipline coverage leads to big plays. The Blue Devils did indeed produces some big plays which kept them in this game to the very end.

Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis would complete 22/40 passes for 359 yards and two touchdowns. On their second possession of the game, Lewis opened up the scoring on a drive from the Blue Devils' own 21. Outside of some short gains, the drive was aided by costly Hokie penalties that kept Duke moving. Lewis capitalize by hitting a wide open Brandon King for a 48-yard touchdown strike.

Fast forward to the third quarter with the score 17-10 Hokies and we come to the 74-yard pass from Lewis to Conner Vernon. Credit Jason Worilds and Rock Carmichael from preventing the touchdown on the play, but Duke was able to pull to withing four points with a field goal on the drive. Again Vernon, was left wide open on blown coverage.

Lewis would go on to hit a 55-yard pass to Donovan Varner and a 34-yarder to Vernon. In total, Lewis had ten passes for ten or more yards, five of which were greater than 26 yards. The Hokie secondary, who out-sized and out-skilled the Duke receiver corp, was simply out-played by them at times.

Coach Bud Foster will have to take a good long look at what's wrong with the coverage before this weekend's game against Beat Cancer (Boston College). If he's able to correct some of these mistakes, if Coach Frank Beamer can correct some of the special teams mistakes, and if the offense continues to click, then the Hokies will surely succeed this week.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Duke

1) In the 1st quarter, Duke had jumped out to a surprising 7-0 lead and the Hokies responded on a scoring drive capped by the 1st key play - a 36 yard STRIKE from QB Tyrod Taylor to WR Danny Coale for the tying touchdown. This was key for so many reasons. First of all, it answered Duke's score to prevent the Blue Devils from getting some momentum. Second of all, it indicated Taylor's confidence in his WR's in man-to-man situations - he gave Coale a chance to make a play despite being covered. That was a key indicator for the rest of the game because prior to the Duke game, Taylor has been hesistant to give his guys a chance to make a play in one-on-one defensive situations with good coverage. In the Duke game, Taylor was willing to let it rip in a variety of situations. The third reason this play was so key is that it was a deep ball to someone other than Dyrell Roberts indicating that Coach Stinespring might finally be planning on using his receivers more effectively. Coale showed why he is one of the players who deserves a shot on deep balls because his ball skills and body position on this play were simply phenomenal, And finally, it was on a play-action roll-out which is a play that this offense has been needing for years. Last week against Miami, Coach Stinespring FINALLY decided to use this play as a way to defeat the blitz. It was really great to see that last week wasn't a one-time fluke in the use of this play.

2) Moving ahead to the 3rd quarter, the Hokies were ahead 17-10 and had Duke pinned deep in their own end on 3rd and 10 when Thaddeus Lewis found WR Conner Vernon on a post route. After a missed tackle, Vernon was off to the races and the tying touchdown......BUT Hokie defensive end Jason Worilds never gave up on the play and finally ran Vernon down to where the receiver had to slow down and cut back giving the rest of the defense (Rock Carmichael) time to get back and tackle him on the 7 yard line. Just to be clear, this is a defensive end running down a wide receiver 74 YARDS DOWNFIELD. Amazing. VT's defense held Duke out of the end zone and only gave up 3 points making this hustle by Worilds worth at least 4 points, not to mention the huge momentum swing it prevented. It should be noted that a crappy play on the ball by Stephan Virgil let this become a big play in the first place.

3) As the Hokies did all day, they answered a score with a score on the following drive, but it's not quite that simple. The Hokies were faced with a 3rd and 34 from their own 16 yard line after a ton of mental errors (including 2 holding calls). On an impossible play, Taylor threw an absolutely perfect ball to Jarrett Boykin that traveled 55 yards in the air and hit Boykin on the dead run for a 62 yard gain to convert the 3rd down. This led to a FG and helped recapture the momentum, giving Tech a 20-13 lead. But beyond that, consider the historical scope of this play. There have probably been (on a complete guess) 400-500 players throughout the history of college football that have converted a 3rd and more than 30 yards in their college careers. I'm willing to bet that only maybe 5-10 players have ever converted two different 3rd and more than 30 yards in their career. And I am also willing to bet that Tyrod Taylor is the first player in college football to convert one 3rd and more than 30 yards on the ground (3rd and 31 against Florida State) and another one through the air (3rd and 34 against Duke). Just insane.

A sloppy win, but it still counts and it counts big against an ACC Coastal opponent.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Game Preview - vs. Duke


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 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!

EhhTee's Picks (Week 5)

Last week was a mediocre week in which I actually did better against the line at 4-3 (12-15 overall) than in my picks at 3-4 (18-10 overall). It's been an up and down season so far and now that we have 4 weeks under our belt, I hope I can get a better feel for how these teams will match up.

Last Week's Results:

Ole Miss. @ South Carolina S. Florida @ Florida St.
Line: Mississippi -3.5 Line: Florida State -14
Pick: Ole Miss Pick: South Florida
Score: Ole Miss 37 - USC 21 Score: S. Florida 14 - FSU 24
Actual: Ole Miss 10 - USC 16 Actual: USF 17 - FSU 7

N. Carolina @ GA Tech Marshall @ Memphis
Line: Georgia Tech -2.5 Line: Memphis -3.5
Pick: Georgia Tech Pick: Marshall
Score: UNC 10 - GT 31 Score: Marshall 24 - Memphis 9
Actual: UNC 7 - GT 24 Actual: Marsh. 27 - Memphis 16

W. Forest @ BC Rutgers @ Maryland
Line: Wake Forest -2.5 Line: Rutgers -3
Pick: Wake Pick: Rutgers
Score: Wake 17 - BC 13 Score: Rutgers 22 - Maryland 3
Actual: Wake 24 -BC 27 Actual: RU 34 - UM 13

Notre Lame @ Purdue This Week (Overall)
Line: Notre Lame -8.5 Line: 4-3 (12-15)
Pick: Purdue Picks: 3-4 (18-10)
Score: ND 27 - Purdue 43
Actual: ND 24 - Purdue 21

This Week's Picks:

Clemson @ Maryland
Line: Clemson -13

Maryland is just plain terrible. Clemson should cover by two touchdowns.

Pick: Clemson
Score: Clemson 35 - Maryland 10

Michigan @ MSU
Line: Meeechigan -2.5

MSU spent this week whining about respect. MSU won't get it and will be pummeled.

Pick: UM
Score: UM 55 - MSU 17

Virginia @ North Carolina
Line: UNC -14

Can Virginia win a game this year? Probably, but not against UNC.

Pick: UNC
Score: UVA 10 - UNC 31

East Carolina @ Marshall
Line: ECU -3

This will give us a good understanding as to how good ECU is.

Pick: Marshall
Score: ECU 10 - Marshall 27

LSU @ Georgia
Line: Georgia -2.5

LSU looked terrible last week and probably should have lost. Will UGA be able to maintain at home? Yes, but close.

Pick: Georgia
Score: LSU 21 - UGA 24

Florida St. @ Boston College
Line: Florida St. -5

Boston College may be better than expected.

Pick: Boston College
Score: FSU 17 - BC 21

Oklahoma @ Miami
Line: Oklahoma -7

Upset special! Everyone's already down on Miami for the loss against Tech last weekend. How much of that was the weather? I think it was a significant factor.

Pick: Miami
Score: OU 15 - UM 34