Hokie fans began to exhale a big sigh of relief when Virginia Tech bean to pull way from the East Carolina Pirates on Saturday afternoon. However, this game falls far short of the execution and level of play needed to take this team to big victories down the road. First, a game summary, and then the analysis.
The ECU pirates sensed a wounded beast in our Hokies after a disappointing loss to Boise State and a demoralizing loss to James Madison University. And with blood in the water of that sort, an energized ECU squad coming off of two big wins had the wind at their backs to hand the Hokies yet another defeat. The underdogs came out swinging and at early points of the game looked capable of delivering a knock out punch.
Comparable to the game against Boise State, against ECU the Virginia Tech defense allowed 17 points in just a little over a quarter of play. During ECU's first two drives of the game, they marched down the field making the Hokie defense appear hapless to stop them from moving the ball. That earned the Pirates a field goal and a touchdown on each drive while having shut down the Hokie offense. Then, Virginia tech responded with a 60 yard drive resulting in a touchdown run into the endzone by Ryan Williams so as not to go quietly through the first quarter.
Upon the opening of the second quarter ECU once again punched in another touchdown off a 7 yard pass from quarterback Dominique Davis to WR Dwayne Harris. On the ensuing VT drive, Tyrod Taylor passed to Jarrett Boykin who caught the ball and subsequently fumbled it only most fortunately such that the Hokies recovered. The play went sloppily for the Hokies, although they ended up with good field position. Ryan Williams left the game early with a hamstring injury. Stumbling their way through the rest of the half, the Hokies put up one more touchdown to close out the half trailing by 3 points.
During the second half, the Hokies took to better form, but before they did Darren Evans fumbled on the Virginia Tech 39 yardline. The defense held the Pirates to a 41 yard field goal on its ensuing drive. The Hokie offense responded with two touchdowns, both on runs by David Wilson.
In the fourth quarter, the Hokies exploded and put on the show that college football fans had expected to see during this weeks game and last weeks game. The defense started getting to the ECU quarterback, opposing drives resulting in punts, and pressure lead to thrown interceptions. Rashad Carmichael's interception lead to a 68 yard run for a touchdown, and Tyrod Taylor completed a touchdown pass of 69 yards to Jarret Boykin. The Hokies ended the day with a 49 to 27 victory.
Obviously, every Hokie fan exhaled a big sigh of relief during the fourth quarter when we realized that our boys wouldn't be going down to 0-3 on the season. After already experiencing the worst season opening in decades, fans rallied behind our Hokies in the hopes of salvaging the rest of the season. But despite this win the Hokies play over the past three games raises some very serious concerns, some of them recycled from seasons past, but one in particular that's very new.
Let me start with the newest and most disconcerting. The Hokie defense hasn't been the terror of seasons past against their opponents. They have a lot of new starters on that side of the ball, but that's never really been a big concern in the past because defensive coordinator Bud Foster knows how to whip his troops into shape to make the lean, mean fighting machine we've all come to know as Hokie defense. The defense has allowed 383, 235, and 361 yards respectively in the first three contests of this season. Against top 25 teams, those make for respectable numbers, but considering contests against ECU and JMU, those numbers are disconcerting. The amount of points scored totals 81 thus far this season, another number the Hokies need to improve. They way the BSU and ECU offenses marched themselves down the field in their respective first quarters of play makes an onlooking Hokie fan want to bury his head into his hands and bite his nails. The defense has traditionally been the rock that keeps the Hokies competitive throughout the season, and the need for that isn't going to go away this season. I hope this breaks down to inexperience that Bud Foster is molding into the defense that we're used to watching as a dominating force on the football field. My suspicion is that we'll see growing improvement, so I'm optimistic that we'll see our Hokie defense come to form. I just hope it happens soon enough so that Virginia Tech can persevere through the ACC in-conference schedule.
On the other side of the ball, we've seen some of the same problems on the field. Sorry to keep beating this dead horse as we do here at TSF so often, but it's a fact. The first thing I noticed was the playcalling. There's a lot of aspects the playcalling to criticize, but I want to focus on one in particular. During this game and prior games of the season, the passing game continuously has gone for the "home run" pass, sometimes as a called play and sometimes as the result of a play breaking down. Sometimes it makes sense to pull a long pass to catch a defense off guard or in times of sheer desperation, but I see the Hokie offense going to this too often. Instead they need to focus on more frequently executing the short pass. It plays into controlling the pace of the drive and the clock, which is extremely important in the later minutes of a close game. Also, I'm uncomfortable with the number of times our quarterback has had to rush to escape the danger of a sack. It's great that Tyrod Taylor's foot speed give the Hokie offense that option, but the frequency with which he has to use it worries me. Quarterback rushing may do well against the non-BCS conference teams, and even against most of the teams in the ACC, but it won't win an ACC championship and it certainly won't win a major BCS bowl. Of these broken down scrambling plays, Taylor had nine rushes for 32 yards. Against a more formidable defense, any of those nine plays could have resulted in big losses for the Hokie offense. Given the experience and talent of this Hokie offense, these problems should be in their rear view mirror, but we'll do what we do as fans every season in this regard, hope that it gets better.
The Hokies open their ACC season against Boston College next week. The's a lot of season left to salvage, and a big win against the Eagles could put the season on the right track towards intra-conference success.
LET'S GO HOKIES