Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Game Review - VT vs. Boise State

"You broke my heart Billy. That's the thing about you, you break all of our hearts" - Jules (played by Demi Moore) to Billy (played by Rob Lowe) in St. Elmo's Fire

I woke up this morning and couldn't go to work. I'm not sick by the technical definition of the term (no fever, no headache, runny nose or sore throat) but my stomach is killing me. It feels like I ate a crushed glass sandwich. I'll go to a doctor later today for a more clinical diagnosis, but maybe this is what a truly broken heart feels like. Or I could just have a raging ulcer.

The funny thing is, the Hokies losing 33-30 to Boise State wasn't surprising, but it hurts worse than any loss since BC in 2007. Why wasn't it surprising? Let's check the past 10 HUGE games the Hokies have played with the whole country watching against top opponents -

1999 National Championship against FSU - Tech fell behind 28-7 before clawing and fighting back to a 29-28 lead only to lose 46-29.

2001 hosting #1 Miami - The Hokies fell behind 20-3 and somehow miraculously overcome the worst big game performance by a QB in history by Grant Noel to fight back to 26-24 only to lose on a dropped 2 pt. conversion

2002 @#2 Miami - The Hokies fell behind 28-7 only to fight, scratch and claw their way back to 56-45 in a great never-say-die performance

2003 hosting #2 Miami - Hokies got ahead 10-0 and went on to win 31-7 in a completely dominating performance by a talent-laden head-case of a team.

2004 - neutral #1 USC - The Hokies fell behind 7-0 early but exhibited great resolve in battling what was essentially a semi-pro team and the game turned on a completely phantom offensive pass interference call on Josh Hyman, and I still can't believe the ref made that call. Wonder if it was the same ref that overturned the block-in-the-back call last night?

2004 - Sugar Bowl against #3 Auburn - The Hokies fell behind 16-0 and the only reason it wasn't more than that was the greatest defensive performance I've ever seen by a college defense playing against four first round NFL talents on Auburn's offense. The Hokies managed to fight and claw their way back to a 16-13 loss.

2005 hosting #5 Miami - The Hokies fell behind 27-0 and were completely overwhelmed in the spotlight. No fighting and clawing here, just a late TD to make it 27-7.

2007 hosting #2 Boston College- The Hokies went ahead 10-0 in the rain only to lose by an unbelievable performance by Matt Ryan in the final 4 minutes of the game when he rallied the Eagles to a 14-10 win which was also helped by a special teams breakdown on an onside kick with the game on the line.

2008 Orange Bowl against #7 Kansas - The Hokies fell behind 17-0, only to fight and claw and give up on the run when it was working, leading to a 24-21 loss to an overmatched KU team.

2009 - Kickoff Game against Alabama - The Hokies fell behind 7-0 to only to return the kickoff and miraculously stayed in the game, finally losing 34-24 while achieving only 155 yards on offense.

That is 10 games against the top competition, with the nation watching, only to see the Hokies fall behind early in 8 of them, often by more than one score. The team almost always fights back, only to come up short in the end which endears the program to many around the country as a bunch of hard-fighting blue collar guys taking on "The Man".

At the same time, this looked to be the team that would break that trend. Finally, the Hokies could match up against a top squad OFFENSIVELY, and all signs pointed to a group that was talented, experienced and handling everything this pre-season in a businesslike manner. There was real optimism that past 1st quarter disasters might not be repeated. And what happened? A lost fumble on the 2nd snap of the game and a blocked punt on the next possession led to 10 points and the next thing you know, the Hokies are down 17-0. Again.

And just like the scriptwriters would have them do, the Hokies fought back. They clawed and bled and Tyrod Taylor played his heart out and they found a way to take the lead 27-26 in the third quarter. Then Boise State missed a FG and Taylor put the team on his back one more time to lead them on a FG scoring drive to go up 30-26. The defense got a patented Bud Foster stop and the offense got the ball back with about 5 minutes to go. After some well-executed plays, they found themselves in an amazing situation. A chance to take the monkey off their back and show that this was the Hokie team we were all waiting for. You think I'm going to blast the pass on 3rd and 8? Read on my Calm and Beloved Reader.

The Hokies had just rushed for 4 yards with Darren Evans. Ryan Williams had DOUBLED his rushing total for the game on this one drive. You could see that Boise State's defensive line was getting tired. The Hokies faced 2nd and 6 with 2:10 left and Boise State called a timeout. This was the game. Boise State had only 1 timeout left. Get a first down and the Hokies were going to win the game. Two plays to get 6 yards. And Stinespring had an entire timeout to come up with two plays to get those 6 yards. The first play on 2nd down HAD to either be a WR screen (which was really working this game because of the physical advantage the Hokies WR's were having in blocking the Boise DB's) or a run with Williams or Evans. You have to keep the clock running and you need to gain a few more yards on 2nd down and then you have the entire playbook for 3rd and 3 or so. Or best case scenario, the 2nd down play gets you a first down right off the bat. One broken tackle by Ryan Williams or Darren Evans would do it.

The play call? A QB run. Sure, the man that had been hurting Boise all game was Tyrod Taylor but they were spying him with two guys on this final drive, which was why the running backs were starting to gain yards. Even the announcers agreed, saying for Boise to (unbelievably when you consider who the RB's are), make the RB's beat you, don't let Taylor run on you. And the run wasn't a quick hitter up the middle, it was a longer developing play where Taylor faked a handoff and tried to go outside. It lost 2 yards and Boise used their final timeout. In my heart of hearts, I really thought the Hokies had just lost the game right there. I thought Beamer would run it one more time, and then punt the ball and the young Hokie defense would be hard pressed to stop a Boise State offense with that much experience and that clutch of a QB. But to my pleasant surprise the Hokies threw the ball on 3rd and 8 to try and get the 1st down!!

Now let me be clear on a few things - first of all, don't imagine for a SECOND that this was Stinespring's decision. Everyone on that coaching staff knew that call was going to be the game decider. You were either going to put the game in the hands of your offense or your defense to try and win it for you and the way the Hokies were executing on offense up to that point, I liked taking a shot. So with the game on the line, you know it was Beamer that said, go for the first down.

The play call itself? A terrible choice really. The Hokies should have used slants or posts or crossing routes or even an out route to someone other than Boykin would have been very unexpected. A QB rollout to put pressure on the defense (is Taylor going to run or throw?) would have also been a great call IF you hadn't just run him off to the right side for a 2 yard loss. A simple crossing route would have been great. I also would have been happy with a pass to the flat with David Wilson or Ryan Williams against outmatched Boise linebackers. Anything to get one of the multitude of playmakers the ball in space. Even if they couldn't get the first down, the clock would have still run. I'll say again, the decision to throw for the first down felt like the right call to me, and it showed faith in an offense that has obviously improved. Convert that down and it's three knees and you're in the locker room with the biggest win in school history.

But execution with the game on the line is just not the offense's forte. They have done it, what, TWICE in 5 years? (Miami in '06 and Nebraska last season). And never against a top opponent. Ever. It's not who they are. Even with a legend like Taylor at the helm, the offense lacks that killer instinct, that clutch level of execution that was exhibited by Boise State on their game-winning drive.

Sure the Broncos were helped by an impossibly overturned block-in-the-back call (the ref who threw the flag was the closest one to the infraction, how did any other official overturn that?) Sure that call on Bruce Taylor for late hit out of bounds was a joke, because the whistle hadn't blown. But in the end, Coach Peterson knew the weakest link on this defense was the inexperienced whip and he and Kellen Moore attacked it with the game on the line for a perfectly executed touchdown. Conversely with the game on the line for the Hokies, Coach Stinespring went away from the bruising runners that were wearing down the Broncos at the end for a QB draw that lost two yards and stayed away from attacking the Boise State linebackers on 3rd down with a crossing route or a pass in the flat to go with a fade pass to the outside.

Make no mistake, I'm disappointed in Coach Foster's defense at the very end, but really, after they settled into the game, they went toe-to-toe with one of the best offenses in college football and don't forget that they gave the Hokies a chance to win by stopping the Broncos near midfield with 5 minutes left. I have all confidence that come midseason, this is going to be one of the fiercest defenses around.

Meanwhile, the offense is very talented as well and I think the Hokies are going to win a lot of games this year if they don't let this loss de-rail them. Incidentally, if I were on the team, this loss would de-rail me because hell, I don't even play for the Hokies and I can barely function today. So it will take a lot to regroup and refocus on an ACC championship, but at the end of the day, isn't that really all we, as Hokie Nation, truly want anyway? We say we want a national title and I know I'd love to see one in the trophy case, but it just won't be there until an overhaul in the offensive coaching takes place and someone who can prepare the team to execute in big games, both early and with the game on the line, is in place. And the fans aren't ever really going to force that issue as long as the team can contend for ACC titles.

It's philosophical more than anything. It's an overall approach that, despite widely varying differences in tactics, is taken by Nick Saban, Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and Boise's own Chris Peterson have all exhibited over the years and it rubs off on the players - you make the biggest plays in the biggest games seem routine. The players on teams led by those men have time-in and time-out had the confidence to make game winning plays on defense AND offense AND special teams against Top 5 competition and the Hokies have not. That's why, despite this loss not being surprising, it is so painful. Because I thought this was the year that the team could really do that and that I would be wrong about Coach Stinespring. Alas, I was not. And it breaks my heart.


pmh said...

You only avoided the one topic that is truely at the heart of the problem with Hokie football. Beamer Ball was built on exceptional athletes against unsuspecting foes. BeamerBall lives now only in the world of media hype. Show me a coach at any football level that has the abysmal special teams record that Tech has had in the last 5 years and I'll show you a different coach - oops. Show me a team that can't win any big one and I'll show you a coach that all the other coaches know they can beat in a close game- oops. Same guy -oops. Don't get me wrong. I am as avid a Hokie as there is, but I want THE BIG ONE and this year could and should have been it! And I KNEW this was going to happen, because the record is clear and available for anybody to look at without the blinders of how great a person Beamer is and what he has done for our school. Beamer is obviously a very good practice coach, but he is like a deer in the headlights in a close game and we will rarely beat a team of equal skill when the high beams are on.

Lefty said...

I am left with one lingering sentiment that took hold a few months ago when I heard that this game was moved from later in the season to week one: why do we not fight like hell to keep this game in Oct. (or late Sept.) when it was originally scheduled? Those who endorsed the move to week one laud the fact that we have “extra time to prepare” and that we want the national spotlight and such. Well guess what, Boise had extra time to prepare as well, so F that. And Tech no longer needs the national spotlight to validate the program. The program has enough recognition that it doesn’t need to roll the dice big time and schedule a goddamn juggernaut in week one to get attention (much less for the SECOND year in a row). Why not pull a John Thompson and consider what gives them the absolute best chance to go undefeated. You can't tell me that playing Boise week one gives us the best chance. This team’s track record clearly indicates that it doesn’t. Having JMU, ECU and maybe a few league games under the belt sounds like a better idea to me. The 1st quarter punt block alone validates the notion that the team would benefit from a few tuneup games to start the season. Get your athletic but inexperienced defense some live reps. Get your S together and then go play the big boys.
I’m not privy to exactly how the rescheduling went down, so I’m not sure it was possible to avoid the Labor Day date. But from what I remember, the game was a done deal, and then it was moved to Sept. 6. I’m sure if Weaver bitched and complained enough, he could have kept the game in Oct. or just walked away and said f-it we’re not risking our best shot at a national title in 10 years to play you in week one. Is that a wuss move? Your damn right, but it’s done all the time (for good reason) and come December, if we have a 0 in the loss column, I think we’ve got enough mojo to be in the top 2. Now we’re just a stepping stone to this mid-major, blue-turf, mountain school. God, I hate the Monkees more than ever now.

MadJay said...

I agree that Beamerball has become more about media hype but it's not that simple. As you said, he used to put offensive and defensive starters on special teams LONG before anyone else did and that's what helped him build that advantage. Nowadays many teams (including Boise State) use starters on their block and coverage teams and that previous advantage has vanished. But it was Beamer's innovation.

As far as big games, I think I outlined in the post that for YEARS, the Hokie defense was the only dog in the fight when it was a big game. The deer in the headlights in the big game is a great description for the offense and special teams.

This year, breaking in all those new starters on defense, who are incredibly talented but just so green, the offense needed to carry the water for a few games. They played better than they have before, but it still came down to crunchtime, a game winning opportunity and they didn't execute. In particular the playcall on 2nd down on the drive that should have ended the game was an absolute KILLER. I just can't see how someone with football knowledge would make that call.

MadJay said...

Wow Lefty, what a great point. Forgotten amongst all this depression is the fact that this didn't have to happen at all. It wouldn't change the fact that I still don't think this offense is capable of taking over the game against an elite opponent (even late in a season), but at least by then the defense and special teams would have been more seasoned.

I guess we'll get to find out how good this team is, but if they run the rest of this insane gauntlet without losing (a HUGE if by the way), they'll regret allowing this game to be rescheduled forever because there's no way an ACC one loss team gets in over an SEC one loss team to play Boise State especially considering it would be a rematch game if the Hokies went.

Hokie Guru said...

Some of the blame, for sure, for this loss goes to Stiney... absolutely... but this is the third year (or fourth) that our offensive line had stunk it up... Curt Newsome gets some criticism here... we've been drinking his Kool-Aid all summer (in fairness, the drink might have been spiked) on how the offensive line will be better... and it's not... it still sucks... consequently, the run blocking bites... and RMFW and Darren Evans aren't going to get their yards on the ground... it's very frustrating.

MadJay said...

I thought the RB carries were not split correctly. It's clear now that RMFW is the #1 back and the rest of the gang fights for the table scraps and I think that's the wrong way to do it. Against Boise, they needed Darren Evans banging it up in there and wearing those guys out.

Also, I thought the pass blocking after the 1st quarter was solid. There were a lot of run blitzes, too. I'm not going to say the O-line had a good game, but consider the following facts:

Despite turning the ball over on the 2nd snap of the game, having a punt blocked on the 20 yard line, and giving Boise an extra possession that led to a TD on an absolutely RETARDED running into the punter penalty, the Hokies nearly beat an EXTREMELY well-coached Boise State team. And by nearly, I literally mean defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. A better pair of play calls on the 2nd to last drive facing that 2nd and 6 and then 3rd and 8 and we are all talking about what a huge win this is for the program.

That's how small the gap really was.

MadJay said...

By the way, just to be clear, that gap is small between winning and losing, but bridging it takes a better offensive coordinator who has the team better prepared at the beginning of a big game and executes sound playcalling with the game on the line.

Brian "Where's The Ice?" said...

You left out the loss to Georgia in the Chick 'Filet Bowl where the Hokies had a double digit lead at halftime and proceeded to throw interceptions at every subsequent possession.

Overall, I actually like Sean Glennon, but that day I wanted to fill his tear drop bottle with hot sauce.