Thursday, October 28, 2010

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Many of you know me as Mad Jay, but on a day like today I can't help but sit back and laugh. To read the past several weeks' reviews by Hokie beat writers and even some in the national media, the commentary can be summed up as: "Well the pressure seems to be off of offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. He's been a stud the past several weeks". Two things:

A) That goes to show how Hokie Nation really does just want to compete for ACC titles and 10 win seasons
B) The recent resurgence in Hokie offense has certainly been a pleasure to see, but let's take a closer look at what they've really accomplished and what we should attribute that to. After doing so, I believe you, my Calm and Beloved Reader, will also chuckle at the notion that somehow, magically, Stinespring is suddenly a competent offensive coordinator.

Starting from 0-2, let's look at the competition where the Hokie offense has supposedly been "on fire".

East Carolina, North Carolina State, Central Michigan, Wake Forest and Duke. Against those 5 teams, the Hokies averaged 475.6 yds/game and 46.2 points/game. That is the greatest offensive performance in ANY 5 games of a season that I have seen at Virginia Tech since Michael Vick roamed the field. Plain and simple, that is great offensive output.

Pick up your glass of Kool-Aid, but before taking a sip, just take a quick peek at those opponents for a second. The average rank of those 5 opponents' total defense, is 87th best in the country. The average rank of those 5 opponents' scoring defense is 89th. These are some of the worst defenses in all of college football. The talent level and experience gap between the Hokie offensive players and the defensive players on these teams is ENORMOUS. Virginia Tech should have lit them up and did. Raise your glass.

WAIT, WAIT....Hold on for a second before you knock that delicious grape beverage back. It does smell a little bit funny doesn't it? Hmmm. Now during this stretch the Hokies did play one good defense - the Boston College Eagles. The Eagles are 22nd in overall defense and 56th in scoring defense. They have the nation's leading tackler in LB Luke Kuechly, and a great leader in LB Mark Herzlich. The talent level of Virginia Tech's offense overall is still better than Boston College's defense, but it was much closer. The result was the offense only had 343 yds and 19 points. Now don't get me wrong - 343 yds and 19 points from a Hokie offense would have been like water in the desert for me two-three years ago, but the offensive talent is far better now than it was then. The offense was still mis-utilizing players and looked out of sync, particularly throughout the entire first quarter.

Fortunately Boston College's offense is an absolute disaster, the Hokies got out of there with a 19-0 victory and life goes on. But it illustrates a point I've been making for a long time as outlined below:

Virginia Tech has gotten their recruiting to the level of the big boys in college football. They now field a team offensively and defensively with the athletic ability, toughness and football IQ to compete against any of the top programs in the country. I saw it last season against Alabama and I saw it this year against Boise State.

Since the elite teams in college football rarely play each other, that level of recruiting means that the Hokies just have a flat-out better roster than most of their opponents and as a result SHOULD win 8 games a year. When you throw in the fact that you have one of the greatest defensive coordinators in the history of the game on your side, he can take that talent level on defense and get another 2-3 wins a season. In fact 2-3 wins a season is what I think Bud Foster is worth by himself. Give him the Sisters of the Poor Academy, put him in the SEC and I bet Bud Foster goes 2-10. So the 2.5 Foster wins, along with the 8 talent wins adds up to 10-11 wins per year and that's exactly where Coach Beamer sits. Sounds good.

However, when going up against the other top teams, the talent level equals out, the physical play and Coach Foster give Tech a slight edge on defense usually, but the offense is typically UNBELIEVABLY OUTMATCHED, particularly early in games. Why on earth is that? Why does the Hokie offense look strong against weak defenses, look kind of sad against decent defenses and look like they don't even belong on the field in the first half against top defenses?????!?!?

It's not talent level. The answer is coaching. Now I am unhappy with Coach O'Cain because I've been singing the praises of Taylor for years, and it took O'Cain until Taylor's senior season to begin unleashing that talent. I don't like Coach Newsome, as I've seen far too many bullfighters on the offensive line using the OLE!!! technique. And those coaches, along with the poor gameplanning and ridiculous misuse of players are all Coach Stinespring's responsibility. (P.S. I am happy with Coach Sherman at WR coach).

And let me expound on Tyrod Taylor for a second. I recall when many, including some Superfans, weren't that sold on Tyrod Taylor. Yet much of the credit for how well Tech is playing on offense goes to his prodigious talent. Tyrod Taylor has been an X factor throughout his career. Many of the biggest plays made by the Hokie offense the past several seasons have been Tyrod making something out of a broken play. That is not good offensive coordinating, that is having a special player leading your offense and too often having to make something out of nothing.

So in closing, the Hokie offense has produced against scrub defenses in the past 6 weeks and struggled some against one competent defense. They are about to begin what we all know is the key run to this season which involves playing against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami. Those are some tough defenses, particularly UNC and Miami. It is up to Coach Stinespring to have this team ready for these big games on offense, especially early and especially this season when there's so much youth all over the field on defense and Tech will probably need 25-30 pts to win those games. If the Hokies produce on offense against those opponents, I will personally be serving up the Kool-Aid at my new wet bar and you can have whichever flavor you prefer - though I recommend staying away from the grape.

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!

Monday, October 25, 2010

TSF Poll (Week 8)

So somehow our collective minds were thinking it and this week we all confirmed the selection: Auburn unanimously number 1. The Hokies make their reappearance onto the poll at 18.

1 Auburn (3) 75
2 Oregon 71
3 Missouri 66
4 Michigan St 64
5 TCU 63
6 Boise St 62
7 Utah 58
8 Alabama 53
9 LSU 46
10 Stanford 42
11 Nebraska 39
11 Ohio State 39
11 Oklahoma 39
14 Florida St 33
14 Oklahoma St 33
16 West Virginia 32
17 Arizona 26
18 Virginia Tech 25
19 Wisconsin 24
20 South Carolina 20
21 Iowa 17
22 Arkansas 11
23 USC 9
24 Miami 8
24 Mississippi St 8

Sunday, October 24, 2010

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Duke

1) On the opening series of the game, Duke had converted several 3rd downs and had pushed the ball down to the Hokie 35 yd line where they faced 4th and 7. Instead of punting, they decided to go for it and DT Antoine Hopkins blew through the middle and sacked QB Sean Renfree for a loss of 8 yds. This was key for several reasons. It ended the only real threat the Devils would put on the entire first half, it gave the defense confidence and it gave the Hokie offense the ball in good field position where they drove it down and scored an opening touchdown to go up 7-0. A huge, set-the-tone play.

2) Trailing 14-0, with 13:24 left in the 2nd quarter, Duke switched QB's to true freshman Brandon Connette. Welcome to Lane Stadium young man as he proceeded to throw an INT to DB Jayron Hosley. That Hosley is so hot right now! He's like a firecracker! This play basically sealed the game as it gave the Hokies the ball on the Blue Devil 24 yd line where they pounded in a 3rd TD and basically ended any real threat of losing the game for the Hokies.

3) Facing 3rd and 3 at his own 20 yd line with 8:00 left in the game, backup QB Logan Thomas had thrown 7 straight incompletions from the time he'd entered the game. Two of those passes were on target and dropped, but still 0-7 is a tough line to build confidence with as a QB. However, Thomas delivered a good ball to WR Marcus Davis for a 6 yd gain and a first down. This little completion kept the drive alive, giving Thomas more reps AND he proceeded to go 6-7 to end the game which has to be a huge boost for his confidence that he can go in and play ball at this level. Some of his throws after that completion to Davis were absolute DARTS and he also moved the ball with his feet. Exciting stuff and it all happened because Thomas got that completion to get on track.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Game Preview - vs. Duke

Duke Blue Devils vs. Virginia Tech Hokies
Kickoff: 12:10 p.m.
Lane Stadium/Worsham Field
Blacksburg, VA

This Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies take on the Bluke Doo Devils. After coming out of the gate with an 0-2 record, the Virginia Tech Hokies have managed to win three straight and put themselves first in the Coastal division of the ACC, as well as earning a ranking of 25 in the BCS and 23 across the major polls. Each win has made the squad look a little better. The season to this point has a some interesting things to recognize buried deep in the stats. First, eight different players carried the football rushing against Wake Forest. This clearly delineates the depth at the tailback position. Five different players earned touchdowns against the Demon Deacons, including the backup quarterback on a received pass. In their last three contents, the Hokies have score more than 40 points. The Hokies earned 35 first downs against the Demon Deacons, the second most for any squad in the Virginia Tech history.

But all of this makes for no reason not to take Duke seriously. The Hokies, having won the last nine meetings, look to extend that streak to ten, but if the James Madison DUKES can take down the Hokies, so can the DUKE Blue Devils. And let's not forget that Duke gave Virginia Tech a pretty good scare last year where the Hokies only won 34-26.

So how's Duke looking these days? They earned their only win against Elon in their season opener. Since then, they've faced Alabama, Army, and a few ACC teams. They took a beating from Alabama and Army, but they have actually played competitively against their ACC opponents, most of whom beat them by a touchdown or less. Wake Forest stands as the only common opponent thus far between the two squads. Wake Forest edged them out in a high scoring shootout 54-48. Virginia Tech only scored 4 more points on the Demon Deacons than did the Dukes, albeit the Hokies had second string players come into the game late in the third quarter. Of course the respective defensive performances contrast greatly. Against Wake Forest, the Hokies allowed 21 points, the Blue Devils 54. Duke, however, comes off their most impressive performance in the season thus far, at least by measure of the final score. In their previous contest against Miami, they lost 28-13.

Turning to game stats, Duke has an impressive total pass yards figure. They rank second in the ACC with 1663 total yards. In rushing, they're second from the basement with only 731 total yards. On passing defense, Duke has allowed less than they've gained, 1342 total yards. Defending against rushing, they again rank second from the basement allowing 1265 total yards.

Duke's offensive strategy probably will key off the same aspect that has given them gains throughout the season thus far. Sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree has a pass completion rate of 57%, and he has a lot to do with the aforementioned total passing yards for the season thus far. Wide Receiver Conner Vernon leads the ACC in receiving yards at 581. Donavan Varner stands sixth in the ACC with 436 total yards in receiving. Renfree has two receivers as his reliable go-to guys. And it doesn't even stop there. Austin Kelly ranks eleventh in the ACC with 329 yards on the season. Expect Duke to take to the air when squaring off against the Hokie defense. They will likely go to the secondary quite frequently and try to take advantage of the Hokies' inexperience there. However, they may run into less inexperience than they expect. Mistakes and all, I'm thinking our Hokie corners and safeties have looked pretty good.

On the defensive side, they will probably count on a strategy of moderate containment under the gamble that their offense will be able to get into the endzone. They'll expect the Hokies to lean on the run game. The Hokies have plenty of depth there, and Duke's defense hasn't stopped the run against lesser opponents. Duke may simply concede some of the run yardage while focusing on the secondary to prevent consistent short gains and long gains in passing. The Hokies, this season and seasons past, have struggled establishing a consistent short to mid-range passing game, and most gains in that area usually happen as a result of quarterback Tyrod Taylor doing a little scrambling first. If a few bad calls or flukes go Duke's way, this strategy could keep them in the game all the way into the final minutes.

All in all, if the Hokies don't look past this game and focus on it, they really should get the win. But if they don't keep their eye on the ball, they could drop this one. Let's hope they've learned that lesson from week two of this season.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Will Football Be Banned?

Or will it become as lame as baseball?

This weekend was excessively brutal. We saw numerous concussions in the NFL, including DeShawn Jackson, Dunta Robinson, a motionless Todd Heap, Aaron Rodgers. Then there was Rutgers DT Eric LeGrand. LeGrand made a clean looking tackle on a kick return against Army on Saturday. What occurs immediately after was jaw dropping. LeGrand hit the ground motionless. His diagnosis was a spinal cord injury that has left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Despite more and more regulations and rules to protect the safety of the players, it seems that the number of brutal injuries seems to be on the rise.

This week the NFL is announcing more rules regarding tackling in order to protect the players. That's all fine and good, but as it turned out, all the hits this weekend were within the rules.

Last week, a stranger at a bar made an off-hand comment, "Football won't be around much longer."

At the time, I thought this guy was an idiot and didn't know what he was talking about. After this weekend, one must wonder. Will the NFL and NCAA put into place rules that ultimately change the way the game is played. While I'm not saying that the safety of the kids on the college field should not be our ultimate concern, I am saying that the players are bigger, faster, stronger than ever before.

I like taking the automobile industry as an analogy. Long ago cars were slow, big, and clunky. Have an accident in a Buick Electra and chances are you'll walk away unscathed... even without all the safety precautions such as "seat belts" and "air bags" and "crumble zones." Have that same accident in a Smart Fortwo, and... well, if you survive, we'll just call you Robocop because you'll be wearing the "car"... permanently. Or, perhaps a more appropriate example, imagine speeding down the road at 150 mph in a Audi R8 without your seatbelt on.

That said will these regulations make the game less appealing? Are we on our way to watching flag football on Saturdays? Are there better ways to prevent these injuries? Do we need to re-examine the equipment such as a redesigned helmet or pad system?

These are serious questions for the sport we love. In the mean time, wiggle those fingers Eric. Wiggle those fingers.

First TSF Poll

Well there's a lot of discrepancy in the first TSF poll. Two of us put Oregon at number 1 and the other has Oklahoma. The net result puts Auburn at number one. One note is that Tech did receive votes but did not make the top 25. I see that changing if they continue to play the way they have been.

1 Auburn 70
2 Oklahoma (1) 69
3 Oregon (2) 68
4 Michigan St 66
5 Boise St 64
6 TCU 62
7 LSU 59
8 Utah 57
9 Missouri 51
10 Oklahoma St 46
11 Alabama 43
12 Wisconsin 42
13 Ohio St 37
14 Nebraska 36
15 Florida St 35
16 Stanford 32
17 Iowa 25
18 Arizona 24
19 West Virginia 22
20 Texas 17
21 Arkansas 13
22 South Carolina 10
23 Northwestern 6
24 Miami 5
24 USC 5

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Game Review - vs. Wake Forest

Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies took on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Coming off some disappointing losses, the Deamon Deacon head coach Jim Grobe decided to mix things up by putting some second string players into the starting lineup. He had the goal of shaking things up on his squad to breathe some new life into his team. However, the first half of the game amounted to nothing less than a Hokie explosion offense. In the first half, they got into the endzone on all but one of their possessions. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor consistently made completions to receivers Jarratt Boykin, Danny Coale, and even backup quarterback Logan Thomas. Taylor's passing displayed his ability to scramble and move to find the open man. The defense held the Demon Deacons to three and out for their first two drives. They allowed 14 first half points. If this trend continues, the days of the Hokie slow start may well be behind us for the rest of this season, and good riddance if so!

Jayron Hosley has continued to impress me as a developing player in the last few games. First, he had a 58 yard return to set up the Hokies first touchdown. Several times playing corner back, he made difficult tips to prevent pass completions. He also made multiple single tackles, some even causing Wake Forest for a loss of yards. He did fumble one of his put returns, and it seems that having the dropsies was well spread across the Hokies. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor let one slip out of his hands on a quarterback rush. David Wilson also fumbled on a return, but in each case the Hokies recovered. Against a tougher defense, things may have turned out differently. The defense for the most part kept the Wake Forest offense at bay. Both of the Demon Deacon touchdowns resulted from long rushing plays. The first touchdown happened when the Hokie defensive line left a big hole and the safeties found themselves too far out of position to make the tackle. The second happened from a long run resulting from a missed tackle by defensive end Steven Friday.

The third quarter went fairly quietly with only one Wake Forest touchdown and one Virginia Tech field goal. By the third quarter's end, the Hokies controlled the game by a score of 52-21, and some of the Hokie second string had taken the field.

The fourth quarter went by even quieter as neither team scored a single point. Backup quarterback Logan Thomas began taking snaps. He stands a towering 6'6", and seems to have good poise. Thomas didn't really connect for any big plays during his time on the field, but he did show some ability to move the ball. He made a series of single yard gain rushes and found receivers for modest passing yardage gains. In the end he threw 3 completions in 8 attempts for 22 yards. His rushing amounted to 15 yards across 3 carries. He also successfully threw the ball out of bounds under pressure during several plays thus avoiding risky situations that could have led to turnovers. However, he didn't get Virginia Tech onto the board. Not having the agility and speed of Tyrod Taylor, he didn't avoid some of the pressure resulting from Hokie offensive line collapses, something the Hokies' current starting quarterback consistently displays the ability to do. Given that he hasn't seen much action as a backup this season, we can't be too critical of Thomas. I hope we get the opportunity to see him play a couple more quarters before the season ends.

The offense as a whole played well. They earned a total of 605 yards, went 12 for 17 on third down conversions, completed 63% of their passing, rushed for 291 yards, threw for 314 yards, and held possession for 41:26 of the game. This is a welcome change from games passed, even against an opponent like Wake Forest. The defense played well too, but there are still signs of development needed. Missed tackles, big holes in the defensive line, and out of position safeties allowed for some big gains in Wake Forest rushing. The defensive secondary, however, looked nearly air-tight. They only allow 4 completions on 17 attempts for a total of 92 yards. Special teams had a couple of big plays in punt returns, and given some of the mistakes we've seen by those squads this season, only a few positive surprises in this area is a welcome thing.

While overall this resonates as a good win, the Hokies didn't execute perfectly. The biggest lesson I think they need to take away is that they can't bobble the ball. The fumbles they had didn't result in loss of possession as they recovered all of them. However, should all of those fumbles have resulted in turnovers, we could have been looking at a very different game. Against a Miami and Georgia Tech defense, it's nearly certain that one, two, or even all three of those fumbles would have resulted in a change of possession. Turnovers can be the undoing of otherwise good teams, and the Hokie coaching staff needs to drill that into their players heads for the remainder of this season. That's critical if they want to keep their eye on the ACC championship.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Previewing the Wake Forest

Wake Forest is coming to Blacksburg at a great time for the Hokies. Wake has been struggling this year at 2-4. Of course, two of those four losses are to some pretty good teams in Florida State and Stanford.

The Hokies are finally starting to look like the team that they should have been. Save for the first drive, the Hokies took care of business on defense against Central Michigan. They'll be tested once again through the air as Demon Deacon freshman Tanner Price has been lighting up defenses. He threw for 326 yards in the loss to Navy. However, in an unfriendly environment such as Doak Campbell Stadium, he came in to replace Ted Stachitas and threw 6 for 12 for a miserable 35 yards and an interception.

Meanwhile, the Tyrod Taylor show developed well last week. However, each episode has been different. This week the offense faces a Wake Forest defense that is giving up an average of 35.3 points a game. Taylor may also be able to take advantage of Wake Forest's 107th ranked passing defense that averages 429.3 yards against per game, 231.7 of which through the air.

Outside of Taylor, we need to see more production out of the backs. The lack of significant carries for David Wilson and Darren Evans in the Central Michigan game put too much pressure and cause Taylor to rush waaaay too much.

On a side note, how much of a badass is Greg Nosal. Nosal lost part of his pinky during the Central Michigan game. Rather than head to straight the sidelines and eventually the operating room, Nosal opted to play out the rest of game. They found the severed piece of his pinky in his glove and were able to reattach it later.

Go Hokies!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chips and Dips

The Hokies took care of business demolishing the Central Michigan Chippewas 45-21. The 21 is slightly misleading as 7 of those came on the Chippewas' opening drive and rest of the points were scored late in the game.

MadJay outlined three goals that the Hokies needed to reach in order to dominate. While they failed to meet goal 1: to jump out big early, they did eventually jump out and held a comfortable lead throughout the game. They had opportunities to have two interceptions that could have dramatically changed the game but failed to secure the ball both times. Goals 2 and 3 were definitely met, and we were able to see some play from many of the non-starters and play a complete game.

The Hokies defense came out aggressive and the Chippewas were able to move the ball through the use of short passes along the outside. Ryan Radcliff appeared very comfortable distributing the ball, while the Hokies rush was not able to get to him quickly enough. Central Michigan went up seven with a perfect play action throw to Jerry Harris. The defense played well but were just beat by heads up play calling.

However, Tech followed this up with a bang. On the second play from scrimmage Tyrod Taylor off of a speed option outran everyone for 72 yards and the touchdown.

After a three and out by the Chips, Bryan Stinespring called his classic play that never works: a play action deep ball. It's a play that he notoriously calls on first down at the start of a drive (usually the first offensive play of the game.) It's so predictable, it's sick. The Hokies also went three and out.

Both defenses clamped down through the rest of the first quarter. The Hokies missed two easy interceptions that could have changed the game dramatically. But overall, the defense seemed to get back in groove after the opening drive.

To open up the second quarter, the Hokies drove methodically down field, with the help of the men in stripes who called two, albeit legitimate, pass interference calls, for another touchdown. The drive was capped by a Darren Evans touchdown run of six yards.

This was Evans' second touch of seven for the day. I know that scoreboard was in Tech's favor in the end, but I don't understand why they were not running all over the Chippewas. David Wilson would also only have seven. Taylor ran the most with nine carries. It's scary to see him be the leading rusher time in and time out. With Wilson and Evans, Tech has them as their respective backups. RMFW will be back at some point. With Taylor we only have, yet to really be tested, Logan Thomas. I hold my breathe every time he takes off down field.

On the next drive, Davon Morgan took advantage of a floater from Radcliff. The Hokies would only get three more points to go up 17-7. The defense was unbelievably efficient through the rest of the game until the coaches decided to start swapping out the starters. (Even then they faired pretty well.) Outside of the first drive, the Hokies held the Chippewas to 202 total yards and 0 points excluding the first drive in the first three quarters.

Meanwhile, Taylor worked the field one more time in the first half culminating in a 7-yard touchdown pass to Andre Smith.

The third quarter was a bore with only one good drive of note. On essentially three big plays the Hokies scored another touchdown to go up 31-7. Taylor threw a screen to Evans who took it 15-yards, threw a 39-yard strike to Jarrett Boykin, and ran a 15-yard scamper for Taylor's second rushing touchdown.

They opened the fourth with a 68-yard beautiful run by Wilson. The Chippewas turned around and produced an impressive drive to match the opening drive touchdown.

The Hokies came out with Taylor with 10:45 to go in the fourth quarter. He received a standing ovation as he left the game after four plays. Logan Thomas came in at quarterback. Thomas came in and went 1 for 2 and fumbled only to recover it. The Hokies would be forced to punt.

The defense came out mostly with the younger players. They held well and Jayrod Hosley off of the punt was able to glide by the defense with the assistance of a wall of blockers.

Thomas and the offense came out again only to have Tony Gregory fumble on his first carry. This set up the Chippewas' last touchdown giving them there full 21 points.

Overall, this was a very complete game for the Hokies. There were some missed executions but in general they were very few.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Game Preview - VT vs. Central Michigan

I wrote before the Hokies played against the ECU Pirates that we would learn a great deal about the team's psychology in that game and a lot about their ability to execute during the two subsequent games on the road against ACC competition. Well, we have. We've learned that the team has a lot of fight in it, led by players like Eddie Whitley, Tyrod Taylor, John Graves and Darren Evans. We also learned that the ability to execute is still hit or miss. One week the defense was able to put it together vs. BC and the next week the offense was able to put it together against NC State (for the second half anyway).

So obviously this Hokie team is capable of fulfilling the promise of its collective talent and competing for an ACC championship. It's apparently not ready for national-title level play, but as we've alluded to hundreds of times, it probably won't ever be with this offensive coordinator on staff. All that said, one glance at the schedule shows that the Hokies have three games in a row against competition with less talent, starting this weekend against the Central Michigan Chippewas. It would be easy to dismiss these next few games and say that the meat of the schedule begins with the home game against Georgia Tech in a month. But that would be an enormous mistake because that stretch run won't matter if the Hokies don't use these next 3 games to accomplish 3 very important goals.

1) This team has to learn how to get off to a fast start and punch the opposing team in the mouth. All these 10-0, and 17-0 deficits make for great character builders when you come back and win, but that's playing with fire. Sometimes the comeback will fall short (see: Boise State). It's about executing the way you demonstrate you are capable of in the second half, but doing it in the FIRST half.
2) Blow a team out in order to develop the depth chart and rest a variety of injured starters. FS Eddie Whitley and TE Andre Smith are two of the most important players on this team and they will absolutely need their "A" games for the stretch run in the ACC. Virginia Tech MUST take care of business and grind their opponents down in the first three quarters so that the 4th quarter in all the games can be "empty the bench" time. The backups need the playing time, the starters need the chance to heal and if these next three games are nail-biters, even if they are wins for the Hokies, it will not give the starters the rest they need.
3) Build some confidence by playing a complete game. So far, the Hokies have failed to play a solid 60 minute game. The offense will play good for a stretch, and then the defense will play well. Different stars have emerged in different games to swing the balance in favor of Tech, but if they can figure out how to put the pieces together against these teams with less talent, it would be a huge boost when they begin the crucial run against Georgia Tech. Listen, after losing to JMU, anything is possible and the players had better believe it. But being 6-2 and 4-0 in the ACC looks realistic for this team if they will just execute for the next three weeks.

So with that quick look at the bigger picture, let's zoom in for a bit and take a closer look at Central Michigan. First of all, when the Hokies are on offense against this Chippewa defense, they have a huge physical advantage on the perimeter. The Hokie receivers are bigger, stronger and faster than these defensive backs and should be able to beat them in the passing game as well as blocking on the edge. The Hokie running backs are also bigger and faster than the Chippewa linebackers. The Chippewas have given up 280 passing yards to Northwestern and 306 rushing yards to Ball State so they've shown weakness in both areas.

In watching some highlights from their games against Temple and Northwestern, the Chippewas do have some hard-nosed physical players right up the gut. Not the biggest kids, but their tackles don't get pushed off the point of attack, and their MLB is a 250 lb tackling machine. The Hokies need to use some trap plays and outside zone rushes to be effective. I don't see the RB draw working that well against the teeth of this defense.

I know it's probably a pipe dream but l'd love to see some skinny posts or crossing routes where players like WR Dyrell Roberts, Marcus Davis and DJ Coles can catch the ball on the run and make something happen in space. I will go to the grave wondering why on earth O'Cain and Stiney haven't worked with QB Tyrod Taylor on this more during his career. Granted his primary receiver is rarely the one on the post or crossing route and that's squarely on Stiney's shoulders, but still, he has had a few times where the secondary receiver has been on that route and he's not thrown it. I bash my head into something every time I see that, and it hurts, so I just wish they would address this. It would work great, starting this week.

RB Ryan Williams will again miss the game, but frankly, he's better saved for ACC competition anyway. With the way Evans and Wilson are playing, there's no need to rush him back. And when he does come back, there had better be a more even distribution of carries. I think both Evans and Wilson have demonstrated their ability back there and a 50%/25%/25% distribution will be MUCH more effective than the ridiculous 80%/10%/10% we saw when Williams was healthy.

When the Hokie defense is on the field, they should have no trouble stopping the run game because of the loss of the Chippewa's best offensive lineman, Jake Olson, last week. He was a beast but the rest of the players are undersized and only two of them are seniors. So I expect Tech to shut down the running game successfully. However, the Chippewas are mainly a wide-open passing attack on offense (the fourth in five games that the Hokies will have faced). They average 37 pass attempts/game and the secondary/nickel package that I thought would only see limited service this season is going to again play a central role.

Speaking of that nickel package, I ended up breaking one chair and certainly threw several items watching the pass interference calls against the Hokies last week. Two of them were quite simply not pass interference by Antone Exum. Coach Gray has worked with Exum this week on keeping his hands lower on the receiver while looking back for the ball, but in the heat of battle there is almost always some hand fighting and if a ref is going to call it, he'd better call it both ways during a game. But either way, there will be a lot of balls thrown in this game and Tech's secondary is going to get plenty of reps practicing their technique in avoiding pass interference. And so I believe that this presents a perfect opportunity for Coach Beamer to get involved. It's a head coach's job to get on the ref early in the game when a call goes against his team and figure out where that ref's head is on certain calls. Against the Chippewas, if pass interference is called, Coach Beamer needs to get a feel for what those back and side judges are looking for so he can communicate it to Coach Foster who can relay that to his defensive backs.

Overall, Tech has a talent advantage, but even if that were enough to win, and again after the JMU debacle we know that it is not, relying solely on that costs the Hokies a great opportunity they have to go out, play a complete game and get backups on the field during the second half. They had better come to play just as hard, and definitely at a higher level than they have done in any one game this season in order to set the table for later in the season.


Monday, October 04, 2010

3 Key Plays - VT vs. NC State

Before I list out the three key plays, I'd like all you Superfans to take just a second and appreciate how good of a football team the Hokies beat on Saturday. On the road. In a huge ACC matchup. Sure there were warts all over the place, and the offensive scheme in the first half was nothing short of pukey, but NC State has a fast defense and Russell Wilson is damn near unstoppable when he gets hot. And yet the Hokies played their guts out and finally put together a game winning drive. Don't be surprised if there's a rematch in December for the ACC title.

Also, special shout out to a guy not in the key plays, but wow, Eddie Whitley, played the entire game hurt and was an absolute warrior out there, getting the defense aligned and leaving everything on the field for his brothers. That got recognized in the Tech locker room, believe me. I hope the Hokies hang 50 on Central Michigan on Saturday and give Whitley an early curtain call so he can heal up, but after JMU, nothing is taken for granted, so he may have to tighten the chinstrap again. Ok without further ado:

1) With 0:50 left in the first half, NC State had driven from their own 25 yd-line to the Hokie 15 yd-line and were facing a 3rd and 10. Already ahead 17-7, a score from the Wolfpack here, even a field goal, would provide momentum going into halftime. Russell Wilson escaped pressure and had a man open in the end zone. CB Jayron Hosley baited Wilson by pretending to sit on the flat early in the play but had drifted back in coverage, and then leaned over to snag the Wilson throw and returned it to the Hokie 7 yd-line ending the scoring threat. I usually say when a player had a game like Hosley (3 picks, 6 tackles and 4 passes defended) that they were playing out of their mind. The scary thing is that Hosley looked completely in control and actually could have had another pick. I daresay he has the ability to play at that level on a regular basis which basically means an entire quarter of the field would be off-limits to opposing offenses.

2) A ton happened in the 3rd quarter but it was all back and forth and heading into the 4th quarter, Tech still trailed 27-21 and had driven down to the NC State 4 yd-line. All week long, all we read anywhere was the ineffectiveness of the offense in the red-zone. Now, with all the chips on the line, a FG wouldn't do here. A TD was necessary to really apply pressure. And Coach Stinespring (who I am absolutely CONVINCED wants to do better if he just knew how), came up with a beauty of a play. Using 4 offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage and TE Andre Smith playing where LT Andrew Lanier usually lines up, Stiney had Lanier line up on the line of scrimmage out with the receivers. Lanier would not go downfield which avoided any ineligible-man-downfield type of penalty but he still attracted a LB in coverage. Meanwhile, Smith, who was uncovered by either receiver on his side of the formation was allowed to come off the line of scrimmage and ran a crossing route across the back of the end zone where Taylor found him and delivered one of the best strikes I've seen. It was thrown so hard, the LB was unable to reach out and disrupt the flight of the ball and Smith snagged it (or better yet, let the ball implant itself in his chest) to put Tech up 28-21. The play was so innovative and well-executed I actually have trouble believing Stinespring came up with it, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Enormous play.

3) The third key play may be a bit controversial but I believe it was made by Chris Drager at the end of the game. Remember that, even down 34-30, the Wolfpack had all their timeouts and 1:27 on the clock, which with Russell Wilson is an eternity. Against many defenses, a game-winning touchdown drive is likely a 50/50 shot in that situation for that offense. But Drager played his rush PERFECTLY, maintaining his outside contain and with Wilson unable to get outside of the pocket, he tried to make a heroic play, launching it downfield as Drager lunged for his arm. That disruption led to an easy pick for Hosley and there you have it- ballgame. The Hokie offense rising up to put the team ahead deserves a ton of credit, but that wouldn't have meant anything if the defense had given up another drive (like Boise State) at the end. Thanks to Drager they didn't. By the way, every time Drager makes a play, I stand up, take a shot, and say "I Vill BREAK you". I know, I know, it's Drago, but on gameday, that's close enough.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Game Review - vs. North Carolina State

The Virginia Tech Hokies opened their contest against North Carolina State with an ATROCIOUS first quarter. The Hokie defense is young, inexperienced, and learning, so defensive coordinator Bud Foster's squad still has somewhat of an excuse. The offense, however, has no such excuse. It has seasoned veterans that should be carrying their experience from years past, and they made rookie mistakes. Let's run down some of the events. The Wolfpack took the first possession, and as they did they marched down the field 80 yards with seemingly little resistance to gain their first touchdown. The Hokie offense went three and out. NC State quarterback, Russel Wilson, on the subsequent drive put a long ball into the air that his receiver would have caught for a big gain should he have had one more half step on the pursuing Hokies. After third down, NC State punted the football, and the struggling Hokie special teams blew an excellent opportunity for a blocked punt and committed a penalty in the process. As the Hokies took over the ball, on second down, quarterback Tyrod Taylor handed the ball off to David Wilson, who ran the ball for a big 26 yard gain, and just when Hokie fans began to see some rays of light, Wilson fumbled causing a momentary flash of panic. Fortunately Dyrell Roberts fell onto the ball to maintain possession. But later on this same drive, tight end Andre Smith deflected a pass headed right into his hands up into the arms of a Wolfpack player resulting in an interception. On the ensuing drive, NC State quarterback found a wide open Jayron Hosley. With 6:23 left to go in the first, the Hokies already trailed 14 to nil. This may well amount to one of the worst quarters of play in all of Hokie football history, from any relative sense of expectations at least.

Early in the second quarter, things continued to go poorly for Virginia Tech. Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins found himself right in front up a fumbled football but fell belly first causing it to wiggle away from him for an NC State recovery. The first second quarter Wolfpack drive resulted in a field goal, 17-0. On the offensive side of the ball, Tyrod Taylor's composure looked rattled. A number of his incomplete passes went straight into the dirt. And many of the incompletions thrown straight on target the Hokie receivers dropped. But about midway through the second quarter, the tempo began to shift. The Hokie defense began to make some key stops. Until this point in the game, NC Stage receivers had repeatedly won a series of "jump balls" to come down with big gains in passing yardage. But safety Antone Exum and cornerback Jayron Hosley made several key tips preventing Wolfpack pass receptions. After generating a little offense, the Hokies closed out half by getting themselves onto the board making the score 7-17 with a pass on the run by Taylor and brilliantly caught by tight end Andre Smith, thus more than making up for his earlier deflected interception.

The third quarter looked more promising for the Hokies all of a sudden when David Wilson ran back on the kickoff for a 92 yard touchdown. But another special teams blunder of a missed extra point took the wind out their sails. On the Wolfpack's next possession, they punched another touchdown into the endzone making the score 24-13. But the Hokies had the resolve so as not to go quietly. Darren Evans reminded us of what we missed in the 2009 season due to his injury. He ran 54 yards for a touchdown, and Tyrod Taylor found Danny Coale for a 2 point conversion to compensate for the missed extra point. This put the score at 21-24 in favor the Wolfpack, but the Hokies had the momentum. NC State knew they needed to get onto the board, so they put together a hard fought drive, but the Hokie's maturing defense started playing like a mature defense. They held the Wolfpack to a field goal. The Hokies ended the thrid quarter sitting within striking distance of taking the lead with one possession.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Hokies took their first lead of the day with once again a pass from Taylor to Smith. When NC State took possession, they once again settled for a field goal two thirds the way through the fourth quarter. Their fans were making noise, and their team members were pumped. But you would never have known it from the composure of the Hokies as they took the field after Wilson returned the kickoff to the Virginia Tech 24 yardline. Evans and Taylor exchanged a series of moderate range rushes to keep the Hokies drive going, even though the offensive plays seemed to be breaking down. Then, Taylor found wide receiver Jarratt Boykin at midfield, and he brilliantly ran 39 yards for a touchdown, 28-34 Hokies!. At this point, Hokie head coach Frank Beamer called for a 2 point conversion play. Now, this could make you wonder why, but consider the difference between a 4 point lead and a 6 point lead. With respect to the opposing team needing to get into the paint, nothing differs, but on the off chance that the opposing team DOES score a touchdown, a 6 point lead gives the Hokies a last ditch effort to block the extra point. With 1:27 remaining and all three timeouts left, the Wolfpack didn' t have a second to spare, but the ability to manage the clock. But once again, the Hokie defense put on the pressure and forced an interception. One more Hokie touchdown capped off the final score at 41-30 Hokies.

I'm starting to see a localized pattern in the Hokies' performance this season. By that I mean that in each game, the Hokies play a horrible first quarter in ever respect, but they improve steadily throughout the game. (Of course, we have to not consider the JMU game, though.) First and foremost, the Hokies must correct this. They've got four games under their belts now, and coming out slow because of players don't their heads 100% in the game has to be a thing of past from here onward. Second, I'm wondering if we can apply this localized pattern of game-by-game to the global scope of the entire season. That is to ask (not predict!) whether the Hokies will only improve their season. I hope that the case. More on that may come in a later post.

The defense, though still inexperienced, making mistakes, and developing, show moments of brilliance in their play that indicate good things to come. The offense, however, really has no excuse. They need to start executing consistently like the seasoned verterans they are. All Hokie fans offer considerable and rightful criticism of offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, but a lot of mistakes of today's game really rest squarely on the shoulders of the players. Even Danny Coale, who's hands I've past sworn are coated in glue, dropped some he should have caught today. The special teams mistakes have become somewhat commonplace. The win definitely gives Hokie fans a good feeling coming out of today's college football contests, but that game really should have ended at 41-17, not 41-30. But that's not to say the forward momentum of two wins won't carry our Hokies into greener pastures.

Mad Jay is still mad, EhhTee is still running the stats, and I'm still full of hope. Not too much is different here in TSF Land. Our boys have a lot of season ahead of themselves. Even after their 0-2 start, don't give up on a great finish yet!