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!
LET'S GO HOKIES!