Sunday, November 21, 2010

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Miami

You may recall when earlier this year, there was a rare exception to 3 Key Plays. There was just one key play in the Georgia Tech game (the injury to Nesbitt on the INT return). Well, this past weekend we saw a game between Virginia Tech and Miami where there were more than 3 Key Plays. So many big plays were made during the back-and-forth of this heavyweight fight that I'm expanding it this week to 6 Key Plays.

1) After falling behind 7-0 in the 1st quarter AGAIN, the Hokies were in a critical spot. Facing 4th and 1 at the 7:10 mark, the Canes decided against kicking a FG and went for the killshot by going for it at the Hokie 12 yd line. True freshman Kyle Fuller (filling in for an injured Rock Carmichael at corner) sealed the outside and popped Miami RB Damien Berry. The ball came free and SS Davon Morgan recovered it, giving the Hokies new life. A conversion there and the Canes probably go on to take a 14-0 lead. Big play.

2) On the ensuing Hokies drive after stopping Miami, the incredibly physical game took its toll on both teams. This was the most physical game I'd seen in college football since the Auburn-Clemson game at the beginning of the season. On three consecutive plays, one player was injured from each team for the remainder of the game. On the fourth play in that stretch, Tyrod Taylor also got hurt and though he only missed one snap (on a hit that would have put me in the hospital by Miami LB Colin McCarthy) it led to the 2nd Key Play. Coming in for Taylor was redshirt freshman QB Logan Thomas, facing a 3rd and 16. The young man stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball like it was shot from a cannon, 24 yds down to the field to WR Danny Coale (who was then popped so hard he lost his helmet). Yes it was a conversion of a very difficult third down on a drive that led to a critical tying score. But more than that, early in the game, it said to Miami "You can bring all that physical play, but you better expect us to be right there, ready to respond. Every man on this team is stepping up today". It also let the Hokies know that they can have confidence in Logan Thomas when it's his turn. What a play by that kid.

3) The Hokies had just taken a 17-10 lead with 5 and half minutes left in the third quarter and seemingly had captured the momentum in the game. On the very first play of the Canes' ensuing drive, RB Lamar Miller busted loose on a 47 yard run that took the ball to the VT 15 yd-line. It put the Canes right back in the game as they rode Miller for three more plays in a row to score a tying TD. It put the pressure right back on the Hokies.

4) After exchanging punts, the Hokies found themselves at the 13:38 mark of the fourth quarter, in a 17-17 dogfight and pinned deep on their own 16 yard line after a booming 59 yard punt by Miami P/K Matt Bosher. Enter stage right, RB Ryan Williams, who busted free with a great cutback and dusted off the Miami defenders for an 84 yard run, very reminiscent of the run he had against Georgia Tech in 2009. It put the Hokies up 24-17 and re-applied the pressure on Miami and said "OK, what do you have?"

5) Miami it turns out had something as well. As freshman QB Stephen Morris began leading the Canes on a drive, he faced 3rd and 10 from his own 36 yd-line with 12:10 to go in the game. Morris stood tall in the pocket against a fierce rush and delivered a beautiful ball to WR Travis Benjamin as he was getting hit. Benjamin had toasted Kyle Fuller on the play and was running free on his way to tying up the score, but the ball hit his hands and bounced off harmlessly to the ground. Benjamin was not able to rise to the moment and make a big play in a game full of them.

6) One player who was up to the challenge of making a big play was Hokie DB Jayron Hosley. Already leading the nation in INT's per game, Hosley had been beaten earlier by WR Leonard Hankerson on a quick in-route. Now with 9:10 left in the game, and protecting a 24-17 lead at midfield, Hosley recognized the 3 step drop by the QB and jumped the route, picking off the ball and returning it to the Miami 25. It led to the game-sealing touchdown and set off a series of interceptions that Morris would throw on three consecutive Miami drives. In fairness to Morris, when throwing the last two interceptions, the running game - which had been so effective for Miami throughout the game - was no longer a threat and the defense could rush the QB and mix up coverages behind it to confuse the young freshman. However, the game was still tight when Hosley made his pick and set it all off for the Hokies. It was a huge play by a kid who has been making them all season.

I'd like to add a comment or two about the game in general. In my recollection, I cannot find another game where so many different and in some cases unsuspecting players for Virginia Tech stepped up to make play after play. I already mentioned many of the plays above, but just think about all the other ones. Whether it be LB Jeron Gouviea-Winslow busting a WR smoke screen or forcing a fumble on the punt return, FB Kenny Younger catching a critical third down pass in the flat against an all-out blitz, LB Tariq Edwards recovering a fumble and getting an interception, freshman DT Derrick Hopkins recovering a fumble, WR Xavier Boyce making a huge grab on third and 5, FS Eddie Whitley making a jersey-tackle that saved a sure TD run by Miami RB Mike James, I mean, there were literally Hokies everywhere laying it on the line and rising to the occasion.

But I'd like to single out the game MVP - RT Blake DeChristopher. Miami DE Allan Bailey is a surefire 1st round pick in April. He will be a multimillionaire in the NFL next season and is just an unbelievable athlete who had 7 sacks and 11 tackles for loss entering Saturday's game. How many times was Bailey's name called in the game on Saturday? He had a half tackle early in the game and one tackle late in the game and he had no sacks. Even more impressive, watching the match up, he was up against BDC on just about every play and while sometimes a RB was there to chip Bailey, often times it was one-on-one. And BDC shut Bailey down - stopping spin moves, bull rushes, swim moves, etc. He stoned Bailey and wasn't called for holding once. I believe DeChristopher just showed up on the NFL's radar and I barely recognize the guy, who two years was stumbling all over the field. What an epic performance.

And believe me, the Hokies needed that performance and the play by all their stars and backups. That Miami team is going to send so many players to the NFL. Allan Bailey as mentioned above, but also DT Marcus Forston, WR Leonard Hankerson, RB Lamar Miller, DB Brandon Harris and half their offensive line are all certain to be playing in the League.
So there were tons of big hits, injured Hokies (including all-ACC DB Rock Carmichael on the first series), NFL caliber players all over the field for Miami and top of those odds, I thought the offensive playcalling this game was Stinespring's worst effort of the season (and that's saying something after the JMU game and the UNC game last week). The only intermediate routes I saw called were the short hook to Boyce (first down) and the crossing route by Danny Coale (TD). Against man coverage you want slants, posts and crossing routes and for some reason, that wasn't installed to be a major portion of the passing game against the Canes. It's laughable if it wasn't so sad. The running game was effective at times, but I never once saw a draw play to Wilson or Evans, or the middle screen that was so effective against Miami last year. Stinespring knows all the football terminology but he just doesn't have a feel for the game and it was only the superhuman efforts of the Hokies mentioned above, that brought home this Coastal Division title to the team and carries them forward against the hated Hoos.

I was so angry in victory last week against UNC, but today, after they came out on top in such a tough battle, I am so proud of the team, proud of the win and proud to be a Hokie.

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!

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