Monday, November 15, 2010

Game Review - VT vs. North Carolina

The Hokies may have won on Saturday against the Tarheels 26-10 but it really has been a long time since I've been that angry in victory. That game took at LEAST 2 months off the end of my life in stress-induced damage to my stomach lining and heart. Consider the following fun fact: With 7:30 left in the game, the Hokies had been the beneficiary of 4 turnovers and hadn't given the Tarheels the ball even once, and the Tarheels were STILL about to go in for a TD from the 3 yard line that could have made it a one score game. Fortunately, Jeron Gouviea-Winslow and Tariq Edwards combined to pop the ball loose for a 5th turnover as it skittered out of the end zone for a touchback and gave the Hokies the football.

But seriously - up 4 turnovers, how were the Hokies only ahead by 2 scores? The answer is that Tech came out for the who-knows-how-many-times-now and laid an egg for the first 5 minutes of a football game and were actually a MIRACLE play by Tyrod Taylor and Jarrett Boykin (see 3 Key Plays above) from being down 10-0 or maybe even 14-0 again. The sloppiness early in games cost Tech against Boise State and it will cost them another game this season if they don't get it cleaned up - MARK MY WORDS.

Speaking of sloppiness, there were also dropped passes on all fronts - Andre Smith and Jarrett Boykin (who, in his defense had a shoulder stinger) were the two worst offenders. In fact, 4 passes were beautifully thrown by Taylor and dropped, including one by Marcus Davis, who made a fantastic grab along the sideline and then made a mistake of inexperience by letting go of the ball as he rolled over. Taylor took some heat for his stat line (13/28 for 249 yds) but it looks a lot better with those 4 catches, as it would have increased his completion percentage to 61% and put him over 325 yards. He still releases the ball early when he tries to get a bullet in there and so it sails on him too often but that's a Mike O'Cain problem and one that won't be solved until Taylor gets decent coaching in the NFL.

The offensive playcalling was the worst I've seen this season. The Hokies tried to establish the outside run early, even after Ryan Williams gashed the Heels for a huge gain early right up the middle. Typical Stinespring - the Tarheels play a deep zone and have the fastest linebacker corps in the ACC, with a pretty weak interior defensive line full of backups. Let's try and run to the outside??!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?? What, did he think it was a trap and the Tarheels had laid FRIGGING LAND MINES in between the tackles?!?! It killed me watching the Hokies avoid running inside with Darren Evans until the 2nd half.

And of the pass plays that were successful against the Tarheels, how many do you think were the play as it was called vs. the original play was actually shut down and Taylor and his receivers had to improvise and play sandlot football? I bet this season, 20% of the pass plays fall into the latter category, but on Saturday, it had to be closer to 40%. I will give Stinespring credit for the fake option play that Taylor then backed out of and hit Danny Coale deep on. Between that and the TD pass to Andre Smith against NC State with Andrew Lanier out wide, he's had two very creative plays that worked this season, but even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and again.

And OH MY the defense. The defense that is so capable and talented as evidenced by the amazing plays made by James Gayle, Eddie Whitley, Jayron Hosley, Rock Carmichael (can you believe he held UNC WR Dwight Jones to 1 catch?? Amazing) and others. But for goodness sake, their effort in the first quarter was beyond awful and then, with the game on the line and the chance to end it in the 4th quarter, the vaunted Hokie defense gave up two huge third downs and a fourth down as the Tarheels drove down to the Hokie 3 yard line. Fortunately that was when the defense rose up and forced a fumble, but they lack the killer instinct that previous Hokie defenses have demonstrated.

In fact, while I'm mentioning previous defenses, let me explain why I am so frustrated about the Hokie defense early in games, and the Hokies early in games in general. The Hokies built their tradition on having to outwork, outhustle, outthink and most importantly outwill their opponents because often they weren't physically talented enough in mano-a-mano situations to win. This season, in many games, the Hokies have actually been the ones with the advantage in talent and ability. And while the offensive coaching problems have been well-documented here (thank you, to the Academy, my fans, my agent, and my mom and dad, I do accept this Understatement of the Year Award), the defensive coaching schemes are typically very sound.

So when looking back at the Brandon Semones, the Michael Crawfords, the Jamel Smiths, the John Engelbergers, and the Brenden Hills of Hokie defenses past, it is unacceptable to me to watch these Hokies play down to their competition early in games. There's been a lot of talk about the amazing Coach Foster adjustments and believe me, technically, I am sure he is picking up on things that he shares with his players to put them in better position, but the biggest adjustment I think Coach Foster is making is that he is "encouraging" a better effort from his players after seeing their ridiculous tackling attempts early in games.

I believe that in practice during the week, he tries to be fiery and get on his players so that they understand where they need to be come game day. But as a former player himself, I think it's truly in the midst of the game when Coach Foster gets that "the lights are on" feeling and the players can truly understand the level of intensity needed when they come off the field after that first series or two. I am pretty sure Lyndell Gibson knows all about "arm violence" after he missed making the play on two screens on UNC's first drive. And the effort of the defense as a whole really showed as the Hokies only gave up 100 yards or so after halftime and played with far more intensity at all positions. They need to do that for a full game.

By the way, three players are exempt from my rage on defense - John Graves, Chris Drager and Eddie Whitley. They always look like they are going full speed and playing fundamentally sound football with an aggressive attitude, whether it's the first snap or the final snap they are in the game and I just wish that was carrying over to the other guys right now.

So after 3 FG's early on, the Hokies' finally started getting into the end zone, the defense tightened up and the game was won. But they need to unload off the bus in Miami in a seriously pissed off mood. I hope they somehow get the sense that it is NOT okay to just have a "slow start". The ACC Coastal Division title is there for the taking down in South Beach and if the Hokies want it, they better have left the sloppy play and lack of effort behind in Chapel Hill, because Miami will be out for blood.

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!

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