First, let's take a look at an example from our friends at Texas. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been with head coach Mack Brown for 12 seasons. In that time, Texas won three Big 12 championships, a national title and played in another national title game (JUST last season!). This year, the Texas defense was 7th in the country. And yet the Longhorns went 5-7 and didn't make a bowl game. Why? Because their offense was 59th best in the country. You might sound shocked when you read that, fellow Superfan, because that probably doesn't sound that bad to you.
This season the Longhorns had a brand-new QB who wasn't as good as the hype had built him up to be and he was playing behind an awful offensive line. It's not like their offense was the 100th best in the country or worse, as we had to live with for years at Tech. And more than that, watching the games, it was obvious that the playcalling was still lively. There were a lot of dropped passes and badly thrown balls to open receivers, but the play had created open receivers! And turnovers, oh my heavens the turnovers. Texas was 116th in the nation in turnover margin, giving the ball away 30 TIMES!!! Yes I would put a small portion of the turnovers on the offensive coordinator, but considering Texas had finished no worse than 49th in turnover margin the past 5 seasons, I don't think that is a hallmark of a Greg Davis-coached offense. And the difference between the Hokies winning the ACC when we had awful offense and the Longhorns missing a bowl game when they had an average offense is due to those turnovers and the Big 12 being a tougher football conference than the ACC.
And the reason that 59th in the country (which is mathematically in the exact middle) is because there were years when we Hokie fans would have KILLED for the 59th best offense in the country. So what did Texas and Coach Mack Brown do in this situation? They forced Greg Davis out. I thought this was uncalled for. After all, in 2008 Texas beat Oklahoma 45-35 and one Texas beat reporter labeled it the best offensive game Davis ever called (better even than the 2005 national title win) and that he would go down as the greatest offensive mind in school history.
But the bottom line is that Texas doesn't have a phony empty national title trophy case like we do in Blacksburg. It should tell you all you need to know about the "real" expectations of the athletic director and fan base that Greg Davis was let go after Texas was one year removed from playing for the national title (and might have had two titles if Colt McCoy hadn't gotten hurt in the 1st quarter of that game).
Now is there a happy medium? Sure. I think it was premature to can Davis just as I think it has been far too long overdue to demote Coach Stinespring. But the point is that you can clearly see the difference in true program expectations. Just look at our fan base. We are so happy to have won the ACC title, and we'll be happy with that every year. It's why Coach Stinespring has been able to stay; despite horrific offensive performances in 2006-2009, the Hokies were winning and competing for ACC titles because of their defense and that's all the fan base and athletic director TRULY expect, empty trophy case notwithstanding.
But let's take a closer look at this season and see why I am still convinced that the Hokies can't win a title with Stinespring at the helm. First of all, credit where credit is due: Coach Stinespring had a few very inventive play calls this year. The TD pass against NC State where LT Andrew Lanier split out wide was a great call. The fake option pass to Danny Coale against Miami was a great call. The fake WR screen, spin around screen to the RB on the other side is kind of a neat call. Yes, the playcalling in general was vastly improved over the absolute train wreck of the past few years. But all of this pretty stuff is just lipstick on a pig.
In the final analysis, many of the successful plays this season, and even in the ACC Championship game boiled down to the amazing athletes on offense making amazing plays. How many times did Tyrod Taylor make a miracle out of nothing this year? So many times that it boggles the mind. I can think of countless times where the first two reads weren't there, so Taylor had to make two or three people miss, move around and find a receiver on a broken play. Why aren't the first two reads open most of the time? S Mario Edwards from Georgia Tech (a former Hokie) said it very well after the loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg:
“We had a good game plan,” said Edwards, who finished with 10 tackles. “We had to key on their tendencies a lot and their tendencies were based a lot on their formations."
The opposing defenses are usually able to read what the Hokies are doing before the snap of the ball and then adjust accordingly. And when Stinespring tries to outmaneuver the defense, he doesn't do it with a playcall adjustment, he does it by using a player counter to "tendency". For example, David Wilson on a power run up the middle, or Darren Evans on the option pitch to the wide side of the field. Stiney probably thinks these are going to confuse the defense, but in reality it just misuses the talents of the players that he has.
Danny Coale is a perfect example of this. All season long (in fact all career long), Danny Coale has been the guy with the best hands on the team. He is just super dependable and makes tough catches whenever called upon. He is quick enough and physically tough enough to work the slot and middle of the field, to the point where I believe there's a spot in the NFL for him (Wes Welker anybody?) But nobody is going to mistake Danny Coale for an explosive player. Yet how many times is the WR screen run for Coale? A lot less later in the season thank goodness, but for most of the year, he was the guy getting that ball. When you have Dyrell Roberts and Marcus Davis on your team, what is Danny Coale doing catching that pass?
You may think I'm nitpicking, especially considering the offensive results this season, but this is important so I'll ask you to listen close - to win the big title, it's not good enough to beat opponents when you have the talent advantage. The Hokies on offense this year had more talent than any defense they faced except for Miami and Boise State. And the advantage against Miami was that the Canes' defense was very (and strangely) undisciplined.
I am completely cutting out the JMU game. I actually don't hang that loss on Stinespring because the entire team was so deflated after losing to Boise State (that loss was 90% Stinespring's fault in my opinion). So minus JMU, to take players like VT had on offense and beat the teams they were supposed to beat is not the sign of a top offensive coordinator. Like our friends over here have outlined in great detail, Coach Stinespring accomplished what almost any coordinator in a Division I-A program would have done with this offense. In order to take the next step, you have to line up against a program of equivalent talent and WIN the game. The Hokie talent is at a level where they can compete in those games, but with the current coordinator, they will very rarely win them, and you have to win one or two of those in any given season that you expect to compete for a national championship.
I hope we see a step forward on offense against Stanford in the Orange Bowl, as I consider them a worthy adversary, but I am not holding my breath. And while nothing related to the world of college football could possibly make me happier than to be proven wrong about my assertions on Stinespring, next year or any year, I just don't see it happening. In fact, I think a year like this past 2010 season means that Stiney will be in Blacksburg for as long as Coach Beamer is. Oh well. Since there's nothing I can do about that, it's time to get fired up for the Orange Bowl!!!!