Sunday, November 28, 2010

TSF Poll... The Boise Aftermath

Boise State falls to 6th overall in the TSF Poll despite falling much further in the other polls (the BCS isn't out yet at press time for this article. Oregon and Auburn are tied for first. While TCU hovers in at third. TCU's only hope (in the other polls) is an Oregon State or South Carolina win next Saturday. Stanford's hovering in the background waiting to pounce as well. The Hokies, with an exceptional recovery to solidify another 10 win season jump up a spot to 11.

Nevada surges forward to 7th after the exciting (I was sleepy but could not have slept through that!) win over Boise State... That poor poor kicker Kyle Brotzman.

I've included the 28th ranked Hawai'i only because they were the only team that didn't make the top 25 yet also received votes.

1 Oregon (1) 73
1 Auburn (2) 73
3 TCU 69
4 Stanford 67
5 Wisconsin 62
6 Boise State 54
7 Nevada 53
7 Ohio State 53
9 Arkansas 48
10 Oklahoma 47
11 Virginia Tech 44
12 LSU 41
13 Michigan State 39
14 Nebraska 37
15 Oklahoma State 33
16 Missouri 32
17 Alabama 30
18 South Carolina 22
19 Texas A&M 21
20 Florida State 18
20 Utah 18
22 Northern Illinois 15
23 West Virginia 10
24 Mississippi State 5
25 Arizona 3
25 Maryland 3
25 UCF 3
28 Hawai'i 2

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Game Review - vs. Virginia

With the Coastal title already locked down, the Virginia Tech Hokies hosted the Virginia Cavaliers for the annual Commonwealth Cup featuring the biggest in-state rivalry on Saturday. The game held no impact on the standings for the Maroon and Orange, but as the rivalry game all Virginians tune in to watch as they emerge from Turkey induced food comas, this game still holds the significance of rivalry bragging rights. A Coastal division title holds little significance to the circumstances of UVA alumni family members rubbing in a loss with such a differential between each respective team's records this season. And if you come from a Virginia family, it's pretty uncommon that you don't have family members from each of the two universities. But alas, our Hokies prevailed and we have yet another year to hold the shellacking over our Wahoo brethren's heads. Another thing at stake, the Hokies' streak with 10+ wins in a season stood as another factor in the game. Saturday's win solidifies the Hokies as the only team with a currently active streak with seasons of 10+ wins, a streak that goes seven seasons back. Lastly, this game also holds significance because it marks quarterback Tyrod Taylor's last game at Lane Stadium. I can speak for all Hokie fans in saying that we all wanted him to have a spectacular finish at Lane Stadium.

True to form with respect to the rest of the season, the Hokies opened up the game with a rather drab first quarter. They gained a total of 16 yards over two drives, both of which went three and out. The defense allowed 63 yards. Thanks to a Cavalier missed field goal, the first quarter came to a close without any points on the board for either team.

The offense came out swinging in the second quarter. They opened with an interception deep in UVA territory, and on the ensuing possession Ryan Williams ran a touchdown into the endzone to put the Hokies on top. Next, the Hokie defense held the Cavalier offense to a six play, 20 yard drive that ended with UVA head coach Mike London making the foolish call to go for it on fourth down. The next Virginia Tech possession resulted in a 20 yard pass to David Wilson (the 20 yards Wilson actually ran) for a touchdown. The subsequent Virginia drive went three and out, and the Hokies squeezed a field goal into the half with 22 seconds remaining. Going into halftime, the Hokies commanded the game with a 17-0 lead.

The second half opened with a 70 yard kickoff by Justin Myer that actually split the uprights, and five plays later, Virginia Tech had received a Virginia punt ready to begin their first drive of the second half. In two minutes they moved the ball 53 yards over six plays capping off the drive with a rushing touchdown by Ryan Williams. After another UVA punt, the Hokie offense marched the field 88 yards in 11 plays over six minutes capping off that drive with a Darren Evans rushing touchdown. At this point, each of the top three Hokie running backs had earned a touchdown.

Once the Hokie offense began running their second string players, Logan Thomas had entered the game for Tyrod Taylor. Taylor having made his last play in Lane Stadium exited the game after having minorly strained his shoulder but happy and in high spirits having left nothing on the field. But much to my disappointment, almost every remaining playcall was a running call where Thomas made a handoff. I say disappointing because this would have made for a great opportunity to give Thomas a chance to make some throws and for Hokie fans to get an idea of what to expect from the second stringer further down the line. Originally recruited as a tight end, Virginia Tech coaching took notice to his ability to throw the ball. The 6'6" quarterback towers over most of his peers, and I'd like to have seen a threw tosses from our potential starter at some point down the road.

Minor disappointments aside, Virginia Tech played a spectacular day against their arch rivals with the offense earning 182 yards of passing, 201 yards of rushing, and five touchdowns. The defense held the second best offense in the ACC to 291 yards and only seven points on the scoreboard.

NC State was mounting a miracle comeback against Maryland until a bad spot (from what I could see) resulted in a first down for Maryland that enabled them to run out the clock. It's also unfortunate that Maryland dropped their contest against Florida State. Ralph Friedgen has turned that program around in very short order and they are playing like a top 25 team. But now we look towards the ACC championship game in Charlotte, NC against Florida State. It's hard to know what to expect. They've got a new coach and a new outlook after defeating the Florida Gators.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Game Preview - VT vs. UVa

I am so relieved that the Hokies won last weekend's game against the Canes. If the Coastal Division title would have come down to having to beat the Cavaliers in Blacksburg, and given those hated Wahoos something to play for, I honestly would have had a hard time picking VT to win, especially after the physical nature of last week's game.

That said, the Tech players can now play without all that added pressure on their shoulders. They can line up against their hated rivals and simply try and beat UVa into the ground. The seniors can rally the younger players and explain the bitterness in this rivalry. The Clint Sintim-late-hit-on-Sean-Glennon-when-the-game-was-long-over type of bitterness. The you-played-against-these-cats-in-high-school-and-now-they-think-they're-better-than-you kind of bitterness. The Hokies have a trip to Charlotte in hand, and now just get to go out and play football on Saturday for the love of the game and the chance to destroy the wine-and-cheese crowd.

On offense, Virginia Tech has a clear advantage. The offensive line for Tech is much more athletic than the Wahoos' defensive line and they are going up against a squad that is near the bottom of the country in rush defense. The Cavaliers are also getting very few sacks and can't get off the field on third down. Their players are not strong enough at linebacker and they are missing too many good players in the secondary due to injury to stop this offense. Does that mean VT scores enough to win? Not necessarily.

As we have seen - ad nauseum - the Hokie offense is often its own worst enemy, PARTICULARLY in the first quarter. I don't know whether these guys need to eat their Wheaties, have a sharper pre-game warmup, get a shot of horse steroids or WHAT, but the sloppiness and sluggishness on both sides of the ball for Tech in the first quarter this season has been an embarrassment. If these players can't get fired up playing Virginia at home on Senior Day, then I don't know what to say. But I am sick of dropped passes, missed blocks, etc and the Hokies have a chance to quit doing that starting Saturday.

When Tech is on defense it's a much better matchup as UVa's offense is far more potent than its defense. The UVa offense is led by senior RB Keith Payne who has the most rushing TD's in the ACC this season and is a real load to bring down. His 1-2 punch counterpart is Perry Jones, a shiftier, quicker running back who can still break tackles. QB Marc Verica is a game-manager more than a playmaker and he will surely have nightmares about his last visit to Lane Stadium two years ago when he threw a critical interception in the red zone near the end of the game with the Hoos only trailing by 3 points. But he has better receivers this year than in '08 and if the Hokies have those early defensive struggles that have followed them like the plague this season, the game could be closer than many people think.

At the end of the day, you honestly can throw out the records when these two teams play. VT has won handily in the recent games, but I know for a fact that the players on both teams get up more and play harder for this game than any other. Sure, the games and scores in recent years would indicate that the "real" rivals are Miami and Georgia Tech, but honestly, this is the most hated opponent for the Hokies and it matters for in-state bragging rights and goes a long way in recruiting for the future. Especially now, when the Cavs have a guy like Mike London at the helm who recruits the "757", the Hokies need to press their advantage on the field for as long as they can.

The Hokies can end this game in the first half if they play up to their capability. That would be nice to see for a change, and would give them some great momentum heading into the ACC title game in a few weeks. It would also give some valuable playing time to a lot of backups who can experience this rivalry first hand if the starters take care of business. But make no mistake - this is the only game of the season that I have zero sportsmanship for. No score can be big enough in this game. The Hokies have blown out the Cavaliers several times in the past 5 years but it's never enough. I never feel sorry for the Hoos, I never felt sorry for Al Groh, and I won't feel sorry for Mike London if Tech can win and hopefully win big. I don't have a lot of respect for the school, its students, its football program and if I had my way, they'd be leaving on Saturday from Blacksburg with their tail between their legs to go and mire in the pain of a blowout defeat as they all sit around on "The Lawn" and wish they'd gone to Tech instead.


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!!!!!!!

Tech Seals Up Coastal Division With Win at Miami

The Hokies earned a trip to the ACC Championship game with a 31-17 victory over the Miami Hurricanes. The win marks nine in a row and has led to a 7-0 record in ACC play. Ryan Williams led the Hokies on the ground with 142 yards rushing with two touchdowns including a 84-yard touchdown scamper early in the fourth quarter that put the Hokies ahead for good. Tyrod Taylor threw for 94 yards on just 7 of 15 completions. Taylor connected with Danny Coale for a 43-yard touchdown pass as well as ran one in himself.

The game was even through three quarters as the Hurricanes and the Hokies traded scores causing the game to be tied four times through out. The Hurricanes opened the scoring on the first drive of the game effectively running the ball down field. Graig Cooper and Damien Berry took turns racking up yards and freshman quarterback Stephen Morris added a few big completions both to Leonard Hankerson including the touchdown scoring 9-yard play. Morris, who's playing for injured Jacory Harris, who was out due to a concussion despite really being cleared to play.

The Hokies gave the ball right back to the Canes on a fumble by Taylor after being sacked. This turned out to be the Hokies only turnover. It looked as if the Hokies were in for a long day but the Canes virtually handed the Hokies the game with six turnovers including two fumbles, three interceptions, and a missed field goal.

Overall, the Hokies were fairly lack-luster on offense. Outside of a few big plays, the Hokies struggled to move the ball for most of the game. The Hokies managed just 369 yards of total offense, 1/3 of which came on two plays.

Meanwhile the Hokies defense stepped up big in the second half. The three straight interceptions in the fourth quarter helped seal the victory late. Jayron Hosley, Davon Morgan, and Tariq Edwards made interceptions on consecutive drives. Edwards got his first career interception while Hosley leads the nation in interceptions.

The Hokies face the Virginia Cavaliers at noon on Saturday with a chance to continue the streak of consecutive ten win seasons which would be the nation's longest since the University of Texas (the only other team to have a matching steak) will not be able to continue their streak this year as they will have to beat a very good Texas A&M just to be bowl eligible.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Chicago Way Means Facing ONE Way

On Saturday's contest between Northwester and Illinois, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that they are playing a landmark game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The bad news is that the complex isn't large enough to safely support two endzones. That means whoever has the ball will always face the same direction.

Click here for the full story.

The famous brick wall doesn't sit far enough away from one of the endzones. They have made this rule adjustment to prevent, "..and he's throwing long for the endzone, AND..." SPLAT!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Game Preview - vs. Miami

On Saturday afternoon, our Virginia Tech Hokies take on the Miami Hurricanes. The Hokies have kept a goose egg in their ACC L-column this year, and they can sew up the Coastal division title with a win. Should Miami come away with the win, they will keep their division title hopes alive. Should they win the rest of their games and the Hokie's dropped in their contest one week later against UVA, the 'Canes would take the division on a head-to-head tiebreaker. I gage the Hurricanes as the Hokies' most difficult opponent since Boise State...IF they have their starting quarterback Jacory Harris.

Thus far, the Hokies have exhibited great resiliency since the abyss in which they found themselves two games into the season, but this contest is far from one they can expect to consider in the bag. While the Hokies have the strongest offense in the ACC by the measure of points per game (35), the 'Canes rank as the second best defense in the conference averaging only 18 points per game allowed. In passing defense they rank number one. Their rushing defense, however, ranks much further down at number eight.

Miami quarterback, "Heart Attack" Jacory Harris leads the 'Canes offense this season, but he suffered a major hit leading to concussion symptoms against UVA on 10/30. He did practice with the team on Tuesday, so remote chance the he'll play does stand. Presuming that (a) he does play and (b) he comes out on the field at the top of his game, Miami has a formidable offense. Harris has put up 1646 yards in passing thus far, and has a completion rate of 53%. Harris brings similar assets as Tyrod Taylor to the field. He can run, throw, and scramble to transform plays shaping up as sacks into rushing gains, albeit he lacks the composure of the experienced college athlete in which Tyalor has grown. But with the right level of momentum and some breaks going his way, Harris could do what it takes to get Miami the W. Miami head coach Randy Shannon said the following to comment on Harris' status. "I know you guys want to keep worrying about who's going to be the starter and all the fans want to know who's going to be the guy. Let the guy get healthy. Let him go through the process instead of trying to force him back into something that can hurt him. ... I hope you all understand this because I've talked about it for about two weeks. Concussions are serious. And a lot of fans, a lot of media and bloggers, you all think it's a deal where you can just line up after one week off and then the next week show up and play. It's not that way. ... All it takes is one hit if we go back too early, and now Jacory is in another world. ... I'm not going to do that. We're going to do it the right way here at Miami. We're going to take him slow.'' A head coach with that attitude is a head coach with class ladies and gentlemen.

Under the expected circumstances of Harris not playing, Stephen Morriss will take the snaps for the Miami offense. In his first game against Virginia, he threw 9 for 22 attempts for 162 yards, but most impressively demonstrated a steep upwards learning curve in orchestrating a 19 point comeback all within the fourth quarter to close the gap. The 'Canes ended up losing that game by 5, but that's almost a victory considering the uphill climb they faced. The next week against Maryland, Morris exhibited signs of rapid improvement. He threw for a 60% completion rate and 286 yards. And against Georgia Tech, he led the 'Canes to a 35-10 victory in comparison to Virginia Tech's 28-21 victory which nearly went into overtime in the final seconds of the game. Considering coming into the season this late as a starter, Morris has shown a lot success. The stats support that. With a 53% completion rate the Freshman stands to give Bud Foster's defense at least some trouble. Don't assume the Miami quarterback situation means that the 'Canes will roll over.

When Miami passing takes to the air, they primarily look to wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson leads the ACC with 879 yards of receiving. Benjamin has received for 627 yards thus far on the season. And then LaRon Byrd has accumulated 355 yards. Running back Damien Berry has amassed 763 yards on the season thus far, which exceeds anyone from Virginia Tech's running back core and ranks third across the ACC, and that's having missing a game on the season. The number two running back, Lamar Miller, has accrued 462 yards over eight games.

When it comes to how each of the respective squads match up, I like how the chips fall for the Hokies. The Hokies have the second best rushing offense in the league, only surpassed by Georgia Tech who does nothing but run the ball. The Hokies have a very deep running back core, which has something to do with the fact that their individual stats don't quite compare to the leaders of other teams around college football. Let's be frank. Any of Darren Evans, Ryan Williams, or David Wilson could safely be the number one running back around much of Division I NCAA football, but the depth translates to less carries per game for each player. Side note: Gobbler Country has Wilson listed as probable, presumably recovered from his bout with mononucleosis. But I digress. The 'Canes defense hasn't done well against the run this year, so I like those odds, and I see the ground game as the primary offensive strategy for the Hokies. Switching things around Miami's rushing edges out over their offense, not by a mile, but noticeably. Virginia Tech's passing defense ranks very high and very effective. The Hokie's rushing defense has given up some ground this season, so I fear that Miami has an opportunity if their playcalling gets the better of the Hokie defense's adjustments.

All in all, expect a good game.


Monday, November 15, 2010

3 Key Plays - VT vs. North Carolina

1) With 10:45 left in the 1st quarter, Virginia Tech was facing a 3rd an 8 at their own 13. The TarHeels had just driven down the field 80 yards for an opening TD and then had the Hokies pinned deep. A stop here, and all of a sudden UNC would get the ball back in good field position, the crowd would get into it and things might have gotten uglier than they already were. In what is becoming par for the course, Taylor made an amazing escape move to avoid a sack and then improvised with his receivers and hit Jarrett Boykin on a beautiful deep crossing route for 37 yards and a first down at midfield. The Hokies would go on to answer the opening score to make it 7-3 and managed the game from there.

2) At another critical junction - 7:42 seconds left in the first half, with the TarHeels ahead 10-6 and threatening to score, Eddie Whitley in the secondary jumped up and did battle with the Tarheels receiver Erik Highsmith. Whitley won the fight for the ball and landed with it in the end zone to end the scoring threat for UNC and it actually led to a Hokie FG. Instead of 17-6 at halftime, the score was 10-9. "Bigtime" Eddie Whitley. I like that nickname and I'm going to start calling him that. Who's that? Number 15 in the secondary? That's "Bigtime".

3) The Hokie defense was out of gas. UNC had driven 73 yards to the Hokie 2-yd line and was facing first and goal down only two scores, 26-10. Having already converted two fourth downs and two third downs on the drive this looked like a foregone conclusion. But NO!!! The much maligned Jeron Gouviea-Winslow (JGW) and Tariq Edwards (filling in for an exhausted Lyndell Gibson), collided with big UNC back Anthony Elzy at the 1 yard line as he leapt into the air and the ball popped out. In the scramble to recover the ball, it was knocked out of the endzone, giving VT the ball at the 20 yard line and ending the final real threat UNC made to comeback and win.

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!!!!!!!

TSF Poll... Tech Climbs to Twelve

Tech continues to rise, while Auburn remains number one with some movement in the top three. The top three struggled this week but all came away with a victory.

1 Auburn (2) 73
2 Oregon 71
3 TCU (1) 69
3 Boise State 69
5 LSU 63
6 Stanford 58
7 Wisconsin 56
8 Nebraska 55
9 Ohio State 52
10 Michigan State 47
11 Oklahoma State 45
12 Alabama 38
12 Virginia Tech 38
14 Missouri 35
15 Arkansas 34
16 Nevada 25
17 Iowa 21
18 South Carolina 20
18 Texas A&M 20
20 Oklahoma 19
21 Utah 18
22 Florida State 15
23 Northwestern 7
24 NC State 6
25 Miami 5

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hokies Travel to Chapel Hill Minus Wilson, Drager

Coming off seven straight wins, the Hokies look to continue their winning ways. The Hokies can continue their quest for the ACC Coastal Division with a win in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels have had their share of distractions this season with many of the suspensions but have still found ways to win. North Carolina has been able to elevate themselves to 6-3 (5-2) and still have a chance to win the Coastal themselves. They've done so with 31 scholarship players who have missed at least one game due to suspension and/or injury. They'll be without Johnny White their leading rusher who went down last week against North Carolina. However, leading the ACC in team pass efficiency, T.J. Yates has quietly led the team to a 5-1 since starting 0-2.

Dwight Jones, their leading receiver has 716 yards this season averaging 17.9 yards per reception and 4.4 reception per game. The lack of a running game stems from all those injuries. Now, the Tar Heels who have 1118 yards rushing for the year lose the player who had nearly 3/4 of those yards. White was sidelined for the season with a collarbone injury after a season total of 720 yards.

Meanwhile, the Hokies are traveling down I77 and Rte 52 passed the likes of Tobaccoville and King Tobacco minus some key players themselves. David Wilson, who pretty much won the Georgia Tech game on his kick return for a touchdown, will be out with a case of mono. Defensive end Chris Drager will miss the game due to injuries suffered on a hit in the Georgia Tech game.

The Hokies have had trouble starting out strong. Doing so, would force the Tar Heels to abandon any attempt to run at which point the Hokie defense can focus on Yates and the passing game.

Go Hokies! And Happy Veterans Day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

TSF Poll.. Horned Frogs??

My apologies for the late update. I was in Vegas making billions of dollars playing craps.... Ballaz roll like that. Here's this weekend's TSF poll.

TCU gets a first place vote bouncing them all the way to #2. LSU jumps to #5 and the Hokies make the top 15 despite really struggling against Georgia Tech. Temple is bowl eligible and makes the cut while Baylor falls off.

1 Auburn (2) 73
2 TCU (1) 71
2 Oregon 71
4 Boise St 67
5 LSU 63
6 Stanford 57
7 Nebraska 55
8 Michigan St 51
9 Ohio St 49
10 Oklahoma St 46
11 Wisconsin 44
12 Utah 42
13 Virginia Tech 33
14 Alabama 30
14 Iowa 30
16 Mississippi St 28
17 Arkansas 27
18 Missouri 25
19 Nevada 22
20 Oklahoma 18
21 Arizona 16
22 South Carolina 9
23 Arizona St 7
23 Temple 7
25 USC 6

Friday, November 05, 2010

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Georgia Tech

The 3 Key Plays segment was started to cover which 3 plays during the course of a Hokies game had the greatest impact on the outcome of the game. In other words, if these 3 plays would have had a different result during the game, the game would likely have been won by a different team. With that in mind, on VERY rare occasions, there is one play that changes the entire outcome of the game. It is so huge that whichever team benefits from this play is nearly certain to win. The VT vs. GT game last night had a play like this, which makes listing two other plays (in a game full of big plays) pointless.

1) With just over 4:00 left in the first half, Georgia Tech held a 14-7 lead and had driven down to the Hokie 6 yard line where they faced third and goal. GT had all the momentum, having recovered a Jayron Hosley fumble on a punt return and driven the ball down like this. They were on the verge of dealing a huge blow to the Hokies. The stadium didn't have any energy as the crowd half-expected the Jackets to go up by at least 10 pts heading into halftime. Incredibly, Coach Paul Johnson called for a pass play on this down and QB Joshua Nesbitt threw off his back foot allowing SS Davon Morgan to run under the route at the goal line and pick off the ball. This ended the scoring threat and kept VT in the game, but even more importantly, on the return, when Nesbitt tried to tackle Morgan along the sideline, his arm caught Morgan's knee at just the right point where it broke the arm. Nesbitt was out for the game and likely the season.

Now we can all sit and listen to the interviews from the Hokie players talking about how've really "come together" and they never give up and the coaches talk about how they didn't play well at times but played well enough to win. And we can all revel in a big win on national TV. But none of that hides the fact that the Hokies came out in yet another big game as flat as a pancake, for about the 15th straight time (QB Tyrod Taylor aside). And if Nesbitt hadn't thrown that interception and then gotten hurt trying to tackle Morgan, Georgia Tech would have won and we'd be throwing our hands up in the air about Coach Stinespring's inability to understand how to effectively run the ball on a Cover 2 defense with deep zone coverage instead of continuing to try and throw deep passes. We'd be lamenting how, despite the extra time to prepare and the visit to Iowa, blah-blah-blah, the young Foster-led defense still was unable to deal with the triple option and gave up far too many huge plays. The sky would be falling and all would not be right in the world, but for this one play.

Fortunately, this one went the Hokies' way, and while I feel bad for Nesbitt and hope he has a speedy recovery and a future at perhaps tight end in the NFL, I sure am happy that VT was the beneficiary on the one key play of this game. Or I would have had to puke up all that delicious scotch I drank last night.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Game Review - vs. Georgia Tech

Mid-season, big game, high stakes, Hokie players running out onto the field beating their chests with frost rising from their breath, fans shouting deafening cheers that Lane Stadium's engineering is designed to trap...It's Thursday night football in Blacksburg. Does it get any better?

Thursday night the Virginia Tech Hokies hosted the Georgia Tech Ramblin' Wreck for a game that could have at regular season's end determined who wins the Coastal division of the ACC. The Hokies pulled out the win in the final seconds of the game with an interception in the endzone to stop a Yellow Jacket drive to tie the game. With the win, the Hokies planted a steak in the ground as the clear favorites to win the division. It's not a done deal yet. Contests against North Carolina, Miami, and Virginia still lay ahead. But our beloved Orange and Maroon have have nonetheless positioned themselves very well within the ACC. After the loss to James Madison, many made comparisons to Michigan's loss to Appalachian State just a few years ago. That loss marked the beginning of the Wolverine's program headed into steep decline. After a heartbreaking loss to Boise State just one week prior, many casted shadows of doubt on where this season could lead with a loss to James Madison. But the Hokies did the opposite. They regrouped and refocused. They knew they still had their entire ACC schedule ahead of them, and they set their sights on that. They've battled back and have played up to a level that has exceeded expectations. And after Saturday, there will probably be a few less two-loss teams, which means a bump in the rankings. But don't let those heads swell too big to fit into their helmets. Like I said, the Hokies still have formidable opponents ahead.

Turning our attention to the game, the Hokies opened the game they way they have against so many teams this season. They played on their heels for the entire first quarter. Georgia Tech unleashed the same offense they did a year ago with the triple option run. During the first fifteen minutes of the game, it worked like a charm. They earned 158 yards and 14 points. The game opened with the Virginia Tech special teams allowing a 44 yard kickoff return. On the Yellow Jackets' first drive, they methodically ran down the field where quarterback Joshua Nesbitt ran the ball into the endzone for a touchdown. The Hokies punted after their first drive, and on the ensuing Georgia Tech drive, Virginia Tech's defense broke down, and Nesbitt took advantage of it by running 71 yards for a touchdown. So just like that, less than ten minutes into the game, the Yellow Jackets commanded the game with a two-touchdown lead. Having seen the Hokies in this situation before and battle back several times during the season, I expressed discontent and disapproval, but I didn't really start to worry. The Hokies then put together a good drive to end the quarter. They didn't quite get into the endzone by the quarter's end, but they opened the second quarter with Ryan Williams, returning from his injury, punching the ball into the paint for a touchdown.

The rest of the second quarter went by largely without incident. Each team had a couple of drives, but we can essentially call the second quarter a draw. Jayron Hosley fumbled on a punt return, and that shifted momentum after a really big Hokie defensive stop. One thing I would like to say about the second quarter is that the Hokie offensive line looked great. At times, they didn't just give quarterback Tyrod Taylor a few seconds to find a receiver; they gave him until Friday morning! I don't think a gnat could have gotten through. This trend continued well throughout the game. This makes for quite a change from season past when a Virginia Tech offensive line collapsed under the blitz of the Ramblin' Wreck, albeit under different coaching, but let's give credit where credit is due. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, Josh Nesbitt left game due to injury and his backup quarterback, Tevin Washington entered the game. The third quarter went by fairly quietly as well. First, I want to credit the Yellow Jacket offense with their creativity. At this point in the game, I frequently noticed the camera man fooled by Georgia Tech offense and even wondering which runner had the ball myself. But the Hokie defense fortunately didn't go the way of the camera men and me. They made frequent stops on the triple option runs. Their intensity kept the Yellow Jacket's offensive line on edge. They committed false starts time and time again reacting to the Hokie defense's adjustments.

Moving into the fourth quarter, the Hokies finally earned a touchdown on a David Wilson rush. One note on David Wilson, I have to imagine that every Hokie fan has a new found appreciation for his abilities. I haven't really seen him shine like this, but he could have been Ryan Williams or Darren Evans with a different jersey number. After a few more changes of possession, the Hokies finally did something that I've been waiting seasons to watch them do. They methodically moved the ball down the field consistently with short but very controlled gains, and they capped it off with a go-ahead touchdown. Then, Georgia Tech dug deep and mustered a drive that tied the game with just over two minutes to go. Lane Stadium and viewers at home and in pubs could smell overtime, but then all of a sudden, David Wilson struck again. He ran the kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown, a big play for the Hokies' special teams. The Yellow Jackets had to dig deep once again, and they did. A non-passing team took to the air, and they got themselves within striking distance. With roughly 20 seconds to go, quarterback Tevin Washington dropped back to pass into the endzone. Virginia Tech corner Rashad Carmichael lost his footing leaving his man briefly open, but that ended up as only a tease for Washington. As Washington released the pass into the endzone, Carmichael unleashed a burst of speed to make up the ground he lost to intercept the pass and end the game.

Overall, this is a huge win for the Hokies. It more strongly establishes them as the leading team of the ACC Coastal division. They also remain as the only team in the ACC without an in-conference loss. I'm still worried about two recurring problems that I think the Hokies need to overcome very soon. First, mistakes on special teams are costing them. Fumbles, blocked kicks, and missed field goals have hurt, and if they face off against an SEC or Big 12 team, they will punish the Hokies severely for those types of mistakes. Second, the Hokies slow start is a problem. If they start slow against an offensive powerhouse like an Ohio State, USC, or LSU, that's going to be too deep of a hole from which to dig out.

Next up is North Carolina in a little over a week.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Game Preview - VT vs. Georgia Tech

Who would have ever thought that the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game on Thursday night in Blacksburg would look like a "trap" game for the Hokies but that is exactly what I'm scared of it becoming for the players. With a 2-game lead in the division over Georgia Tech, Miami and UNC, the Hokies could lose once in their next 4 games and would still win the Coastal. But the way momentum works in college football, losing just once is a tricky thing to do.

Yes, the Hokies are in the midst of a 6 game win streak while the Yellow Jackets are coming off of a loss to a Clemson team that couldn't even beat Boston College. Yes, the game is in Blacksburg and the VT has revenge in mind after losing in Atlanta last season. But there are three factors that balance all of that out for the Yellow Jackets:

1) First and foremost, the Hokie defense has 7 new starters who have been gashed for big runs by several opponents already this season. The Georgia Tech offense is absolutely BUILT on big runs. Their running attack is predicated on taking advantage of any lapse in responsibility or poor open field tackling by the opponent. So far, VT's defense has been susceptible to both break downs in responsibility AND missed tackles. This is not good.

2) Georgia Tech is playing for it's life in this year's game. They know if they lose, their chance to defend their ACC title is done. Their backs are against the wall and Coach Paul Johnson - who is dangerous under normal circumstances - is going to be at his most cunning and fearless. I wonder if we'll even see the Georgia Tech punter as I'd expect Johnson to go for it on 4th down any time it's less than 7 yards to go from basically anywhere on the field.

3) Georgia Tech is going to score points. Their offense is too good. Not to oversimplify, but you have to outscore them to win. And anytime Hokie Nation is relying on the Hokie offense for a win, that is at BEST a 40/60 proposition against you. No opponent is a gimme when VT's offense has to carry the day. We all learned that earlier (and oh so painfully) this season. "Oh but the talent!" you cry out, my Calm and Beloved Reader. "Oh but our offensive coordinator", I respond. Don't EVER underestimate Coach Stinespring's ability to out-think himself, mis-use the personnel, fall victim to a blitz package and fail to make in-game adjustments. EVER.

So Georgia Tech has some bullets for this streetfight. And I laugh at the notion I hear from several commentators talking about what the teams that have beaten Georgia Tech have done on defense (minus the bowl games of course). Miami last year, Clemson this year, you would have thought these were amazing defensive performances. The simple fact is, those offenses got on the board early and made the Jackets play from behind. The Hokies had MANY opportunities to do that last year in Atlanta in the first half and failed as miserably as one can. Given the ball inside GT's 50 yd-line four different times, the Hokies came away with 3 points.

In this game, the Hokie offense absolutely, positively HAS TO get an early lead. Not necessarily score first - though that would be nice - but at least get a touchdown or two on their first few possessions. Get the Lane Stadium crowd even more revved up. Force a few passes from the Georgia Tech offense. Grab the momentum and the game by the horns. These are the huge impacts that the Hokie offense can have on this game. And against the 3-4 defense they should have opportunities.

The 3-4 coached by Al Groh (don't we wish he was still the head guy at Virginia?) is a schematically superior defense to the 4-3 because of the nearly unlimited flexibility in defenses or blitzes you can run out of a certain look. But it comes with one major condition. You HAVE to have the athletes at linebacker and a monster at nose guard to make it work. It's slowly being adopted across the NFL, but only in cases when teams have players like Terrell Suggs, or James Harrison, or Jason Worilds. Hybrid freakish athletes who can bullrush past offensive tackles as well as keep up with RB's and TE's in routes and make tackles in space. There aren't a whole lot of players like that at the college level, and Georgia Tech's linebackers are no exception. Each is decent at either being fast and athletic or big and strong, but none of them have the complete combination with the closest being ILB Brad Jefferson.

The Jackets have a big enough guy at nose guard in TJ Barnes at 6'7, 330 lbs, but he is just a big guy who lacks quick feet and a good get-off on the ball. This prevents him from tying up two guys on the offensive line which is what nose guards in the NFL are able to do. Single blocking the nose guard really frees up the pass protection for the rest of the linemen. Put it this way, Barnes is no Ndamukong Suh. So the Hokies SHOULD in theory be able to run and throw effectively against Georgia Tech.

When the Hokies are on defense, it's all about stopping one guy - QB Josh Nesbitt. He makes the entire Jacket offense run. By eliminating him on every play, and tackling him at the point of attack each time, you can effectively hamstring GT's offense. Of course, the gap between how easy that is to type and how easy that is to do is the size of the gap in talent between Ryan "MF" Williams and myself. It's the size of the gap between Michael Strahan's front teeth. It's the size of.... it's hard to stop Josh Nesbitt is what I'm saying.

On top of that, the Hokies need to absolutely punish B-Back Anthony Allen on the dive play, even when (or especially when) he doesn't get the ball. LB Bruce Taylor has a hurt ankle and despite him playing at such a fantastic level the past few games, I think it's a given that backup Jack Tyler will get playing time in this game, if for no other reason than to get some fresh pads in there to pound on Allen. Tyler, by all accounts, is very skilled at running through the "trash" and getting to the football in the running game. He also had better be skilled in pounding Allen's head in because there needs to be a lot of that on Thursday night.

I can only hope and pray (and meditate and cry and plead and beg) that the Hokies finally come out for a big game against a tough opponent and play lights out football in the 1st quarter, the way they have in the 2nd and 3rd quarters the past few weeks. If they do, this season can continue on its magical course. If they don't, the season can come off the rails faster than you can believe (2003 anyone?). This game is no trap. It's bigtime football, and the Hokies better bring their "A" game.


TSF Poll... Some Contention

This week Oregon earned away one vote after beating USC. Boise does the opposite of what it did in the BCS... they went up.

1 Auburn (2) 74
2 Oregon (1) 73
3 Boise State 69
4 TCU 66
5 Alabama 57
6 Nebraska 54
7 LSU 51
8 Stanford 50
9 Utah 46
9 Wisconsin 46
11 Michigan State 43
11 Ohio State 43
13 Oklahoma 38
14 Missouri 37
15 Iowa 31
15 Virginia Tech 31
17 Arizona 30
18 Oklahoma State 29
19 South Carolina 23
20 Temple 18
21 Mississippi State 13
22 Baylor 10
22 NC State 10
22 Nevada 10
25 Florida State 9