Friday, October 14, 2011

Game Preview - VT vs. Wake Forest

To any of those Logan Thomas doubters out there, don't worry, I'm not going to say I told you so. There's no time. It's the next game and the offense is going to have to be EN FUEGO again as Dan Patrick used to say, because the defense is a M.A.S.H. unit right now as the Hokies prepare to take on a tremendously improved Wake Forest squad in Winston Salem.

As usual, let's take a look at the three matchups:

1) Special Teams

Well, I have no idea what took Coach Beamer so damn long, but he FINALLY made the switch to Michael Branthover at punter and despite the true freshman kicking a 32 yarder out of the end zone on his second attempt, he boomed a 51 yarder on his first kick. As we said over the past month, unless Beamer was convinced this kid was just going to turn around and kick the ball backwards out of the Hokie end zone for a safety, there was just no way to keep on letting Demler kick the ball. And the timing here is good, because Wake is about the only team punting as poorly as the Hokies were, and with Branthover in there now, there's a chance for the Hokies to have an edge in the field position game. Kickoff specialist Justin Myer is far better than his counterpart for Wake - Jimmy Newman (thanks as always to cfbstats.com). That said, Newman is the 2nd leading FG kicker in the nation right now and so even though the Hokies have return threats in Jayron Hosley and David Wilson, I'm still putting the special teams matchup as even.

2) Wake Forest Offense vs. Hokie Defense

If the Hokies were going into this game with the starting lineup on defense that they had opening week, I would feel very good about this particular matchup. As we are all too aware, that isn't the case and the backups that are going to have to take the field against Wake are doing so at a particularly bad time. You see, Wake Forest relies on a bunch of trickeration on offense. There's tons of motion, reverses, double passes and all-around tomfoolery. And before you start to snicker, you need to recognize that they lit up Florida State's defense for 35 points last weekend as a result.

QB Tanner Price is the trigger man and he bears almost no resemblance to the trembling freshman who took the snaps against the Hokies in Lane Stadium last season. He's one of the top QB's in the ACC this year and frankly if he hadn't gotten hurt against the 'Cuse in the 2nd half of that game, Wake would almost certainly be undefeated right now. I'm also sure I don't have to remind any Superfan of the single best rushing performance by a player against a Bud Foster defense - Josh Harris' 241 yards last year. He's listed as doubtful with a tight hamstring but if you think he's not going to take the field on Saturday, well I've got an unbelievable investment opportunity for you in Nigeria with my long-lost Dutch uncle. Call me after you're done reading the blog.

So against this whirlwind of playaction and misdirection from the Wake offense steps 3 untested players into the breach. DE Tyrel Wilson will be filling in for dynamic playmaker James Gayle whose sprained ankle prevented him from even making the trip to Winston Salem. Probably because the coaches understood that if Gayle was on the sideline, he'd find a way to steal a uniform and helmet and sneak into the game. Now Wilson is way too small to be a defensive end, but he's fast and he plays hard. It's a tall order, but if he can somehow muster the discipline to maintain his lane and prevent the reverses or QB roll-outs, instead of chasing the ball, he could hold the fort down for this weekend at one end. I'm extremely nervous that he's not going to be able to do that.

The play of Corey Marshall at DT filling in for lost-for-the-season Antoine Hopkins was so bad last week against Miami that Coach Wiles had to put re-converted offensive guard Courtney Prince back onto the defensive side of the ball at the end of the game. Think about that. Prince, who was recruited at defensive tackle and was so poor at it that he was moved to offensive guard, was brought BACK over to tackle for one week of practice and with the game on the line, he was in there instead of Marshall. What did Marshall do wrong? Try a little of everything. He lined up in the wrong place. He ran the wrong direction after the snap. He even lined up too far off the line of scrimmage one time. Now in his defense, he is a true freshman, trying to fill-in at tackle even though he's a natural end. Marshall is very strong and fast and will make a great end in the future but he has got to get his head together and learn the defense first. Fortunately Luther Maddy is beginning to recover from the high ankle sprain he suffered a few weeks ago and looks like he will be able to go against Wake as the tackle. Maddy is also a true freshman, but he is far more instinctive at the position, having played it throughout high school. I don't like the thought of a true freshman seeing this offense for the first time, and having to play against it, but at least at defensive tackle his responsibilities will be less varied.

I'm nervous about Wilson and Marshall as they step into their roles on Saturday. But my nervousness PALES in comparison to how sweaty-palm, water gulping, drymouth, horrified I am about having Alonzo Tweedy being the starting whip in this game. Let's recall that Tweedy is the more physically gifted whip LB who hasn't been able to wrest the starting spot over JGW. And why not? Because he has proven time and time again in practice and his limited game action that he isn't playing within the scheme of the defense. He is very fast and always just runs around trying to make a play on the ball. As whip, that's great when you're on the blitz, but sometimes you have to play the outside leverage to turn a run back inside. Sometimes you have to see through the play fake and fade into the flat to cover the RB. And Tweedy has not done that consistently enough. So he's been put on punt coverage as a gunner. They say "Tweedy run down the field as fast as you can and tackle the guy with the ball." He's good at that, but against Wake Forest if he gets caught looking for the ball instead of playing his responsibility, he is going to get lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. And his backup for this game is another incredibly physically talented player in redshirt freshman Nick Dew who has never played a snap at Whip in a game. So we've got that going for us which is nice.

The rest of the defense is going to have to step up, tackle very well, hit the bejeezus out of Josh Harris whenever he carries the ball and hope for a few miscues by the Demon Deacons. I don't see anyway that Wake scores less than 20 points in this one. Which of course brings us to:

3) Wake Forest Defense vs. Virginia Tech Offense

Wake's defense this year is EERILY similar to Virginia Tech defenses from the early 2000's. There is a ton of pre-snap movement, lining up in various combinations of players who are all kind of tweeners and blitzing you from the minute you get off the team bus. The ends can be linebackers, the linebackers can play some safety and it's all designed to confuse the opponent because they aren't big enough to just line up and stone you. They play bend don't break in the secondary and are very opportunistic whenever the QB makes a bad read. Wake is 15th in the nation in turnover margin, which was always a hallmark of those old Hokie defenses.

Logan Thomas is coming into this matchup off of one of the best games I've ever seen any QB play at any level. {I told you so}. But Miami tries to out-talent their opponents, whereas Wake is going to try and out-scheme you. The receivers should be able to get open but the critical part will be if Thomas can recognize where he needs to go with the ball in time. And this sounds crazy but I would actually make Tony Gregory the primary kick returner this week, because RB David Wilson needs to be a bellcow on Saturday. He needs 25 carries and he needs to be able to help that offensive line wear down an already smaller Wake lineup. If Wilson can get it going and force Wake into some pure man-to-man on the outside, players like Boykin and Marcus Davis are going to make some plays.

And while I'm talking about receivers, let me point out one of the most obvious improvements the Hokie offense has seen in handing the reins over to Coach Mike O'Cain. How many times on this blog, (and don't try and count because it was well over 500) did I scream, cry, beg, plead, whine and moan about the poor utilization of the physical skills that the many talented Hokie receivers brought to the table from 2004-2008? I still have nightmares, literally, I do, of deep jump balls thrown to 5'9" Eddie Royal and bubble screens to 6'4" 230 lb Justin Harper. Sideline routes for the strong beefy Josh Morgan and crossing routes to small wiry Josh Hyman. And despite having Greg Boone and Cory Holt, both former QB's in the lineup, the Hokies called no fewer than 3 plays in that timeframe that required WR Eddie Royal to throw the football. Now? Now we throw the deep ball to Jarrett Boykin who has great ball skills. They throw slants to the athletic Marcus Davis. They throw the bubble screen to a former RB in DJ Coles. And you can throw any type of route to Danny Coale because he's always open and he's always going to catch it. I may have been unhappy with O'Cain's development of QB's, but I really have begun to rethink how much of that may have been hamstrung by a dreadful offensive gameplan and playcalling. Even against Clemson, I really felt like the game was called well and the execution was just far too sloppy. His imprint on the offense has been nothing short of a revelation, and the Hokies will need every bit of it on Saturday against Wake because it will come down to whether they can hang a lot of points on the board or not.

We will learn whether the Miami game was a springboard for this offense or a one-off performance. Now Thomas won't have the same type of performance against Wake that he did against Miami, not because he's not incredibly talented but because it's just not possible to be in that much of a zone for two straight games. But he will need to make a few plays and Wilson needs to run wild. Hopefully the receivers have put that case of the drops from early in the season behind them because it's going to take a very well executed performance on Saturday as, unlike Miami, Wake is not going to beat itself with stupid penalties. I'd also really like to continue to see Chris Drager get involved in the offense as the tight end can always be a weapon against a blitz.

Wrap-up

Wake Forest is a good team this season, don't let the name fool you. I actually think they are better than the Wake team that won the ACC Championship in 2006. The Hokies beat that squad 27-6 in Winston Salem, but that year's Hokie defense was full of talented veterans (by the way Eddie Royal threw a pass in that game. It was intercepted. I was there watching in horror.) This much younger squad of Hokies will have to play beyond their years in order for Tech to come away with a win in this one. I'll be crossing my fingers and toes.


GO HOKIES!!!!!!!!!!!

2 comments:

LuvzAznChix said...

Looks like you were incorrect about a couple things in your post. LOL

MadJay said...

I certainly was, LAC. But I was right about a few, too. Unfortunately, I was the only one to lose my ass on that investment opportunity in Nigeria. I was SURE they were going to wire me that money. Damn.