Monday, October 29, 2012

Game Preview - VT vs. Miami

Isn't this something? The Hokies are 4-4 which means I've only watched 4 games of Hokie football this year. I know this is going to sound nuts, but the year before I got to Tech the Hokies were 2-8-1. I went to nearly every home game during my career at Tech, missing 2 maybe 3 games total and the Hokies grew into a force to be reckoned with.

I watched the Hokies religiously every year after I left Tech, getting back to as many games as I could, spending god knows how much money on ESPN Gameplan back in its infancy where you had to pay for the entire day and then I'd just watch the Hokie game. And then this year, before the season started, I decided I'm only going to watch wins and the Hokies go back into the tank again.

Maybe there's a karmic connection between my willingness to suffer the pain, wear and tear of supporting Hokie football all-in and the Hokies having great seasons. Even knowing that, I can't go back. The dull, sick feeling of seeing a Hokie loss scroll across my iPhone totally sucks, but it pales next to the wrenching agony I used to be in. My home life is better, my health is better and who knows - maybe this poor performance by the team will force Coach Beamer into making those changes on offense.

Having said that, let me offer what I've seen in the Hokie wins that might tie into what's been going on this season. As if it wasn't plainly obvious what's going on to anyone who has watched Hokie football with even the least bit of zealotry the past few years. The reasons for failure are no different than they have been for a decade or more. The Hokies are missing the gamechangers in the trenches and the offensive scheme and playcalling has reverted to the trainwreck we all witnessed from 2006-2009.

I wonder if there's anything different about how the offensive coaching is structured during the week and on gameday than it was last year in 2011 when Tech's offense showed the first signs of making sense since the Rickey Bustle era? When it relied on rightly timed calls and decent execution instead of the magic of a Tyrod Taylor or a Bryan Randall making a heaping glass of lemonade out of a stinking pile of lemons?

Hmmm, yes that's right. Boy Wonder Bryan Stinespring has left his motivational hot spot on the sidelines where he pumped everybody up during the 2011 season, and joined Coach O'Cain in the booth this year. And during the offseason he brought the pistol and pre-snap motion concepts into the playbook and is doing most of the game-planning work around those during the week. Suddenly, and I'm sure on a COMPLETELY unrelated note, even in Hokie wins, the offense has looked like a circus, complete with damn Benny Hill music and people running around chaotically at 1.5x normal speed!!!!!!!

Now despite this preposterously poor performance on offense, the Hokies find themselves at 4-4 and 2-2 in the conference. And because UNC is ineligible, the Hokies actually are in complete control of their destiny to - and I know how stupid this sounds, believe me - GO TO THE ACC TITLE GAME as the Coastal Division representative.

It starts against a Miami team that is coming off of 3 straight losses but has dealt with a lot of injuries and is now coming off it's bye week. It starts on the road IN Miami on a Thursday night on national TV. And the key to the game will be can the Hokies cobble together an O-line that can get a push on the defensive front and actually execute a sensible offensive gameplan? I think the Hokie defense can hold these Canes to 17-20 pts, but I'm completely unconvinced the offense can put up that many.

And by the way, speaking of defense, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this season, Coach Foster's defense has shown a chink in it's armor, to be sure. But I think it's safe to say they're showing improvement. The defense I saw flying around the field in the final 3 quarters vs. Duke is what I'm accustomed to seeing. And by all accounts, the Hokie D was a force against Clemson, holding it to a season low in yardage.

Lastly, let me go ahead, since I have to do this every few years or so (see item #10) and defend Logan Thomas. All this garbage from Todd McShay and even fans in Hokie Nation about how the "ball doesn't come naturally out of his hand" or any of the other countless ridiculous things that have been said, are just plain dumb. Thomas is on track to have a better season than last year statistically, minus the INT's, and several of the ones I've seen haven't been his fault (tipped balls or heaves at the end of a half). Sure he's had some bad throws, overthrowing most of the time in that case, but this is his 2nd full season as a QB. LT has unlimited talent, he's a leader, he has poise, his receivers have dropped a lot of passes, and the fact is, Thomas has made throws throughout his career that very few QB's are capable of making. Period.

So the Hokies have a shot to hit the reset button on their season on Thursday night. They either will or they won't and it's my personal hope that I get to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning that night watching a sweet Virginia Tech victory.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Duke

Wow, it felt REALLY good to watch a Virginia Tech game again. Although I have to admit, after seeing the score, I was in a complete state of shock watching the first quarter. I was thinking to myself "How in the name of all things maroon and orange are the Hokies going to come back, shut Duke down and rip off 41 straight points?" And what's so interesting about that is that it made identifying the three key plays that much easier.

1) With all the momentum in the world against the Hokies, they faced a 20-0 deficit and a 2nd and 2 at the Duke 44 yd-line late in the 1st quarter. Logan Thomas dropped back and found WR Marcus Davis for a 40 yard bomb that put the ball down on the 4 yd-line and the Hokies would pound it in from there, making the score 20-7. Huge turning point.

2) The next play was the critical play of the game. Ahead 20-10, Duke had driven down to the Hokies 29 yd-line with about 30 seconds left in the half. One more completion and it was a definitely make-able FG for the Blue Devils to recapture the momentum and go ahead 23-10. But QB Sean Renfree's throw hit the all-time leading receiver in Duke's history (Connor Vernon) in the hands at the 20 yd-line and miraculously it bounced off, settling in Detrick Bonner's hands, who returned it to the Duke 42 yd-line.

3) And the coup de gras was Logan Thomas finding Davis all along down the near sideline for a 42 yd TD completion on the very next play to make it 20-17 going into halftime and the Hokies steamrolled in the 2nd half, running away with the game.

Make no mistake folks, the Hokies played with a lot of guts. But that pass to Connor Vernon is caught 99 out of 100 times, and we're talking about a completely different ballgame if that had happened. The Hokies have to execute at a very high level at the skill positions this year, because the offensive line is a MASH unit of injuries and they weren't exactly dominant even when the starters were healthy. Plus they just lost their best lineman in Andrew Miller at center and the backup, Caleb Farris is also out with an ankle.

The team is ok, but they are a long way from being good. We'll see what steps they can take against Clemson. Look for the preview later this week.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Game Preview - UNC vs. Virginia Tech

Every once in a while, in football, you'll have a game that isn't about the matchup. The personnel groupings of the offense vs. the defense don't mean a damn thing when considering who will win the game. Sure, the Tarheels bring a different defensive scheme and offensive scheme to the table than they did last year. But the defense is the old 4-2-5, bring six on the rush, cover with five that Gary Patterson perfected at TCU. And the offense is the Gus Malzahn/Chad Morris-influenced offense that the Hokies have seen against Clemson, ECU and others. It's the "snap the ball as many times as you can in a game to tire your opponent" philosophy.

Sure, the Hokies struggled to stop Clemson, but the point is that these schemes aren't "new". They are, however, in their first year of implementation at UNC so those players don't have all the execution details down yet. To that point, UNC has played 5 games. Their losses? To Wake Forest and Louisville. Their wins? Against Elon, East Carolina and Idaho. So they haven't beaten anyone good, and they've crushed their less talented opponents.

But all of that is really thrown out the window. Because, this is one of those season-defining games that Coach Beamer has literally built his career on. I remember it, in 1995 coming against Miami. More recently, in 2010 it was against NC State in Raleigh and in 2011 it was against Miami at Lane. The formula is simple. Coach Beamer loses some games in the season he shouldn't lose and the team's back is against the wall. Are they going to get back up off the mat and fight? Or will they pack it in? And you know what? Hokie Nation eats this up and for that matter, so does the rest of the country. The Hokies became the Little Team that Could. Sure we might lose some games we shouldn't, but by golly, we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make a good season out of it (with 2003 being the glaring exception, when a huge win against #2 Miami was followed up by a loss at Pitt). Yeah, those losses knock the Hokies out of the national title picture every year, but America loves an underdog right?

And so here in 2012, we till this same ground. The Hokies find themselves at that tipping point yet again, having lost to Pitt and Cincinnati. The players had their obligatory "players-only" meeting this week. The coaches are gee-whizzing and aw-shucksing about how talented the opponent is and how it really isn't about the slow starts. And really, I haven't watched the Hokies losses, but I've read about them and I think it's obvious that the 2012 Hokies team has the talent to beat UNC. They unleashed over 300 yards of offense on Cincinnati in the 2nd half. They held Georgia Tech to 192 yards rushing. These guys can play, but the question is - will they?

There is one defining characteristic easily recognized in most Coach Beamer teams - guts. His teams hit, play physical and almost never give up. I mentioned earlier the 2003 Hokies and they are an exception. That was a team filled with incredibly talented, but selfish locker room cancers, like DeAngelo Hall and Marcus Vick. They did NOT play hard-nosed and go all out, every snap.

Now, I don't get the sense that this year's team is filled with prima donnas, per se, but even in the wins I watched, I didn't see a relentless, gutsy, go all-out like this is your last snap, type of effort that I'm accustomed to. The execution has been sorely lacking to be sure, but I think there's something that's been going on during the week that has led to that. Bruce Taylor tipped me off a little with his post-Cincy-game locker room comments about how "they're ain't gonna be any more joking around during the week. It's all serious now." That same message was re-delivered by Taylor during the players-only meeting on Monday.

I think what he was trying to explain to the younger players is that it takes a hard-nosed approach, ALL THE TIME. In Middle Drill. In position drills, every rep each player has to show toughness and competitiveness. You can't take it easy, joke around during the week and then just turn it on like a light switch at kickoff on Saturdays. So really the game on Saturday at UNC has more to do with if the Hokies are able to play with the intensity, focus and execution that have enabled them to beat more talented teams in the past. I think we're going to learn more about how the season will unfold based on HOW they play this game. If Taylor's message to the team really sank in, they are going to come out and play with guts and intensity from the opening whistle and execute like they are capable of, because during the week they listened to coaching and practiced each rep with that intense focus. If not, they will lose to UNC and the season will likely go off the rails like the 2003 season. Oh and by the way? 2003 was the last time the Hokies didn't win 10 games in a season. I hope this year turns out different.