Saturday, September 28, 2013

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Georgia Tech

With the kickoff of the ACC season, it's time to bring back our world famous segment - 3 Key Plays. These are the plays that made the difference in the game in the Hokies 17-10 victory on Thursday night.

1) With 12:28 left in the 1st quarter, facing 2nd and 4, the Hokies capitalized on a fumble by throwing a crossing route to DJ Coles (who hung on!!!) and he took care of the rest, dashing into the end zone. This score gave the ferocious Hokie defense the lead and really set the tone for the game. It was a well-executed passing play and it was a WORLD of difference between being held to a FG and scoring a TD after creating that turnover. Big play.

2) With 3:34 left in the 3rd quarter, the Hokies had Georgia Tech in 3rd and goal from the 10 yd line. The ball had been on the 1, but the defense had moved the Yellow Jackets back to the 10. A terrible, floaty pass to the end zone by Vad Lee provided an easy interception opportunity for Detrick Bonner. However, Bonner had other plans, deciding to run up the back of the receiver and sit there for 2 seconds while the ball fluttered toward them and then knocked the ball down. Even though he was beaten on other routes, it was clearly his worst play of the game. Instead of a pick, ending the GT scoring threat, or at least stepping in front of the receiver to force a FG attempt, he was flagged for pass interference and the Jackets converted on the next play to cut the lead to 14-10.  Awful play and it made the game a lot closer than it should have been.

3) 8:24 mark of the 4th quarter and the Jackets, trailing 17-10, have a 4th and 2 at their own 33 yd line. Instead of punting it and letting their defense (which destroyed the Hokies in the 2nd half) squash the Hokie offense, Coach Paul Johnson decided to go for it. DT Derrick Hopkins, who played like an impostor of Ndamukong Suh the entire night, blew up the inside handoff to RB David Sims and stuffed the play short of the 1st down. The Hokies would miss a chippie FG that would have iced the game, but they ran the clock down another 3 minutes and kept GT pinned deep.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Game Review - VT vs Western Carolina

In beating Western Carolina 45-3, the Hokies had their best team performance since last season's 37-0 win vs. Bowling Green. But there were some huge differences which provide me a much greater sense of optimism coming out of this ballgame than I felt after the Bowling Green game last season.

If you think back to that Bowling Green game last season, the Hokies basically needed Logan Thomas to BE the offense. Their first three series were a joke until Thomas finally started running the ball himself and moving the offense. They scored 21 pts in the 2nd quarter and went on to win. The defense pitched a shut-out but they gave up 266 yards to a team that would go on to lose to such notables as Kent State and San Jose State.

Watching this game against Western Carolina, yes the offense got started a little slowly, but when it began to work it was because the entire offense was coming together. The passing game started to click, the running game began to emerge and the defense was absolutely smothering. The only reason Western Carolina got 3 points was because of a missed catch interference call while Kyshoen Jarrett was fielding a punt on his 10 yd-line. The ball bounced off his foot, WCU recovered and the Hokies held them to a field goal. The remainder of the game, the defense was simply dominant in every facet.

The key to this offensive unit playing more competently (I'm not ready to call it a resurgence yet, until they do it consistently against better competition) has clearly been the offensive line. The Hokies gave up no sacks on Saturday and were clearing running lanes for all of the backs. And this without their best player - RG Andrew Miller who came out of the lineup with an ankle in the first quarter.

The other major difference between this game and the game against Bowling Green is that the Hokie coaches were rotating in dozens of different players throughout the entire game! There was no hesitation to play true freshman Kalvin Kline at TE, and he delivered with 4 receptions. The Hokies freely rotated in defensive linemen and receivers to keep the players fresh and give lots of young players plenty of reps. And it paid off with big plays by Willie Byrn, Nigel Williams and of course, I'm sure you didn't expect to read a review of the game and not hear about RB Chris Mangus.

Yours truly has been scratching his head about Mangus since the spring. Mangus redshirted in 2012, the Hokies lost Michael Holmes to dismissal this year and I figured Mangus would be in the mix at RB. I was asking our source in the program and all sportswriters why there was no mention of Mangus. Even before the Alabama game with Coleman out and Caleb suspended, the coaches seemed to suggest that they would play Mangus reluctantly, because they had no choice. Was it blitz pickup, ball security issues, what exactly was the reason he wasn't being given a vote of confidence?

I knew it wasn't his ability to run the ball as he was TSF's #1 underrated recruit in the 2012 class. And after running tough at the end of the Bama game last weekend, Mangus got a chance to show that element on Saturday to the rest of Hokie Nation as he took a pitch, broke a tackle on the way to the edge and then beat 3 players with an angle to take it to the house for a 76 yd score. Mangus needs to figure in to the Hokie offense. He is the kind of big play threat that the Hokies didn't have last season. Whether he's in the slot, in a 2 back set with Edmunds or Coleman, or what, Coach Loefler needs to find a way to work Mangus in to the offense.

Speaking of Edmunds, he demonstrated that the first game vs. Alabama wasn't a fluke. No, he didn't rush for over 100 yards, but he averaged 4.5 yds/carry and ran with toughness and elusiveness. I didn't see a single called run for Logan Thomas in the game. I'm sure there will be plenty of read-option as the season progresses, but not on Saturday. Thomas made some crisp throws with great accuracy and velocity. However, he also had two interceptions, though one of them was not his fault. The first interception was a "make-a-play" ball that QB's give to their #1 receivers on any given Saturday. I saw dozens of those plays in other games last weekend (watch Teddy Bridgewater's TD pass to the end zone in the Louisville game as a perfect example). Thomas threw the ball in a 1-on-1 situation with Knowles and WCU DB Trey Morgan. Knowles is either supposed to catch the ball, or knock it down. He did neither.

The second INT was also a ball thrown to Knowles, but it was a worse pass and an easier interception. Knowles has speed but he looks like a guy without a lot of wide receiver play in his background, which is, in fact, the case. He needs to develop his ball skills in order to become a true additional threat in this offense. We'll see what Coach Moorehead is all about in his ability to develop these receivers. Catching was better on Saturday but there were still 4 dropped balls which is 4 too many.

If Andrew Miller's ankle is ok and WR Charley Meyer fully recovers from his hamstring injuries and is capable of making the types of catches and plays that we heard about all summer, this offense can take another step forward against ECU on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Hokie defense will face a much higher talent level challenge than they did against WCU and it will be on the road to boot. As always, we'll learn more about the Hokies next week, and I hope I get to watch the game again.

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Game Review - VT vs. Alabama

I thought the strangest I would EVER feel after a Hokie loss was the the Pittsburgh game from 2012. It was the first one where I implemented my gameplan of recording the game but only watching it if the Hokies won. And when I saw that they had lost, I deleted the game from the DVR and felt the most bittersweet emotion I can imagine. Bitter because I couldn't believe I was going to NOT watch or attend a Virginia Tech football game for the first time in 20 years and sweet because I knew that my blood pressure, my stomach ulcer and my unbroken household goods were all the beneficiary of the decision to not watch.