In this week's roundtable, Gobbler Country's staff hashes out their thoughts about what they learned from the UNC game. Read on for more.
Color me impressed by the Virginia Tech Hokies as of late. The Georgia Tech game saw the offense starting to find a rhythm, and the UNC game only continued that trend. The Hokies scored three offensive touchdowns in the first half for the first time this season. Yes, they didn't even muster that against Western Carolina. And while it does appear that Virginia Tech stalled out in the third quarter, they managed to finish the game with a scoring drive in the fourth quarter. That is nothing but encouraging.
And we mustn't forget about the big man, Logan Thomas. Thomas is really coming into his own over the past two weeks despite being banged up with a foot and ab strain. Thomas completed 19 of 28 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against the Tar Heels. While his completion percentage wasn't off the charts - only 68 percent - he was more than efficient when it mattered. He seems to have finally found a rapport with his receivers, including Willie Byrn, who hauled in an 83-yard reception, and DJ Coles, who caught two touchdown passes in the first half.
Sidebar - that 83-yard pass to Byrn, I need to talk about it. It takes some major balls (relatively speaking) to call a shotgun pass when backed up deep in your own endzone. This is clearly not the hyper-conservative offense that we used to see under O'Cain. Scot Loeffler is not afraid to take some shots downfield and get creative with his playcalling. It's extremely refreshing to see, and I no longer loathe watching the Hokies on offense.
The defense, once again, was outstanding. Kyshoen Jarrett and Kyle Fuller both picked off passes, and the whole unit held UNC in check for the majority of the game. They got noticeably lax with less than two minutes to play when the game was realistically out of hand, and gave up a touchdown pass. Obviously I'm not happy to see that margin of victory go down by seven, because winning by 17 looks much more impressive than winning by 10. However, I'm not going to give the group too hard of a time because of it. I'm sure Bud Foster already did that enough for the entire staff.
At 5-1 on the season with momentum seemingly on their side, I would expect to see this offensive growth continue heading into this weekend's game against the Pittsburgh Panthers.
If you had told me before the season that the Hokies would be 5-1 at the mid-point of the year, I would have been very skeptical of that. I think a lot of the fans already assumed the "1" would be to Alabama, but I think several more including myself imagined that this team that struggled so mightily last year would have dropped one or more of the games against ECU, UNC or Georgia Tech. I think it's testament to the changes in the coaching staff as well as the change in the mindset of limiting how much playing time the young guys have gotten. Of course, most of that has been rather forced by the ridiculous amount of injuries, transfers, and what-have-you. But those younger guys have been showing that they're not at all bothered by the big stage of big-time college football. Hell, Kalvin Cline
was committed to Tech in May and he already looks like "the guy" going forward at the tight end position (until he's inexplicably moved to like punter or something).
Getting back to the Carolina game specifically, I would like to take this time to invite those that squawked for Thomas to be benched to continue their calls.Yeah, that's what I thought. Look, Thomas is never going to be the perfect quarterback that everyone demands that he be, but he is more than capable of taking over a game and turning in a very strong performance en route to a victory. Though his performance later in the game tailed off considerably due to a lack of any sort of rhythm established in the second half, he did more than enough in the first half to give the Hokies a sizeable lead with a Bud Foster defense taking the field.
Another thing that I took away from this game is the continued emergence of Willie Byrn. He's continued to improve every week and I hate that we only have one more season out of this kid. He's a guy that you can't help pulling for because of how hard he works on the field and his willingness to step up into big spots. As Ty pointed out, that long pass to Byrn from the 2-yard line took some big cojones to call, but Loffler did and he showed his faith in Byrn by making him the primary target.
The defense continued to play strongly, save parts of the fourth quarter. The more I think about that tailing off late in the game, the more I think back to how the offense's short possessions certainly hindered the defense's ability to get adequate rest on the sideline. I think by the time the fourth quarter of playing in the warm sun against a versatile quarterback rolled around, they were gassed. Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller are incredible as true freshman and the defensive line across the board has been dominant. From one game to another, there is always one guy that can step up and really dominate a game. Against UNC, I thought that guy was Luther Maddy. He was in the backfield on numerous plays, disrupting running routes (I can think of a reverse in particular), putting pressure on Williams and he was rewarded with a sack. Oh, and we're getting ready to add All-Everything Antone Exum back to the mix? Neat.
Chris Hatcher (aka chicagomaroon)
I've pretty much covered all the bases with my post game rant from Saturday, but after reading these two great responses (Casey and Ty) and dedicating some thought to the matter, I've backed off my stance of disgust somewhat. After all, the Hokies are 5-1, and winning is what counts, right? Did they look bad in the second half while doing it? You bet your ass they did. But until they actually lose, perhaps I should table the rhetoric and just accept it at face value
Casey's right, 5-1 at this point would seem a blessing in the pre-season, particularly considering the spate of injuries, transfers, etc. the team suffered prior to the start of the season. And who would've thought that minus Exum, the Hokies would have been able to navigate the waters to 5-1 halfway through the regular season? Not me and not anyone that I know. Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson have been so tremendous as freshmen they have made Exum's absence into a non-story, which is saying a lot.
As for the Carolina game in particular, there might be some variables to explain the second half dud. Ty spoke about the defense losing focus/interest in the last two minutes, something I thought was going on for much of the second half. But, one thing I forgot to mention in my rant was that the plays that Bud had the Hokies run indicated he was kind of giving them the second half off once the game was in hand. Why you may ask? Well, statistically it does the defense no favors, but in games earlier this year where the Hokies didn't look their best, say Marshall for instance, Tech was already spending a great deal of time preparing for Georgia Tech. Once this one was in hand, why not start preparing for the other team on your schedule that beat the everloving...well, you know, out of you the year before? I'm not going to become an apologist and say that there aren't issues with that strategy, but what works, works, and I trust our staff to make those calls. Other than that, I think these fine gentlemen covered it.
Well, I guess I will be the old curmudgeon then. The UNC game was literally a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Hokies were flat out dominant, efficient, and scoring points that we, as fans, have been restless over for a long time. I never thought I would be saying that about the Hokies, especially on offense, who appear to finally be putting things together after sputtering through the ECU and Marshall games before somehow finding the switch to go into high gear against Georgia Tech. Meanwhile, in the second half, the Hokies were flat and almost maddening to watch. It is fortuitous I was at my in-law's house, otherwise, I am almost certain I would have been inflicting bodily harm against their plasma flat screen TV that I chipped in to buy for them. While the Hokies have taken the football to the air, the running game is virtually nonexistent, save the hammering job Trey Edmunds
did by scoring on a touchdown in the fourth quarter, thanks to a gift-wrapped muffed punt by the Tar Heels.
Even though I read a couple of excellent film reviews of the game at that other site, I remain peevish about the running game. Throughout spring and summer, we heard that the coaches want a return to the power football, and six games into the season, I remain unconvinced that the running game is going to resemble something of a threat. The 77-yard touchdown run against Alabama was masterfully executed as it caught the Tide completely off-guard, and Edmunds showed that explosive speed to outrace the Tide, now has to appear as if it was a fluke. As one of our readers keeps noting, we do not have the personnel to be a running team with our current offensive line who are becoming banged up, and it will be some time before we finally have a truly balanced offense that was once a staple of this program.
I think that the Hokies caught a break when UNC was flagged for an illegal block in the back on the punt return that went for a touchdown. It could have turned the game around. I do not know how long the Hokies' luck can hold up, but right now, they need to stay disciplined, especially on special teams, which still concerns me. I am also frustrated that the Hokies appear to lack the killer instinct to finish off their opponents instead of letting them hang around as Chris noted in his rant.
Finally, while the Hokies are now 5-1, I still stand by my prediction of a 8-4 finish until proven otherwise. I do think that the team has somewhat managed to exceed some expectations, but I am keeping my expectations low and guardedly-optimistic because Pittsburgh looms and they have already won four straight against this program.
For more Gobbler Country
staff roundtables, check in with us weekly or after every game. Thanks for reading and GO HOKIES!