What does the Gobbler Country staff think about Virginia Tech's game against East Carolina? Once again, we bring to you the staff's thoughts via the staff roundtable. Enjoy.
I'm going to start this off by addressing the elephant in the room, Cody Journell. No, I don't think Frank Beamer should bench a career 78% kicker (including the ECU game). And no, I don't think this problem will linger. He made a technical mistake on what is usually an automatic extra point, and that sent Journell into a mental downward spiral, which only escalated his technical flaws. Frank Beamer likened Journell's problems to a golfer placing extra emphasis on trying not to hook the drive, but in the end slicing it instead. I think this is an apt analogy used by Beamer. I wouldn't raise the DEFCON level yet on Journell. However, his performance does point to the new reality of "Beamerball" -- that is -- it is long gone as Virginia Tech fans might remember it.
Now to the offense. Logan Thomas, outside of his first few pass attempts, looked pretty darn solid. I was a huge fan of Loeffler's gameplan and game calling for the most part. The run wasn't working against East Carolina, and a lot of Virginia Tech fans attribute that to the offensive line being subpar. I would quickly like to point out that East Carolina's defense has 10 sacks on the season, which makes them tied for fifth among all FBS teams, and only two sacks behind Virginia Tech. I would also like to point out that East Carolina has a better run defense than Virginia Tech statistically. The Pirates give up around 82 rushing yards per game on average, which is two fewer yards than the Hokies. This is not to excuse poor play on the offensive line's part, but it is to temper some of the fans who are ready to throw the entire offense under the bus. East Carolina has a pretty good defense. For a fan base that wants praise thrown at Virginia Tech's defense, there sure is a lot of hesitation to dole out the same praise for another team's defense. But I digress...Demitri Knowles looked to be much improved, catching eight passes for 99 yards. Willie Byrn proved once again to be a solid weapon, mostly running dig and flat routes as Thomas' primary check-down option. I would expect to see this type of gameplan moving forward from Loeffler and Co.
And I'll spare you on the defensive praise, because there's not much I can say that you probably aren't already thinking. Shane Carden and the Pirate offense can move the ball very quickly and effectively, and the Hokies forced them into three interceptions. Carden had some nice runs in the read-option look, but at the end of the day didn't have more than 10 yards rushing when you include sacks. East Carolina's leading rusher had a mere 28 yards. Like I said, there's not much more I really need to add.
This is a solid win against a fairly solid team. This one might not look great now, but I think it'll get better with age like a fine wine. The score could have been prettier, but that could be said for most games that are played around the country. I come away from this game feeling pretty good in all honesty.
I think my biggest takeaway from this game is that the offense can adapt. I know that the scoreboard doesn't indicate as such, but an off day from a kicker can make a game closer than it appears. If Journell makes the extra point and all three field goals missed, we're talking about a 15-point win, not a 5-point win, and I feel the mood about the team would be much different. ECU's defense isn't the most talented in the nation, but it's also no slouch. The Pirates were very solid in run support and clogged up the running lanes very effectively, giving the linebackers time to make plays. The offense, though definitely still weak in several areas, did what was needed to move the ball into scoring position (to borrow a baseball term) and it just unfortunately didn't pay off. Thomas missed some throws, but all around made plays when he had to and the receivers were fairly strong. I think more than anything, this game was one step in the right direction to identifying what this offense will be and who the big players will be. Stanford and Byrn certainly are emerging as the top targets for Thomas and I have no problem with that.
As Ty noted, there's not much more that you can say about the defense that hasn't already been said. So I won't try.
The defense simply played an outstanding brand of football, grounding the Pirates' Air Raid offense, and forcing three turnovers. The defense has been executing Bud Foster's desire to fulfill the goal of having three turnovers a game, and so far, if they continue playing at that level, they just might do that. As it stands, the Hokies are No. 2 in the nation in total defense. Some folks will dismiss this by saying, "Some teams can do that against cupcakes," but that is a gross oversimplification, not to mention downright insulting. Alabama is among the best teams in the country, and for Virginia Tech to limit Alabama to roughly 200 yards is a testament to the entire defensive coaches and players' work during the offseason. It also helps that Foster has trusted two budding stars in Brandon Facyson
and Kendall Fuller
to hold down the fort on their own, and his trust is paying dividends this early in the season. I expect to see the defense once again being tested by a feisty Thundering Herd this Saturday, but I believe that they will rise to the challenge. They seem to thrive when challenged.
As I had expected, the Hokies did struggle against ECU. For some reason, playing ECU always gives them fits before they strap their boots up, and take it to the Pirates. The offense has shown progress, but they did hit a snag against an under-appreciated ECU defense which dominated the offensive line and dared Logan Thomas to beat them through the air. Trey Edmunds
and his running back brethren couldn't get much going on the ground. However, Loeffler was able to make in-game adjustments, calling running back screens and play action pass out of the shotgun. As we have seen before, Thomas is at his best when spreading the field, going through his progressions, and hitting his check downs (something Loeffler made a point of emphasis after the Alabama game). That touchdown strike to D.J. Coles
and the floater to Knowles were a thing of beauty. My hope is that as the offense continues to play together and to jell, they can start firing on all cylinders, and begin to assert themselves.
The kicking game, especially on field goals, was an epic disaster. Something happened and it shook Cody Journell. He has been money in those kinds of situations. Hopefully he is able to work it out. The most puzzling to me was why the kick returners are taking the ball out of the end zone instead of just taking a knee. With the new rule placing the ball on the 25-yard line, the offense would have better chance of operating going forward instead of being backed up so close to their own end zone.
I am treating each game as a tough test for the Hokies starting this Saturday. The Thundering Herd is no joke, and I expect to see them stacking the box similar to the Pirates. I think we will see the offense putting things together on Saturday.
Chris Hatcher (Chicagomaroon)
I think Saturday was a mixed bag for the Hokies, but there were some bright and shiny objects in that bag obscured by the dull we already knew existed. On the surface, we all saw the defense dominate and the offense and special teams struggle. But the periphery was part that I think was not touched on enough. I think all the other guys mentioned the play-calling and the running game, but that's where I was the most critical.
Originally I thought the offensive line was just being dominated because they weren't generating any push or creating any holes. But after a while, and a closer look, the line was having to block too many guys, and more importantly, many of the running plays were not designed to take advantage of how aggressive the Pirates' defensive front was being. Call a draw! Call a dive up the middle! At least on the latter play Edmunds would've had an opportunity to get some momentum, a la Alabama and WCU, and break some tackles. Instead, Loeffler was content to run slow-developing stretch plays with his power back. That's a complete misuse of personnel as well as a way not to pick up yards. Not only was he not running the plays that were going to be successful, he wasn't using the correct personnel to run them even if they were the correct plays. Both of those things irk me because they are 100% fixable the moment they become apparent (or from the outset) and they reflect exactly the issues the Hokies have been having with that position for over a decade.
I think it's telling that Logan Thomas said that at one point he had to come to the sideline and say "throw it." Ordinarily, that might be an indication of a selfish player trying to serve his stat-line, but with what Thomas was seeing out there, I'm sure it was simply an analysis of what he was seeing and how to combat it. I'm not opposed to establishing the running game, but just as the two-time defending-national champion Crimson Tide saw first-hand against the Hokies D, it doesn't matter how good you are if your play-calling is playing right into you opponents' hand. So using plays like the draw, like the running back screen (which we saw twice, and hopefully will see more in those situations) or quick slants, plays that are by nature designed to make what the Pirates were doing ineffective, is common sense and a must. I'm still not writing Loeffler off by any means, but I will say I have been completely unimpressed by his ability to make adjustments on the fly. He ran those plays which weren't succeeding into the ground before finally catching on, and in some cases, never made corrections. I wish Tech would've lined up to pass the ball every play, as long as the Pirates were insistent on stopping the run, until they stopped it. That's what play-calling is all about. They could've used the pass to set up the successful run game they were looking for in the first place.
Special teams-wise, I agree with Trevor. The return teams have been an unmitigated disaster (especially on kickoff return), and the fact that they continue to bring the ball out of the end zone despite this is maddening. It is a situation where players are trying too hard to make a play and earn their time, but if you have one of those kinds of kids back there, and he's doing that without success, bench him. I'd rather have a less explosive guy who won't ever take it to the house, but will understand field position and when to and not to bring it out than a guy who's a once-a-season home run hitter and completely irrelevant to the point where he negatively affects field position all-year long. For punt returners, there hasn't been much daylight, and although Jarrett is an experienced returner, he REALLY, DESPERATELY needs to not be as reckless as he has, or mark my words, he (or another Tech returner) will lose Tech a game this year. I'm at least a little worried about Journell. Watching the missed extra point, I saw him turn his body completely to the left as he followed through. On the field goal kicks, I didn't get a good look, but I think as Ty said, it had to have something to do with it. Not good to know you can get in his head when that happens though.
Lastly, though the defense was great, I would like to see them be more consistent. They gave up way too many big plays early in the game and were missing tackles left and right. Overall, the results were fantastic, and I can't complain. If they keep it up, this defense will enter the discussion of the best in Tech history.