The Maroon-White Spring Game was held at Lane Stadium this past Saturday in what turned out to be a fabulous day for socializing with fellow Hokies, firing up the grill, and enjoying the beautiful weather. But the best part was being able to finally watch the Hokies' culmination of spring ball and see what the team had to show.
The Hokies played four ten minute quarters while special teams plays went live and the quarterbacks weren't, as they wore yellow jerseys. That was probably a smart move by Frank Beamer because there's no need for the quarterbacks to get hurt. In the end the White team won in a low scoring contest, edging out the Maroon team 7-3.
On the first drive, the White team ran five plays for 87 yards, which was capped off by a 27 yard touchdown run by running back Joel Caleb. Caleb's score was the only touchdown on the day, which is a bit of a depressing note as many hoped to see more of a scoring prowess from the Hokies' offense this season. Caleb finished the day with six carries for 43 yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, which was top among the running backs.
Meanwhile, a lot of the big runs came courtesy of receivers Demitri Knowles (two carries for 52 yards) , Carlis Parker( one carry for 26 yards), and Deon Newsome (one carry for 18 yards) who all showcased great speed around the edge and ability to cut up the field, leaving defenders in the dust.
On the other hand, running back Marshawn Williams, who I was excited about, only ran for 11 yards on six carries, which came to a 1.8 yard per carry average. Running back J.C. Coleman only ran for one yard on the day after carrying the ball nine times. Coleman tried to stretch a lot of his runs to the edge and ended up losing yards consistently. Meanwhile, Chris Mangus had a similar day, showing glimpses of great speed and quickness, but ended up negating his yards with tackles for loss.
Joel Caleb surprised me on Saturday. I think he definitely flew under the radar this spring, but shows glimpses of great athleticism and the ability the make plays in the open field. This proves the the running back spot will be one for great depth this season. The Hokies will have a lot of options, but must decide how each back will be used.
Now on to the big question: the quarterbacks. Brenden Motley went 6-11 for 72 yards with one interception. But overall, Motley showed good zip on the ball and the ability to escape the pocket under pressure and scramble to pick up yards. Mark Leal went 10-18 for 90 yards and one interception. I honestly saw no separation passing wise between the two, but I thought Motley showed more pep in his step and seemed more confident in his place on this team. Finally, freshman Andrew Ford threw an incomplete pass on his lone attempt on the day.
The quarterback job won't be won until Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arrives and I believe will ultimately win beat out both Motley and Leal and emerge as a leader on offense.
The position that seems very solid for me is wide receiver and tight end. Joshua Stanford, Demitri Knowles, Deon Newsome, Carlis Parker, and Willie Byrn are a solid group of possession receivers and show big play capabilities. Byrn who led both teams with two catches for 41 yards, had an awesome one handed catch down the sideline from Leal that wowed the crowd and was the highlight of the day for me. Bucky Hodges impressed at tight end with three catches for 24 yards, leading the White team in receiving. He showcased his ability to pick up yards after the catch with his agility and power. I think Hodges makes this team better at a skill position rather than at quarterback.
As far as the defense goes, Bud and his boys seem to have things figured out. The White team was led by Chuck Clark and Detrick Bonner with six tackles each. Defensive end Dadi Nicolas recorded two tackles and one sack, while Donovan Riley who has impressed all spring, had one of the two interceptions on the day. Meanwhile for the Maroon team, sophomore linebacker Sean Huelskamp recorded nine tackles (2.5 for loss) and sophomore cornerback Kendall Fuller finished with four tackles and an interception. As a whole the Maroon team finished with nine tackles for loss for 46 yards. Needless to say the defense seems to be settled in along the defensive line and linebackers. The defensive backfield has had players step up and develop into consistent and dependable back ups, which cornerback Donovan Riley and rover Desmond Frye have both done in the absence of Brandon Facyson and Kyshoen Jarrett this spring.
Now for Special Teams. The first kick return was muffed. The return game wasn't impressive on punts or kickoffs (of which there were few).. 20 yards was the average on kick returns and with punt returns the Hokies could barley muster about five yards.
Punter A.J. Hughes had four punts for an average of 42.3 yards per punt with a long of 55 yards. You could argue Hughes is the most consistent player on the team right now aside from Luther Maddy, maybe. And while a dependable punting effort is a component you need on a winning football team, it's not necessarily something you'd like to be at forefront of your list of strengths.
In the placekicking game, Michael Branthover missed from 48 yards out and Eric Kristensen made one from 28 yards. This race is still topsy-turvy as transfer Remington Hinshaw was said to be leading the race a couple weeks ago. This position needs to go to the most consistent and reliable player if Tech wants to win close games in crunch time. This should come down to Branthover and Hinshaw and it definitely won't be decided until fall.
Ultimately, the offense is spotty everywhere with quarterback, offensive line, and sorting out the running backs. While the defense looks to be stout once again, it is an issue of depth across the board and mainly concerning the defensive backfield. And finally it is a question of consistency in the special teams and trying to find an accurate and precise placekicker.
Overall, nothing is set in stone and the Hokies are still figuring things out offensively, but they need as much as work as they can get before September rolls around.