Chris Colston, author of the Hokie Football Annual is here to give us some historical perspective on the Hokies' 0-2 start and tell us what areas he things need to be improved for the Hokies to have success and where the season will go from here.
Does this start really even have competition for "Most Disappointing Start Under Beamer" or even "Most Disappointing Start in Program History?"
I can only speak to what I've experienced since 1971, when I started following the team. But given the level of expectations with the program now compared to the good teams of the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s, I can't imagine anything on the lines of this. It has to be the worst week in program history, simply because I don't think Virginia Tech has ever lost two varsity football games in six days before.
In the Beamer Era, nothing comes close, given the high expectations. And that's saying something, because there have been plenty of disappointing starts. Going 0-2 in 1995, losing to Southern Cal in 2004, the beatdown at LSU in 2007's second game, losing to Alabama last year, losing to East Carolina in Charlotte.
And guess what idiot picked THIS year to start the Hokie Football Annual? It's kind of funny; when I took over the Hokie Huddler from Doug Waters in 1985, Tech started 0-3 and lost three of its first four. So maybe I'm a jinx or something. (But at least the Annual doesn't miss tackles or call head-scratching plays on third down.)
How do the coaches keep this team from quitting on them and giving up on the season?
They need to beat East Carolina. I think they just focus on this week and just get a win. Then they'll start feeling better about themselves. I don't even think Frank Beamer should tell them, "We can still win the ACC." I really don't. I think he should just say, "All that matters is beating ECU. Nothing else." They had that saying a few years back, one win, 11 times. That's the mentality they should have taken this year, but apparently did not. That needs to start now.
Is fixing the defense really as simple as fixing the mixed tackles and cutting down on mental mistakes or is this defense just not as talented as ones we've seen in the past?
The problem is not talent. The problem is experience. There are probably more three- and four-star athletes on this defense than ever, certainly as many as in recent years. But they're all young, so you have no depth. And those injuries to Kwamaine Battle and Chris Drager really hurt. Yes, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow has been exposed in these first two games, and he was not a lauded recruit. We all miss Cody Grimm, but how would he have fared if he was thrown into this situation as a sophomore? I'm not so sure he'd be the Cody Grimm of his senior year.
I think that lack of depth contributed to the missed tackles in that Bud Foster was probably afraid to go full contact in practice for fear of injury.
Listen, we all knew the defense was going to struggle early. Bud pretty much admitted that even last spring. As I wrote in the Annual, this was the year the offense had to carry the defense. And it has failed to do that. Miserably.
What was a biggest contributor to the offense's struggles against JMU? Was it the vanilla play-calling, the offensive line's failure to execute or something else?
I think it runs deeper than just the play-calling. It's the entire structure and philosophy of the offense. It appeared, at least against JMU, that Tech did tip off certain things with certain formations and personnel packages. I went back and charted the Boise State game. When the Hokies were in the shotgun formation, they had a called running play about 18% of the time. And that was generally when a back flanked Tyrod Taylor.
The other big problem I see is that the passing attack is designed for a pocket passer, which Tyrod is not. Half the time out of the shotgun, it seems, ends up in a scramble. That's how the Hokies get most of their running yardage, by the way--on broken plays.
Right now they run about a gazillion formations: I formation, shotgun, two tight ends, four wides, three wides with two left, three wides with two right, H-back. That's meant to confuse the defenses, but they're obviously seeing something.
Listen, I'm not Urban Meyer. But some smart football people have suggested the Hokies might be best served running everything out of the same formation. Go single back, tight end, three wide. That way you eliminate one problem: No tip off what's coming.
Some believe Tech should get back to basics and build a foundation of five running plays that they absolutely can execute flawlessly, that they can execute in their sleep, than runs through their heads like an earworm. The strength of this team is Ryan Williams, David Wilson and Darren Evans. Get those offensive linemen blocking for them. And you practice, practice, practice those five plays until the players have absolute confidence that if they need to get two or three yards, they will get them. Hell, that's all you need: four yards a pop.
Once you've established that, then you can pass out of the play action. Play action, roll out, quick pass. Boom. That Z-screen could really work if the other team has 8 or 9 in the box expecting run. Or throw deep against single coverage. You don't need a gazillion plays. Just mix up 10 that are executed well. Right now I get so frustrated with the grab-bag nature of the offense. It simply has no identity.
Give us one reason for hope and one reason to be worried about the rest of the year.
Reason for hope: The offense did click down the stretch last year, and the same cast is back.
Reason to be worried: The defense is too thin up front and teams like Boston College will likely steamroll them.
How do you see the rest of the season going for the Hokies?
Well, the crazy thing is, they are about 2 plays from being 2-0 and ranked, like, fifth in the country. I think the defense under Bud Foster will continue to improve. It won't be like his squads of recent vintage, but it should develop into at least an average unit, especially if Barquell Rivers can return. The young ends should get better as the season goes on. But it's still young. I just think the best we can expect is an average defense (right now it's just plain awful).
Offensively, we'll have to see what they do. To win the ACC, the Hokies must out-score people, and that's an approach Frank Beamer has never taken before. That's not Virginia Tech. Can that suddenly BECOME Virginia Tech? I know it's very hard to change the culture of a team.
One question: If Virginia Tech somehow rallies and does win the ACC, does that make James Madison the true ACC champion?