Perhaps it was fitting that Virginia Tech would open and close the season with victories over two big time rivals, Georgia Tech in overtime, and Virginia with a game-deciding field goal at the gun.
The common denominator was specialist Cody Journell, a determined Logan Thomas who became the offense, and a gritty, tough defense who bent but didn't break. The other factor was the loudness of Lane Stadium, staying behind this team the whole season, through the nail-biting overtime win over Georgia Tech to the heart-breaking loss to Florida State.
Through it all, the fans stayed with this team, even though criticism of the poor offensive line playing was mounting through the season, the fans didn't waver from their commitment to seeing this season through.
For all practical purposes, the season is over. Yes, Virginia Tech is going bowling with destination to be determined, and it allows bodies to heal from the weekly grind of playing, giving younger players some preparation for the future, and getting ready for whatever team they will face in the bowl.
The purpose of this article, though, is to express what I think needs to happen during the offseason. I think with incoming recruits who are heavily defensive players, the staff needs to turn their attention to several areas of weakness.
The offensive playbook needs to be junked. Immediately. While I was a big advocate of the Pistol wrinkle, it is clear that the modernizing of the offense has not helped this year's squad. Some of that can be attributed to Logan Thomas' struggles as a passer, the maddening rotation of tailbacks, and porous offensive line that could not run block for an ambulance. Unfortunately, the coaching and teaching of the offensive line has not translated to success. That leads me to suggest that coach Curt Newsome needs to be shown the door. One thread I have seen from the interior of the line is the injuries. Starting center, Andrew Miller, was lost for the season, putting utility man Michael Via as a center/guard/tackle in a tough spot, along with Caleb Farris who had an up and down season. Newsome was responsible for the center and guard positions, and his personnel decisions have been baffling all season. His insistence on inserting David Wang, a 6'2" 288 guard who has been beaten all season long by less talented defense linemen, has drove many fans crazy.
The combination of Mike O'Cain and Bryan Stinespring in the booth was awkward and the play-calling was terrible all season long. Their failure to recognize what defenses were doing needs to be addressed. Stinespring has been credited by many fans as a terrific recruiter, and it is obvious when he is coaching the tackles and tight ends, those positions produce. However, the decision for Stinespring to be back in the booth was a bad move, as last year, with Stinespring on the sideline, he was able to talk with the players and make the necessary adjustments. While it was Stinespring who recommend that, due to a very close working relationship between O'Cain and Logan Thomas, to let O'Cain be the play-caller while Stinespring draw up the game plan.
Let me be brutally honest here: It was a failed experiment. Logan Thomas regressed badly, and I do not buy that the off-season workout with quarterback guru, George Whitfield, messed up his mechanics. Logan Thomas and all the quarterbacks on the roster, in addition to hearlded recruit Bucky Hodges and Carlis Parker slated to arrive in the summer, deserve to have a quarterback coach who can build confidence, work with them daily, and make them damned good. To that end, I feel that Mike O'Cain needs to retire, especially if rumors are true that he's going to retire anyway. I also feel that Stinespring should be moved to coach the offense line, which was his strength in the past.
To that end, that would leave the position of offensive coordinator vacant, and this is where speculation begins. Number one, what would be the offense philosophy that would fit with Beamer's ball control mindset? Right now, the offense line personnel lacks a road grader who could push back defense tackles. I have seen fans calling for Tony Franklin's system to be brought to Blacksburg. I have seen someone suggest Willie Taggart of West Kentucky come to Blacksburg. Number two, will the offensive system that comes to Blacksburg fits the current roster and future players? That is one thing fans, myself included, have overlooked. While I see potential for the spread option system that could work, the question is will coach Beamer embrace it?
Roanoke Times' Virginia Tech football beat writer, Andy Bitter, blogged that Beamer admired the Clemson's offensive system. It is plausible, however, unlikely, that Beamer would hire an offensive coordinator who breathes the spread option offense. History suggests that Beamer will need to be strong armed into making that decision.
Defensively, Bud Foster and the assistant coaches deserve tons of credit for constantly making adjustments to make the defense better each week. I was very disappointed that Tweedy didn't see the field a lot until the Florida State game, but I think that Foster is becoming more familiar with the spread offense, and he should be able to combat it better next season. While I once criticized him for what I perceived to be his weakness, the spread offense, it seem that even he embraces the spread offense, respecting it as well. My hope is that the coaching staff will play promising recruits like Kendall Fuller and Holland Fisher rather than redshirting them, so they can have more depth and be able to substitute freely.
While this article focused a lot on the offense, a bit on defense, I also think it is worth mentioning that the special teams need work. Several times this season, there were long returns given up, a touchdown given up, a punt blocked and returned for touchdown, I think that Frank Beamer, a long time special teams coach, should step back, and maybe promote Shane to coordinate the special teams. I think that one of his best decisions was keeping A.J. Hughes as the punter. Hughes has been solid all year long. Cody Journell, even though his return was controversial, has been gold. The kickoff strategy, in my opinion, needs to be revisited.
The outlook for 2013 season appears to be bright. It is, of course, dependent on what coach Beamer decides to do during the offseason. He may decide to risk the ire of fans by sticking with his current staff, or make the tough, heart-wrenching, and sleepless-night decision of letting long-time assistants go in the pursuit of the elusive national championship trophy.
Whatever he does, I am sure he is doing it in what he thinks is in the best interest of his players, and future needs.