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Analyzing The Breakdown Of The Passing Game Vs. Alabama, Plus Some Odds And Ends

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time in the five seasons I've been associated with the site, unfortunately the Hokies have started the season with a loss. While I can write about how much of a damper losing the first game puts on the season, it is unlikely that I will write something more salient than Casey's by-the-book post game recap or my impassioned "Manifesto" from last year, so I'll spare you the time in that regard.

After the season the Hokies experienced a year ago, a lot of us had to come to terms with what exactly this team is and how much we put into supporting them. Likewise, we all had to concede that it is at least possible that this is the beginning of the end for Beamer. That's what make losses like the one to Alabama on Saturday more confounding than ever. In some respects, the Hokies impressed beyond what many, including myself, thought they were capable of. But in other areas, which need not be mentioned point-by-point, the Hokies appeared to have regressed considerably. It was on the whole, inconsistent -- a team battling with itself and its identity.

Without getting too verbose, we will take a look at the problem areas below, again, not to fixate on the negative, but to provide a roadmap to you readers about what needs to be ironed out going forward. We begin with the wide receiver play.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of how the Hokies played Saturday night revolved around the play of their wide receivers. I think I mentioned on Twitter that it was the worst I had ever seen a unit play at the collegiate level. Perhaps there is something to explain how poorly the receivers played, but the excuse-ridden cover ups by the staff over the last few days didn't hold water. The experience or youth of the receivers in question did not factor into their inability to catch balls or play with the effort required. It had everything to do with dropping balls, not playing hard and to some degree, ball placement. But as the saying goes for receivers, if it hits you in the hand, you have to catch it.

As a result of the drops, Logan Thomas' stat-line was drastically altered and skewed towards the bad. While he did not play a flawless game by any means, he's the scapegoat of the Hokies' effort to upset the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday, and given the circumstances, he performed at least on par with what you could expect from a quarterback going up against the best returning defense in the nation. After going back through the game tape multiple times as a staff, we have come to a consensus on how many dropped passes there were and what Logan Thomas' stat-line should have been, using our best judgment on yardage based on where the player would have caught the ball, his momentum, his location on the field, the location both vertically and horizontally to the receiver of the nearest defender(s) and his/their momentum towards the receiver in question. As that is an inexact science, we stipulate that there is a slim margin of error when determining yardage, but generally, think our projections are accurate.

  • Total drop tracker: 9
  • Demetri Knowles Drop Tracker: 5
  • D.J. Coles Drop Tracker: 3 (+2 for stopping the route/slowing down for no reason/moving completely out of the way for the Alabama DB to come right up and pick the ball off)
  • Terrell Edmunds Drop Tracker: 1
  • Logan Thomas adjusted stats: 16-26 199 yards with 2 interceptions

Right away, you can see how night and day Thomas' stats would look without the drops. Again, this is assuming all dropped balls were caught, including the two dropped interceptions by Alabama. That may be a bit too much of a perfect world scenario, but it is meant to illustrate how different Thomas' performance could be viewed had the receivers caught the passes he threw to them. The number of drops, however, is beyond troubling, as it was one of the main issues throughout fall camp. Again, it is not meant to single out any one player, and we hope that this group can rectify this issue going forward.

Here, as outlined by our Casey Richey, are some more in depth statistics about the passing game before we move on:

"By my count, ELEVEN of his 21 incompletions hit receivers in the hands and he had four throw aways to avoid sacks/interceptions. I'm not saying that completely absolves him but if you take away the throw aways, he hit his intended target about 73% of the time, but only 22.7% turned into actual catches. I think the offensive problems go much deeper than Thomas' arm. When you have a 6'4, 235-lb senior that's afraid to stick his arms out in traffic leading your receiving corps, it's not the most encouraging sign in the world.

Here's a quick break down of his targeted receivers (there will also be a more in-depth post on this later):
Coles-6 targets, 1 catch, 4 passes hit his hands, 1 stopped running to let Sunseri cut in front of him
Knowles-10 targets, 2 catches, 5 hit hands, 3 were overthrows
Edmunds-3 targets, 1 catch, 1 hit hands, 1 short hopped throw
Stanford-2 targets, 1 catch, 1 overthrow
Parker-1 target, 1 overthrow (where Parker and the Alabama DB got their feet tangled)"

That's pretty damning.


How many of the incompletions were actual incompletions from Logan Thomas and how many drops did you see?

Beamer: I'd rather not get into particulars. We need to be more consistent in catching the football. We're going to work hard this week throwing a lot of balls. The guys have done it before. We've seen those guys be positive players so we just have to get back to being a positive player now.

Were you happy with the way Logan threw the ball and was it more on the receivers?

Beamer: Yeah, for the most part. Even on the interception we had poor spacing and ran a poor route, which caused the interception. In the game we thought they fooled us, but really it was just our team not executing, lining up correctly and not running the correct route at the proper depth. Overall, I thought Logan did a good job. We're going to work on his read progression but overall Logan did okay

As for another possible cause for Thomas' performance, we will analyze the average down and distance of the Hokies' third down plays against Alabama.

1st possession: 3rd and 10

2nd possession: 3rd and 14, 3rd and 10

3rd possession: 3rd and 4

6th possession: 3rd and 6

7th possession: 3rd and 1

8th possession: 3rd and 1, 3rd and 4 (turned into 3rd and 9 with delay of game penalty)

9th possession: 3rd and 7

10th possession: 3rd and 5

11th possession 3rd and 11

12th possession 3rd and 9

13th possession: 3rd and 2, 3rd and 10

(4th, 5th and 14th possessions not included, as the Hokies did not reach 3rd down on either the 4th or 5th possessions and Logan Thomas was not in the game for the 14th and final Virginia Tech possession)

The final average was just over 3rd and 7 (or just under 3rd and 7 if not tacking on the delay of game penalty). That's a fairly long distance, on average, to be dealing with on 3rd down, and almost certainly requires a passing situation (which the defense knows is coming) each time.

Speaking of delays, that was another troubling aspect of the game on Saturday. While the Hokies did well enough as a whole in not committing penalties, the delay of game penalties were particularly troubling, and the coaches share blame with Logan Thomas, A.J. Hughes and the up-back on the punt for allowing the clock to run to zero with timeouts available to use.

The 4th and 5 delay of game on the punt in the first quarter was due to an audible by the up-back and no one realized the time on the clock, including the up-back and Hughes. No coach took a timeout. The same thing was true for 3rd and 4 at the Bama 17 with 4:10 in the 2nd. The Hokies absolutely CANNOT HAVE THOSE PENALTIES! COACHES HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION THERE IN CASE THOMAS/HUGHES ISN'T!

One other interesting note is that according to Hokiesports, James Gayle was not credited with a single statistic on the night, despite playing over half of the snaps. As disruptive as it seems he was, after going back and watching the tape, the only things I could find is that perhaps there were a few QBH's (quarterback hurries), depending on preference, and possibly two assisted tackles, but nothing more. Basically, Gayle had a big impact on the game without registering a single statistic and this is a prime example of that cliché.

Lastly, not to beat a dead horse, but Knowles really struggled on kickoff return as well. So much so that the staff put other guys out there in his place as the game progressed to try to get a different look or make something happen, and while it wasn't definitive, Der'Woun Greene seemed to be an upgrade at least in the interim. Knowles' biggest issue (aside from having to go up against Alabama, which really limited how much room he had to work with) seemed to be that again and again he ran the same way on the kickoff, going east and west for way too long before cutting it upfield. On one occasion when he had the perfect opportunity to get outside and be 1-on-1 with a guy/get a big return, he turned it up into a bunch of traffic. He is capable back there, as he displayed a year ago, setting single-season records for yardage and scoring on a long return TD against UNC, but Saturday was not his best display in that area...or any area for that matter.

There are, however, some who really deserve to be honored for how they played on Saturday, and to those players, we will award game balls, even in a loss.

Game Balls: Tariq Edwards, Kyle Fuller, Kendall Fuller, Jack Tyler, J.R. Collins, Trey Edmunds and the entire offensive line.

For more football coverage than any other site, Gobbler Country is your Virginia Tech landing spot over the next three months and beyond. Make sure to tell your friends (half-jokingly of course).