As we all have had a bit of time to digest what was nothing short of a home letdown on Saturday against East Carolina, there are many elements that contributed to the shocking loss. The inability to defend the deep ball, the lack of a solid running game from start to finish, and turnovers all helped doom the Hokies this weekend. However, one additional aspect that is easily correctable moving forward is the drops by the receivers in the passing game. Let's take a look at just how large of an impact the drops had on the outcome of the game against the Pirates.
1) 3rd Quarter 10:35, 3rd and 17 on ECU 46, Score: ECU 21 VT 7
This was the first drive of the second half and the Hokies held the momentum after scoring on the last possession of the first half, on an incredible catch by Isaiah Ford (see below). As quarterback Michael Brewer began navigating the offense down the field, the team was set back by a first down sack, ultimately putting them into a 3rd and long situation. Brewer was in the shotgun with freshman receiver Isaiah Ford flanked out wide to his left, with tight end Ryan Malleck in the slot on the same side. On the right side of the formation, receivers Josh Stanford and Willie Byrn were out wide awaiting the snap. When the play began, Stanford ran an out route towards the sideline and was wide open, Brewer delivered a timely ball that Stanford proceeded to drop and kill the potential scoring drive. Not would Stanford have picked up a first down, but he only had one man to beat and it could have been a potential big play for the Hokies. This is definitely not something we are accustomed to seeing with a veteran receiver like Stanford, but it would not be the last time that he dropped the ball.
2) 3rd Quarter, 7:41, 3rd and 5 on VT 47, Score: ECU 21 VT 7
After the Hokie defense stopped East Carolina on their first offensive drive of the second half, Brewer and company started out near midfield for their second drive of the second half. Faced with a 3rd and 5 on their own 47, Brewer dropped back to throw and hit a wide open Josh Stanford across the middle, who for the second straight drive, failed to catch a ball that hit him right in the numbers. He would have had a first down and more, as he had plenty of room to run after the catch. Yet again, a drop by one of Tech's veterans stopped the momentum, and the Hokies were forced to punt the ball away again to ECU.
3) 3rd Quarter, 3:32, 2nd and 1 on VT 48, Score: ECU 21 VT 7
After forcing a three and out, it was clear that the Hokie defense was intent on keeping the team in the game in the second half. Now, if only the offense would do its job. Faced with a 2nd and 1 from their own 47, Brewer looked down the seam and nailed true freshman Cam Phillips on a skinny post, which he promptly dropped. On a play that could have gone for 6, Phillips made a freshman mistake that proved costly, as the offense proceeded to move the ball down to the ECU 2 four minutes later, but couldn't score on 4th and goal. The seven and a half minute drive resulted in no points, and a dwindling clock that was clearly working against the Hokies to start the 4th quarter.
4) 4th Quarter, 8:00, 1st and 10 on VT 45, Score: ECU 21 VT 7
The Virginia Tech defense came up with another huge stop and the offense was back on the field as the drive began with just over 10 minutes to go in the game. Tech began methodically moving the ball down the field once again, but another drop could have cost the Hokies the game with 8 minutes to go. At this juncture, freshman Isaiah Ford ran a post pattern across the middle of the field and dropped a pass from quarterback Michael Brewer that could have gone for a huge gain and set up VT deep in ECU territory. Ford would atone for his mistake later in the drive, as he was on the receiving end of a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brewer to cut the lead to seven with four minutes to go.
5) 4th Quarter, 3:48, 3rd and 3 on ECU 38, Score: ECU 21 VT 14
While the Brewer pass was thrown a little bit behind receiver Willie Byrn on 3rd and short and did not show up in the stat book as a drop, the sure-handed senior squatted down in disappointment after he was unable to make the difficult reception with the clock winding down in the 4th quarter. The play would have gone for about five yards and a first down, and the Hokies proceeded to punt with little time remaining on the clock. The offense would eventually tie the game on the next drive with a little over a minute remaining, but the play at the time seemed like the biggest mishap yet by the Tech receivers.
We all know what happened from here, as Bud Foster's defense was gashed by ECU quarterback Shane Carden in a last minute drive, just as they were throughout the entirety of the first quarter, leading to a one yard touchdown run with only 16 seconds remaining on the clock. The disappointment of the upset has loomed over the campus since, with hope that the Hokies bounce back Saturday when Georgia Tech comes to Blacksburg.