Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's all she wrote. We'll see the Virginia Tech Hokies again, but we'll never see the 2015 Hokies again. Was this team particularly notable in accomplishment? Eh, in the grand scheme of things, no. A 7-6 season is not exactly something that we really want to venerate as Virginia Tech fans lest we get comfortable with being just slightly above mediocre. I'm sure that the team wouldn't want you to forget them, but they wouldn't be happy if you were satisfied with that record. They likely aren't. But from any experience, you do hope to learn things about yourself and your situation. So, what did we learn as a fanbase? About the team? About the University? About ourselves?
Well, we found that we were a fanbase divided- and for a few weeks there, it got ugly. Between the period of time starting at the gut-wrenching ECU loss and the actual retirement announcement, things became very bitter. We found that Frank did what he always said he would do- retire when he thought the jig was up. He passed the authority onto Whit to find his replacement and dedicated himself to his final year. Getting to the postseason with a bowl berth and win was a huge goal, and the fact that we could plant the flag in the ground saying ‘see, we won this one for Frank!' is definitely nice. But our fanbase got to deep depths before Frank retired- and thankfully, regardless of what side you were on post- or pre-retirement, we do all love Frank and appreciate what he's done. No one was really ungrateful.
We found out that the people in charge are really intent on bringing Virginia Tech back to prominence. We'd hope that they wouldn't expect more of the same from the past few years. Whit Babcock obviously didn't waste a second of time in his coaching search. He went after one of the hottest candidates with the most interesting and desirable experience levels in the potential pool of candidates. Justin Fuente most assuredly would have some other head coaching job if Whit didn't hire him here. Of course both sides of the equation wish that the news would have come out in a less obtrusive way than in the middle of the Virginia Tech-Virginia and Memphis-SMU games. That's really inconvenient timing- though it of course could not be. Pet theories being what they are, I imagine that the leak could conceivably come as a way to warn off other universities and ADs that Fuente was off the market, despite what Whit claimed in the press conference. Of course he could have also been genuinely surprised by the leak, but leaks in the sports world often come out for reasons, rather than out of the blue. Coach Fuente's already hit the ground running, gathering up three commitments and a recommitment in a very short amount of time- including a very highly regarded JUCO quarterback in Jérod Evans that will compete for- and very potentially win- the starting job next year. It'll be interesting to see what exactly his offense will look like with our personnel and whoever he recruits for next year.
We learned what can happen when you combine injuries with a lack of depth from years of under-recruiting certain positions. I swear that part of the reason why we watched Brenden Motley jog right back into the game after getting brutally hammered by the defense is that the coaches, right or wrong, thought that Dwayne Lawson wasn't ready to contribute. That compounded the confusing decision to not redshirt him. We were lucky that Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips stayed healthy all year- the fact that we were completely blasé about Kevin Asante and Demitri Knowles being left out of the Independence Bowl just reminded me how much a non-factor the receiver depth chart has been. The defensive backs, after Kendall Fuller had to end his year- and his college career, were thin behind Brandon Facyson. Due to shuffling this year- and the dismissal of CJ Reavis- we had a lot of freshmen see the field just because we needed the bodies. They ended up staying because of necessity and talent at the same time. Terrell Edmunds, Adonis Alexander, and Mook Reynolds all played major minutes- ahead of guys like Donovan Riley, Desmond Frye, and Der'Woun Greene, all redshirt juniors. Edmunds is listed at Rover and played cornerback. Anthony Shegog, a Rover, was put at Whip by the end of the year- a position he's too small for. There was some serious musical chairs going on behind the scenes; no wonder our defense was so confused and out of sorts all year. Not only that, we got decent play out of one linebacker, Andrew Motuapuaka, who still had his detractors when he was on a bad cold streak pre-injury at the beginning of the year. The fact that I didn't blink an eye at Deon Clarke being suspended either frustrates me. Ronny Vandyke was the nominal Whip starter but I don't remember him making any plays, let alone a memorable one. So between confused and panicked shuffling in the secondary, the lack of representative linebacking play, and the fact that our defensive line underperformed for a lot of the year, it is little wonder that the defense, between poor recruiting, coaching, and performance, looked shaky in the bowl game and all year.
We also learned how mismanaged talent, a lack of planning, and poor recruiting can hurt an offense. The running back rotation took way too long to develop, and we as a fanbase would argue that it still wasn't handled well even late into the year where Travon McMillian would simply disappear for stretches in the game, or they'd try to run obvious run plays with obvious running backs that do one thing exactly- like the straight dive in the heavy set with Trey Edmunds- a no duh play that anyone could see coming. We saw the fact that there was no reliable plan behind Michael Brewer- the offense was built around him, and when Brenden Motley was inserted, not only was it limited (see: Number of fake jet sweeps we ran), it was also completely out of sync with what Brewer could do. That lack of recruiting continuity has always been a problem. For example, you see the kind of quarterback that USC always goes after- moderately athletic guy with a decent arm and enough sense to get the ball out to the five and four star talent at receiver or hand the ball off to the same shifty kind of running back. They're all somewhat similar to each other. There's always going to be talent differences, but honestly how different schematically in college are Aaron Murray and Matthew Stafford at UGA? Good systems adjust to what players they have or can get, but you can save yourself a lot of trouble by recruiting to a type and sticking to it. On top of that, the offensive line, at least for the first half of the season, was a pain to watch- not as much pain as Brenden Motley was in having to try and camp behind it, but still.
We learned a couple of positive things, though. One, this team, if things break right, can still be dangerous next year. Isaiah Ford is going to be a first or second round pick in the NFL draft. That's beyond a shadow of a doubt. Bucky might be coming back, and Cam and Isaiah have to. That's a quality start to a dangerous receiving corps. Travon McMillian is the real deal at running back, and hopefully with another year of work and muscle he'll be able to stay in the game longer- and we'll cut out the rotational stuff that prevented him from being a factor earlier in the year. The vast majority of the offensive line is coming back. The defensive secondary is coming back- Facyson doesn't have sufficient hype to go pro, and everyone else is young. There are going to be some issues, of course- the defensive line and linebacking corps (outside of Motuapuaka and Ken Ekanem) are going to be all new- at least, in terms of full-time starters. The quarterback will probably be someone new- though, Motley is coming back to toss his name into that hat, so good for him and we wish him luck. He's definitely a tough son of a gun, and deserves as much a shot as anyone with a new coaching staff and system coming in.
I've been an underdog ALL MY LIFE. Never stopped a dog from eating. Make sure you're here to witness.— B. (@MotleyKrewww) December 28, 2015
We've learned that outside three individuals, this team didn't have an ounce of quit in it. Of all the games, OSU is screwy because if Brewer doesn't get hurt, who knows what happens. After that, we lost our other five games by 7, 4, 10, 2, and 3 points. Just one or two offensive swings or defensive stops away from being a good but lucky team instead of a mediocre and unlucky one. Granted, we've got wins that were by 2, 3, and 3 points. But down the stretch, post retirement announcement, this team scratched, clawed, and fought tooth and nail against each opponent to only lose one game on a sort of questionable call in the back of the end zone.
We've learned that Tech was thought of as a great job- not just some stopping point, a real endpoint job. I was pleasantly surprised to see so much love about the job, the university, the AD, and the fanbase around the coaching search. The USC job is in its own stratosphere, but the fact that with everything, we're just as good if not better than Miami? That was satisfactory. Obviously for the longest of times Georgia wasn't in that hunt, and Miami did end up getting their man, I personally think Whit did the best job possible, and Justin Fuente is going to be a great coach going into the future.
I want to thank all the seniors graduating this year that we won't see again, especially Kendall Fuller, JC Coleman, A.J. Hughes, Michael Brewer, Wade Hansen, Luther Maddy, Ryan Malleck, Corey Marshall, and Dadi Nicholas. I want to thank all the coaches for the season, and I want to thank everyone here for making everything really enjoyable and interesting for the past few months.
This is the end of 2015. The king is dead, long live the king. On to 2016.