The 2015 Season Wrap-up
Well, there was no preview to write up. There was no story to tell, no research to do, nor even guesses that meant much to the average Tech fan, to make. At the beginning of the season there were many hopes that the Hokies would somehow piece together a good season and win the Coastal; that would have the "Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson" title on the weekly assignment sheet. That didn't happen. It didn't happen for more than a few reasons. The Hokies were hurt by critical injuries, inscrutable play calling, and an undersized defense.
The first physical problem was the injuries to Michael Brewer and Kendall Fuller. Brewer's injury is indisputably responsible for the loss of at least three if not four games this season, one of which he played in, but was so rusty that his timing and vision were off. I am not going to go into the bloody details, because that would throw darts at a fine young man who performed far outside of his underdeveloped (coaches to blame here) skill set; Brenden Motley. However, the loss of Brewer for the first half of the season crippled the Hokies. Brewer had developed into the on field leader, and those skills just don't translate from the sideline. The Coastal Championship chance evaporated in a pain filled gasp laying supine on Worsham Field.
The loss of Kendall Fuller was not disabling, but it created a three or four game mad shuffle for how to reorganize the defense to compensate for his loss at Cornerback. Fuller was the pivot pin of the man-to-man scheme that allowed Coach Foster to move his defensive backs around to cover for the lack of real linebackers. This has been said before; we had one Backer size and quality linebacker this season. No matter what he did, or how he adjusted, Bud Foster was fielding a 20% undersized squad of players in the box. The adjustments that helped salvage a season and a bowl bid are for the books; but the initial position of having no real linebackers, and interior defensive linemen who were just too small to do the job must be solved for 2016 and beyond.
There were other injuries that dragged and nibbled at the lineup. Dadi's hands just never seemed to heal. Hands are important to a defensive end who's efforts to shed blocks and get to the ball, or maintain a position of containment. If you cannot use your hands your effectiveness just falls off. It looks like there is a new training staff; that might or might not help, but something had to change in the trainers' room.
The second big problem was, as was repeatedly complained about throughout the last several seasons; a totally ineffective offensive scheme. There was no adjustment to a shorter mobile but non-running quarterback. There was nothing done to identify the best running back until too late in the season. Travon McMillian is easily the best running back that we have had since David Wilson. To that end, the style of running game just never amounted to a choice. It always seemed to be an accident that we had some plays in a series that leveraged the influence running game.
The passing game, unless it was in the last five minutes of the 2nd half, just never developed a rhythm or purpose. Brewer did a better job of taking care of the ball (when he finally got back on the field) but still was bitten by some bad choices and miscommunication that is often the case in an underdeveloped passing attack. The Hokie Offense just never seemed to develop a moving pocket to allow Brewer the vision, and relative safety for the longer pass patterns to develop. The short passing game never took advantage of Bucky Hodges or Ryan Malleck, and though Isaiah Ford is one of the best receivers in the ACC this season, he'd have been bumping the ceiling in the entire NCAA if Tech had developed that QB receiver relationship better. Cam Phillips wouldn't have been far behind. The truth is that the tools were there, the play calling and game strategy were not. That's a coaching issue that looks to be under repair with Coach Fuente and his new staff taking over the offense.
There is not much to complain about with Bud Foster's defense; however the one complaint is totally valid and must be solved. There were some wonderful performances on defense this year. Luther Maddy (1st team All ACC Defense) played lights out. He dominated in the middle and by the end of the season teams were avoiding him. Andrew Motuapuaka started off the season playing out of position (he's a Whip/Backer) at Mike, and it took him some time to work out how to get off of blocks, and take good angles to the ball carrier. Well, Andrew did all that was asked of him and more. He grew and I expect that we will be seeing him for the next few seasons. Where did Adonis Alexander come from and can we find more? Four picks, monster tackles, solid coverage, all from a kid who no one thought anything about this Summer. The fact remains that the entire defense had to step it up a notch because all of them were one position too small to be playing where they were assigned, and we had no inside linebackers at all, for the entire season. Bud Foster ran a 4-1-6 and a 4-0-7, and kept us in every game that we played. That's a job well done on the field. Again, we have a new head coach, and we are keeping Coaches Foster and Gray, so maybe some recruiting chops equal to their on the field accomplishments are in order. Getting back to the top 5 defenses is a must for the next five years as the offense gets sorted out.
There is still one game remaining; a bronze or silver booger bowl, depending on the graces of the committees that select what teams will appear in which bowl games by whichever criteria and byzantine contractual agreements with each conference. So the rumors are floating around for which venue and what opponent. Will it be the Military Bowl in Annapolis, again? Will we get the Belk Bowl, or the Russell Athletic Bowl? We only went 6-6, but the real function of Bowls is revenue, and Tech fans travel well, short. The representation at the Military Bowl was good. (If it happens again this season there are three Hokies from this family that are going to try to figure out a way to make the day trip across the Potomac and out route 50 East to Annapolis.) But ultimately it's all about the potential for viewers and butts in seats in the stands. And that brings up the last of this for the week.
Thoughts about Weird Sports Conversations
Josh and I were driving back home from Blacksburg after the UVA game and pondering the ramifications of the confirmed rumor of the hiring of Coach Fuente for the long trip back. We had dialed into ESPN radio on the satellite and the topic of conversation was regarding who will get into the playoffs, and should Carolina beat Clemson, should Carolina go to the playoffs instead of Oho State, or maybe a one loss Iowa because Sparty looks better than Iowa? Or maybe even Clemson, even if Clemson loses the ACC Championship to Carolina? About 20 minutes and two commercial breaks of this, and we punched the button for 26 to pick up Classic Vinyl for some Rock 'n Roll. What in the world were these people talking about, and what sort of weird logic have we gotten ourselves into that the conversation was even rational?
Inconsequential game Bowl Selections are one thing. I would prefer that they be better documented, and the processes more open, the teams not charged for unsold tickets, etc. But Exhibition Bowls are easy to understand. They are pure entertainment dollars and cents on the table, and nothing more. Except for the pride of winning a non-conference game against a roughly equal opponent to maybe eke out a winning season, (as is the case with us, again) bowl selections and invitations are pretty understandable. It's largely arbitrary and all in the spirit of making money on the holidays. No true sports fan whiffs on Bowl week... It's a football feast of strange matchups, odd venues, and good old fashioned fun.
That doesn't fit with the playoffs; however. I have already writing up my formula for fixing the problem. A real FCS style playoff system that combines the existing power conference championships and two wildcards into a 16/8/4/2 team playoff series that runs through December and into New Years that determines a true champion, right on the field.
That would end mind numbing, headache inducing, and inexcusably influential weird conversations about who gets what playoff slot based on judgement calls by pundits, coaches, sports writers, and influence peddlers. Again, the lack of a real playoff system is just going to multiply the old BCS nonsense by five, and award a trophy to the winner of a consensus, instead of a winner of games. Time for that silly line of mindless discussion to end, it's like never ending gossip over the office water cooler as the way to run a company.
That Bit about some Eye-opening Homework
That leads to the last item on my list. We must address he sad state of NCAA football back room stories about recruiting, player choice, scholarship offers, boosterism, deal making, and other shady goings on that few NCAA football fans really pay head. The NCAA is broken and needs to be fixed. The money is too big and its lure just corrupts everything. I am going to step off this particular soapbox with a book suggestion for every dedicated college football fan, or writer. It is critical that this book be read and its significance digested; Illegal Procedure: A Sports Agent Comes Clean on the Dirty Business of College Football by James Dale and Josh Luchs. It's available from Amazon and only $9.99 for the Kindle. (I have it in my library, and read it before I started writing here). It's critical information for every true football fan; from High School all the way to the pros.
And there ends the regular season for 2015. It's going to be a strange and exciting new world, 10 minutes after the bowl game wraps. There are going to be more partings. More recruits will back out, but most will stay, and with the hope of a new Head Coach Justin Fuente, new offense, and new air under the wings, the Hokie Bird will fly high again in 2016. Either that or we get him, or her, a helicopter to help out some.
We should be hearing about what bowl game we get by tomorrow through Monday... I am hoping for the sake of prestige, for the Sweaters and Slacks Bowl in Charlotte, but the permission has been granted for the purchase of tickets to the Military Bowl, if we get the Bronze Booger.