The supposed magic of playing an FCS team early in the season is to have a relatively non-threatening (ok, cupcake) full contact scrimmage sort of like an NFL preseason game, where the FBS team can get some reps in for the first team, leverage the imbalance to provide playing time and meaningful snaps in for the backups. The FCS team gets a good infusion of cash from any broadcast time, and it also can get some remuneration from the gate. This is usually a pretty nice setup for both teams, and the FCS team can get some bragging rights if they do well. FCS records don't need to be undefeated or near perfect since they have a real playoff system. Most FCS teams lose these contests; except JMU and Appy State (Michigan is still smarting from their embarrassment, too).
So Furman University sent its Paladins to Blacksburg, again. The last time was 2008, the results were surprising for them, and rather alarming for us - with a 3-0 lead at the half. Eventually we won that contest going away, but to do it the first team stayed on the field for almost the entire game, and all of that touchy-feely momentum stuff almost bled away.
This year, the Furman game probably meant more than we would have liked. We lost our starting quarterback, our defense was a bit shaky after the Buckeyes shifted gears in the 3rd quarter. OSU shut down their rockets for the 4th by putting in their 2nd and 3rd teams for practice; kind of like what we did with a certain South Carolina FCS opponent last weekend. Embarrassing might be an accurate word, except that we did have the excuse of having Michael Brewer in a sling with a headset on and a disappointed look on his face.
So, if this is supposed to be a sort of warm-up for the regular season, how'd the Hokies do? We'll take it one unit at a time. There will be an A-F grade for each unit and it will be followed by an A-F in parentheses (A) for the second/third team grades, since those substitutions began to happen in the middle of the third quarter.
Offensive Line: B+/B (B+) -- While there were some small errors made in the beginning of the game, and the first two series stalled (The second was embarrassing both in play calling and blocking; with three essentially identical running plays were called and snuffed.) The Line was blocking at a relative 'C' level for the "power" running game, and at an close to an 'A-' level for pass blocking. There were no sacks recorded, even for the 2nd and 3rd teams. The one very critical element was penalties. One is too many, the O-line chipped in for at least one unsportsmanlike, some formation errors, and holding. Those issues stall the first team grade at just about a 'B', with some solid 'B+' level effort on pass and influence runs in the third quarter... something about a truck sized hole for a 63 yard explosion isn't something to ignore.
Running Backs: B+ (B+): It's hard to sneeze at a 7.3 yard rush average but looking at the reality after cutting off the huge 63 yard gash we still get a respectable number. Lots of that was QB runs (more about that in the QB section). The game was mostly the McMillian and Edmunds show, with both backs showing some speed and power. The big down note was the first 3 series where the power runs just didn't happen, and we had runs into piles of humanity for little or no gain. Some of that was play calling, but a good deal was execution. Picking better routes to holes and avoiding tearing into piles instead of going around them would help.
Receivers: B/B+ (NG) -- The first three quarters were marked by a fits and starts passing game that really never completely jelled. Part of this was Motley's inexperience with the more sophisticated aspects of the passing game, and probable inexperience with the starting receivers... but here were some drops, and some effort that might have been shy of the mark. Overall, the pleasant surprise was the steady improvement of the route running, a better recognition of coverages and there ended up being some nice deep patterns that resulted in a two Touchdowns for Ford (one short and one nice long one). There really weren't enough targets after midway through the 3rd quarter, so I am not grading the 2s and 3s.
Quarterbacks: B (B-) -- All three quarterbacks on the active roster got some snaps, but Brenden Motley was the first team QB with the controls in his hands for two-thirds of the football game. Motley's shaky start with an incomplete, and then several stalled drives was not helped by a couple of sailed passes, and a few iffy reads. Motley's running ability, good line play, and some smart play calling in the 2nd quarter from Lefty, netted a steady improvement for our new starter. Like someone who's hopping on a bicycle for the first time in years, he was a bit wobbly to start, but as the pace improved, and the play calling opened up, he rose to the challenge. Brenden nets a solid 'B' for this game, and a much needed success. Both Lawson and Durkin got snaps in starting with about 2 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. Lawson showed off his arm, and tossed a couple of dirt rockets.. He also ran the ball, a bunch (Which is not a good idea - sorry, he looks more gracile than advertised, and I am seriously concerned that the one check, pull down, and take off style is going to end badly.) He did have a good outing, got some plays under his belt, and over all looked like one would think a highly recruited freshman would look. Durkin was a man possessed. He didn't throw any passes, and I don't exactly think that he handed the ball off more than once. He just seemed to take a snap, and proceed to bulldoze his way for four or five. Not very "quarterback-like" but I think he scared a few defensive linemen and linebackers.
Offense in General: B (B+) - While the first half was not what one would have hoped, and not what the team is capable of, a solid 'B' for the first team is a shared reflection of an average of all of the units (with a handicap thrown to the Paladins for the disparity between FBS and FCS). We should have done better with the First Team so that the others could get more playing time.
Now for the Defense:
Defensive Line: A-/B+ (A-) - The line gets a solid A for almost everything, except the fact that it had difficulty with the speed option, several penalties were handed out, and they registered no sacks. But they stuffed the run, other than the option and held Furman to 3.3 yards per attempt. That's not too bad, but I'd really like to see the mistakes go away. They will have an effect in upcoming more balanced contests.
Linebackers: B- (B-) - The reality that we have a Defense without true linebackers was very much evident on Saturday. The speed option is something for the linebackers to sniff out and stop. Even though Andrew Motuapuaka registered a Pick-Six, he remained a marginal influence - more due to his size and his inexperience with playing Mike, than anything. Chuck Clark played good football, put pressure on the QB, didn't allow too much to get around him, but they still ended up inside plays that went outside. Coach Foster didn't queue up a huge number of blitzes and complex formation looks and shifts in this game. I saw what amounted to 4 basic formations being run, and the Linebacker play was more than supplemented by the defensive backs.
#DBU: A (A) - The defensive backfield basically pitched a shutout for the entire game. There were 2 interceptions, the DB pick was Adonis Alexander's gravity defying snap roll under a dying quail ball. He deserves someone to create a picture of that one, it was special. Kendall Fuller was robbed of a pretty pick off by a questionable PI flag on an overthrow. (Frank was still hot about that flag three plays later.) There is always something to improve upon, but holding an offense that the week prior had scored 30+points to exactly 0 touchdowns and one gift FG was a super outing.
Defense in General: A-/B+ (A-/B+) -- The Defense came in with some attitude and a serious hole to address, linebacker play - well non-existence, really - The team basically pitched a one hitter, and that's not too bad. Motuapuaka was lost for four games due to an MCL sprain, and that means the food chain moves up one. We still have no true Mike, and marginal Backer size. The ‘D' got caught flat-footed by some surprise options, and had some frustrating "chippiness" issues that drew penalties.
Special Teams: B (B-) - The punt team did well, all punts were covered, and there were no returns for serious yardage and one really picky holding call. AJ continues to punt at a level that will attract pro attention. He only had one touchback and was consistently dropping the short kicks behind the 20. Joey's new cannon was a super weapon for kickoffs. The ball ended up either somewhere on Washington Street, or bouncing through the parking lot headed for Southgate. His field goal accuracy needs a bit of work, especially from that right hash mark but the distance was there. That averages an ‘A-‘ punt team and an ‘A' kickoff team with the ‘D-‘ field goal unit. The extra points aren't from the 15 in college so no bonus points for hitting those.
Overall the effort was good, with the second and third team guys really stepping it up and showing that they should be given looks for the bigger games. There is still much to do before claiming that we have a team that can face the ACC schedule with confidence. Motley is still a work in progress, and Loeffler would be well advised to edit the play book, and move all of the plays from the Bowling Green section to the front, and put the pro-style plays under the "Maybe Sometimes" header. Frank should put in a call to Urban to get some help with the Spread Option - we aren't going to play them anymore and we're going to need his offense, now.