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Same Old New Hokies: Tech Struggles with ECU

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We lost to a team we shouldn't have. I'm not surprised- and that scares me. I'm sick and tired of this and I'm only 25. Something's got to be done.

Dear Frank. You're out in the rain and the cold now. At this rate? You might get stuck out there.
Dear Frank. You're out in the rain and the cold now. At this rate? You might get stuck out there.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Before this whole thing starts, I'm going to address two comments coming out of that game, because they're the most loud, and the most telling.

First, temper your enthusiasm for firing Frank Beamer and getting a new head coach. Frank still has an enormous amount of political cache in Blacksburg. He doesn't have the power of someone like Sands or Whit in name, but in practice? Everyone knows the rumors that Frank was the biggest reason why we didn't end up in the SEC, especially due to how close he and Weaver were.  When your football coach can simply say 'no' to a move like that and stick you in the ACC for God knows how long, that shows you how much power he really has. At present, I'd say more people are scared of firing him and what Tech football would be without him rather than what Tech football has become with him, and that's saying something. At our level, we're begging for change. But on the level of the decision makers, they're all scared to move or do something for fear of the unknown- especially when the unknown is so many years away that only the big boosters with money remember it. It's why Paterno and Bowden got free passes on declining teams in their later years. Frank's only going when it's either on his terms or it can appear to be on his terms. No earlier. Whether you like or not or whether you think it's justified or not, I don't think anyone has the stones to go out behind the woodshed with the family fowling piece and put this coaching staff out of its misery.

Second, yes. That was probably one of the worst officiated games I've ever seen in my life. I've only really cared about football for around 10 years or so, but I can't remember such a clear abdication of rules and fair play (For you Seahawk fans out there still screaming about Super Bowl XL, Walter Jones was holding Joey Porter all night and not getting flagged). The pass interference on Chuck Clark. The targeting call on Sean Huelskamp. It was the most flagrantly ill-called game I've seen watching the Hokies- and we've been party to a lot of badly-called games- since I was a freshman in '08. What that crew did to the score cannot be counted because you just don't know. I'd suspect that the game would be closer, but I don't think that despite the final score that it would be the right answer as to where to point all the blame. Heck, even some calls later could be called as make-up calls, which means that, yes, ECU has a right to gripe.

But the major problem with this team was the major problem with this team from the beginning. An underperforming repetitive offense, and a defense gashed through the air and the ground due to being paper thin at very key spots, and completely nonexistent at others. Once Kendall Fuller was out for the game and it forced a converted quarterback and a freshman into coverage? Things were going to go downhill from there...

The game started off well enough. First ECU snap was a fumble on a bad exchange...somehow still went for positive yardage but that's just how things bounce. Next play, give Greg Stroman- the converted quarterback- some credit. He made a smart jump on a route for a solid interception. The offensive series after that? Outside RB draw that Coleman tried to take inside the mass of blockers that were kind of dancing around a heavy line of scrimmage. Then an empty backfield play on a quick swing pass to the weak side of the formation- where Ford, the receiver, had motioned to before the play while not being covered by the defense.  Both offensive linemen on that play whiffed their blocks, but it came up with a first down- rare pulling center play by Gallo, too. Then we cracked out an I-formation double tight end set, and ran a halfback slant to the heavy side- Sam Rogers didn't get his guy out of the way enough, and Coleman WILLINGLY ran right into them instead of cutting inside Rogers' rear end. Granted, that play wouldn't've been a huge gain, but it would've been better than nothing. Then the sequence went QB draw, motion pass, dive play for TD. At this point, you're feeling confident. Next ECU drive starts with an incomplete pass...then a timeout by Tech? Huh? Which gives up a tight end pass 7 yards underneath with a corner and a safety covering him on an inward slant. Then offsides for a first. Then a lucky wounded duck of a...whatever they decided to call it (the officials called it a fumble, but that's still the dumbest 'fumble' I've ever seen) was caught by Mook Reynolds. That whole sequence took over five minutes to look at by the way. Longest thing I've ever seen. We then proceed to run a QB draw that works, a swing pass that doesn't (because Cam Phillips gets beaten on a block one-on-one and they had decided to just attack and load the line of scrimmage), Then another QB draw and a QB sneak that gets us a first down on a fourth down, then a first down play where we ran a dive out of a heavy I set- ECU immediately run-dog blitzed the line- and then Motley threw a beautiful pass to Ryan Malleck for a touchdown in the back of the end zone.

14-0. Offense had shown a bit of sputtering on certain kinds of plays- the I formation drive blocking hadn't worked on the two plays we ran it outside of the sneak, which any dolt should get- but we were up. Up and in a hurry.

...Everything. EVERYTHING went downhill from there.

I'm not going to regale you with a lot of statistical nonsenses. I'm not going to tell you that X worked and Y didn't based on whatever numbers. We all saw that game. Eye test suffices for now. We all understand what kind of issues we're looking at. And I'm going to tell you once if I haven't already told you a thousand times in various comments and comments we have alluded to in the past as a group of writers.

We were talented enough to win this game. We were capable of winning this game. But mistakes in the defense, getting out-athleted, terrible luck, and a complete inability to find consistent offensive ground put us six feet under with the referees helping put the dirt of the grave. Let's look at the two prominent storylines from the game just as a quick exercise, outside of the two I already mentioned.

Our defense is not as good as we thought it was.

I alluded to this in the statistics article, but Virginia Tech has SERIOUS PROBLEMS in stopping runs. It's not all runs by any stretch. Most of the typical up-the-middle dive stuff ECU was running was NOT working until later in the game. But ECU, the 125th ranked rushing offense of 127 worked up a grand total of 182 yards on 43 carries. It's not much of an average if you're looking at it. But the problem was the person that was doing most of the damage. James Summers gutted us. Take away his long run of the game at 41 yards, he's still 20-128 for two touchdowns. That's over six yards a carry out of a quarterback. Foster defenses have had this problem for years- he doesn't have a linebacker that can man up and shadow a quarterback with any consistency. Right now with these spread-out offenses that suck up safeties into coverage, we're suffering from the lack of a quick, powerful, large linebacker that can go man-on-man against a powerful quarterback and win. That's not even talking about Ekanem's complete lack of finishing that tackle where he got stiff-armed. That's sad.

To credit them after the first two series, ECU also made EVERY play they had to. Their receivers made EVERY one on one catch they could. Bobbling catches in traffic and double coverage. It was just their night. That's not an excuse, they just did. Part of it, though, was that loose zone that we played in and our inability to use linebackers to cover the middle of the field. Foster came into the game thinking of being cautious with young corners and being burned the year before deep. This time, ECU simply cut right under the zone. Our linebackers were useless in helping over the direct middle, and the cornerbacks were too deep to roll up the receivers . So on top of being schooled on almost every single ridiculous catch that could be made, the corners weren't in good position to help and we had not the personnel to really help them, either. That's coaching and recruiting. We don't have the size, power, and speed to stop these receivers or stop these long QB runs. We're dealing with a pure gap in coaching and talent, and with someone like Foster on defense, at the very least, we should be put in POSITION to win. Is it that his defense doesn't work anymore or is it that we don't have the people that play in it? All I know is that writing off 3/11ths of the defense as semi-permanently useless and another 2-3/11ths of it disappointing, we're not nearly where we thought we'd be. Speaking of disappointing, Ken Ekanem did NOTHING to help himself out of his slump. Along with the stiff arm, he routinely missed containment assignments on those quarterback runs, keying to the inside and having the quarterback cut outside him. Most of the time the defense got sucked too far inside and left the quarterback wide open to run.

We still don't have an offense worth writing home to mother about.

The offense was its own comedy of errors. First of all, I want to give credit to Brenden Motley for trying to be Logan Thomas- the only source of our offense, and a battering ram at that. Motley's not afraid of anything. Secondly, I'd like to destroy Scot Loeffler today, as he made his own team miserable. Not only was his playcalling sheet maybe only two pieces of paper, he routinely gave his quarterback nothing short to throw to or at. He had Motley try and fend for himself on multiple plays while sending a pile of receivers downfield. If that's a function of 'those are the only throws that Motley can make' then that's a problem- Motley shouldn't be a quarterback, then. If it's a function of lack of design, that's in his own head and he's jamming up the works. But Motley also had his own errors, including not getting his feet set- not that he had a ton of time, our offensive line was NOT performing that well- to throw to open receivers more often than they'd like to admit. The end of the first and the start of the second being very glaring indeed. We ran that fake fly sweep-QB draw combo way too much. We didn't throw out of the I formation enough to prevent them from stacking the box and run-dog blitzing every time.  It's becoming apparent that McMillian is the most effective ground weapon we have outside of Motley running the ball, as Coleman and Edmunds mostly continued to NOT find holes and run right into blockers. It was a return to multiple third and forevers due to poor passes, stuffed runs, and lack of playcalling originality. Whenever we had momentum we'd kill it with a timeout or a backbreaking error. We run a no-huddle offense without it being a hurry-up offense, which still confuses the snot out of me- why not huddle if you're going to take just as long to get the play in? But right now we're in almost the same offense we were under O'Cain and such a couple years ago- deep throws or nowhere runs or running Logan Thomas up the gut. It's just more of the exact same in some ways, and I'm almost annoyed we're showing enough progress to get my hopes up.

Don't get me wrong, I like parts of this team. I like Isaiah Ford, I like Sam Rogers. I like some of our future piece like Reynolds and Alexander. I think Hodges is still good despite the drop late he should have had. I like Travon McMillian and think this offensive line has room to improve.  But, if it sounds like I'm rambling I am. I'm tired, I'm angry, I'm disgusted. I'm tired of the dumb penalties. I'm tired of the losing to teams we shouldn't. I'm tired of the same dumb problems cropping up again and again and again without anything seemingly being done about it. We got beat up and out-athleted and outcoached against OSU. That I kind of expected. I don't expect to be out-athleted and out-coached by ECU. I expect the team to be mad that they even have to play that team and roll them up and toss them aside, instead of acting like ECU was just going to roll over like a dog and play dead. I'm tired of watching walk-on linebackers at a school where we should be able to recruit them- and have them be good ones, and actually of linebacker size and speed. I'm tired of offensive sameness, ineffectiveness, and ineptitude closely disguised by minute progress we try to celebrate. I'm tired that we can't get things together for even one season now after years of consistency and the same things that sunk us recent years are sinking us again.

I'm only 25 years old and I'm tired. I'm jaded and I'm starting to expect losses like this. I'm mad at myself when I expect more out of this team and I'm disappointed that they come up short.  Me saying that, me being a young fan and slowly losing faith in this football program? That should scare the athletic department. Because if this continues, I won't be the only one.