There are days when you just love to dig into a game that just happened; and then there are days where even looking at the first line you wince and start looking for the aspirin and a bag of ice for your aching head.
Losses are always hard to take. This one was not surprising, but it was devastating for one specific reason; the loss of Michael Brewer to a broken left clavicle. There will be more written about the specifics first, but there were two failures on the injury. There was the failure to pick up the rusher from the offensive right side. He came clean, and no one even so much as chipped him. The second failure was the officiating crew's lack of a flag. The defender both left his feet, with a purposeful contact hit, and hit Brewer high. The hit was late, and out of control. We know that in the pros that sort of contact will generate both a bright yellow hanky, but also, after the game the rusher is likely to feel a major pain in the wallet. Either way, we don't get Brewer back so the free 15 would have only given us a potential 3 given the second disaster to hit us having no identifiable replacement quarterback (more in the run up to the Furman game).
This is supposed to be a game breakdown, and we will do our best to write through the pain.
The Theme of the Hokie Defense: One and a half quarters of shutdown
We'll start with the defense, if only because it bears some serious scrutiny that we normally don't give to it. Generally the analysis goes to the easy target, the Hokie O, and kudos are heaped on Bud Foster and the Hokie D. Well we can hand some brownie points out for some successful and stout prototypical Tech Defense for the second and a good half (ok maybe a 1/3rd) of the third quarter of play. The remainder of the game; however? Nozzomush.
The first quarter was frankly pretty embarrassing, and ran to the form that was expected in the Summer analysis. Cardale Jones started for the Buckeyes, he's bigger than most of our Defensive linemen, and he can throw his limited pass package with surprising skill. Our defense looked completely outclassed. The line was getting little or no real pressure on Jones, and we were gashed repeatedly on the ground for long gains. The real shock was to see Dadi out sized and out muscled by a quarterback. There is something unnatural about that and is a trademark of the Urban Meyer style of QB (remember Tim Tebow, folks... the NFL still won't accept him, but he's coming... again and again until they have to).
Meyer attacked our secondary; especially on our left. For a little while they seemed to want to stay away from Kendall Fuller, and concentrate on the presence of Stroman as a zone safety over the top. The real story of the evening though was the spotty play by Fuller. He was burned several times, called for a PI that was really one of those last minute desperation save a touchdown penalties because he'd been pretty badly beaten, and he was out sized and muscled.
The other story of the defense was the predicted massive hole in the zone between two yards and 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This was our death zone. Too many runs ended up with greater than four yards. Stopping the Buckeyes at the second level was almost impossible. We either smothered them at the line of scrimmage or we were gashed repeatedly. Our lack of any real Mike and Backer sized defensive players is going to create a "situation". We did have a few bright spots, a few passes tipped, Jones was hurried, and we managed a pick that ended up getting us points.
Overall the defense spent too much time on the field, and by the middle of the 3rd quarter was gassed, deflated, and largely ineffectual. Meyer let his foot off the gas by the 4th quarter, and cruised it on in by pulling Jones for Barrett. There were also an increasing number of non-dirty white jerseys showing up in the formations, as the Hokies became the OSU practice squad.
The story of the Offense: A broken left clavicle for Michael Brewer (it's also the story of the game and the 2015 season).
Overall the offense was ineffective for most of the game, and completely incoherent for the first quarter. The first play from scrimmage was a really audacious naked boot leg to the right, with Ford in the deep flat on the sideline but there was just too much foot out of bounds and the pass was ruled incomplete on a review. From there things just turned into the same 3rd and impossible after dumb runs or passes at the line of scrimmage. The first series was that incomplete, an ISO for 3, and a sack. The second series was a little better; we didn't go three and out with an old fashioned schedule 4, 3, and 3 running effort. Then the sack, the QB draw that got us to 3rd and too long, and an incomplete desperation pass with uncalled massive PI on OSU.
Of course that came after the first gash for an OSU 7, and was quickly followed by another gash and a quieted crowd. Still 14 to 0 is not horrid, and after a defensive stop and missed field goal by OSU, Tech found some life, pulled off a really nice mixed pass and run series with Sam Rogers playing a leading role by taking a wheel route to the left side all the way into the end zone for a touchdown. Of course that jump covered a middle series that ended with a missed 50 field goal attempt by Joey - who proved that he can kick 50, but it was off to the right. Joey would later hit a 46 yarder, and help make it a game in the late middle of the third quarter. The last Tech TD was on a brilliant short field drive after the muffed punt with a beautiful 30 yard rainbow to Ford at the 2, and then a cross field fade on that reverse bootleg.
The remainder is sauce for the crying towel. The Buckeyes opened the 3rd quarter with a three play 75 yard drive that took the lead back at 21 to 17, and then disaster struck. Brewer went down, and so did everything else Hokie. The stands began to empty, and the feelings of 2013 and 2014 came flooding back. Total deflation is not an exaggeration. Even the web commentary began to drop off. No one had the heart to continue.
Where does this put us?
Well, behind the old eight ball seems to be the most accurate phrase. The program has no starting quarterback for at least a month, if not longer. Brenden Motley might be a great kid, and he's a local product, but he's just not a quarterback. He's an Athlete who is nowhere near the size needed to be a Meyer prototype. The answer might be Durkin - well frankly he should be the answer. He's a real QB, heavily recruited by Lefty, and there was no reason to have left him off the field in the 4th quarter. He played pretty well in the first scrimmage, and there wasn't too much to lose. The other option is to move Lawson up to starter, but he's raw, and still fundamentally a high school senior QB. These are problems that this offensive staff should not be having. And they are the program's bane; our recruiting is just not very good, and our depth chart is one deep at most positions.
Besides the issues of play design (plays are plays) the coaching and strategic choices in game planning and execution are unexplainable. Why repeat past dunderheaded play selection? Where the heck was Bucky and why wasn't he used? He was targeted TWICE, and both throws were inappropriate for his height and skill set. Why did we have mostly single back or Ace formations when keeping Brewer on his feet (and his ultimate injury) meant keeping a second back in the game to help block? Can someone please teach Cam Phillips to run critical routes? He doesn't push them far enough down field, and runs backwards too often as he tries to make up for his shorted route.
So, the story of the offense is that we have none. The story of the defense is that it's missing a critical chunk in the middle.
On a good note, Special Teams really shined last evening. AJ Hughes is going to get next level draft attention. He has gotten that good. He can lay wood to the ball when he wants to, and drop it inside the coffin when he needs to. Joey Slye has a serious leg, now. Maybe he's out to become the next Shane Graham, but we are really going to need his newly beefed up leg this season. Punt coverage was good (a wink to the return of Beamer Ball on the muff recovery); but kickoff decisions are still bad. We lost yardage on two kickoffs into the end zone that needed to be taken as touchbacks.
We can't win with decent Special Teams, and half a defense. There will be a ton to fix, and a new team put on the field for the next two games. Sometimes Hokie Luck is no luck at all.