I haven’t written in a while, and frankly, it’s frustrating. Part of it has been the see-saw-and-yet-always-heavy workload of my full time job, but part of it is I haven’t been able to get to anything in time for it to stick. It’s paralysis by analysis, writing version. This team Hokies, for someone trying to claim a narrative on this season, maddening. It’s not easy to categorize at all for multiple different reasons. So let me break down why I’m continuing to pull my hair out about this team, despite the fact that we’re 5-2 and would be bowl eligible with a win over Pitt? Something that always seemed to happen on the last game of the year the past few years likely won’t happen now, and yet I can’t help but feel skeptical.
Wait, injury luck?!
Despite the fact that we were missing Nigel Williams and Ken Ekanem on Thursday? This year the Hokies have managed to stay fairly healthy. As of now, the Hokies have only lost Trent Young and DeShawn McLease to injury for the year- if you’ll excuse me for a second, I’m going to knock on every piece of wood in my condo. What exactly does that mean? Well, part of it is just luck. We’ve had nicks and scrapes- the Jérod Evans ankle injury at the ECU game was enough to send any Tech fan into spasms. But nothing overly serious to major players or even major role-players. Last year it was Kendall Fuller and Michael Brewer going down to damage our season hopes, the year before that it was Facyson, Maddy, McKenzie, Trey Edmunds, Marshawn Williams, Mark Shuman, Brent Benedict, and Jonathan McLaughlin. We’ve been the beaten up old coat in the closet hanging on by a thread. So maybe it’s starting to even out from those off-years to this year, but part of me thinks it’s the changeover from Mike Gentry’s strength and conditioning staff to Ben Hilgart and his staff (including two former Hokies Offensive Linemen in Ryan Shuman and Nick Acree, the latter of which would unfortunately know a thing or two about injury). Now, it’s REALLY hard to prove that hypothesis with anything other than time, but I’m interested in seeing if this is the new norm. If it is, then Huzzah. If it’s just luck, I’ll take it, too. The problem is it’s always so hard to forecast for injury, and the fact that NOTHING major has gone on, as a Hokies fan, I feel like the sword of Damocles hangs above the team.
What the heck was that Syracuse game!?
What a pleasant surprise being ranked up at 15 was after beating UNC. I didn’t honestly think we should have jumped that high after a completely random game- anything with that kind of weather should be taken with a grain of salt, even if I believe that the beatdown was real to some degree. We even had nice thing said about us and our playoff chances by the Ringer, on their Ringer University podcast.
…aaaand then the team promptly went out and laid a fat egg against Syracuse up in the Carrier Dome, getting just ripped to shreds left, right, and upside down. Bud’s defense couldn’t stop a runny nose with a tissue and some Sudafed, the offense for the first time looked completely incapable of mounting a serious drive (more on that later), and the kicking game wasn’t helping either (more on that later, too). I still can’t completely figure it out. My leading hypothesis was they underestimated what Syracuse could do, and came in with a vanilla gameplan to spend more time on Miami (the more important matchup because it involves tiebreakers). It’s a cold calculation, but it’s not an unreasonable one. Either way, that performance made the Hokies look like the old Chokies on national television again. I was in a self-imposed Sports Radio/podcasting shutdown from Monday to Thursday due to the game, Ben Roethlisberger being hurt (Steelers fan, sorry), and my fantasy team rapidly going down the tubes. What a world, what a life. Crap happens, and of course the excrement hit the radial cooling device in the air conditioner dome that isn’t even air-conditioned. The magnitude of that loss was just eye-popping and eye-opening- this team has serious holes, in that they still can’t defend a running quarterback and they have a tendency to give up too many easy completions underneath. The running game can be brutally ineffective (yet more on that later). And we still have no idea if this is a road game thing (won at UNC, lost the other two) and preparation thing in that regard. We’ll see after Pitt.
Jérod Evans is Historically Good!?
Assuming everything holds, he doesn’t have an amazingly bad game or a terrible injury or whatnot, Jérod Evans is on his way to having one of the greatest statistical VT football seasons for a quarterback. The current record for a passing season is 1972- Don Strock throwing for 3,243 yards with only a 53.4% completion percentage, with 16 TDs…and 27INTs. Yeah, different times (Bruce Arians was the backup then!).
The highest completion percentage was 2002 with 63.7% (minimum 200 attempts). That was Bryan Randall. Highest Career at 200 attempts was Michael Vick (59.8%), and Highest at 500 is Michael Brewer (59.1%). Evans isn’t going to end up at the top end of Tech players as a career passing leader due to his longevity, but as it continues, let’s project out what would probably be the most EFFICIENT passing season by a Virginia Tech quarterback. Tyrod’s Senior and best year was 154.8. Michael Vick’s 1999 national championship run had a rating of 150.6. This year, Evans currently sits at 167.2. He’s averaging 4.9 yards per rush, which is better than Tyrod’s 4.4 (Smaller sample size is noted).
But in simple terms, Evans, who is still obviously a product of the era in which he lives, so this all comes with some degree of salt- is beating the pants off Tyrod’s final season. Tyrod’s stat line was 188-315/59.7%/2743 yards, 8.7YPA, with 24 Passing TDs, 5Ints, 5 Rushing TDs, 659 yards on the ground at 146 attempts. Evans, pro-rated through 13 games? Assuming his completion percentage holds, that’ll be a clip of 35.28 TDs on 2991 yards at a 62.9% completion percentage, with 217 completions (short of 2014’s record, IE we’re actually throwing LESS than we have in the past couple years), and 774.42 yards with 5.57TDs. For what would be 3.71 Interceptions (and toss in a couple fumbles, of course)? I’ll take that any day of the week. Let’s be clear, this offense goes just about as far as Evans can drive it. Motley’s still not really a college QB, especially full time. It looks like Coach Fuente found his quarterback, alright. Not to mention, and this is completely anecdotal and speculative on my part, it took him until Syracuse to throw an ‘oh-my-why-did-you-even-attempt-that’ interception. His only true ‘on-him’ interception, as his other bounced off Isaiah Ford’s hands. It has been a while since I could say about a Tech Quarterback ‘he’s not going to throw the dumb pick’. Evans gets out and throws the ball away if there’s nothing there with more frequency than I remember seeing in a Tech quarterback. Maybe I’m just rosy-eyed, and someone please stop me if that’s so, but Evans already has my mind wandering toward what he might do next year if Ford and Hodges stay (I’d actually lean more toward Ford staying than Hodges).
CAN WE PLEASE FEED TRAVON?!...Should we?!
Travon is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, with 92 Carries and 458 yards. Remove his long, that’s 91 carries and…4.27 yards per carry. Ugh. Now, the Miami game he did better, but that defense has been shot to pieces by injury. But the point is, Travon, while it might not look super pretty when you draw out the outlier, is still the best back. The only other person close is the aforementioned Evans (getting help from a 55 yard TD run that increases his average from 4.25 to 4.9YPC), and Marshawn is sort of close (4.4 average, but the outlier brings his average from 3.97 to that 4.4.). Point being that on the regular, this rushing offense isn’t that efficient by current college standards no matter who is carrying (the average carry rate in FBS (64th) is 4.5 YPC shared by multiple teams). We’re currently 84th at 4.1YPC. And while I love Sam Rogers dearly, his straight ahead dive plays for 33 attempts and 109 yards at 3.3YPC isn’t helping much. Keep him at H-Back like he belongs, as Miami will attest.
Poor Joey can’t catch much of a break. He hasn’t missed from anywhere inside 39 yards, but has only connected on one FG of 5 beyond 40, even with that huge leg of his (he was hot against Miami minus the block, which wasn’t his fault). Being 10-14 leaves points on the board, and just kicking field goals in the first place means your offense stalled out. So while he hasn’t been bad, it shows that Tech has to push in the offense closer to really be even moderately effective. He’s never been a great kicker in terms of accuracy- his career is only 73.6%. That’s not even Cody Journell level (Though it’s actually better than Shayne Graham level. Best VT kicker of all time in terms of percentage is Brandon Pace at 7th in the history books at 85.29%, min. 50 attempts. Who knew?).
And lastly, we round down to Ludwig. We’re the ones that started the #Ludwigfor25 the other night, because boy did he put a leg into every punt. He averaged 47.6 yards per punt on 5 punts, and even if you take out the long 61 yarder, he was still at 44.2 yards per punt. That, on the year, would put him at 22 in the nation. Problem is, overall, he hasn’t been that great. He was definitely damaged by the game at UNC. I’ll give him some credit for the BC game, where he punted 4 of his 6 attempts to pin BC behind the 20 (explaining his 36.7 yard average). But having a 40.4 punting average (Greg Stroman at UNC figures in into this) puts Tech at 86th in average punt (Somewhat recovered by 54th at 38.5 average net, meaning the coverage team is pretty good).
So what is there to make of this team? Well, we’ve got a quarterback that’s ridiculous, especially for our standards. We’ve got a running game that looked on track last game against a busted defense and not that great against most everyone else. We’ve got a kicking game in somewhat of a flux, and a stinker on our resume…with other good wins around it. Yep. That sums it up. My mind still hasn’t been made up. But I’ll try to enjoy the ride as best as possible.