The Battle At Bristol has come and gone. Tennessee defeated Virginia Tech 45-24. Most of the fans would agree it really wasn't that close. Virginia Tech sprinted out to a 14-0 lead, and then it happened. An errant snap changed the dynamic of the game, and momentum never truly left the Vols. The Hokies ended up losing the ball five times. Five times. There aren't many teams in FBS that would be able to win a game when they give the opposition the ball five times. Give credit to Tennessee, and more importantly Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs struggled a bit against App State, and had a great game against the Hokies. Dobbs is now an S.E.C. veteran, where games routinely come down to the last series. Tennessee had eventual national champion Alabama on the ropes last season, and Oklahoma dead to rights. Think about that. Tennessee had two of the playoff teams beat. They let them get away. They are learning how to finish games.
"We talked all week about being patient, they (VT) came out and changed up their look. Our defense did a really great job all night giving us great field position, giving us great opportunities to capitalize with turnovers; it gave us a lot of momentum to finish off the game."
--Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee QB
The Volunteer defense, after napping in the first quarter, came to life. Credit D.C. Bob Shoop for making adjustments to make VT QB Jerod Evans decidedly uncomfortable. Shoop's game plan was clearly not ready for what the Hokies offered. In the second half of the game, Shoop's unit was able to apply pressure with a straight four man rush. I didn't see backers blitzing. I saw a potent one on one rush that afforded Evans little time. Before you start bashing the Hokies' O-line, let's remember the Vols were the media pick to win the S.E.C. East, and are one of the more respected units in all of the S.E.C..
The concerning thing about the performance is simple. The Hokies have to protect the football. Our defense did an admirable job trying to limit Dobbs and company. One could easily make the case that Bud Foster had his guys ready to go. They were put in to some terrible positions in terms of field position, and rest opportunities. We had the Vols wired in the beginning. Sure, we didn't have the depth the Vols had, but we had a better scheme. That's where the hope comes in. Bud was asked about the defense at the post-game presser, and he offered this:
"The matchup is just the nature of the game nowadays. The disappointing thing to me was when we gave up two runs when guys should've been sitting with the quarterback instead of chasing the dive. We had a safety that should've been sitting for the quarterback, but he was chasing the dive. Those were the things that occurred with both young players, but we can correct. They worked hard and were disappointed, but you have to give credit to Tennessee. They executed and played hard and we didn't when we needed to. We'll regroup and get ready for ACC competition, which we've got a tough ball game ahead. This is tough because we didn't perform like we wanted to."
--Bud Foster, Defensive Coordinator
There were moments in the second half where we looked like we were ready to strike, only to be stymied by the ever present turnover. The team wants to be good, but it's up to more than the coaches for this to happen. Leader, Sam Rogers had something to say after the game that I thought was especially poignant:
"We didn't have a great week of practice, for whatever reason that is, I don't know. Senior leaders have to step up and be more vocal on those days and make sure that we get it right. No one likes this feeling, no one likes the feeling of giving away games so we have to get that right this week."
--Sam Rogers, Running Back
The fact that the Hokies didn't have a good ramp up before the biggest college football game ever, well, I'm not sure how to take that. Rogers didn't expand on why the practices weren't sharp, but that is concerning. This game should be an automatic fired up situation. Personally, I don't feel the team was flat. I don't think Tennessee did anything on offense or defense that was shocking. The Hokies simply could not protect the football. Plain and simple. Beamer and Marty Smith Beamer and Marty Smith were all smiles before the game. Hell, they were all smiles at the start of the second. Nobody gave Virginia Tech the memo. After the fumble, the Hokies looked completely lost. The offensive rhythm in the first quarter was a distant memory. Evans was under some serious heat for the last 45 minutes of the game. He performed admirably, but it was akin to bailing thimbles of water in the Titanic. Much too little. Much too late. The blame game can go on forever, but all the Hokies need a serious reality check. We are undefeated in the conference. We are undefeated in the Coastal. The Hokies kick off the A.C.C. slate this weekend against Boston College. We will beat them by 30. That's going to happen.
With ball security on everyone's mind, let's look at a few stats. Jerod Evans was 20/28. Joshua Dobbs was 10/19. Virginia Tech out gained Tennessee in total offense 400 to 330. Tech won the Time of Possession battle. The Hokies had the rock for 31:44, while the Vols had it for 28:16. This would lead most rational analysts to believe we win the game. The we get to turnovers. Those pesky, pesky turnovers. The official line on the game will display the margin at Tennesse +4 in turnovers. Folks that watched the gme will understand that the T.O.'s were the real difference.
The good news is that we went toe to toe with an S.E.C. team. The bad news is that we cannot protect the football. The complexion of the game is cloudy when you are splashing the football all over Bristol Motor Speedway. Bit of advice, Coach Fuente. Ball security drills might be high on the agenda. Tennessee won't win the East, but we won't win the Coastal. Might be a rematch at the Belk Bowl.