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Hokies are Better but Now’s Not the Time to Strut

Four games into the season, and the Virginia Tech Hokies are looking much better on offense. Now is not the time to start popping the champagne corks, however.

The Will to Win Starts Here.
John Schneider - SB Nation

There is something that keeps eating at me, and I really couldn’t put a finger on it until I was sitting in the press conference after the game on Saturday. The Hokies are so much better. There is more energy, sense of brotherhood, and self-reflection this year. The biggest change is something that we aren’t even used to in Blacksburg, OFFENSE. We have an actual functioning offense.

Sure, we’ve had some great running backs; the names Suggs and Jones, Evans and Williams, Wilson shine. There were a few very good to excellent quarterbacks, Druckenmiller, Michael Vick, Bryan Randall, and of course Tyrod Taylor. There is some karmic pain mentioning some of those names and we won’t get into the specifics, but suffice it to say they were the better quarterbacks of the Beamer Era. There were a few good support players sprinkled in there including professional offensive linemen and some receivers. We just have never really managed to put what could be termed as a high powered offense on the field.

It seems that most Hokies just want to leave it at that. There is the feeling that to think more could put the whammy on what we can see unfolding over the first four games of the season. Even with the Tennessee game’s disastrous 2/3rds of the 2nd period, the Hokies were generating more than a pulse on the offensive side of the ball. Everyone remembers the “Ten Minutes” and no one wants to inflate expectations. Well everyone and no one are strong assertions, there. I’ve met more than a few folks looking for a place on the wall for the ACC Championship banner. I take that sort of fandom with a healthy slice of skeptic pie.

What we have seen, is a steady improvement across several aspects of the usual dreary terrain. Tech has a credible passing attack. Covering the Ford, Phillips, Carroll, Hodges combination is brutal for most college defenses. Add to that formula the occasional appearance of the tight end (Cunningham’s first TD is in the books) and passing to the running back out of the backfield, and Virginia Tech suddenly is relevant on offense. Evans is a respectable passer. He doesn’t shoot laser bolts into tiny coverage windows; but he throws a catchable ball within the reach (well, mostly) of a good receiver.

Not Quite there for Ford
John Schneider - SB Nation

The play calling has been much improved. You can actually see a game plan unfold, and adjustments being made to what are working and what isn’t. I would like to point out that Brenden Motley is flourishing in the Fuente system, and is capable of running the offense should the need occur. As predicted, the new scheme does a much better job of leveraging his option oriented skillset and puts him in a better position to lead the offense. If anything became plain last season we need to take note that wars are won by logistics, and football seasons are often won by backups. It’s encouraging to know that Tech’s new offensive philosophy is flexible enough to help maximize those talents.

The good often comes with an equal measure of “something to work on”. The Virginia Tech ground game is not the greatest. It’s struggling to gain any sort of real traction, and that means that someone somewhere with the defensive talent to take advantage will. This is not a “running back thing”. Sorry to burst the bubbles of those of you out there fixated on “star” running backs, but the ground game is 85% offensive line. Just ask Timmy Smith (if you can get a call into his current abode) how great life can be running behind the Hogs. We have more than sufficient running back talent to move the ball on the ground, whether that task is shared around or handed to a select few (dangers of injury increase greatly with that method). Tech has four capable runners. It’s the “Hogs” that we are missing.

The O-Line does look much improved over the last few seasons. They are giving Jerod Evans a decent amount of time to see the field and take good decisions. They are also getting the influence, zone, and downfield blocks. The line still is not run blocking with enough power and effectiveness to drive the ball 4 yards up the A gap. Tech lost a touchdown to that problem on Saturday. In all the excitement over the sack for a safety, and the ensuing 55-yard scoring ramble by Jerod Evans, we miss that we turned the ball over on downs on the three yard line; completely unable to drive the ball over the goal line from inside the tackles.

Evans Stopped on the ECU 3
John Schneider - SB Nation

This is a serious problem that must be fixed. As the season wears, and the opponents get tougher and more determined, lack of those two and three yard dive plays is going to become an obvious hole in the Tech offense. There are some formation and setup things that can be changed, sure, but what the heart and soul of the problem is, the T-G-C-G-T. Those players are charged with exerting their will upon the players that oppose them. There is no substitute for firing out and driving the defender out of the hole.

I guess that’s why most of Hokie Nation is quietly hopeful, but reserved. There is a difficult road trip ahead. UNC is going to be a major challenge. The Hokies have shined at Lane Stadium, and not so much in Bristol. It’s not enough to keep saying that the Carolina game could change our public image stats, and potentially put Tech into the lower half of the top 25. Many of us actually wince at the thought. There is an extra week to prepare. That week is also a potentially major distraction and momentum breaker.

The 2016 season is going to be a “Prove It” sort of effort. Realism is settling in among the Hokie Nation faithful. This team has to prove itself, one game at a time, every game. The team needs to come to the next coin-toss loaded for goat.

GO Hokies!!!