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‘Out-of-Conference Schedule’ Awards

While Tech has one out of conference game left and has played an ACC game, let’s take a look at the big themes and performers of the first third of the season.

East Carolina v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Virginia Tech has completed its first four games, giving us at least a look into what exactly this team is or can be. Granted, outside of Tennessee, we haven’t played anyone of significant note- ECU counts on a personal level, but isn’t some big team, and BC still doesn’t have an offense that I’m aware of. And in Tennessee, well, to put it politely, we pooped all over ourselves in an effort to give away what started as a very winnable game. So the statistics will be odd and cockeyed, and most of the winners will come in games and performances that were, well, ultimately successful. But I want to take a look at and hand out some hardware in our first third of the season, and maybe pull back the curtain a little on some trends developing in this offense and defense so far.

Offensive MVP

Nominees:

Jerod Evans (69-103, 970 yards, 9.42YPA, 13 TDs, 1 INT, 40 attempts- 209 yards total, 5.2YPC, 1 TD. 3 fumbles, 3 lost)

Isaiah Ford (24-376, 15.7 average, 4TD, 1 attempt, 1 yard, 0-1 passing)

Winner: Jerod Evans

Okay, so this was essentially a two-man race since Fuente parcels out carries like one would candy at Halloween. The best running back is Travon, as to be expected, but the bulk of his yardage came on that amazing 69 yard run against Tennessee (more on that later). Jerod Evans is the answer to the question, in so many different ways. All of us Hokies fans looked at his ludicrous junior college stats and wondered what the heck we were going to get. It was like someone was behind the sticks of an NCAA football game that actually included junior colleges. 3,164 yards, 62% completions, 38TDs, and 3INTs. That’s ridiculous. And the weird thing is that if he keeps pace and plays 13 games, right now he’s on track for 3,153 yards, 67% completions, 42TDs, and 3INTs. Look, that’s not going to happen. The interception total is going to rise as we face better defenses with more consistent talent. He’s already fumbled 3 times, it’s bound to happen again- though hopefully without the frequency. Granted, one could argue that of those fumbles, one was on a stupid option pitch he won’t make again, and two were on strip sacks. The snap over his head and the play exchange with CJ Carroll I believe are recorded on Tech’s website as ‘team’ fumbles. Regardless, outside of the occasional turnover (and that INT was more Isaiah Ford not catching the pass rather than him throwing a dumb shot downfield or over the middle or whatnot), Evans has proven to be every bit as good as his billing was. He’s currently the only player in all of the NCAA to have thrown for more than 12 TDs with only 1 interception, and of those quarterbacks with over 100 attempts, he’s only behind Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes in quarterback rating- fourth in the nation by all attempts.

Oh, and this. This was awesome.

Now if he could just ‘complete the freaking deep ball’…

Defensive MVP

Nominees:

Ken Ekanem: 17 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss of 29 yards, 4.5 sacks for loss of 28 yards, 1 break up, 1 pass defended, 5 QB hurries, half of a safety.

Andrew Motuapuaka: 37 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss of 7 yards, .5 sack for loss of 2 yards, 1 break up, 1 pass defended, 3 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery for 9 yards.

Tremaine Edmunds: 21 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss of 17 yards, 1.5 sacks for loss of 8 yards, 3 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, half of a safety.

Winner: Ken Ekanem

Let’s go with the vet. Ken’s been terrorizing left tackles all year, and its showing. He’s already equaled his sack total from last year, and there’re still plenty of games to be played. Considering the youth across from him- Vinny Mihota being the other starter, and he’s only a redshirt sophomore- and next to him sometimes (Ricky Walker and Tim Settle), Ken’s been a nightmare. He’s also pretty frank with his answers, and, well, getting ACC defensive lineman of the week in 1 of 4 weeks so far sure helps. He’s not on track for those desired 16 sacks, but hey, he could get ¾ of the way there, and that’s not half bad at all. Right now he’s going from a draft afterthought to maybe a later round flier- multi-year starter at major university that it clicked with in the last year. So what if one of the sacks was lucky? Luck happens. Special mention to Moto, though, as he’s secretly been super productive for a Virginia Tech linebacker. Usually it’s some safety leading our tacklers, and he’s definitely done a better job of cleaning up than he was this time last year. He’s built on the end of last year and apparently a good spring and fall practice- and he’s still only a redshirt junior. He’ll be the big leader of this team next year.

Breakout Player(s)

Nominees:

Tremaine Edmunds: 21 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss of 17 yards, 1.5 sacks for loss of 8 yards, 3 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, half of a safety.

Mook Reynolds: 13 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss of 6 yards, 1 interception for 3 yards, 2 break-ups, 3 passes defended, 1 QB Hurry

Ricky Walker/Tim Settle: 13 total tackles, 5 tackles for loss of 12 yards, 2 break ups, 2 passes defended, 1 QB hurry, 1 FG block

Winner: Tim Settle/Ricky Walker

Why am I not going with Tremaine Edmunds? Um, more because what effect I expected from Tremaine is actually what I’m getting. With his size and athleticism, and from what I saw in limited time last year, I actually pegged him as a high ceiling player. What I’m happy with is that we’ve got two four star defensive tackles on the inside that can spell an already fairly solid defensive middle of Nigel Williams and Woody Baron. Also, Bud places more importance on defensive line depth and rotation. For his scheme, it’s more important that his defensive line can swap in and out, and the fact that both Ricky and Tim can contribute without us missing a beat, that’s pretty nice. Edmunds wins for individual performance, but schematic importance gives this fight to the boys in the middle. It’s especially going to be important against Pitt and Georgia Tech to stuff the A-gap. We can plug with 4, not just 2, and that’s a bonus.

First Four Game Mystery:

Inefficient running game: 4.2 ypc average (89th nationally), 782 yards (T-43rd nationally), 188 attempts (T-15th nationally)

Fumbleitis: 9 fumbles lost (1st in the nation), 0 fumbles since second game

Receiver Depth?: Outside of Ford/Phillips/Hodges: (25 of 76 receptions by players other than top three receivers. Fourth leading receiver is Sam Rogers, then CJ Carroll and Travon McMillian).

Winner: Inefficient running game

Look, we knew that the depth at receiver was bad, and that wasn’t going to fix itself in a day. The fumbleitis seems to have gone away for now- some of them were just plain fluky plays that are rare occurences that just happened a couple times too many for our liking. Center snap over someone’s head, and two bad punts turning into fumbles? Take that away and while it’s not a great 6, it’s better than 9. I’m more concerned about our inability to punch out yards on the ground. Contrary to some fans’ beliefs, Justin Fuente DOES like running the ball. In fact, he’s trying it plenty. We’re just not getting anywhere doing it. Part of that is made up for through sheer volume and great plays, but anyone watching this team knows that the biggest problem is we can’t run a dive play to save our lives. Granted, and this is a slightly unsolicited opinion, but running dives out of shotgun formation is always a bit dicey- the runner has to go in the wrong direction to receive the handoff and then has to run right into the A-gap where the biggest and most hard to move people are. Now, we’ve faced teams that have loaded up against the run and attacked the line of scrimmage. Okay, sure, dare us to win with Jerod Evans. Been working great for everyone else so far. But the other potential explanation is the continuous shuffling of the offensive line in the middle- the Gallo/Chung and Teller/Pettit revolving door is NOT conducive to offensive line chemistry. I believe that they’ve FINALLY settled on things with Gallo and Teller getting the VAST majority of the snaps against ECU, but we’ll see how it does against ACC teams from here on out.

Overall season so far: B+

Positives:

  1. Evans looks like the guy from here on out, and that looks to be a great thing. He’s rolling everyone and outside that one stupid fumble in the Liberty game and the iffy double coverage throw against Boston College that turned out well, he doesn’t make dumb mistakes or poor throws over the middle like we’ve been accustomed to.
  2. Isaiah Ford is a monster. We can leave it at that.
  3. Defense is still playing solidly, especially with the large turnover in the front 7.
  4. Fumbleitis seems to be back under control
  5. Offense actually looks snappy and like it has a plan and directive, and line is not giving up a ton of sacks (5 in 4 games is a decent rate). Shout-out to Yosuah Nijman and J-Mac for being solid tackles this year, and Augie Conte being solid as well.
  6. Young playmakers on defense like the Edmunds brothers, Mook Reynolds, and the two defensive tackles make the future of the team bright on that side of the ball.
  7. We haven’t burned the redshirt on Josh Jackson unnecessarily. I still think he’s the future, and it’s not close.

Negatives:

  1. That Tennessee game, though. FIVE FUMBLES. WOOF. Didn’t expect to win but did the loss have to come like that?
  2. Inefficient ground game tends to bog down offense, especially on early downs.
  3. Rotation along offensive line not inspiring a ton of confidence.
  4. Pass distribution is still spotty, but that’s more nitpicking than anything.

There’s still plenty to complement and complain about- it’s a football team, and an imperfect one at that. Does this stretch of four games and the current woes of our opponents make me rethink my season total? Maybe. Notre Dame looks vulnerable as all get out, and UNC and Pitt aren’t playing inspiring defense. Miami hasn’t really played anyone yet. UVA just got its first win, and Duke and Georgia Tech, while potentially dangerous, aren’t overly so. If we run out the string and go 6-2 or 5-3 in the final 8 games, ending with a 9-3 or 8-4 record sure feels both like a justifiable result AND exceeding expectations. We’ll see how it plays out.