Are you a football fan? No, that’s not a crazy question. Are you a hardcore football fan? You buy tickets for your kids’ high school football games, even if they have all graduated, because it’s what you do on a cold crisp Fall Friday evening. You attend a solid season of Division III games for a school you didn’t even know had a football team, until your son decided to play tuba in the marching band. You even have this dream of seeing the game from the sideline. Hearing the coaches bark orders, and the players connect with solid tackles; that strange thud and plastic clack that happens when humans and equipment get crunched up and make contact with mother Earth; that kind of football fan.
Well, we have a treat this season, and as it progresses, Gobbler Country writers will be doing a stint on the sideline. We’ll be taking pictures, some of which can’t be published but serve as notes for the game wraps and pieces that will come out over the next week, and publishing the stuff that we can show you. That might sound sort of limited, but without being down on the field, in the direct line of sight for the players you just can’t understand what’s going on. You know that open receiver that you spotted that the QB missed and it was as obvious as a fish slapping him in the face? Well, if you see it from the field, in a forest of moving bodies, the receiver that you saw wide open with a touchdown waiting, looked like a 300 pound defensive end doing his best impression of an angry grizzly bear.
The adventure of a football lifetime started at 10:00 am on Saturday. The media need to get to the stadium early, to check in, get their assigned seats in the Press Box, and get read in on some of the goings on for the season. There are reminders of press rules, what you can report, or can’t report. You can note great plays, but electronic media are prohibited from doing a live play-by-play. Hey folks, that’s the law and the contracts that are signed by Virginia Tech, the ACC, and the broadcast media. We are all guests of the Virginia Tech Athletic Department and have agreed to follow the rules. So, when you see us on line at games, or get occasional observations from the sideline, they will be under the reporting rules that are allowed. We, here at GobblerCountry.com just wanted you to know those rules up front.
So, where’d that put me the old 57 year old Hokie toting a camera so that he could remember things that he saw and give some notes and observations that made sense?
First, please allow me to explain the outline of what you see on television and what is going on for the field layout. The sidelines at Lane stadium are pretty tight. Once the benches, cooling fans, tables of drinks, therapy equipment are in place it shrinks the available non-essential persons route to a tiny cow path over a route covered with wires. It’s about 4 feet wide back there, no kidding. I think I tripped over the workout bike several times as I made my way back and forth.
The media stop and observe stations are roughly the East 25 yard line (more like the 20 if Joey is practicing –more about that later --) around the end zone to the West 25 yard line. This is for both North and South sides of the stadium. You’d think that was limited, except that’s where the scoring happens. Believe me, don’t get a cramp – either brain or leg behind the bench as you are moving back and forth, or someone will politely remind you to move along and ask you if you know what you’re doing. At least don’t get caught in the middle of going one way, and then having to stop reverse course in the flow and go the other.
The pictures that you will see are the permitted non-action shots of the sideline, and the setup before the game, and any non-action goings on in the stands. Of course I got some ‘knucks’ and a bit of recognition from the Hokie Bird.
As I left Josh in the Press Box after a lunch of burgers, beans, and potato salad, I headed down to the field to grab some prep shots for this report. The stadium is loud, even when it’s not filled with screaming fans. But as the countdown of the rosters hit, and then the national anthem played, there was a strange anticipation in the air. The first sound that you feel is the thrum of the subwoofer as they open up the pots. The crescendo builds as the captains run unto the field, and the Highty-Tighties and the designated members of the Corps and cheer squads all line up on either side of the tunnel where the Hokie Bird conducts the frenzy. The first LET’S GO!!!! HOKIES!!! is not as loud as the background pulses from the speakers; but as the third or fourth round approaches, there is nothing else that can be heard in Lane Stadium. The last chorus of HOKIES!!! starts the guitar riff of “Enter Sandman” and the ground starts to vibrate with the air. Every other thing is drowned completely out as the climax bars of the Sandman vamp hit and the Coach and first players jump up to slap the Hokie Stone and burst out of the tunnel.
I can tell you first hand, that there were some players whose eyes where wide as saucers and their smiles were big enough to crack the most granite of football faces.
After the entrance, though, things get started in a hurry. The entrance starts at right around 5 minutes before kickoff, and no time is wasted getting set up.
The first half was interesting enough. I hadn’t made my way down past the bench to the south side of the field yet, before the defensive stop of Liberty on their first series. It was like watching three rapid pile ups, and then a collective sigh of disappointment as the Flames got their first down after a 3rd and two. Okay, I am not forgetting something. That first down was only after three procedural offensive penalties. The crowd was that loud. Liberty could not hear the signals, and they were even having problems communicating with their sideline. The crowd would plague them all game, and if the Hokie 12th man keeps it up, every visiting team is going to have the same sorts of problems this season.
What folks didn’t really get to see from the stands was the offensive frustration going on with some basic timing and footwork. Jerod Evans is clearly the leader of the offense, but for what were probably a raft of intangibles; he was having some issues with throwing off his back foot, and keeping control of the football. Tech also had some stinky bad luck when a shanked punt hit a tech coverage player in the back, and Stroman was forced to try to grab the ball. That happened right in front of me, and the problem that I “heard” was nothing. There was no “PETER” call or no time for one, with the tiny amount of time the ball stayed in the air. Well Evans would eventually get his feet up underneath him, by late in the 2nd quarter, and the punt coverage squad ended up doing a good job. The two Flame punts that caught us inside the 10 were just flat out good punts. Stroman did exactly the right thing and stayed away.
There were a couple of really impressive plays that seeing from the field made all the more spectacular. Bucky’s touchdown reception in the left corner of the north end zone was nearly perfect. He broke the wheel route out of the slot up the field and laid out for the ball that was thrown where no one else could catch it. That, I would suspect, was a hint of what we are going to see this season, as Hodges transitions from Tight End to Wide Receiver/Slot Receiver/Motion Receiver. Fuente is going to force man coverage on a 6’7” man who can run routes like a wide out. Single coverage on Bucky is going to be about as useless as putting the hydration specialists in for the defensive line.
Yes, the offense sputtered a bit early, but the operations from the sideline were relatively smooth, there was solid communication from the sideline, there were no mistakes in substitutions (last year’s major drive killing screw-up), and the players were getting lined up and through their motions smoothly without a whole lot of perceived hesitation or confusion.
There is just not much to say about the defense other than… hoot hoot… The big question for Bud Foster will be what is going to happen when Adonis Alexander is back in, given Greg Stroman’s stellar performance at Cornerback for the Liberty Game? My guess is that Stroman and Alexander are swapped in an out, with all three Corners on (Facyson, Alexander, and Stroman) for special Nickel situations. (Remember a Nickel is a three coverage back formation giving you five pass coverage players deep – they can be a mixture of Cornerbacks, Safeties, or Outside Linebackers depending on the defense.)
The defensive line is a solid two deep configuration with all eight linemen capable of handling their positions. There will be some interesting opportunities for all of them this season. Coach Foster was very positive about that aspect in the interview room, but you could really see the work on the sideline as linemen shifted in and out in sort of salad mixing bowl formations. As we suspected, what started was not indicative of who played and how much he played.
Oh, and that note about the kicking nets as boundaries for the media sections on the sideline needs a quick comment. BOOM!!! Okay, folks, Joey Slye does, indeed, hate footballs. I was not paying attention to my immediate right, while setting up to observe a play going toward the north end zone. Joey teed up the practice holder and lit off a boomer right into the net, and the concussion startled the stuffing out of me and got my ears ringing. If there is anything else that you see or feel on the sideline it’s how hard a kicker hits the ball. Joey managed 100% touchbacks this game he missed 6 inches right on a 53 yarder from the right hash. Joey got to fix that, it’s going to cost us, because it will it always will.
More from the home sidelines as we learn and get better with the team.