It’s Thursday, and time for the Preview article for the Saturday game; but Saturday there is no game, and even Thursday is a no go. We have to wait until next Saturday when the Hokies host the Carolina Tar Heels for the Homecoming Game. There has been cubic miles of gas, fumes, and smoke blown around about the first half of the Hokies’ 2017 Season. So let’s take a look at where we are, and what is ahead of us.
Where we are is 5 wins with 1 loss. That also makes us 1-1 in the ACC (both teams are in the Atlantic so there are tie-breaker implications in that fact). How we got here is all in the various summaries of each of the games. The team, so far has developed a rather surprising personality; none. We are not an offensive powerhouse with a screaming pass game, and a line torching run game. We aren’t exactly a defensive powerhouse either, though our defense is balanced, stops the run effectively, and seems to find itself 8th in the country in total defense (Yahoo Sports) but in the individual categories nothing stands out as top notch stuff. It just all seems to blend together to present a total package that does a good job of keeping the opposition out of the end zone; though heart attacks in the red zone happen too often for my tastes.
If someone forced you to characterize the Offense, you’d be accused of bluffing if you said anything, because it’d be impossible to give a straight answer to the question. Josh Jackson has become a highly regarded freshman phenom, but the offensive play calling is almost timid. There have only been a handful of drives where the known Fuente playbook seems to have been used. The Run-Pass-Option is his preferred method, but Jackson is still only trusted with bubble screens, near scrimmage virtual pitches, and straight all run read-options. While Jackson can run, he’s nowhere near big enough for regular carries with that system, and more often than not, his runs are stuffed for few yards. Add to the odd play calling choices in regard to the personnel on the field, there doesn’t seem to be an ability to get the ball deep. Neither Cam Phillips nor Sean Savoy are speedsters; but they can run deep routes and gain separation. Are the rumblings that Jackson cannot throw the deep ball true? He sure can throw the 0-30 routes accurately, and there isn’t the willingness to push those, so other than stretching the field and keeping the Safety out of the box the deep ball doesn’t seem all that important in the grander scheme of things. Or is this Offensive coaching staff stuck on the “Grander Scheme” and just unwilling to adapt their play calling and design to the talent on hand?
The run game is also sort of working and sort of not. It’s gaining yards, but mostly in late situations, and because of the Quarterback heavy play calling style, two opportunities to score touchdowns, inside the 2 yard line, died against the BC Eagles only marginally talented defensive line. The play calling thought pattern just didn’t seem to be capable of thinking beyond the line of scrimmage. The wide side of the field might as well be a pit of quicksand. Using the short passing game sort of evaporates when the ball gets inside the 10. 1st down and goal to go with the ball on the 8 or 9 may as well be 1st down on the 20. The play calling still doesn’t push the ball past the line of scrimmage enough to score 6. The roster is listing five, even six, capable running backs; Travon McMillian, Deshawn McClease, Steven Peoples, Coleman Fox, and Jaylen Holston. Yes, Peoples has been out with an unspecified injury, but the others have all booked game time, and done pretty well with their limited snaps. There is one caveat, though. None of them should be used for tanking dive plays into a pile in the middle of the line of scrimmage. That failure was repeatedly tried by the current Boston College Offensive Coordinator which is part of the reason why he’s sporting Eagles kitsch instead of Hokie duds.
The Offensive line has actually been a pleasant surprise this season. They’ve only struggled occasionally, and with quick developing plays, and solid influence running setups, they have shown that they can do the job. The problem comes in to focus, though, when the ball gets inside that five yard dead zone. That’s when we see the glaring issue with the Virginia Tech Offensive Line, repeated year after year. Drive blocking is an adjective and gerund completely foreign sounding to them. At some point, someone, somewhere, in some parallel reality has to cross over and clue them in. The ability to get three yards, consistently, without penalties or tackles in the backfield, is going to make a difference between a win and a loss. It’s going to be 3rd and 2, when a drive must be sustained. It’ll be 4th and 1 on the goal line when we absolutely need a touchdown. Somewhere the situation is going to occur, and right now, I don’t see the Offense being able to execute that play. Paul Johnson’s offense can, and I don’t doubt that he will demonstrate, again, in a few weeks.
On the defensive side of the line of scrimmage, Virginia Tech’s decathlete style averageness is somehow working to combine otherwise tepid ratings into a surprisingly good defensive product. Our two best defensive lineman combination remains the” 4-8 defense” of Tim Settle and Ricky Walker. Settle is learning how to dominate the ‘A’ gap and do it 2 yards deep into the opponents’ backfields. Walker is always near the ball close to the line of scrimmage. Both of them are legitimate QB Sack threats, and that’s from inside Defensive players who generally aren’t set up to drop the QB deep. The Ends are still struggling a bit though. Vinny Mihota is containing, but he’s not really getting into the center of the backfield. In some cases with a moving pocket or a running QB this sort of containment pressure is tonic, so there isn’t a ton to complain about on that front. The observation comes from straight drop back passes when there is still some hesitation or stoppage when a few more feet could foil a read, or cause a pick. All in all the Defensive line has been really solid and there have been few mistakes.
The Linebackers are still “participating”. Sometimes they seem to disappear from notice. At some point in the Boston College Game I even stopped the DVR to check to see if I even saw Edwards or Motuapuaka in the play. Very often they were, but too often they were stopping a run or a pass in the 5-8 range. On the one big scoring drive of the BC 4th quarter, they almost seemed to be sleep walking. Either way, the Linebackers are going to have to stand up bigger, and Foster is going to have to add a Whip technique to the DB setup instead of a Rover. We’ll see how Miami stacks up, but two linebackers flowing too far back are going to allow Paul Johnson to march down the field 5 yards at a time around the end. This defense is still not good at keying opposing players and getting those keys engaged and stopped within 2 yards of the LOS. That’s a problem against an option offense.
The defensive backfield has been solid if not a shade toward impressive. Calling it Stellar would be too far and get laughed off the page, quickly. Some of the problems are due to the mild injury bug floating around. The two game loss of Adonis Alexander to rule violation issues was painful but it did force Foster to bring in some new folks to deal with coverage. The biggest hole that #DBU has is the 2-10 yard space under the zones and the seams between them; all in that LOS to 10 bubble. It doesn’t happen all the time, but in critical situations opposing offenses have gotten the necessary yards via passes in those areas, some of them in the 3-4 second execution zone. Defending against this sort of pass often falls on the rush to break the QB’s rhythm and make him check-down to other less optimal routes. Whether or not you actually get the associated pass covered, an unchallenged QB is going to cut the Hokies apart with those types of pass plays.
So, with the last six games, all of them Coastal Division and all must win affairs, how does it go? This is all about estimated odds as to whether or not we can win the game. Not scores or special considerations. It’s just a raw do we have a chance to win and why:
- University of North Carolina 3:30 Oct 21 at Lane - We can take this one, Carolina is terrible this season, and it is a very winnable game.
- Duke University TBA Oct 28 at Lane – Duke is getting up off the mat, but still a very beatable team.
- Miami TBA Nov 4 at Coral Gables – Miami is dangerous, at home, and well coached. Tech can win it, but we are going to be the dogs for this one. The odds guys will probably be right, this year.
- Georgia Tech TBA Nov 11 at Bobby Dodd – We have the better team, the better defense, and a serious case of the “DUHs” when we face Paul Johnson and his cracked triple option monster. We can win this one, and we should, but it’s a pick ‘em where the odds will change depending on how we did at Miami and who is able to play.
- Pitt at Lane TBA Nov 18 – Pitt isn’t good this season, it doesn’t mean that they can’t scare the bejabbers out of the Senior night crowd, but I figure the odds guys will be favoring Tech by more than a few.
- As is usual UVA will be the last game of the season and the most frightening possibility of all; that a possibly beaten up and exhausted Virginia Tech Hokies Team won’t win the regular season finale in Scott Stadium on 24 November. The Hoos are playing better this season, much better. The embarrassment of the last years will be heavy on every Cavalier attitude. I don’t see it happening just yet, but it’s there looming like the waft of a large skunk encountering a way too curious hound dog.
So Let’s ask the obvious question:
What will the Hokies’ record be on November 25th?
This poll is closed
8 - 4
9 - 3
10 - 2
11 - 1
Think hard, there could be surprises, both good and bad. Of course it’s just a guess. One thing is for sure, this season the Hokies are not out of any more games. We are competitive in all of them, and that’s all we can really ask for.