There are just times when your team doesn't win a football game. Ask Ohio State and Georgia Tech what happened to them last weekend. They were shootouts (or in GT's case, a run out) with little effective defense and scoring explosions everywhere. Within Hokie Nation, there were big sessions of disappointed hand wringing and "I told you so-ing" after Tech's disappointing loss to Miami. Well when the offense just can't seem to get rolling, something is going to give somewhere.
The net effect on Tech’s college rankings was not too terrible given the results of the game, however. The Hokies did drop, as expected, in both polls, but both the AP voters and Coaches put Virginia Tech at a rational #17. That's not terrible considering everything.
Now for the other news; we are officially done with the first 3/4's of the season and the Virginia Tech Hokies, rebuilding after the loss of three critical early-out critical offensive players are something of a pleasant surprise.
Please, everyone put away that heady emotion and dismal "realism" and get back to actual realism. When we first started looking at this new configuration the Hokies had a new coach heading into the first off-season where the team's destiny was fully in his hands.
Justin Fuente had to solve three very thorny issues:
An Inexperienced Quarterback Everywhere He Looked
First and the most disappointing problem that cropped up for Fuente is that he lost his starting quarterback and had to rapidly replace him with what he had on hand. He reached out to a transfer, A.J. Bush, and then started shaking the Beamer era bench for a capable replacement. Physically Bush was the better candidate to replace Jerod Evans. He was closer to Evans’s size, speed, and playing style. However, he presented a blocking and play pattern configuration issue because he was left handed. That makes a real difference folks, truthfully. There was also the talented and smart redshirt Freshman Josh Jackson. Jackson presented a more classic QB prototype with good pocket and footwork skills, a reasonably accurate arm and a load of family football knowledge to go with his physical talents.
The problems were still sort of difficult for the Fuente/Cornelsen offense, though. Jackson can out run me; that's for sure. He is not particularly fast though; nor is he overwhelmingly powerful. That means his run threat level is very low to modest which means the Fuente Bread and Butter "Cheeto" Option-Read Play is almost always going to result in low yardage. The defense is going to crash the running back and clean up the slower QB as an afterthought. There was also something about Jackson that kept creeping into the conversation besides his lack of game experience; his arm strength for the defense stretching deep ball. For whatever reason, the kid could throw a laser dart out to 35 yards, but if the ball had any air under it, he might as well have been throwing a balloon. Deep throws were not accurate, and they certainly had no real terminal velocity left over. We have the winner of that contest having serious game experience, but solving few of the problems that showed up early. There is still the "regression" buzz going on - but we'll chalk that background noise to disappointment over the loss of the Coastal. The final three games could give Josh Jackson a chance to ‘up his game’ and seal the deal as the solution to the starting Quarterback problem. Or there will be another real competition next season only the new guy will be a beefed up, schooled, Hendon Hooker, not A.J. Bush.
Fuente could go farther to help Jackson if he (the Coach) wants Jackson driving the bus well for the remainder of the season. The Option-Read is not working, and now everyone really knows that. It's time to go to a two back set for runs and do what we suggested in the pre-season run up. Adjust Josh Jackson's offense to be a more classic RPO with a moving pocket to take advantage of his good eyes and passing under the zone. That means using Tight Ends and more Slot receivers in the seams and down the middle. Yeah... It’s a tough area to operate but Jackson's best passes that gain big yards have been in the seam routes and mid-range crossing routes. He needs to read his progressions Up to successively deeper routes, not out to in. The next thing to help young Mr. Jackson is a running game.
A Problematic Running Game with No Consistency Continuing from 2016
Next, Virginia Tech's offense is still not running the ball effectively. The Miami game was better on the number of attempts, and there were "ok" results on 1st and 2nd downs; BUT in 3rd down and short, the run game was poop. That's about the lamest expression that I can put there on a family web side, and get the point across. I understand the new offensive theories and styles are more pass oriented, often pushing 2/3'ds of the plays called, but those passes are often short of the line of scrimmage or at the line of scrimmage and amount to "option pitches" anyway. The end results have been so mediocre that you begin to wonder just what is going through the offensive coaches’ minds from play to play; not just game to game. Is there a list of "that didn't work" so long that the total number of available play calls is reduced to a 2000 Madden NFL playbook? I can't answer that specifically, I can only answer according to what I see a frame at a time on the camera and replays on the DVR.
Fuente's run game is hurting because the plays develop too slowly and it’s too predictable. His offense depends on the run and pass plays being interchangeable options on any one play, and the associated unpredictability that comes with that ability to do either in any situation. It's like a quality four-pitch starting pitcher in baseball. He can throw any pitch in any count for exactly what he wants... that combination drives batters nuts and gets lots of outs. Well, in football being able to pass on 1st down, and run on 3rd... and still move the sticks is pure gold. Our running game is having difficulty doing that with the current personnel in the mix.
Steven Peoples is a solid back with good explosive power off of the first cut, but he's also struggling with an injury that will not get better. Travon McMillian has been working hard, but he's a finesse back who needs some room to develop runs and some time to find the creases in the zone blocking scheme. Too often he's running into the pile instead of cutting around it. Deshaun McClease is quick, he's fast to the hole, and finds some space on slants, counters, and traps, but he's too small for the power runs. The most successful single back of the season has been Salem High School's 2nd generation Hokie Coleman Fox. I am not sure why we don't see more of Fox; his limited snaps have provided solid results. He's excellent on that wheel, roll and flip that Brewer and Evans pulled off so well with Sam Rogers. He's a good inside runner because he's really good at picking the open crease, changing gears and cutting around trouble. We didn't even see him for the Miami game and I'd have thought by the beginning of the 2nd half that Fuente would be trying about anything to get some momentum going.
An "explosive offense" requires of it the ability to get 3-4 yards on the ground no matter the circumstances. Most often those circumstances are third down and 3 yards to go. Right now, the Hokie Running game cannot get the ball past the line of scrimmage in those situations. It's too slow to develop, and needs to run out of an I formation, not 4 yards deep in some pistol variation. Right now, the back needs to get five yards to gain two, on a delay. That's just not going to cut it.
Running to the outside is also a cause for major heartburn. The first issue is the formation and field location issues that are becoming almost odd. We run too high a percentage of plays to the short side of the field. You'd think that the other team has laid a mine field out there. Stretch and sweep plays to the short side are stuffed by the most effective tackler on every defense; running out of bounds. There are more plays than I can count that probably would have gained enough yards given a few more yards of stretch. That error needs to be corrected. This offenses right hand bias is powerfully strong and now opponents are going to take advantage of it. Maybe A.J. Bush is a real option at this point.
The unfortunate reality is that the Hokie running game is not working; and there just doesn't seem to be anything being done about it. I am not saying the coaches aren't trying, but I am just not seeing it. We certainly aren't seeing anything that demonstrates that effective adjustments are being made.
Only One Experienced Receiver and Lots of Noobies
Third and finally, the passing game took a nearly fatal hit from the receiving side due to the loss of Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. Ford was a mild surprise and Hodges was expected, but there are few people who would argue against a Jerod Evans to the trio of Ford, Phillips and Hodges offense, no matter what the blocking or running looked like. The Clemson and Miami games would have looked decidedly different, and the slow starts wouldn’t have been there let alone not being an issue. There was just too much downfield potential in that combination. I would even estimate that a Josh Jackson quarterbacked team with those three targets down field would have been tonic without the dual threat nature of Evans. That’s all water on the proverbial bridge, and we will never get to see what could have been in 2016 with an experienced 2016 offense.
So, where could the staff start looking for the talent to fill in? Cam Phillips was a natural start. He’s gifted (probably a better receiver than Isaiah Ford) and a natural leader. He’s got the good natured brashness that pulls along younger talent. Phillips was balanced by a nicely improved C.J Carroll in the slot, and Chris Cunningham at a very mobile Tight End position. Of course, then there were the Freshmen. Now before we get too deep, please understand that all of the kids (and wow are they kids!) being mentioned here are going to be amazing as they mature and gain game experience. Sophomore, Eric Kumah along with Freshmen Sean Savoy, and Hezekiah Grimsley have all had serious snap time. Each of them has strengths; but experience is something that they are just gaining. Savoy has had to endure personal tragedy to add to the pressure. The net effect is a receiving corps that is brand new and sometimes the concentration involved in catches under pressure isn’t quite there yet. I’m sure that most of those names would be redshirts if we hadn’t lost so much.
Some of the inexperience is also showing in pattern development and choices. There are too many cases of routes not getting beyond the first down marker, or being broken off too early. Several times it was obvious that Jackson thought the read was for a certain route, and the receiver ran a variation in which the timing and location broke down. Well, that’s something that only practice and repetitions will cure. The last couple of games were not helped by the lack of any C.J. Carroll participation. Carroll is critical for getting those passes on digs and drags just beyond the sticks. Hopefully he’s back on the active roster for the last few games. True Freshman Dalton Keane has made a big impression, and he’s a regular feature in the H-Back position. He doesn’t get many targets, though. It’s not for lack of his skill, it’s mostly because he’s needed to block. That’s something that will need to be cured, as well. As a general observation the receiving has been average to just above average for an experienced team, but over-all it’s been a surprise that will definitely grow in quality over the next season or two.
The Hokie Offense was a work in progress at the mid-season check in. That status still has not changed. The entire squad is young and short on experience. Both conditions are changing over the season, and Spring will be interesting as the 2018 team begins to jell.
That’s the 2018 team, though. There are still three big football games for this team to settle in and get back to that steady improvement necessary to finish the 2017 season on a high note. Georgia Tech is not the same team that it was last season; Pitt, is, and Virginia is definitely NOT. None of them are going to be push overs. Georgia Tech’s offense is a problem for Bud Foster’s defense and there was no extra time to work out dealing with the option. That preview is coming. Pitt is the last home game, and the Seniors are going to be up for it. Then there is Bronco Mendenhall’s bowl eligible and ready for some hot revenge Cavaliers.
This team has the potential of winning the remainder of its games. That’s amazing considering that most of the skill positions on the offense are true Freshmen, redshirt Freshmen and a scattering of upperclassmen.
I promised before the season started that I’d tell you what I thought the record would be for the season. I keep my promises, so here goes: (These were my pre-season guesses, not my predictions for each game)
- West Virginia - Loss
- Delaware – Win
- ECU – Win
- ODU – Win
- Clemson – Loss
- BC – Win
- UNC – Win
- Duke – Loss
- Miami – Loss
- Georgia Tech – Loss
- Pitt – Win
- UVA – Win
The Hokies have gotten to my anticipated 7 wins before the last three games of the season. Again, the Hokies can win out. It’s not going to be easy, but they can do it.
Next we’ll talk about the Defense tomorrow.
So I thought it was going to be 7-5 and that’s now the floor. What do you think the record will be after Thanksgiving?
This poll is closed