The dust has settled. The reality that no one much cared that we won, other than us, has sort of dawned on many people in Hokie Nation. There weren’t many stories, and those that cropped up were mostly from sites like ours. None of the sports media cared a wit about the game or the result. The Miami loss to the Wahoos was definitely more “bleedy” than a dramatic come from behind win in Chapel Hill by the 3-0 in the ACC Coastal Division leading Hokies. The Hoos showed up with a couple of AP votes, and we got a goose egg, there. They even got one more vote in the pathetic range than we did in the Amway Coaches’ Poll.
The semi-bye week setting the stage for the Thursday night home showdown with Georgia Tech is going to be a series of evenings and weekend full of crickets chirping. Maybe someone will pick up on the fact that Georgia Tech will be “the contest” of Virginia Tech’s season, not the anticipated Miami game that will come a bit later in the season.
We need to look at why the NCAA football world looked right past the ACC Coastal Division leader’s window to peak into the #2 team’s (The Hoos). There are some items coming out of the UNC game that might be worth discussing; the Hokies won, they played a complete game, and came up big when they needed to. This is not a trivial feat, and it was done on someone else’s home turf. That is not insignificant.
The first takeaway item is always the first “thing” that counts. We won the football game. Football is like that. Games defy statistics because the games are played by teams of young men coached by older more experienced men. That means that all of the “numbers” pushed into various guess factories and prognostication engines ultimately don’t mean a thing until after the teams settle it out on the field.
Last Saturday evening, Virginia Tech took the field in Chapel Hill with a good representation of Hokie Nation in the stands, and a game plan that had some promise. Larry Fedora’s Tar Heel team took the field with an NCAA gift allowing a star suspended player back (DE Malik Carney) on to the field, a different Quarterback than was expected, and a really bad attitude.
Tech’s slide away from the Notre Dame disappointment didn’t seem to have an effect in the opening series for each team. After that initial 5 minutes of excitement, the Tech Offense struggled to cross mid-field for nearly 3 quarters. Tech would rely on its exceedingly young and often struggling defense to keep the Heels from scoring or at least scoring big. Given the implications the game didn’t even turn until the shock Carolina fumble deep in Tech territory. At some point some photographer has to have a picture of the ball sitting on the right hash at the 2. The rest will be part of Hokie History, and if the season stabilizes and moves along might be the defining period for the 2018 team.
The second point picks right up from where the first left off. The Hokies played a “complete” game. Let’s look at that for just a minute before you get the wrong impression. By complete, I mean that this was not a dominant game, all three phases of the game had to play the entire game. There was no “garbage time”. There was little room for mistakes and when those mistakes were made they couldn’t be written off. Those plays had to be chased down and stopped before the score got out of control. The Hokie Defense bent, often way too far for any comfort, but it kept Carolina out of the end zone every time they broke a big play. Someone was there to chase down the unfortunate result of the blown coverage or the poor interior tackling on a breakaway. The Red Zone Defense kept the UNC scoring to a minimum including critical Field Goal misses. The offense did eventually manage to get up off of the turf, and drive the ball into the end zone to get the score down to a manageable 14-16 deficit. Carolina would only managed 3 more points on a critical stalled drive. It would take a miracle turnover attributable to a solid “hat on ball” defensive play by Tyree Rogers to pop the ball free for Jovonn Quillen to grab it and hang on at the Hokie 2. (I wish that he could have gotten the handle on it in the end zone for the touchback.) It took an 18 play 98 yard series and the entire Tech Offensive Toolbox open to finish, so that’s what I mean by a complete game.
There is the old saw that says “I’d rather be lucky than good”. Maybe it’d be better said, “it’s good to be lucky”; and that goes with “luck is what you make it”. In any of those various concepts, luck is still there. The Hokies were sporting some serious luck on Saturday evening. Carolina quarterbacks both missed wide open receivers. The Tar Heel receivers might have benefited from some Belitnikoffian stick ‘um. Like all things football, though, those sorts of lucky events go both ways. I am sure that Damon Hazelton wanted that pass over the middle back. It hit him in stride, ricocheted off of something, and bounced into the arms of the very beaten Carolina defender. There were a few passes where the Carolina quarterbacks came within serious pick danger. The point is that luck bounces both ways in a ball game, and as it were “luck is what you make it” fits best, here. Ryan Willis has wheels, and used them. He finally spotted Eric Kumah who, when balanced with Hazelton, is going to be a brutal possession receiver. Sean Savoy distinguished himself, and even demonstrated a little run power himself, with a classic stiff arm before scoring a touchdown.
There was that wicked behind the back one armed grab by Steven Peoples (who proved that he’s a serious receiver out of the backfield, again) and the clutch 4th down conversion by Willis who again got on his horse and shocked the Tar Heel defensive backfield. Then there was finally the 3rd down and 1 play-action reverse flow 1 yard flip to Dalton Keene for the winning touchdown. (Brad Cornelsen heard me yelling at my television to go to Keene... I’m so proud... Wink... Wink...) Tech didn’t get many breaks in this one, but what they did get, won them the game.
Now the obvious part of this pile of stuff is the begged question of what do these three complex “good things” mean in the grander scheme of things? There is no point in pontificating about sealing the deal and ripping up the rest of the opposition due to our amazing head of steam to cruise into the ACC Championship game. That is premature by more than a few games, and it certainly would be an unrealistically brazen prediction.
We all should take Coaches Fuente and Foster at their word. This is not the team for dreaming “down the garden path”. This is a group of freshmen (4 burned redshirts played on Saturday) and sophomores with a sprinkling of more experienced players. Each game is going to mean preparation for that game and no other. There can be no looking beyond to some supposed other contest. The Virginia Tech Hokies must concentrate on the game right in front of them, and prepare to do just what they did against UNC. In reverse order, Tech must take advantage of every break, and create those breaks whenever they can. They must play each game completely from start to finish by leaving every ounce of effort on the field; and above all they have to innovate. The winning formula will be different for each opponent. There is no “cookie cutter” that will present the same challenges week to week.
Thursday, the Hokies take on Georgia Tech at Lane Stadium. Paul Johnson’s ancient offense has been the bane of Bud Foster’s defenses for what seems like decades, now (actually it’s been 10 years but it just feels like forever). What’s even more annoying is that Justin Fuente’s offenses have been sub-par for both of his meetings with the Yellow Jackets. Everyone knows that the keys to defeating that wishbone offshoot are to outscore it and keep it off the field. That’s going to be the challenge for the Hokies next Thursday evening. There will be more to this part of the analysis over then next week and a half.
Each week will be a new challenge and there are no walk-overs.