It’s a quiet Columbus Day (sorta) holiday and there was an entire Sunday to think about the Notre Dame Game. It’s also my extra quiet opportunity to edit pictures. This set was a shade over 3100 jpegs so it’s taking some time to go through everything. I have 59 in the ready pile, and haven’t even gotten through the 3rd play series of the game. That’s just part of my job in this venture, however. There is the analyst’s portion and the heavier hitting articles will start coming out this evening and into Wednesday.
What I wanted to say was something quite simple. Now is not the time to panic. It’s not even time to be disappointed. Yes, losing the game was painful. It is always painful to lose a game when there were chances to win it, but there is a huge measure of perspective necessary in this transitional season.
Yes, we are on that cart again. The Gobbler Country crew thinks that this is a “No Expectations” transitional season. The end result of 2018 does not have to be a dismal mess, but it was always unrealistic to expect more than a solid effort and a push for a decent bowl. What we have is a notch up from that and therefore a very pleasant surprise. We are still 2-0 in a struggling ACC with the remainder of our schedule being entirely ACC foes; all of whom we match up against well. There is ample room for optimism. Let’s look at five reasons why we should be cautiously optimistic at the mid-point.
- The team is unified and the coaching staff has gotten the “issues” locked down. The players understand their roles on the field, and on the sidelines. The coaches have made it abundantly clear that star status does not mean immunity from consequences for actions for behavior in both locations. Far from being demoralized, the team is rallying up to program expectations. With the age and experience level so limited, the “ceiling” for this group of players is high, and the floor has already been reached. They are in good shape, now, and only look to improve over the next 6 games.
- Our quarterback situation is excellent. Analytically it’s actually slightly better than it was. Ryan Willis made a couple of obvious mistakes in the Notre Dame game, but very few – the most obvious was that he tried to do too much when he should have tossed the ball out of bounds past the line of scrimmage on that scoop and score fumble. That’s a problem most coaches will “work with”. The loss of the 7 points was painful, but the roaring comeback masterful touchdown series with less than a minute and a half left in the half was salve for the wound. Willis is going to turn out to be a fine quarterback for the remainder of the season. Damon Hazelton, Phil Patterson, Sean Savoy, and Eric Kumah are just a few of the excellent receivers on the other end of Willis’s arm. This offense can score points, that’s completely new for us.
- The defense has loads of new talent that we’ll be talking about with great regularity over the next three seasons. Names like Dax Hollifield, Rayshard Ashby, Dylan Rivers, Kahlil Ladler, Caleb Farley, Reggie Floyd, Jerrod Hewitt, Emmanuel Belmar and Bryce Watts will all flow like the stars of old in 2019, 2020, and 2021. This season is a practice in patience, however. They are excellent shutdown players on 7/8ths of their snaps. It’s currently the occasional gash that gets them in a bind. Those sorts of gaps happen when someone blows a read, or misses out on a critical key. All of that take experience to fix. The coaching staff is having great public patience with the issues. What is important is that the coaches are acting like teachers on the practice field, instead of like video game players. The defense is only going to get better as they build confidence and experience.
- The remaining ACC schedule is hardly daunting, though it is most definitely loaded with potentially dangerous situations. We still fully expect that the Miami Game at Lane Stadium will be the cool and exciting ACC Coastal Division Championship Game that it promised to be at the beginning of the season. We are faced with several struggling programs in North Carolina, Pitt, and, suddenly, Boston College before we take the field against the squad from Coral Gables. Thanksgiving Friday promises to be a serious grudge match with UVA though the Coastal will probably be determined by then. Besides the Commonwealth Cup this team still has some significant goals well within reach.
- Hokie Nation remains optimistic and certainly realistic in its expectations. An organization cannot effectively be ruled by the passions of the mob; however. There is no denying the entertainment requirements when dealing with any sports organization. One only need to stand in the oppressive humidity of a late Summer or early Fall Worsham Field while waiting for the special “Guy in the Red Hat” to signal that the commercials are nearing completion that the primary goal of any sports program is entertainment value. The “nearfetched” reality is that Winning is extremely entertaining while losing stinks. The core of Hokie Nation is realistic and will offer Coach Fuente and staff a good deal of patience while the rebuild is going on. There are a few “boo-birds” out there who want to fire everybody every time for every tough break; but those sorts of vultures are rare in Blacksburg.
All that really means that Coach Fuente is going to get the time that he needs to get the program built up to be competitive at the top 10 level. You didn’t have to look too far on to the field on Saturday to see the stark differences between the Notre Dame players of 2018 and the Tech Players. They were a team of seniors and juniors with several years of playing experience. We were a team where more than half of our players were either sophomores or freshmen. Even then, we still surprised them for ¾ of a football game, and short of a few blown break-away plays the Irish were pretty well throttled.
The 2018 Hokies were never going to be a National Championship threat. We are a threat to win the Coastal Division. If we meet up with Clemson (who nobody has figured out how to challenge, yet) in the ACC Championship Game can look back at the Notre Dame Game and realize that we can compete and we can win. That’s all that any team can really expect; a chance to win.