It’s high time for a five things article. I was really trying for a Friday “belly up to the bar and pull a cold draft” sort of speculation, but Thursday’s “events” about “academic issues” and young quarterbacking talent got in the way. I have no excuses at the moment, so here goes.
As the title suggests there were some issues that began to appear at the close of the 2017 season that look like we’ll be seeing some influence on the 2018 season. Well, given the current story line some folks might be thinking this is all bad. Maybe? We won’t know until the end of this article.
The first thing is probably a “bad”. 2017 Ended with a deflating loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys. That’s really no small rub. It’s actually a sore spot of major proportions because the defense just couldn’t seem to stay focused and the offense was only slightly less ineffective than it had been through the second half of 2017. There were some flashes of high level play, and at times the defense did manage to control the game, but mostly we played from behind the power curve. More than anything the lost to the Cowboys set the tone for 2018 and the struggles that would be coming to fill in some serious gaps.
The second thing isn’t a “bad” but it is a question with a potentially frustrating answer. The 2017 Hokie offense ground to a halt by the end of the season, and there seemed to be no impulse to make any sort of adjustments to improve its performance; either in game, or between contests. We saw mostly the same play patterns and actions through the entire season. The first head scratching sign of intransigence was the Delaware game when it was obvious that the Blue Hens were operating in a “go for broke” max pressure defense, and we kept running at it. Sticking to the “game plan” is a good thing, until it isn’t. We had several big games where the unwillingness, or maybe inability, to adjust the offensive attack scheme actually cost us the game. Clemson is one of them. (That lack of adjustment at the strategic level was on both sides of the ball for the Clemson game.) We lost to Georgia Tech because our rapidly weakening offense couldn’t score enough points to make up for our defense that made some fundamental errors, repeatedly. Obvious in-game adjustments just didn’t seem to be in the cards for the 2018 season. If the original game plan worked, we won. If it flamed out, so did the team.
The third “thing” is on the Defense and in particular Bud Foster’s unwillingness to use spies and key assignments to stop running quarterbacks. This one is such a “BAD” that it will really flame our shorts in 2018. Kelly Bryant as a quarterback had a subpar game. He didn’t throw well, and he certainly didn’t have much control during play setup and execution, but he was absolutely killing us as a halfback on the outside. Georgia Tech’s cracked option worked because without a QB key, there was no behind the line of scrimmage contact pressure on their QB. That unwillingness to push through the line before stringing out the play resulted in three “ambush” passes that broke our backs. This season has to be different.
The fourth observation was that the team seemed to “play down” to many opponents. Delaware should have been a whistle to whistle blowout where no starter was on the field in the second half. ODU wasn’t such a pushover, but the win should have been more emphatic and the play more consistent. The Pitt game was one down, and 3 yards from being a first rate fiasco. This seemed to be systemic. I really think that the primary example was that Pitt goal line stand in the South end zone. Pitt just wasn’t that good, and shouldn’t have been that close. The other example of playing down, and losing is still my sore spot; Georgia Tech. Two seasons and two flat, flawed performances with one mediocre team sporting a pedestrian 1970 era offense. No one really enjoys blowout wins; the games are boring, frankly. They are, however, purposeful mismatches that allow for large volumes of ‘garbage time’. That’s when you get your inexperienced players some snaps. So, if you are playing a close game and can’t play the #2s and #3s, you are doing your team no long term favors.
The last observation seems to have reared its head and bit us right in the tush. The quarterback situation dissolved quickly after the Belk Bowl, and Josh Jackson never really looked like someone the coaching staff truly trusted with the reins. The departure of Jerod Evans was unfortunate. The background noise as to why he left, and the circumstances evolving from his miscalculation regarding his pro viability seem to have been something of a very rough “I told you so”.
The NFL pin popping that ego filled balloon should have been a warning to some of the players on the 2017 team. One would have thought that Josh Jackson would pay attention. Buckle down his thinking cap, and come up with a solid plan to grab at least three seasons of improving stats. His ‘buzz’ is going to be problematic if he manages to stick. What transpired in Jackson’s effort went from an impressive if modestly challenged debut against West Virginia to a trivial 10 points on mostly defensive effort against a woeful UVa team. Those extremes are dotted with bursts of brilliance and littered with stalled drives, missed passes, and poor active reading skills.
There is no hiding the reaction over the recent eligibility issues, there are the usual folks worrying about starting QBs and such; but there were a surprising number of folks shrugging and moving on to Hooker hash tags, and Willis speculations. That all makes me wonder if the team would be better served just clearing the decks and treading water until Quincy Patterson is ready. He’s a major upgrade in talent and capability within Fuente’s offensive scheme.
It was obvious that last season the Run-Pass-Option was more often than not, off the table. There were rumblings that the coaches were not happy without a downfield passing game. We also saw the effects in obvious read-option sorts of situations where the wrong read was made. In any case, or every case, the coaching staff did not seem to exude enough confidence to actually make hot adjustments on the field. If you aren’t sure of your quarterback’s ability to adjust, then you are forced to stick with the original game plan. That CAN be an inexperience “thing”. It can also be something else.
It remains to be seen as to what transpires with this latest shot to the solar plexus. It might be the best thing that could happen to a program that is fielding a team where fully half of the positions are totally (or marginally) inexperienced. Tech lost a lot in the Spring of 2018, but it is gaining some seriously good talent that will be on the field and challenged this season.
I am tempering my expectations with a HUGE “NO EXPECTATIONS” and no speculation, either. What I can see is that with the current roster, and the kids that have committed (if they stick to those promises) the 2019 and 2020 Hokies are going to be challenging for that lightning in a bottle status. We just have to be patient during 2018. That might be the good news in all of this. Those past teams were mostly Beamer teams. You can see how far off the rails the recruiting had gone. This is the first season where most of the underclassmen are Fuente signees. They will be challenged, that’s for sure.
We’ll start the roster reviews around the last week in July. Fall practice starts up in early August. There will be many new names, and certainly some surprises. Justin Fuente and staff just need to figure out how to keep bailing until the holes are patched.