It’s a bit difficult writing a preview for a game that you wish wasn’t the opener, and you really hoped would have been something like the ACC Championship – all the way at the end of the season, but here it is, September 1st, and we are looking at a beautiful weekend in Blacksburg, with no Game Day until next week, and an extremely difficult opponent coming on national TV in a very hostile venue, Monday!
We have gone over the possibilities of the “Gulf Coast Offense” and how to defend it, back on Thursday. That was intended to lay the ground for this, but there are some other bits and pieces that we need to put together before we really understand the potential ebb and flow of the game.
As we have seen from the Q&A sessions between Gobbler Country and Tomahawk Nation, both teams are going to be relative cyphers; though the Florida State fan base seems to think that we are road kill. All ego and “homerism” aside, the reality is that neither of these teams is the same as in years past. The most complete is still Virginia Tech with the mostly intact coaching staff from the prior two seasons, a returning QB and receivers, and the same system in place.
The offenses are going to be interesting to compare. There is no doubt about the number of high school stars lined up to play for FSU. Their recruiting base is nearly nationwide, and their rankings and pro draft numbers make them a natural gravity sink that keep that talent spiral self-reinforcing.
For this game, the Seminoles are fielding an offense based on Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting and a very simplified run heavy offense. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they return Nyqwan Murray and D.J. Matthews from injury along with Quarterback Deondre Francois. They also have Keith Glavin returning.
To the lineup, but how they adjust to the new ebb and flow of an RPO offense instead of a pro-set is going to be interesting. There is no taking speed and power points away from FSU on the offensive line. Most players are very used to zone blocking schemes and simplifying the audible structure makes that even less of a problem.
The Orlando Sentinel has a tub thumping review of the FSU position before the season begins. One certainly can’t find any lack of confidence. Everything is “loaded” and there is an abundance of everything, everywhere including promising to play every one of their five listed running backs.
To the Florida State fan base and most of the sports media, Virginia Tech’s “crippled” defense is going to be a dissolving speed bump for a massive passing attack of superstar receivers and a dual threat quarterback who is bumping the ceiling of collegiate perfection.
There are no seasonal stats to pull all of that assertion together. Taggart’s offense is not traditionally known as a passing offense. His RPO attack has limited passing opportunities; it’s mostly built for reading at the line of scrimmage and the merge. It is also heavily dependent on the quarterback’s ability to run the football through the middle and off the edges of the merge in the ‘A’ Gap to ‘B’ Gap. We’ll have to see if anything more than the traditional RPO bubble screens, short crossing routes, and intermediate seam passes are even executed with great regularity. Taggart is known to adjust his simplistic offense to his talent, so I expect that the Hokie defense will be his first lab rats.
Defense on both sides of the ball is going to be absolutely critical to the game. What you do not see a ton of, is the reality that FSU’s defense has been chopped up in the middle as bad as the Hokies have been. Now, their replacements have more high school stars behind their names, but they are still as light on college experience as our defensive middle. We will have to see how the revamped, much larger and more athletic Hokie Offensive line works. Of course it would have been much better to build the work up through some less intimidating opponents, but assumptions about Virginia Tech’s line capabilities, are just that, assumptions. No one actually knows on the positive side, or the negative.
The Hokies do return experience in the front four, and it’s very talented experience. Ricky Walker is the consensus Defensive captain, keeper of the Lunch Pail, and is complimented by some serious talent in Jerod Hewitt and Vinny Mihota (though Vinny will probably be seeing few reps as he finishes his knee rehab). Trevon Hill and Houshun Gaines are both dominating defensive ends who played nearly every game and critical snap last season. Even with the changing of the guard in the secondary, Bud Foster has never been known to let guys ride the pine, so there is some solid game experience heading to the field. Reggie Floyd is the Defensive backfield captain, a ball hawk, and a first rate leader. We are going to see a more traditional Whip position from Khalil Ladler, but he can also convert to Rover on the fly. The issue will be the Cornerbacks but both of them are not new to the team and the discipline. Caleb Farley is FAST and True sophomore Bryce Watts knows what he needs to accomplish.
So, The FSU defense is going to need to control an underrated Hokie offense. Tech returns six receivers who have game experience, most of that in the late season last year. We also return a healthy and more experienced Quarterback in Josh Jackson. His targets include three outsized, fast receivers; Damon Hazelton, Eric Kumah, and Hezekiah Grimsley as starters. Two of the immediate backups also game experienced; Sean Savoy and Phil Patterson. The only inexperienced player in the mix is Tre Turner who is being spoken of as a new phenom. Every wide out is listed at 6’ 2” and north of 200 pounds. The slot receivers, Grimsley and Savoy are 6’ or less, but neither is slight at 185 and 192 respectively. There isn’t a single receiver in the mix who could even marginally be called “slow”.
This might be why Joshua is feeling like this might be a “low grade shootout” with both offenses being competent, and both defenses looking to find themselves. This all is far too new to be bragging about crushing people, running away with games, or “dominating” the sports media has ranked both in the middle of the bottom 10 at #19 and #20 for FSU and VT. Both teams have much to prove, and predicting the outcome will be a WAG until the whistle starts the 4th quarter.
Frankly, if you really talked to them in private, past all of the bravado and coach talk, my bet is that neither one of them wants to start the season with this match-up. The reason why no one should be strutting around on either side of the field is that both teams are basically brand new, and neither has much to honk their horn about.
This is a nearly even match up. The odds makers are unsettled where some are at FSU -7.5 and some are at FSU -5.5. All of it based on nothing much. There is one thing, though, and it’s obvious. The Virginia Tech Hokies have far more to prove. The Hokies nearly always have far more to prove. It’s time that they proved it.