I am still drying out, and nursing a ruined camera, but it’s time to put together the final few articles on the 2018 Hokie Football disaster... um season. I have seen a few articles floating around about various report cards, and had already considered some of what I was going to say about that sort of gradebook approach to closing the door on a disappointment. What kept buzzing around my head as I was standing in a teeming rain, dead camera in a bag on my hip... was that just one set of grades wasn’t going to be sufficient. There was a distinct disconnect between the coaching staff and the players this season that cannot be denied. Some of the issues were partially resolved with the removal of some problematic player associations, but this season, coaching is definitely a significant part of the grade. So, there will be a letter grade assigned for the team, and then a component level for the coaching that illuminates whether or not we think that the staff helped or hurt the particular grade.
Offense: B | Coaching Support: C - aggregate grade: C+
There is no denying that the offense had a whole different set of problems for the season. The main issue stemmed from the loss of Josh Jackson Jr. in the ODU mess, and the switch to Ryan Willis at Quarterback. I have to give Willis and the offense a solid ‘B’ for their effort and heart at executing on the field. More than a few times this season, including the bowl game, the offensive player effort was not the problem. The main issue continued to be a serious disconnect of trust and planning flexibility from the coaching staff. The trust issue just never seemed to resolve itself. The 180-degree difference between Willis’s and Jackson’s skill sets never seemed to be fully addressed. The coaching staff seemed to be fixated on game planning and execution sequences that made no long term sense given Willis’s capabilities. The bowl game was a microcosm of what was wrong with the game planning and play calling. A slashing dynamic starting drive and first half, followed by a completely leaden third quarter that required a panicked attempt at rescuing something in the 4th quarter. The bias toward overly conservative play calling didn’t work and if it wasn’t apparent by the 5th game, then the coaching staff wasn’t paying attention.
Defense: D | Coaching Support: D - aggregate grade: D
There are no two ways about it, the 2018 defense was terrible. Again, the bowl game was a miniature example of the problems. There were some individual stars, and some pleasant surprises, but everything was just off bubble. The secondary was good sometimes, but mostly it wasn’t challenged hard because the defensive line was swamped and the opponents could run anything anywhere at nearly any time. The repeated gashes... some 42 over the season, on the ground spoke of poor tackling, poor positioning, and a complete non-execution of most basic football fundamentals. A few highlight reel performances from two or three players in a few games were drowned out by the repeated mistakes in execution on the field. On this, sadly there was no “coaching up” to be had. The defense was never helped at all by the coaching staff. Running quarterbacks were never assigned and spied. Once Hollifield proved that he was going to have his redshirt burned, he was played out of his natural position - he’s a natural Mike. The defensive line, with the exception of Ricky Walker was 50 pounds average too small. In addition, the low experience level just made the size differential even more difficult to handle. Given the repeated gashes, the coaching staff needed to change their overly conservative approach to coverage by loading the box and making opponents beat us in the air. At least that would have closed the door on half of what was killing us.
Special Teams: B- | Coaching Support: B+ - aggregate grade: B
We still need a kicker. No offense to the current setup completely implied; but if the inaccuracy problem at reasonable ranges isn’t solved, there will be more close losses than Tech can afford to have. Kickoffs were golden. Punts were tactically good even excellent at times. There were a few instances when Bradburn could have put more foot to the ball and done a better job flipping the field on distance, but overall the Special Teams units performed more than adequately. If it wasn’t for the missed field goals I’d have given the squads a B+. You just can’t make up for those points left on the field; often critical ones. Overall, the coaching in the Special Teams effort was pretty solid.
This was nearly an F, but for the fact that several true and redshirt freshmen were standout performers who are going to be much beloved Hokie superstars in the future. Dax Hollifield on Defense and Tre Turner on offense performed near the top of their squads as freshmen. But that sort of luck was thin from then on out. It was one hit after another. Then the officiating for the season (even more evident in the bowl game) was horrid and determined outcomes in too many games. There were several bad calls, and non-calls in the Military Bowl that materially changed Tech’s fortunes. This was not isolated. There are many folks who will protest and tell you that such things shouldn’t make a difference. Well, that’s true if you are LSU, Alabama, Clemson, et al. It most definitely makes a huge difference when your team is struggling and one or two bad calls can mean the difference between winning and losing.
Team Spirit/Elan/Personnel interaction: C Coaching Response: C
I must say that by the end of the season this grade went from a flat out F, to a C. There is no denying the difficulty that this team had starting minutes after the end of the 2017 season. The repeated hits in coaching and personnel activities just wore everyone out. Early outs: Terrell, Tremaine, Settle. The academic dismissal of Alexander was then compounded by the unknown eligibility issue with Jackson, and then the in season dismissals/departures for Hill, Savoy, and ugh who cares? How many hits does a team have to take before that sort of thing begins to suck the life out of an organization? The injuries were brutal, too. Jackson was bad (though Willis managed to do quite well), but the defensive line lost Houshun Gaines which left it with one experienced player. The bench was thrown into the rapids to sink or swim... That’s demoralizing when it’s not for one or two games, but ends up being the situation for the bulk of the season.
Game Day Air and Effect: D
This might sound weird, but since they did away with the 3rd quarter Hokie Poky break, this team has been off bubble. Lane Stadium’s intimidation factor is no longer there. Our record at home this season was disappointing. Even the coaches kept slipping adjectives like “distraction” into the mix of things being said about Game Day. Sandman seems to have lost some of its ominousness... The team really struggled at home, and Lane was rarely sold out. Even with good performances the crowd and the 2nd half didn’t really like each other. It was not good, and I don’t know what the players felt like, but it couldn’t have been fun to see the folks, streaming away up Beamer and out Washington for the parking lots.
There were just too many late games. This team did not need national exposure. Noon hour kick offs are terrible for the crowd, but good for the players. 3:30 kickoffs are just about perfect for everyone. The 7:00 kickoffs are brutal. People are just flat tired, and distracted. The novelty of the late game seems to have worn off. I doubt that next year we’ll see that many prime time kickoffs. We’ll probably bounce between noon and 3:30 games... and that’s a good thing.
D+/C- This team was just not very good; especially on defense. Neither the coaches nor the players had any answers for the massive problems that kept smacking us. Some seasons are just write-offs. They are just unsalvageable. The 2018 Hokies ended at .500 with a bowl loss. Some folks call that a 7 and 6 losing season. The bowl game was beside the point. It was far enough removed from the regular season that it is its own special category of disappointing and doesn’t count for much at all; except for the hit on some wallets for some coaches and administrators.
There is no sense in calling for heads. Not enough people in Hokie Nation put up enough money to have a stake in the action, and certainly shouldn’t anyway. Next season will require some rebuilding. There are a record 4 JUCO transfer players being brought in. We are likely to see a patch work roster in 2019. The quarterback competition will be between... well... we will have to wait until spring to get a read on that. I anticipate that there will be personnel changes. Where those are, and who they are still unknowns. I just refuse to speculate more at this point.