OK... time to stop grousing and start to look at what really happened on Saturday. We’ll knock this down punctuated by a few pictures from the 1st half of the game. Please understand that while going through pictures we see the game cut up into individual slices so each play develops a frame at a time, and the camera picks up more than what you see live either from the stadium or the television. So this analysis comes from the point of view of the photographer looking through the lens on the field and then editing the pictures a frame at a time.
The Game Plan
We don’t have an open pipeline to the coaching staff, we just report what we see, and what we saw. We realize that there are lots of people out there who were gravely disappointed that the Hokies didn’t light the afterburner and run up some huge score against the Rams. (Well, I think that the coaching staff had other things in mind.) That was not the case for this game, and the final quarter of play proved it as things were closing out. Hokie fans should think of this game as the 2nd and 3rd Preseason games in pro football. The Hokies were not about to go out and open the can of woop..um up.. on the Rams.
It looks like the game plan was built around a totally vanilla offense and a functional but loose prevent defense. Neither coach looked like they intended on opening up the “big boy” playbook. Tech stuck to that basic configuration and play style for almost the entire game. They only unlimbered a few extra tools when it became obvious that the Hokies needed to get a stop or put points up. Other than that, it was plain yogurt eaten from an earthenware pot.
The Hokies were running a base offense. There were a few “interesting” plays executed. What it looked like the Hokies were doing was settling Hendon Hooker in to the position. He was given Read/Options and quite a few passing plays to execute. He did everything well. He made no big mistakes, again. He protected the ball, and when it was necessary to up the ante had no problems airing it out.
Damon Hazelton is a difference maker, but he’s got some rust in the joints. It’s going to take a little bit of time and some practice to get that deep flag route to click, but Hooker hit Hazelton twice and both times there were clear drops, one for a possible TD, and one for a deep play that wouldn’t have scored but would have netted a good 50 yards. That will definitely get better as the two of them work out the timing of things, and Hazelton regains his game form.
We saw a fresh start at the running game. Hendon Hooker’s added wrinkle of running the ball definitely helped Deshawn McClease and Keshawn King. McClease was running heads up, making good cuts either through traffic or bouncing things to the outside. It was a much better day for
him. With teams having to worry about a credible QB running threat things get a bit looser for the RB.
We’ll see how much more complex the offense will get for next week’s homecoming encounter with at revitalized North Carolina team. We aren’t going to bang on the play calling for this game. Once Tech needed to score, the plays were there to get the job done. Since it was a plain-Jane offense, griping about play groupings and selection is pointless. We don’t know what situations the coaches were trying to set up or prove.
During the game it became obvious, almost immediately, that the defense wasn’t a ‘Bear Front’ 4-2-5. Well, it wasn’t being played that way. Bud Foster rarely queued up a blitz, and almost never rushed more than three players. I lost count of the number of times that Emmanuel Belmar, and even Jarred Hewitt, dropped into coverage. Rhode Island’s QB is actually a good passer, and he’s got some good targets to throw to. The result was predictable. Tech, playing prevent, gave ground slowly and sacrificed points for clock. By the middle of the second half it became pretty obvious that Tech was going to need to torque it up a notch. It did, and eventually on 1st and goal, a Chamarri Connor Saftey blitz dumped Vito Priore on the 19 yard line. Rhode Island never again got closer.
There were some really good performances on the defensive side, and there were some struggles as well. Jovonn Quillen really had a tough time in this game. Even though Waller had a great game in Miami, he was off this game. Rayshard Ashby was having a really tough time in coverage underneath and seemed to be a frequent target of the 3 second patterns. Thankfully the entire defense seemed to bend but not break, and stiffen when needed. Foster and crew will just have to work on the coverage issues.
This game was obviously planned and executed a differently than many folks in Hokie Nation wanted. The defense was basic prevent, and the offense was basic with very few complex plays or challenging formations. Everyone needs to take a breath. The game was never out of hand. As soon as Rhode Island got close, Tech turned it up a notch and scored to keep it out of reach. By the end of the 4th quarter when the defense had done it’s notch turning, the offense again went into basic mode, and drove the field to put a field goal on the board. That iced the game. Many of us thought, at the time, that the final Tech drive should have put the 7 up; but in retrospect, it did not matter, and grinding it in wasn’t going to serve the coaches’ purposes.
Next week Tech faces off against a revived, but still inconsistent, Tar Heel team. They’ve always given the Hokies fits. They’ll be up for spoiling Homecoming. There is also a fair number of Tech players who really want to prove something against Carolina, too.