It’s Thursday and that means it is time to go over the Five Things that the Hokies need to do to win the football game with Notre Dame, on Saturday. When I asked Kat, our podcast manager, she said…. “Channel our inner high school cheerleaders; GO! FIGHT! WIN! DON’T MESS UP! DON’T GET HURT!”
We snickered a bit, but then I got to thinking. There is a certain amount of wisdom in that so how about we explore it a bit?
There is one thing that this team has been really inconsistent about and that’s the “GO” factor. There was just too much of a probability (not even a tendency) for the Offensive Game Plan to bog down and try to run plays that the offense cannot execute well, just because those plays are much less risky. The reality is that a team (no one, really) can win much of anything by approaching the problem of winning by playing “not to lose”. Over the past several seasons, the tendency for the team to shut down and play “conservative” football, on both sides of the ball BTW, has spelled trouble. Does anyone remember that the 45-23 loss last season was a 2nd half affair? Going into the 3rd quarter the Hokies and the Irish were in a slugfest 16-17 Irish lead.
For some completely inscrutable reason the Hokies came out of the halftime break with some sort of plodding train wreck of an overly conservative game plan. The Offense kept sputtering and the Irish took over the game from there. We saw the same thing with the BC Game where we led at the half, and just trashed our own offense in the 2nd half. The Miami Game was 17-14 Tech at the half, and someone forgot to actually call an offense in the second half. At some point there is going to come a time when the Virginia Tech Offense actually manages to play an entire game with their foot on the accelerator. Well, Saturday would be a really great opportunity to learn to do just that. College football is no longer a game of low scoring leaden 3 to 4 yard running plays.
Y’all have heard this before, but it bears repeating until the message is finally heard. To win games consistently, Virginia Tech must implement a fast attack spread offense and score points. The Hokies need to move the ball in 5-10 yard chunks. It must do it, no matter how much time is left on the clock and how much they want to burn off minutes. That’s because points are greater than the value of minutes off the clock. So the Hokies really need to learn to GO.
Whether it’s been the defensive or offensive lines, the Hokies have struggled a bit in the brawl zone otherwise known as “the box”. The O-Line has been steadily improving, and freshmen Bryan Hudson, Doug Nester, and Luke Tenuta have added some seriously good surprises to a greatly improved but young 2-deep. The Offensive line absolutely must begin to get control over the box, and start imposing its collective and individual will on the opponent.
The Defensive Line is in largely the same position, except that everyone is one position too small. That leaves us without full size inside linemen on the D side of the ball. Some of that is “Fosterism” but some of it is a serious problem when trying to get stops on opposing offenses in advantageous territory. The linebacking corps has finally caught up with the entire concept of fighting hard. The three principal number 1s in the depth chart remain Ashby, Hollifield, and Tisdale. Getting an opportunity to deploy them differently, and even get them blitzing reliably would go a great way toward filling the gaps in for the undersized defensive line. Needless to say Tech needs to learn to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That’s a serious fight. That’s where “smashmouth” football is played, and where it counts to be the best at it. To win the game the first thing that has to happen is winning the fight in the trenches. Tech’s going to have to do that in this contest.
This is about attitude more than results. Look there are three basic emotion sets that a team brings to the field on any given Saturday. The first is the worst, it’s the “We’re outclassed” sort of give it the old college try kind of emotional approach. Winning does not happen when you lose before you even take the field. There might have been more than a few times where we all got the impression that the Hokies were just convinced by “those who know better” that we’d lose. Of course, what happened? The second attitude is the all in “we’re gonna win” because we’re so great… or we have the magic... or we’re at home and no one beats us in our house… those sorts of raw emotional posturing attitudes that lead to a lack of mental, physical, and tactical preparation. Just when you think that you are going to win, because ‘they’ say you are, the wheel comes flying off the bicycle. You face plant at high speed. Overconfidence is often worse than that limping in lack of confidence. Winners know they can lose so are prepared to win, focused on doing what’s necessary to win, and leaving every ounce of effort on the field. We’ve seen those games, too. Most recently the 2018 Hoo game, and this season’s UNC game come to mind. The 2018 Miami game wasn’t far behind but we saw the creep of the first problem about overconfidence creep in during the 2nd half. A winner “knows” they can win because they have prepared and are ready to execute. Notre Dame has weaknesses. Tech has opposing strengths. Tech needs to arrive in South Bend with that attitude and a game plan prepared to win.
DON’T MESS UP and DON’T GET HURT!
The other two were sort of considered toss-ins to make it five items, but they are not to be trifled with. This team has been prone to making two sorts of mistakes. Turnovers and critical drive crippling penalties have been plagues this season. Cleaning up the fumbles is difficult. There have been other teams with fumble-itis but the Hokies seem to have a triple strength case. It’s a concentration and awareness thing. The other problem of interceptions seems to have abated somewhat. That is not a permanent feature without a double dose of concentration and awareness.
As to the don’t get hurt issue there are a few positive things that can be done to help, most teams are dedicated to training, conditioning, strengthening, and other therapeutic methods to strengthen joints, loosen muscles and connective tissue. There are professionals dedicated to nothing else, on the teams. The problem is that luck is luck, and bad luck seems to find its ugly way into a situation in bunches. We shall see how Hendon Hooker is doing, and whether or not he starts on Saturday. There have been encouraging signs, but the coaches are still playing that one close. There are other injuries on the team, and all of them begin to degrade performance. Having an effective two-deep roster allows for substitutions that reduce stress and help to avoid problem situations when a particular player might be struggling at his position enough that he could be injured if left on the field. The reality is that injuries are random variables that are all coaches’ major nightmare material. Let us hope that on a cold, and probably very damp Saturday Weather Underground is predicting that it will be cold (mid to high 30’s) and mostly cloudy with a possibility of mixed snow and light rain for the game. The first cold weather game can be a real challenge for sick call. Let us hope that it doesn’t play a negative factor for Tech.
That’s the Five Things for this edition of the Notre Dame Game. Like we said, last season the Hokies played a really good half of a football game. Let’s hope that this time they play a really good WHOLE football game. If they do, the Virginia Tech Hokies CAN win this game.