First of all, that was mighty tasty crow a la chapeau... especially with several gallons of spicy barbecue sauce... To the 35% of the folks voting in the poll (even though the questions ended up being oddly mixed for the result) I would tip my hat, but I already ate it.
This is one of those sorts of analytical articles where there are going to be a few “harshes” to some really wonderful “mellows”. The first reality is that Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies showed up to play football against our old rivals the Miami Hurricanes. This is a rivalry that is often dismissed and ignored by the media. Like the ECU thing was “Accidental”, this one is “Much Ignored”. Well, it’s ignored by the sports media that continues to worship at Miami’s throne, but continually writes off the unglamorous and rebuilding Hokies.
There isn’t much that will probably go into the books as a turnaround in that attitude. The reality is that Justin Fuente is now parked at .500 against the Hurricanes; both at home and on the road. That number should sit in the laps of all college football analysts. Maybe if it begins to dawn on the Hokie Nation fan base, then we should walk away from the odd shootout at Coral Gables with the notion that we just beat a much more physically talented team with a combination of guile and tenacity.
There were some really nice things that happened in the game, and we need to note them, first. Hooker was needed tonic. The Tight Ends finally got their day. Hazelton is back and the Defensive Backs remembered how to ball hawk (which was the real generator of this win).
Let’s give some serious kudos out to a fine young man who made a starting debut into a triumph of patience and quiet confidence. Hendon Hooker wasn’t perfect to many of the folks who concentrate on flash and largely ignore competence. Hendon Hooker was perfect. He was careful about ball placement when passing, and ball control when running. His final stats for the game don’t look like ‘wow’ sort of numbers: (Details available at Yahoo Sports)
Hendon Hooker (QBR: 176.8)
Attempts: 20 Comp: 10 Yards: 184 Yards per Attempt: 9.3 TD: 3 Interceptions: 0 Sacks: 2
There is no complaining about that sort of line. It is highlighted by the 18 points, and ZERO giveaways. All of that is nice enough; but Hooker also led the team in rushing and put the ball in the end zone on his own. Hooker’s rushing numbers were an impressive 76 yards on 16 carries with that previously mentioned touchdown. Hendon Hooker’s appearance gave the Hokies a glimpse of the highly successful 2016 offense.
Of course Quarterbacks need targets, and this time there wasn’t much in the way of Wide receiver names in that list. The Miami game of 2019 will be “Tight End Saturday” at least until they repeat the feat. Both James Mitchell and Dalton Keene figured prominently in the passing game.
James Mitchell caught three clutch passes for a total of 75 yards, The bulk of that yardage on a beautifully executed 67 yard catch and run that set up a critical touchdown off of a long drive. When he wasn’t catching, he was blocking. The O-Line only gave up 2 sacks for 13 total yards. Mitchell was a part of that, too.
Then there was Dalton Keene. I cannot remember when a Tight End caught 3 TDs in a single game. Maybe three sixes for an entire season; but this was just a single game. Up until Saturday Keene had been relatively quiet. He got really loud on Saturday. Keene grabbed 5 balls for 73 yards to make those three scores. Besides the scores, Keene looked like he was the one of the primary blockers deployed against former teammate Trevon Hill. Keene is known for his crushing open field blocks and managed a few put aways on Saturday.
The Offensive line, while still having some issues with interior run blocking, kept Hooker on his feet for the game, and provided decent enough influence blocking that Deshawn McClease was finding some room to run off the edges and in counters. The situation was helped greatly because the players were swapped out like hockey lines to keep them better rested.
The Defensive Side of the Ball Showed a Bit of a Revival
Jermaine Waller stepped into his own world for the Miami game. He made five tackles, and was credited with half a sack. That wasn’t all. He also managed to take the ball away from Miami’s offense, twice.
Caleb Farley played an excellent game, with an even more than excellent result. His two interceptions stopped promising Miami drives, one of which was in the end zone.
Chamarri Connor continued his momentum as he proved that he can play both Rover and Whip Techniques. His five tackles and that pass breakup on the first Waller pick were critical.
Alan Tisdale is rapidly becoming the key to the Backer position issues that the Hokies have been encountering. Dax Hollifield is a super addition to the linebacking corps but he’s a more natural fit at Mike, which means that he and Rayshard Ashby might be trading off field time; though someone might have been advised to get Alan some “pepto” to settle his stomach.
Given the heat and humidity of South Florida, the Defensive line performed better than expected. They really plagued the Miami starter, Jarren Williams. It was a bit tougher with N’Kosi Perry because of the constant threat of Perry running the ball, and the fact that Tech’s defense spent most of the 2nd half on the field.
Those positives resulted in an impressive 42 point scoring effort by the Hokies.
The issue is that every single point in that total was absolutely necessary. This is where we need to take a breath and talk about what happened in the 2nd half that allowed Miami to close a four touchdown gap that eventually ended up in a desperation last Hokie touchdown drive, and another panicked last second near goal line stand to keep the game out of overtime.
Game Planning and Play Calling are still at Issue
There is that buzz going on in the analytical circles that there is still a serious issue regarding game planning and play calling for the Hokies. It was critical for the Hokies to come out aggressively and stop a 14 point rally being conducted by Miami via N’Kosi Perry and the Miami Offense. The fluke end zone tip drill should never have happened, but because it did, Tech needed to make some adjustments. It didn’t - which is a part of the major complaint out in the fan world; which is the primary defensive issue... prepare for QB - A, get cut apart by QB - B.
The reality is that Virginia Tech’s Defense was chopped up by Miami in the 2nd half, because Virginia Tech’s offense inexplicably went into “we are 3 TDs up let’s burn clock” ultra-conservative mode. This even when Miami opened the 2nd half by marching down the field and scoring a touchdown thus cutting the lead to 2 scores. Virginia Tech’s Offense opened their first possession of the half a completely lame 3 and out of the typical pattern; two tepid plays into the pile at the line of scrimmage followed by a panicked 3rd and long situation. Add to that the patterns available to the QB in a must pass situation were thin gruel and easy to cover.
The frustrating thing from the fan perspective is that the 2nd Tech series followed exactly the same pattern. Was nothing learned from the 1st one? Two three-and-outs in a row, between sustained Miami offensive drives exhausted the defense in the South Florida heat.
There is some odor to spread around at the defense for not being able to close the door on N’Kosi Perry once it was obvious what Miami was doing, the truth though, is that most of the waft belongs to the offensive scheme that once again shutdown the engine, and tried to burn clock instead of aggressively score points.
Note to the Virginia Tech Offensive Game Planners...
You have wonderful players. They are young and inexperienced but want to win. It is your job to put them into the best position to do so. What you DO NOT have is a POWER RUN GAME. You have an influence blocking offensive line, with two outside backs. Now with Hooker on the field you have a dual threat QB back.
You are, therefore, wasting effort and often points by repeating the same dud plays. You called two series that failed to produce even one first down which put your defense back on the field when it hadn’t gotten enough of a break to A) rest and B) figure out how to deal with the Miami QB change. Driving on either one of those series would have put the game away if you had scored, or made Miami’s job more difficult if you had just gotten close to the Red Zone.
Later in the game as the option for burning clock closed, you opened the throttle, again, and the offense responded with two critical drives, neither of which could be considered “conservative”. This offense cannot be put in “4 Minute” drill mode. So, fine, there is absolutely nothing to lose by just opening up the throttle and standing on it until it runs out of gas. This is the third game, this season and several times last season, where you shut down the offense to burn clock in the 2nd half and managed to lose leads. Time to learn the lesson.
Conclusion as an Admonition
So, the Hokies won. They nearly lost it. Then they rallied and got it back. Next time we face a peer ACC team, they’ll have watched the films. Let’s not get overly impressed. Let’s be happy that we beat a team by 7 as a 14 point road underdog. Then let’s pack that one away and get ready for the next Conference opponents who are gunning for us.
Rhode Island doesn’t count for positives, but hit will hammer us if it’s a negative. No slacking on this one. After next Saturday, we have Carolina (who is much better this season), Notre Dame (who is Notre Dame), and then Wake Forest (who is a stunning surprise - and a peer this season).