Noon on Saturday there was marginal hope, but resignation as well. The Hokie football program is struggling, and a chunk of Hokie Nation has the torches and pitchforks out. There was a palpable need to notch a win (even a narrow one). For 3 and 1⁄2 quarters it looked like the Hokies might save a bit of face. Then the collapse came, and this time on the offensive side of the ball. At a time that a solid drive was needed to recover some part of the squandered 11 point lead, the offense sputtered to a halt and disappeared.
We’ll Start with the Good Stuff (such as it is)
Overall Defensive Grade: B+
The big hit was on the two late Miami scoring drives, and in particular the third quarter drive where Hewitt went out for the entire series with an injury and the line just had issues controlling the gaps. Overall, the defense held the 400 yard rusher D’Eriq King to 69 yards running, but in college the sacks count for the negatives to balance things out, and King was hammered for 54 yards of losses. The pass defense limited a high powered deep passing threat to a manageable 255 yards, and held it to 25 scrambling points. It was not a dominating Miami offensive performance and that goes to the credit of the Hokie D.
Defensive Line - Run Defense B+ / Pass Defense A-
Six sacks - though some came from Linebackers - the pressure and allies for that are the responsibility of the Defensive Line. The rumored full up scout squad practices look like they had the desired result. The Hokie Defensive line stood up and followed squad captain Jerrod Hewitt to put in a solid performance. Eight linemen ended up in the tackle stats, Hewitt with 5 in whole or part, Justus Reed with 5 mixed, Eli Adams with 4. Even Josh Fuga got an assist. There were a few missed runs, but no big gashes, and the tackling quality was elevated greatly. Hewitt probably had the game of his career and hopefully will take that energy with him through the season.
Linebackers - Run Defense B+ / Pass Defense B+
This is a unit that was seriously struggling for most of the season. Rayshard Ashby has just been off, and Dax seemed a beat behind each play. Not for this past weekend. Dax even foiled 4 points by stopping two 2 point conversion attempts. He led the team with 13 tackles and Rayshard was right behind him at 11. There is no indication that Alan Tisdale was playing, and that meant that most of the squad’s speed was tamped down, but it was good to see them rally up, and do a solid job of mixing it up and getting critical stops before they broke away.
Defensive Backs - Run Defense B+ / Pass Defense B+
There aren’t too many negatives to put on the line for the DB’s. Devin Taylor was the major contributor. Taylor ended with 11 solo tackles. He even netted a sack on D’Eriq King. The Hurricane passing game was limited to one long pass that did end up in a touchdown drive, but that was the entire limit of the gashes. The patchwork quilt pile of Safeties did its job and had a huge share in keeping the ‘Canes from scoring more than 30 points.
And Now for the Tough News
Overall Offensive Grade - C
This isn’t particularly tough. The Offense did a reasonably solid job for 3 quarters of football. It did look like there were some serious missed opportunities and some inscrutable calls that made your hair itch, but the offensive line managed to run block well for the backs that operated. The problem seemed to come from an eventual complete offensive collapse in the 4th quarter. The wheels fell off the cart about half way through the 3rd quarter when Hendon Hooker took a really hard hit and came up wobbly. He wasn’t running effectively all game. Miami did to us what we did to them on offense. In retrospect it was probably wise to pull him and get him reoriented and see if something worse had happened. The Offense never recovered in the execution phase, and the play calling just never made any visible adjustments to the situation.
Offensive Line - Run Blocking B+ / Pass Blocking C+
Six sacks. The pass blocking was an issue, not as much for effort, but for scheme. There were not enough hats to cover the student body rushes being conducted by the Miami defense in must pass situations. When the Hokies avoided the 3rd and stupid situations, the pass blocking was solid. The line was actually laying down the run blocks for the running backs. Zone counters were particularly effective, but if Hendon Hooker tried to run a quarterback power, it generally failed miserably (not completely sure why it would be called after two stuffs but that’s another grade section). A three major running backs who touched the ball; Jalen Holston (who had a super game) and Khalil Herbert grabbed serious yardage when they got touches. Raheem Blackshear had a better day at pass receiving. Quincy Patterson II even grabbed a critical run for a 1st down and 9 yards.
Running Backs - Runs: B / Pass B (blocking was a C, receiving an A)
There isn’t much to complain about when the two lead backs for the game average 6.1 (Herbert) and 9 (Holston). The problem to complain about is that they only got 12 touches between them. Meanwhile Hendon Hooker struggled with 21 attempts and those six sacks combined with only one solid 53 yard breakaway for a TD. By the end of the 3rd, it was obvious that Hooker was disoriented and a bit wobbly. His normally solid passing decisions and accuracy were off as badly as the Wake game.
Quarterback - Runs: C+ / Pass C
Again, this is directly related to scheme and lack of real adjustments in the approach to the game. Hendon Hooker is a tough football player, but Miami was keying off of him and had at least two hard hitting spies at two different levels hitting him. By the 3rd quarter hit, it was time for the coaching staff to get fresh wheels and less fog on the field to see if the critical drive inside of 8 minutes could have been completed for a much needed touchdown. The decision to hang out Hendon Hooker might have gone unnoticed by some folks, but it sits at the top of the inscrutable coaching decisions list for the game.
Special Teams - B
The only complaint was the missed field goal - principally because it was tied to an inexcusable stalled drive, but because it was so far off to the right, but actually long enough. It was wrong from the moment it came off of Johnson’s foot, and seemed to be the flag that told you how the game was going to go.
Hokie Nation’s Boobird faction is out for blood. I cannot agree with the rhetoric, and the invective, it’s inexcusable for a fanbase that is this parsimonious. There are some serious issues to address, that cannot be dismissed, however.
The scout team was assembled and worked hard. The defense practiced hard. The squad was prepared. The on field adjustments were constant. The defenses varied, and constant ‘A’ gap pressure was put (or at least tried) on D’Eriq King. The end result was a absolutely ringing result that normally the offense would have given the Hokies a big win.
Offense: C- (when Miami managed a B-)
The Virginia Tech offense for 2020 (and every year since 2018) must score points. As the defense has struggled and sputtered over the last 2 1⁄2 seasons it’s obvious that the offense needed to take up the challenge to do more effective scoring - not just clock burning. When the Defense is struggling it needs to be nearly perfect. That’s not a good thing. Last week, the offense didn’t need to be perfect. The defensive coaching staff made sure of that. But the offense did need to be 25% better. There were just too many three an outs, stalled drives, big plays followed up by duds. There doesn’t seem to be any real sense of urgency in getting to the line and executing. The line is often standing ready while the plays are sorted out. More than a few times completely ineffective plays were called, and called again. The running backs were firing on all cylinders, and Hendon Hooker was bottled up. Perhaps finding some formations with both running backs in mix would lessen the impact on an obviously rattled performance from an often hard hit Hooker.
Of course the bane of the Hokie offense for the last 4 seasons has been, tank two dud plays into the interior of the line on the boundary side, and then throw a panicked high pressure 3rd and long pass into that same boundary. We think that perhaps the opposing teams have figured that little thing out, and have adjusted for it. Maybe if someone was down on the field working with his players, directly, there would be a bit more awareness that schemes must match capabilities, and those things change more often than season to season, or game to game.
The Sad Frustrated Conclusion
This was a winnable game that was lost, mostly by poor coaching schemes, and intransigence in putting the lack of imagination in play calling on player execution. Eventually you have to admit that you aren’t matching the plays with the players capabilities. That always leads to trouble.