A Definite Dearth of “Game”
When a team runs a dive play or a short flare pass to the running back short of the line of scrimmage the desire to equate the feat with poker is just too rich to ignore. In poker it’s called “limping in”. It’s when you’re dealt a hand that is either really good and you are in a bluffing mood, or it’s just barely serviceable but not bad enough to just fold and burn only the ante.
How many times this season have we seen the Virginia Tech Hokies just limp in? Not just to start the game, but to regularly start series after series. On very rare occasions you might see something mildly risky but in reviewing there just doesn’t seem to be very many examples of the Hokies throwing on first down, and certainly not throwing to a consequential receiver more than eight yards downfield. The Hokies nibble. They nibble at the runs. They nibble at the line of scrimmage passes, and they nibble at any sort of mildly risky threat deep.
A Little Less Talk and A Lot More Action, Please
Over the last eight games we’ve heard big talk of how great an athlete Connor Blumrick is, only to have him disappear from the game plans after the first third of the season passed. We heard the wonders of lighting off the Cole Beck rocket and giving him significant touches, only to see him show up on the field for a few Special Teams punt coverage plays. We heard of the great things that Bryce Duke could do for the offense to really help out Malachi Thomas with the inside out running threat… enough that Duke played Special Teams enough that his redshirt was burned, unless they redshirt him next season.
We heard a whole lot about the linebacking corps, and the defense’s ability to cover the deep threat. Well, they both have shined in some ways, but none have demonstrated the old ball hawking and turnover machine mentality of the prior eras, even the Fuente period. This team couldn’t take candy from a baby it seems. Coverages are so loose downfield that no one needs to throw deep, the 8 to 20-yard passes cut up the defense like it was warm butter. The linebackers are hung in limbo, not allowed to rush the passer with any blitz pressure, and two far behind the play to cover the passes under the zone effectively.
We just really heard a lot… Grant Wells had a great arm; he’s fixed his pick off problem. Well, sort of. If you don’t give him any meaningful routes that could be effectively covered, and more than one or two reads before he takes off or dumps it to a running back short of the line of scrimmage, then he’s not going to get much of an opportunity to throw many picks, that’s for sure. We saw that several times over the Fuente era, and the reality is that this offensive coaching staff has not successfully implemented much of anything in regard to breaking the pattern. Jaylen Holston had fixed his run into piles problem. Keshawn King was going to be an outside threat out of the backfield… The tick, tick, tick of the clock is now being followed by the loud song of crickets fading as the dew turns to frost and the early season melts away as the leaves fall off the trees.
Is there Much Gas Left in the Tank?
So here we are, at the end of the 2nd third of the season with four games to go and a pathetic 2-6 record to show for it. Normally the impulse wouldn’t to editorialize would be tempered, but there just doesn’t seem to be much in the way of redemption possible for a record that poor in a division as sloppy and dreary as the ACC Coastal. No real football analyst worth his time at the keyboard is going to say that the Hokies were going to do well this season. The possibility of a high-level winning campaign was low, but there was a real possibility of a floor to ceiling record of 5-7 to 7-5 if the Hokies could just pull something together for each game, put up something of a credible offensive threat, and minimize the time the defense had to stay on the field.
Looking at What’s Left on the Schedule and Fishing for any W
Folks, there are no easy games left on the Hokie’s trip to Thanksgiving and home for the holidays. The remaining games are Georgia Tech at home, Duke away, Liberty away, and then the season finale of the Wahoos coming here.
Let’s take a look at the residual risk chart. You’ll recognize the format from the two prior charts. The ratings are based on a range of factors, the last four games, the quality of the opponent, the scores of those games, plus the evaluation from the first four games like how much the team either improved or regressed as the season advanced. There is an admitted element of SWAG in the mix, because frankly there is always that element in college football. Teams are different every season. Programs might be the same, but most have various changes that can make a difference. The upshot is that it often comes down to what you see and what you feel about what you have seen.
The Hokies’ Opponent Risk Chart for the Final Third of the Season
|Team||Revised Opponent Risk Rating||Old Risk||Odds of Winning||Comment|
|Team||Revised Opponent Risk Rating||Old Risk||Odds of Winning||Comment|
|PROBABLE WINS (In order of difficulty)|
|None||Unfortunately there are no probable wins left on the board. Tech has a Low-Moderate risk rating and the sure wins of Georgia Tech and Liberty are now toss-ups at best.|
|TOSS-UPS (In order of difficulty)|
|Virginia||Moderate/Low||Moderate||50/50||Virginia is just not very good for anyone else but sitting at a complete peer with the Hokies because of the Hokies Low/Moderate risk level. Pure toss-up.|
|Georgia Tech||Moderate||Low||50/50||Somehow Georgia Tech at 2-2 in the conference and 3-4 overall is one game better than Tech even missing a permanent head coach. They lost their RB coach so they only gain a bit but they still move to toss-up level|
|SERIOUS CHALLENGES (In order of difficulty)|
|Liberty||Moderate/High||Moderate/Low||45/55||Liberty is 7-1 ranked #23 in both polls wins over several higher level schools like BYU and ODU. They have momentum and home field - this is looking like Hokies play the dog.|
|Duke||Moderate/High||Moderate||40/60||Duke has played an impressive season at 5-3 and are 2nd in the woeful ACC Coastal. Though fading a bit they present a Moderate Risk with a shade toward High.|
|COMPLETED GAMES||Game Result|
|Old Dominion||Moderate/Low||Loss (20-17)||This game was winnable - but mistakes where too numerous and turnovers showed a massive hole in the offenses discipline.|
|Boston College||Moderate/High||Win (27-10)||Boston College melted down early in the season and continued to do so for the first 3rd.|
|Wofford||VL||Win (27-7)||This game was indicative in that the offense scored too few points for a match-up this lopsided.|
|West Virginia||High||Loss (33-10)||WVU was the better team with the better offense and more stamina. Tech had a modest chance to win but had no Offense.|
|North Carolina||Moderate||Loss (41-10)||UNC has resurged and is currently leading the hapless Coastal on the back of its QB.|
|Pitt||Very High||Loss (45-29)||Pitt has dropped off the ACC Radar and needs two wins to end up with a booger for New Year's.|
|Miami||Moderate/High||Loss (20-14)||Miami is better than Tech - but only slightly. They still need two wins for bowl eligibility.|
|NC State||High/Moderate||Loss(22-21)||Tech melted down after holding NC State to 3 in the 1st half - and then scoring 21 unanwered in the 3rd. Huge disappointment massive penalties again.|
As the first game of the final 3rd of the season looms the first Saturday in November, Georgia Tech comes to Blacksburg with an actual chance of gaining some respectability on Worsham Field, for Hall of Fame Day. The initial charts didn’t give much of a chance of putting up anything. The Yellow Jackets were going to be a “guaranteed” win for the transitioning Hokies. Well, beware the preseason and early season assumptions, because assuming makes something unpleasant if you break the word down – it’s its own warning. Georgia Tech might be sporting a temporary head coach, and missing a running back coach, but it’s actually strung together a few wins if for pride alone. They are 3-5 as of this writing but that’s one game better than the Hokies. It does suggest that the game to open November is going to be one for the mud pits. Neither team has done particularly well, but Georgia Tech seems to be managing something and a low-risk team comes into Lane with a moderate risk rating and a no better than 50/50 challenge for the Hokies. The reality is that because the Hokies present such a Moderate/Low risk to other teams, the end result is a push. Right now, the Wise Guys have Virginia Tech giving Georgia Tech 3.5 and the O/U is a shade over 40. That’s really a push, and nearly a pick ‘em but there still is that home field bent. Let’s say that pride and more than a bit of desperation makes that a good set of numbers the Hokies have a decent chance of winning this game.
Then it gets dimmer, unless a win at home can get Virginia Tech fed a bit of momentum. They go on the road to Durham to play Duke for Veterans’ Day weekend. Currently, Duke is going through an actual transitional resurgence. They are 5 and 3 with wins over Miami and UVA. By the time the Hokies face them, next weekend, they will probably be bowl eligible at 6-3 after beating, even more hapless than the Hokies, Boston College. Duke has a decent quarterback, solid stats, an offense that is actually producing yards and points. Their defense has only allowed one team to score over 27 points, with the 27 being the loss to Kansas and their loss to UNC in a minor shootout at 35. This means that the lower threat teams that they have faced (and the Hokies, unfortunately fall into that category) have not been particularly good at putting up points. Unless Virginia Tech manages to impress the world, offensively, with a solid performance against Georgia Tech, the once thought of as “easy”, Duke Blue Devils don’t look to be gathering up an additional “L” for their record when the Hokies come to town.
We’ll see if it sticks, but right now the Liberty Flames are not only 7-1 but ranked 23rd in both the AP and Coaches’ Polls. There will be two more games on their schedule by the time the Hokies drive East (northeast) on US460 for what is essentially a local game. All four broadcast news services ABC, CBS, ABC, and Fox are within the coverage area for the game. This will be a home brew effort, and not many folks are too impressed with the timing of the game or the location – “playing down” late in the season is one thing, but doing it on the road, even if only an hour and a half away, is nearly unforgivable. The “playing down” thing isn’t true anymore, either. Since Liberty stepped up to FBS, pumped money into their program, and hired Hugh Freeze the program is definitely pushing the top of the “G5” class. If the Hokies don’t develop something of an offense, their 40-minute bus ride to Lynchburg from the Hotel Roanoke might be a trip to grab another embarrassing “L” on the way to a salvage job against UVA at Lane Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend.
Along with BC and the Hokies the University of Virginia Cavaliers have managed to operate in a mode approaching major collapse. With the exception of their quarterback, the Wahoos are struggling in their coaching and personnel transition this season. This isn’t much new, and Hokie Nation can certainly feel their pain, but not at the expense of giving up the Commonwealth Cup on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. UVA just hasn’t caught on with much in the way of either offense or defense. Brennan Armstrong has had a forgettable season, already. Yes, the Hoos are one overall win ahead of the Hokies, and that win was ODU, but that was a month ago. It’s difficult to see too far into the future, and there are three games to clear before the Hoos show up on Worsham Field to end their regular season. Short of a total breakdown the Hokies are a push against the Hoos with a slight edge for the homefield advantage. Don’t look for anything high scoring, and certainly don’t look for many hopes for either team to move beyond the regular season into bowl eligibility. At this point look for Tech to keep the cup, and both teams to go home for the holidays to lick wounds, find talent, and try to figure out how to get off the floor.
Getting Real for the Home Stretch
The Hokies would have to win all four closing games to receive any sort of booger bowl. Realistically the risk chart is showing that there are no push over teams left in the schedule, with two games in the probable loss category and two in the toss-up range. Tech hasn’t won a toss-up since the early evaluations of Boston College. Since then, there just hasn’t been too much in the way of breaks. The Hokies have struggled in every game. The team hasn’t solved its self-discipline problems. It certainly hasn’t addressed its inadequate offense and failing special teams. There is progress on the defense, but the natural pass rush (as predicted) never developed.
Right now, the Hokies are looking to finish with either a 4-8 or 5-7 record. With a greater probability being afforded to the former. Who knows? Maybe they’ll rally up and surprise us, but for now, the Good, Bad, and Ugly Poll for October 30 is saying volumes. Sixty-Seven percent of the fans see no more than 2 wins, and if you add the remainder who think that the Hokies will spend the holidays at home, that’s 90%. That’s not what anyone was hoping for, that’s for sure. Not too many folks were expecting miracles, but a failure out of the Pry Era Box was a far cry from even the most pedestrian expectations.