A Cold Hard Look Up from the Well
This might be better be subtitled the Mediocre, the Disappointing, and the Flat-Out-Awful, but we are keeping with the naming convention for consistency’s sake. Maybe someone with some consistency in this scheme of things would be a good happening? This article is normally a substitute for the picture essay (which will come when it’s sorted out) but Thursday evening games give some time to do the extra work, and there is something relevant to be said on this one.
This game was the final of the first four of the 2022 season which puts us 1/3rd of the way through, and we are going to have to review the landscape (mosh pit perhaps?) in front of us.
So, this article will concentrate on the fiasco that developed and then avalanched for the West Virginia game. This one is important purely for the analytical points that indicate how the Hokies are going to do against Moderate risk teams with slightly higher upsides. West Virginia is a peer team in many respects, and certainly didn’t have a better record than the Hokies did, but they did have something that Virginia Tech didn’t, namely an offense.
We start with the overview issues to make our day and read so much “easier”:
The Hokies really needed to perform well in this game, even if they didn’t win it. The Defense needed to complete a game and make West Virginia’s high-powered Big XII offense pay dearly for every yard. That sort of happened for three quarters of the game but didn’t in the 4th quarter.
The Tech Offense needed to move the ball effectively and score points – whether a -4 or a touchdown every time that it touched the ball. It was critical to stay on the field and keep the Mountaineer Offense off the field. There were only two times where that happened in all of Tech’s possessions. That hung the ‘D’ out to dry – which was already struggling to slow down the West Virginia passing and running attack.
Now, let’s look at what good, bad, and ugly stuff happened in this one to see if there is anything particularly redeeming about this brutal loss.
Yes, there are folks that expect the old [crickets chirping] gif here, but there were a few good things in this contest. The crowd hung with the game for 3 quarters. But then the team hung in for 3 as well. So maybe that was sort of “Meh...” instead of “Good”.
The Defense managed to actually make it really a slugging difficulty for the normally big play making Mountaineer offense. Yes, they managed to pass, but the yards after catch didn’t happen. Tech managed three quarters of a bend but don’t break approach defense. Unfortunately, really tight and twitchy officiating made man coverage difficult, and as we’ll see in the “Bad” section – there was no real pass rush to put any meaningful pressure on JT Daniels. So, maybe a good more of another “sigh heavy Meh…”
The weather was surprisingly cool and very windy, but that didn’t affect much, and didn’t benefit either team. William Ross was definitely a good. He’s got a leg, with a 44-yard field goal into the wind, and a set of good sights. The cool weather should have benefitted the team in stamina and playability though. Should have, maybe another “Meh here, too…”
Where to begin, kiddies? Where to begin?
The Big Picture
The Offense was just flat out bad. Sorry for Hokie purists to have to hear that but this offense has no rhythm, no pace, and no reason to be on the field. I used to think that it was boring and unimaginative, but with drives like the Tech TD drive where things were clicking by throwing it around and downfield, you got the impression that if the Offensive coaching staff found 1000 pounds of silver bars laying around, they’d take a pass and keep looking for platinum. No matter how many good plays were executed they were almost always followed up by something timid or even fecklessly useless.
Knowing What You Can Do and Not Doing What You Can’t
Remember Dirty Harry’s big line from his first movie? “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Well, someone on this staff (Tyler Bowen, call the office, please.) better recognize that this team cannot run between the tackles on 60-70% of the teams that it faces.
The offensive personnel and training do not lend themselves to simple drive and zone blocking up the middle…. Period. That’s this offense’s first limitation. To run, it must both pass, and go outside. If that means getting the running backs in the short flats for 2-3 yards for a four-yard gain, then that’s what has to happen. The offensive line is doing a good job pass blocking for enough time to give a quarterback time to throw 3 and 4 second routes.
Note to Coach Pry: We know that you “should be able to get 1 yard”. The truth? This team can’t, so do something else.
The Quarterback Needs More Help Than Can Be Given
This publication isn’t in to attacking individual players, it’s classless and low rent. What we do, though, is critique performance with as little negativity as possible. The current quarterback situation is an unfortunate left over of the prior regime, the loss of talent, and the failure to recruit to make up for that loss… cough Hendon Hooker at Tennessee doing great in an air raid… cough. There is no sugar coating the fact that Grant Wells is struggling. He’s missing open receivers with hurried throws, and he’s also missing critical open short reads that would sustain drives and instead throwing deep for much lower percentage attempts. It hasn’t helped that the running attack is non-existent, and the run blocking is just not there yet. The reality is that Wells is having difficulty with the situation and no amount of “new system” play calling is going to fix that in one or two games.
Note to Bowen and Glenn: Your system (whatever that is, we are having trouble seeing it) is not working for these personnel. You are going to have to make some changes if you hope to get off of your 5-7 floor. More about that later in the conclusion.
The Run Game Has Gone Flooey
Let’s go back to the first Bad. You can’t run the ball effectively or efficiently inside the tackles. It’s just not there. You don’t have the running back talent on the field. They aren’t breaking first contact tackles, and they certainly don’t have the burst to the hole that you need. Add to that you insist on running everything from the shotgun/pistol which slows everything down to the point where even modest defenses are trashing your run game. If you want to pick a booger in December, you are going to have to change attitudes about “running” the ball.
Look up Mississippi Valley State during the Jerry Rice era, there was one season in there where I swear, they didn’t run the ball once. It was all passing; short, intermediate, and deep. It is possible to run a West Coast/Air Raid variation with these personnel. If you want to move the ball offensively, you are going to have to run by dinking and dunking the ball up the field, with positive yards. There is risk, there. Your receivers and running backs are going to have to get open fast and catch the ball. Your quarterback is going to have to rely on one/two read plays where a 3 or 4 Mississippi timer is screaming in his ear. No this isn’t what you want to do, but sometimes you have to take the short term in order to get long term gains.
The Ugly Stuff
As if things weren’t disappointing enough, there are uglier things than the bad ones.
Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy
Everything is sloppy folks. This team’s functions are not well organized in presentation from the pregame warmups to the execution of play setup before the snaps on the field. It just feels haphazard, crowded, and jumbled up.
We’ve already gone over the fake run up to the line and stop sort of pacing for play execution. A huge part of your offense procedure penalties from twitchy little false starts to bad snaps, and illegal formations comes from this. There is a note of reality that there is a similar pattern of this going on in nearly all college football, and it’s a discipline disaster. It’s also of marginal effectiveness. It’d just be better to huddle up. Bring the play in from the sideline with a receiver or running back switch, and snap to the line and execute the play called instead of reacting to the defense. This error in thinking is a disease like the creeping crud.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
Executing the small stuff and fundamental processes well is the first step to curing the sloppies. It also goes back to simple communications, face to face, and play to play – which lessens the mental burdens on keeping ever switching signals straight and guarding from signal theft. The second part of the gain is something that too many college offenses (and many pro-offenses, too) fall into reacting to the defense instead of dictating to it. At some point in the recent past, someone came up with the idea that you should try to guess what the defense is going to do and make a change before the snap from the sideline. In the past, this always was done with a play call and complementary audible executed by the quarterback on the field before the snap.
Not every player is Peyton Manning but most college QBs have enough gray matter and talent to be given a play concept set that the coaches want accomplished without interference from the sideline. There is a note of unfortunate reality in this “wish” though. Most coaches, in the modern era, are neither brave nor flexible enough to do that. They are more often than not, ego ridden control freaks who just can’t trust anyone who is not themselves to execute. We’ll see if the Pry Era makes a change to that terrible pattern developed through the prior regime. Maybe it’s time to put the Football Overcoaching OCD to rest. It takes trust off the field and makes otherwise smart players into robots.
More Sloppy and Careless Stuff
Penalties. Remember that K.I.S.S stuff? Well, penalties are not particularly difficult to fix until the day of execution and the law of independent variables takes effect, along with fatigue, adrenaline, and frustration. The two biggest independent variables that create Zebra laundry on the field are the players’ focus and discipline, and the Zebras themselves. The former is solved by changing how you do things and the timing and rhythm of how they’re executed. The latter can’t easily be addressed. This past game for whatever reason the referees were “flag happy” (for lack of a better term). Everyone knows that there a raft of personal foul and functional penalties that happen on every play, and the referees are encouraged to call them only when they directly affect the play (like a hold creating an advantage, or an obvious offensive jump drawing the defense offside). These near instantaneous procedure penalties (false starts) where the play isn’t even set at the line (like individual players set and not the entire line) is becoming a major issue. That rule should be revisited, and those calls ended… but until then the only way to keep from accidentally false starting is to execute the KISS method, huddle up, call the play, proceed to the line together, and not “SET” the offense until movement is stopped for the snap. We are getting hammered by the Lineup, Call stuff…, STOP, signal stuff, and then snap. There is too much going on for too long and it’s exposing rule and function mismatches that are creating flags.
It’s a Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop of Pain
Then there are the careless personal fouls, the ticky-tac sort of pass interference and holding penalties, and the NCAA is still having serious trouble with consistency and fairness in calling “Targeting” by its own admission and rule reevaluations. All of this puts an amazing amount of pressure on young men who are already playing under extremis. Breaking that cycle of pain is a coaching issue that, to date, hasn’t resulted in permanent satisfactory results.
The Challenges for the Next Eight
No one with any reasonable knowledge of what was left over, personnel and process wise, from the prior regime was expecting much of anything from this season. Most of the respondents in the poll for the pre-season Risk evaluation, had the same conclusion that the floor and ceiling of this football team was going to be only a couple of contests and that floor would be a “no bowl” 5-7 and if lucky a ceiling of 7-5, with a 6-6 most probable. This team, if it wants to rise off that 5-7 floor needs to get at least 2 wins out of this next four games, and 2 out of the final four. We’ll jump into that situation in the next article that will revisit the Risk analysis chart and see what our chances are. For now, let’s just conclude with some high-level things that this coaching staff is going to have to consider if it’s not just pitching the season and looking to move on as fast as possible.
Get Real, Innovate, Break Your Sacred Rules
The first thing that this staff needs to do is to get realistic about what sort of personnel it has, how it was trained for the last six seasons, and how successful it is implementing the new “system”. Reality, after four games is that the Defense is about halfway there, and the Offense is completely clueless. Understanding that and adjusting to it will definitely help to get a few more Ws on the schedule.
To do that, as much as it pains me, the offensive coaching staff is going to have to reach into the Fuente/Cornelsen play book and dope out enough of the good plays that worked, salt in some of their own that work, and do a better job of organizing that hybrid playbook into functional game plans that avoid the mountains that this team just cannot climb with the personnel at hand. This team can’t run inside because the O-Line still can’t run block effectively (hey, no bad smack… been watching lots of other college football and very few lines can run block anymore). But this team just does not have the personnel or talent to run up the middle… it’s just not there.
Which means that the coaching staff is going to have to put some sacred cows into another pasture for other years, the concentrate on doing what they “can” this season. This means answering the 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 situation with a 3-second pass play with a play action fake. It means dropping away from the shotgun enough times to convince opponents that you can operate from either the Power-I/Tee or the Shotgun/Pistol for a good deal of your play calling. It also means that if you can’t run reliably you have to move the ball confidently through the air with more of a West Coast/Air Raid approach. That’s a sacred cow sort of thing that head coaches just never have the guts to face. “Gee, what we want to do, we can’t, so we are going to do something else. Even if it’s not what I like to do.”
This is Still a Game-to-Game Season
No one really knows what’s going to happen for each game, except that everyone else that we are going to play seems to be in weird territory, too. We’ll look at that next in the First Third Review.