Look, Florida State is going to be a legitimate National Championship Contender. They have the coaching and the talent to push all the way through the final 4 team selection for the 2023 Fake-offs. They are also, frankly, playing for big leverage to get the heck out of the ACC as fast as they possibly can, and a top 5 run for the 2023 season will hand ESPN enough confidence that they’d never back the ACC in a Grant of Rights court fight. Presumably the Seminoles are headed for the SEC, and ESPN owns that network contract, too. There is no way the struggling Mouse is going to turn down making more book with the ‘Noles in their SEC stable. It’s just pure economics. The trick here, though is that FSU needs to show up big to gain critical allies in the inevitable dirty contract fight. That’s another football battle for another article, but for now, you have a top tier Florida State program – after a long and tortured rebuild, back up to the top 10 where they feel that they ought to be.
Into that Doak Campbell hornets’ nest walks hapless striving for mediocrity Virginia Tech. There just hasn’t been enough emotion to pour into article after article of how disappointing the last four seasons have been for the Hokies. Well, really, it’s been thumping the bottom of the mediocre tub for a touch over a decade, now, and with the exception of the 2016 and 2017 flashes of light, it’s been a plod through dull listlessness.
Very few people did more than faintly hope for a win on Saturday, and the truth is that even the most optimistic of Hokie Nation were just hoping to show up and make a game of it. The final preview poll ended up being 42% thinking that it was going to be an FSU blowout, and 41% hoping that the Hokies just showed up well and kept it close. Even with that compromise, the Hokies only managed to keep it within a score for a few minutes in the 3rd quarter, before FSU lit the afterburner and accelerated out of reach, without making it embarrassing. Classy of them, I suppose.
So, What was So Good About Saturday’s Drubbing?
The Hokies managed to not be blown out. They did lose by three scores, but they did manage to actually score in double digits. Maybe that’s the best “Good” that there was, if you were betting the Hokies and the points, with a bumper on the over you walked away with some extra cash for the IRS to tax.
The offense proved that it might have enough life and some skill talent to win a few more games this season. This is a complex situation, and there are more than a few different angles to look at things, however. The main perspective is going to be obvious; Tech is six games into the season with a 2-4 record, and currently looking up from the bottom of a well. The bottom is also occupied by two of our future opponents, Boston College, and Virginia. Wake Forest isn’t much in front of us, maybe a rock or two on the well wall. And with the latest turn of events, Tech has a decent chance to beat all three. That’s a good thing, I suppose. It’s a 5-game ceiling, though. There’d have to be a serious miracle occur to get beyond that, given the schedule ahead of the team.
The pleasant surprise was the addition of Malachi Thomas to the effectiveness column. Thomas, as Bryan noted, had a really nice game, and grabbed some quality runs while Bhayshul Tuten played dual role – receiver and running back. Drones was pretty good on the turf, too, but there is the bad in that, and we’ll touch in it after one more good thing.
The defensive secondary was pretty good this time, Derrick Canteen is developing into an excellent defensive back, and short of the nonsense targeting call against Stroman, which really hurt the emergency run stop effort, the pass defense for Tech was serviceable to decent.
It’s Always Followed by the Bad Stuff
Tech’s passing offense regressed from the Pitt game. Drones was having serious difficulty finding receivers downfield, even when some were wide open, and missed a couple of throws that could have made a difference. He wasn’t helped by the play calling, and this is sort of where Bryan and I will have to amicably agree to disagree.
Someone Please Disconnect the X-Box
Bowen’s play calling is predictable, pedestrian, and tracked. He opened the game with two lame three-and-outs that were made up of tepid flips to bubble and screen routes behind or at the line of scrimmage. In addition, he stuck Kyron Drones in the pocket for too many plays. When your offensive line has problems maintaining blocks for more than 3 seconds, it is completely inscrutable to continue to call 5-second pocket passes instead of rolling the pocket and spreading out the pattern that would allow Drones the option to pull it in and run. The Hokies did that on many plays for the Pitt game, it was less than optimal for the OC to go back to the bag of tricks that don’t work. Bowen would do that again in the 3rd and 4th quarters. He just can’t seem to get his mind set out of his base offense of sprint draws up the middle, and 5-second passes to bubble screens and fade routes. Drones is not a pocket passer or a conventional pro-style QB.
Okay, enough of that, there is an article burning up research and observations to be pushed by mid-season on the entire concept of the “Power Spread” offense and the crying need for major changes, not just in Virginia Tech’s approach, but in football as a whole.
The next Bad Thing, that could have been much worse but still is hurting the team, is the discipline problem in the offensive line. There are lots of “reasons” for the mistakes, but critical errors at inopportune times killed promising drives that could have resulted in scores. Maybe only -4’s but still Tech could have salvaged a much better looking and more satisfying effort of the Offensive Line could buckle down and get a few basics working. No one expecting that this young unit with three different coaches in three seasons is going to be gang busters, but it would be helpful to the team for them to not get flustered and frustrated in the later stages of the game and make critical mental errors.
Now for the Uglies
In the case of these articles “Ugly” refers to bad things that have become systemic, pervasive, intractable, and often the cause of losses.
No Sir, No Sir, One and a Half Bags Full Sir
Right now, even with the brilliance of Keli Lawson and the experience of Alan Tisdale, Virginia Tech’s linebacker situation has gone from iffy, to bad, to ugly this season. No one on the squad is a natural ‘Mike.’ The Hokies really need a 6’3’ 240–250-pound meat grinder of a middle linebacker. It’s almost as if Marve and Pry should move Lawson inside to play a Jack Lambert style ‘Mike,’ just to get the explosive speed, and height on the inside. The Linebackers just aren’t getting there. Even worse, sometimes they are so far out of position they just aren’t anywhere. That happened twice in the game for 14 points and two Trey Benson gash runs that once the front line was broken through there were no linebackers anywhere near the ball on the 2nd level, and no one was going to catch Benson on the third. The run fit problem has been made worse by the pass bias of most defenses where LB assignments are almost always pass primary, which then takes away run-dogs and inside the box gap coverage. Something has to give, and at some point, Marve and Pry have to solve this problem or teams are just going to run the Hokies to death, burning up clock, and counting on some linebacker blowing an assignment and having the play break for huge yardage and often 6.
It’s not like the players aren’t working, or trying, but sometimes they are over committing, over exuberant. They too often get caught out of position, behind the play, or are unable to get off of blocks. Most of this is experience, but a depressingly large portion of it is pure talent. The linebackers are lacking size and speed. Defense often comes down to raw talent, and Tech just has too little of it at the “Tier 1 Level”. None of the other stuff counts much for now.
The final ugly is that this team just doesn’t innovate over the long haul. The offense is one gutter ball after another. If a wide open one-read and go series works and scores, the next series that follows is back to leaden impossible sprint-draws up the middle that the struggling offensive line just cannot block and are too slow developing to take advantage of the speed of Drones, Tuten, and Thomas to the outside or off tackle. The offense is too slow. There is a tantalizing possibility of cranking it up, and surprising opponents that the coaching staff just is too hesitant or tracked to call. Either way, it’s a frustrating underutilization of the talent that is at hand, looking to make it fit an offensive style that it has neither the talent nor speed to execute effectively. It’s not just the play calling… it’s the entire offensive design. It’s just wrong for this talent.
We’ll that’s the take for the Florida State Game.
Coming up, Wake Forest is a good opportunity to nab a win at Lane on Homecoming, if the team plays like they did against Pitt. The previews are coming.