The Heartburn wasn’t the Chili
There was a whole lot to think about as we did dishes and finished up the dinner conversation Saturday evening. The chili was good, but the game was frustrating. It was the end of the third quarter, and the Hokies had narrowed the lead enough to give hope that at 21-10 they’d figure out a way to at least compete. The defense had managed a couple of stops, and the offense had finally settled in enough to drive the ball once to score a touchdown on a nice series and 39-yard pass completion to Da’Quan Felton who was wide open.
The close of the third and opening of the fourth had found the Hokies knocking on the door near the goal line. Even though it was a discouraging head-butting battering ram approach, the Hokies punched the ball across the goal line with 14:28 left on the clock. The score was an encouraging 21-16. A PAT would have given them a positive, completed drive with a doable 4-point deficit and nearly an entire quarter to make that up.
Then the Hokies killed their momentum and dropped the curtain on any hopes that they had of coming from behind to win this one. In explicably the Hokies went for the 2-point conversion and it failed miserably as the pass play evaporated and the running lanes for Kyron Drones never developed. That drive would be the last effective offensive effort that the Hokies would manage, and the failed extra point conversion looked like the offending pin that popped the momentum balloon.
Tech’s offense sputtered from then on, and Rutgers running game, behind their lead back and quarterback just burned up clock and exhausted defenders who all seemed to develop alligator arms. The Scarlet Knights plowed through 14 unanswered points on dominant running drives with minimal passing except precious seconds on the clock. The Tech offense had no answers, again.
So, that was the loss. It was embarrassing. Look, there were some good things in this game that the Hokies should build on and we’ll note that. Let’s take the good first, because we all need to see that something good happened.
The Good Stuff
The appearance of Kyron Drones as the quarterback for the Hokies was actually a very good thing. Though he had a shaky start and was having some issues with choosing whether or not to run or throw, in general Drones actually got the offense to gain yards, and his threat to run opened up the Tech running game, somewhat.
Once he settled down after taking a gut punch with a freaky bad exchange with Tuten and the defense collapsing on the first play, he was steadily improving. He was victimized by a really good defensive back making an acrobatic interception, but that ensuing offensive series was actually stopped by the defense.
Drones was a bit over-stoked on some deliveries, and sometimes he really needed to just pull the ball in and run instead of continuing to look for someone downfield, but he presented a more complete package of skills necessary to make this unsophisticated Power Spread offense work. The move to Drones should be permanent. He just offers a higher dual threat ceiling than Wells.
It was nice to see Tucker Holloway starting as the main punt returner. His big return late in the game was one of the only sparks that could have changed the momentum away from Rutgers. That’s a move that should also stay in effect. In addition to Holloway, we saw Da’Quan Felton show up as a primary downfield target, and Da’Wain Lofton do some nice downfield work as well. Stephen Gosnell showed up to make a difference, and the receiving corps was not the weakness in the game. If the Hokies are going to win, those 10-11 players are going to be keys to getting anywhere, no matter who is the QB.
The secondary was terrific against the pass. We’ll talk about the implications in the ‘Bad’ section, but the general overall impression is that the secondary did their jobs and with the exception of a single TD pass they essentially shut down the Rutgers passing game.
The Bad Things
The Offensive Line wasn’t ugly for this one. It did have serious problems run blocking for the ‘A’ Gap run exchange, but Kyron Drones wasn’t always running for his life. He was pressured, and probably hurried a few too many times, but his style of quarterbacking is different, and we’d have to see more before judging too much on that.
What we did see though is the penalties creep back, again. Some probably due to frustration, but it was indicative of more messy, disorganized blocking schemes mixed with problematic blocking efficiency. When you look at the replays, if you feel like watching a doomed game again, look at how the Rutgers O-Line handled themselves against the Tech Defense, and how the Tech O-Line seemed to fragment and lose gap control. The differences were stark. By the 4th quarter, the Rutgers O-Line was in complete control, they had three linemen blocking in unison on one side of the hole, and a motion man and two linemen opening up the other side that allowed #5 to reap havoc at the second level.
Add to the offensive line woes, the linebackers were just not there. They were playing too loose, and once again missing run fit assignments and gap coverage. There was also a completely inexplicable lack of keying/spying on #5 and #2. When your secondary is necessary to stop the run, eventually they can’t because the momentum is too high, and the gaps blown out to open field. Once Tech realized the limitations of the Rutgers passing game, they needed to shift off to loading the box, playing heavy keys, run-dogging, and letting the secondary continue to cover the limited routes that Rutgers was running. The Defensive line was just getting beaten up and manhandled with no help.
That Leads to the Ugly Side of Things
Yes, the Drones change did help some things. But he just seemed ill prepared. He was taking too long to decide to either run or pass, and often missed opportunities to move the sticks or gain significant yardage by taking the right decision fast enough. Now, that’s a function of playing time and work with the other players on the field. Those are coaching decisions that should have been taken before the season started. The reason why that situation is ugly is that those decisions are still not being taken and then the work put in to solidify the style of play necessary to make them work. Grant Wells is not a Read/Option (Power Spread, Option Power, etc.) quarterback. He needs to have as little pressure put on him as possible, and physical hits negatively affect his performance. In any R/O variation, the QB is inevitably going to be hit, a whole lot.
Kyron Drones is a better option for the way that this offense is being called and played. Its parallel is very much the difference choice between Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor back in the 2007 season. It’s ugly and unfair to either player to shove both out on a limb with less than a complete tool kit of skills for an offense that none of the players in the QB room have all of the physical and playing traits to be able to be effective.
For those looking for “Pop” Watson, look no further than his height and weight numbers. He is not physically built for this offense, either. He’s too small. He might have a nice arm, fast on the outside, and good heart, but he’s no threat to run the belly/blast play - it’ll always be a sprint draw.
And that’s the ultimate ugly in all of this. The offense does not have the personnel necessary to run the offense supposedly being called by the OC. The coordinator is isolated in a booth with an X-Box controller and no physical communication with his players. He might as well be playing video games and losing a whole lot of them.
The Conclusion for the Week
Someone signed up to show in Huntington for a game against Marshall for the grand finale of the non-conference schedule. The one chance for the Hokies to win is for Kyron Drones to play and a wide-open spread option play series chosen that uses intermediate downfield passing and one-read and go QB runs to keep drives alive and score points. If Grant Wells is under center, and the OC goes back to calling 2 crushed blasts and a panicked 3rd and long low percentage pass then it’s going to be a long game... and a long season.