I know it's three days later, but that's still how it feels. I imagine this is how I would feel if I had been excited to go watch a heavyweight boxing match, only to show up and find out that Abe Vigoda was one of the boxers. It's not just painful to watch. It doesn't make rational sense. VT hasn't been held out of the end zone since 2006 at BC. We haven't been held out of the end zone at home since we got blanked by Cincinnati in 1995. Which is to say that our offense was worse than we've seen it in a very long time.
Provide me a moment here to explain myself. You see, I had very high hopes that things were different. And these weren't the same sort of unfounded kindergarten dreams I had secretly harbored at the start of every season, that maybe this year things would be different. I actually saw a difference. With my own eyes. The biggest difference, of course, was that on game day Bryan Stinespring was down on the sideline being primarily a position coach. But there seemed to be substantial evidence that this really was a different offense, not just on paper but in real live ballgames. We were moving the ball effectively, really as well as I could ever expect a VT offense to do, to the tune of 425 yards a game. That's a real, big boy number, the sort that we have never seen out of a VT offense with a first year starting QB under Stiney. We hadn't cashed in as many points as we should have - I'll admit that freely - but a lot of that, I thought, was tinkering with the offense late in games when the W was pretty much in hand. And trying to develop chemistry on the offense was more important, I felt, than running up the score. So by an large, I thought I had a pretty good handle on this O.
HokieJayBee already handled the game review for Clemson - Mad Libs style - and he did a far better job than I could have, seeing as though he was actually in the house. He touched on several points that I agree with, and I really don't have anything constructive to add to them so I'll leave them be. I do want to make a couple of points in specific regard to the Clemson game and the season in general, though, so I'll do that now before I go on my editorial rant.
1) If you're calling for LT to be benched...just stop. Sit down. Better yet, go away. Mark Leal is not the answer. That's not a knock to Leal, it's just the truth. LT has to goods. He's raw as hell right now and needs work in the passing game, but keep in mind that he spent the entire summer before he came to VT learning how to be a tight end.
This is another point I'd like to bring up, or more of a subscript to the general point - LT is NOT a tight end playing quarterback. He was a quarterback in high school. He was projected by the recruiting services to be a tight end in college. He committed himself to learning that position to give himself the best shot at making a major 1A school. But he is not a tight end playing quarterback. I know it might make some people feel better to scream it, but it's not true.
Anyway, LT's for real. He needs to attend the Manning Passing Academy this offseason like Tyrod did, but he has a legitimate skill set. He needs work on vision and timing. He can't carry the team right now. He's learning. Let him learn. If he looks like this again next season we'll revisit this point.
2) The defense is legit. It held Clemson to 183 fewer yards than it had been averaging, and 14 fewer points even after giving up the late score to make it a rout. And it held Chad Morris's up tempo offense to just 67 snaps. I said all last season that Bud Foster had earned a rebuilding year. Consider the defense rebuilt.
And on with the rant...
I don't know what to make of this. And that's not a rhetorical device, I literally don't know what to make of the offensive meltdown against Clemson, at home, at night. I've spent a fair amount of time breaking the game down. In general, I thought it was a decently called game. There were some terrible calls, but fewer than I have come to expect with Stiney in the booth. Like I thought we would, we saw a lot of hurrying to the line on 3rd and 1 with a quick snap and a quarterback sneak. It worked every time, and kudos to Mike O'Cain for not showing that a lot in the non conference games. Clemson seemed unprepared for it. Josh Oglesby's loss of five yards on 3rd and 1 was horrible, but it was called as an off tackle run and not as a sweep like most people are saying. If you go back and watch the play, JO tries to make his cut upfield but then bounces the run outside because he has defenders closing in. This was still a bad play call because JO needs to be pounding between the tackles. It shouldn't have been called off tackle because that gave the play the potential to turn into what it did. But I'll give O'Cain one bad play call a game. I don't expect perfection. And try as I might, I can't find another play call in the game that makes me want to break something. In all, I thought the calls were pretty much situationally appropriate when I broke the game down. A lot of the pass plays in the fourth quarter were just four receivers running go routes, but let's be honest, those are the only damn plays in the playbook when we're in desperation mode. I can't fault O'Cain for using what he has to work with.
I just don't know how to interpret this offensive performance. This was bad. This was worse than Sean Glennon bad. Worse than Grant Noel bad. This was worse than just a Stiney offense. Because hell, even with Stiney calling the shots we had enough talent to punch the ball in at least once a game. We have a lot of talent on this team. And like I said after the Marshall game, throughout the first four games of this season, the offense looked like a by God offense. We've shown we can move the ball against defenses that are no worse than the one we faced this past Saturday. Then against Clemson, an admittedly bad defense in just about every way, the longest sustained drive we can manage is 48 yards. We hit a brick wall, and we hit it hard. And I just can't make what I saw this week fit with what I've seen the last four weeks.
If we're a bad offense, fine. I'm used to it. Honestly. If we're going to stink on ice offensively that's one thing, and I'll deal with it. But to watch the first four weeks as we consistently move the ball down the field, and when the only real thing that was stopping our drives were turnovers or penalties - namely, ourselves - gave me one sense of this offense. Then to watch us fail so miserably in a game that was custom made for us to win, it was literally like watching another team. I can't evaluate the offense during the Clemson game, because I don't even know what I'm looking at.
There's a part of me that says it all goes back to the first two drives, or specifically how they ended: a pick and a fumble. This coaching staff shies away from turnovers like a whipped dog. Frank Beamer has nightmares of loose balls rolling around Worsham Field and wakes up in cold sweats. When a play winds up with the ball in the other team's hands we have a tendency to lock down on O and stay away from whatever it was that caused the turnover. Except right off the bat we had turnovers off the pass and the run. So there was just a general sense of timidity from the offensive staff for the rest of the game that kept us from ever getting into rhythm. We were scared to do anything risky. I mean, we punted from the Clemson 32, for Christ sake. So much for Frank saying he wouldn't hesitate to trot Myer out there for a long field goal in a critical situation.
Maybe the ACC defenses just really are that much better than what we faced from ECU, Arkansas State, and Marshall. Or maybe forces aligned beyond our comprehension that just made Saturday night the perfect shitstorm. Maybe everybody had mono. But whatever it was, I'm not ready to give up on this offense and LT yet. I saw enough through four games to make me not throw in the towel because the fifth was a dud. To put this Clemson mess into perspective I need to see what happens next. Do we have a respectable showing next week against Miami, a team in disarray but a potentially potent defense, or do we stink up the joint again? Do we rebound in typical Hokie fashion or do we fold? Does LT learn from this or does one bad game shake him?
To try to decipher what we are, I need to see where we go from here.