On the Hokies' first play from scrimmage, Mike O'Cain calls the zone read. A good call to open the game. Like we've seen before, Logan Thomas holds the ball between him and David Wilson for a loooooooong time, then pulls it back and commits to a run up the gut. He makes positive yardage but is met HARD by the Clemson defensive tackle. LT fights for positive yardage and starts to go down a little funny, kind of backward and to the side. Instinct overrides fundamentals and LT sticks out his hand - still clutching the football - in an attempt to brace himself. The ball pops free and Clemson recovers just outside of their own red zone.
Well, I think to myself, here we go again.
I liken that play to that moment when you're teetering at the very top of the track, before the roller coaster goes plummeting down the other side. Because the entire rest of this game made me want to throw up.
Addressing the defense first, I am not shocked to see us give up 38 to Clemson on the second go round. Since we first played the Tigers in early October we were down a starting mike, a starting whip, and backup whip, and a starting defensive tackle. Kyle Fuller was playing out of position at whip, which put Cris Hill at field corner. That meant when Jayron went out with his stinger we had backups playing both corner spots, one of them a freshman. I suspected that eventually the next man up in this defense was going to be unable to perform at a high level, and we finally saw that in the ACCCG. The only adjustment Clemson had to make at halftime on offense was "throw to Bonner's man," and that's exactly what they did. Now please do not misunderstand me, Detrick Bonner is going to be a BEAST by the time he graduates, and being pressed into so much playing time in critical situations this season is just going to help him marinate as a player. But against Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Bonner was outmatched. So was Hill, for that matter. Had we been able to play Hosley and Fuller at the corners all night then perhaps things would have been different, but we couldn't and they weren't.
I just want to take a moment here and tell all of the people who were grumbling that Jayron didn't "look hurt" during the game to just shut the fuck up. Seriously. You have obviously never had a stinger, or you'd realize that they aren't visible injuries until you try to push yourself physically. Jayron would have played if he could.
But anyway, I knew going into this game there was a good shot Clemson was going to put up more points against our defense the second time around. But I expected our offense to be able to match them.
The opening fumble aside, LT did not have a complete clusterfuck of a game, regardless of what the scoreboard said. Despite press coverage on his receivers all night, which gives our offensive scheme fits and has for years, LT still managed to complete half his passes for 276 yards and an absolutely beautiful touchdown pass to DJ Coles. He threw two picks, both in the second half after Clemson had blown the game wide open and VT was in full-on pass mode. And he looked very indecisive at times, holding the ball for too long before committing to a run or throwing the ball away, and was probably trying to overcompensate for that later when he drew and unfortunate intentional grounding call. Was it a great game for LT? No. But he still played pretty well for as craptacular of a night as it was, and I guarantee you the young man can learn a lot from this game. The problem on offense was not LT.
The offensive line. Sweet fucking Jesus, this shit again? A big, physical defensive line shreds Newsome's line all damn night. Again. I see it. I assume all the Hokies watching from the stands or on TV see it. Why the fuck does Beamer not see it. Once again, Newsome and his zone blocking scheme has zero answers when it's trench warfare up front. I am so fucking tired of this guy still drawing a paycheck. Newsome's ineptitude prevented David Wilson from ever getting a decent hole to run through, which accomplished one of Clemson's primary objectives on defense: make us one dimensional. It's pretty well established now that the formula for shutting down VT is to eliminate the run and play man press coverage on the corners.
I have to give credit to Mike O'Cain for his play calling when it became apparent what Clemson's defensive gameplan was. Mike did his best to call plays that are designed to exploit aggressive defenses. We saw screen passes to Wilson, coupled with a very nice go route from the backfield that I wish we had seen more of this season. We saw some quick slants to DJ Coles and Marcus Davis. We saw some delayed QB draws. In general O'Cain was calling the things you want to be called in the situation we were in. The problem is, they were getting routinely blown up due to the O line's lack of answers for Clemson's pass rush. Balls were getting tipped all night, and when passes from your 6'6" QB with an over the top release are getting tipped, you know their defensive line is getting into the backfield way too damn quickly.
I mentioned in the comments on another post that I was very frustrated by how little O'Cain actually had to work with in the situation he found himself in against Clemson. Stiney and O'Cain need to use the bowl practices and a good chuck of the offseason developing a package of plays specifically for use against aggressive press coverage that don't rely on the run, because with our performance against Clemson this season you can bet we're about to see a lot of defenses do their best Tiger impression against us. Our offense is still predominantly geared toward intermediate and long passes. Now in general, with the way LT throws a longer ball, there's nothing wrong with that. But we also need an answer for what Clemson did to us defensively, and we need to figure out a way to nickle and dime our way down the field when a defense refuses to give us the time we need to let the longer plays develop.
In response to the officiating of this game, I'm just going to say it was bad and move on. I don't harp on officiating, and I don't like fans who do. There is no defense for how bad these officials were in the conference championship game, and I do sincerely hope John Swofford addresses some of the terrible calls and non-calls. During the game I certainly felt like we were having to play both Clemson and the refs, which was frustrating. But more frustrating than that was the fact that we let it get into our heads. We started playing some very sloppy football as our emotions got the best of us. I would have loved to have seen a well officiated game, but even moreso I would have loved to see our players maintain their composure when bad calls started to go against us. Football is a game of controlled aggression, and usually the team that can better control their aggression wins.
I will say this about the officials, though. Through refusing to call horse collar tackles and helmet to helmet hits they allowed for a very dangerous game to be played. Had someone been seriously injured, whether a Hokie or a Tiger, it would have been on their heads. For this reason - and not for any hypothetical contribution they made toward the Hokies' loss - this officiating crew should be addressed by the conference.
So by the end of the night you had a banged up defense with backups pressed into too many starting roles and players having to play out of position. You had an offense with no answers on the offensive line. You had a playbook lacking against press coverage. You had a team that lost composure over some questionable officiating.
You don't win those, folks.
FBS Mission Statement:
We at FBS believe that offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring bears the largest share of the blame for years of sub-par output from some of the most talented players ever to set foot on Worsham Field. We believe the main objective of the VT football program - a national championship - will escape us as long as Stinespring is making the calls. We therefore advocate the improvement of our football program through the replacement of our offensive coordinator.