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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Our Distinguished Opponent: Redemption


I'm not going to make excuses.

First time up, Clemson beat us. They beat the shit out of us. They humiliated us at home, at night, worse than we've been humiliated in a long time. They made me question if all the progress I thought I had seen up to that point with Mike O'Cain as our play caller had just been wishful thinking. In its own way that loss hit me harder than even the JMU debacle, if only because I could wrap my mind around losing on four days rest against a lackluster, taken for granted opponent more easily than I could wrap my mind around a prime time bedshitting like I witnessed against Clemson. But give the Devil his due. Clemson beat us. There's nothing we can do to change that.

This Saturday in Charlotte isn't about revenge. There is no revenge to be exacted for us not showing up against them the first time around. Beating them now won't take away the loss in October, and it won't make it any easier to swallow. This is about redemption, proving that what we saw on the field against Yabo Dabo in early October was a fluke that does not represent what this Virginia Tech team is and what it can do.

Virginia Tech takes the field in its fifth ACC championship game Saturday the matchup will be between two teams that have moved in opposite directions since their meeting in October:



Virginia Tech Clemson
Wins
7
4
Losses
0
3
Avg Points Scored
31.3
32.1
Avg Points Allowed
17.6
32.4

With the exception of Boston College and maybe North Carolina, every game Clemson has played in since playing us has either been a shootout or they've gotten routed. They're actually giving up more points than they score over the last seven games, and they have scored a LOT of points during that run. Part of what is going on is, of course, that Clemson is Clemson. I mean, honestly, who didn't see this coming? Another part of it is that there is now enough tape to study to fully exploit Clemson's bad defense to fullest possible potential. And part of it has been the deconstruction of Tajh Boyd.

Here is a comparison of what Tajh Boyd and Logan Thomas have each done the last four games:

Boyd Thomas
Passing TDs
4
8
INTs
7
2
Rushing TDs
0
4

It's not hard to see why the teams' records are what they are. Thomas has come on strong down the stretch while Boyd has faded somewhat. Some of that might be the injury that has essentially removed Sammy Watkins from Clemson's offense, but to see such an incredible nose dive from a player who looked like an All American QB through the first half of the season is unexpected.

On paper, the way these two teams are playing lately it seems like VT has to be the hands down favorite to win in Charlotte, and that makes me nervous. For one thing, the crowd at Bank of America stadium is going to be 90% Clemson, if only because Clemson has been in for two weeks now while VT just clinched this past Saturday. For another thing, this game represents the last real shot in the season to prove that Clemson isn't... y'know... Clemson. The Tigers will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and motivation shouldn't be lacking.

But we have the blueprint on how to beat the Tigers this time around. Georgia Tech and South Carolina gave it to us: run the ball down their fucking throats. (As an aside, I don't know what the hell we learned from the Tigers' loss to NC State.) We want to run zone read all night long, with a 50/50 split of LT trucking them inside and Wilson stretching them to the perimeter. Then we want to mix in some play action to stretch the field. And for the love of God just keep going. That's my plea to Frank Beamer this week. Up by 50? Try to go up 75. Five hundred yards total offense? Shoot for a grand. Because we've seen that Clemson can come back in a hurry (against Maryland and Wake Forest) and they aren't out of it till they start talking about Steve Spurrier. 

On defense, it's all about pressuring Tajh Boyd. Gayle and Collins have to get pressure early and often off the corner. Look for Bud to throw multiple looks at Boyd to try to get him off his game, because it's now well established that the kid has an aversion to contact and once rattled takes about three possessions to recover, if at all. We also need Hosley, Fuller, Hill, and Bonner to lock down the semi-healed Sammy Watkins like they did the first time around. 

But here's the problem I have going into Charlotte: this is the same damn script we needed and failed to follow on October 1. They're the same team - the same quick strike offense, the same porous defense - that we thought we had a handle on going under the lights in Blacksburg. They might be a little more "Clemson" (in the traditional, Tommy Bowden sense of the word) than they were the first time around,  but they're essentially the same team we saw before. What reason do we have to believe that things will be different this time around?

Well, there's this....


Hokie, redeem thy self.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

UVA Recap - Sucks to be hoo.


We own this state, bitch.

What can I say? The only thing that could even be considered a stone's throw from a criticism is that in the third quarter it took a little longer than I would have liked to go from dominance to total annihilation. I got a little nervous after a couple of three and outs, but then we just effing steamrolled their asses in the fourth quarter. The result?

I hope Frank gave Chase a game ball. He was our MVP.
 Let me just go down the list here...

Marcus Davis, well done, young man. I'd like to see these sorts of games more regularly than just bookends on the season. I know what you are capable of every game even if up until now you seemed not to.

David Wilson, welcome back to the endzone. It has missed you.

James Gayle, you naaaaaaasty.


Jack Tyler. Oh. My. GOODNESS. Between him and Kyle Fuller there's not an open field tackle that can't be made. At one point he had a Hoo on the ground slithering away like Jigsaw had just gotten done with him.

That's a strong safety that just went airborne, folks.
Logan Thomas...












I've wanted to see a complete game all season, with every phase of the game clicking. The fact that it happened against UVA - and not just UVA, but UVA in a season when they thought they really, legitimately had a shot - makes it so very much sweeter. Since the game ended, my wife has caught me chuckling to myself randomly like three times. Every time she asks what's so funny. Every time I answer, "Thirty-eight, nothing." And she just smiles. Like HokieJayBee said, perpetually the little brother.

Let's put this into perspective. When the UVA redshirt seniors that are leaving this year were freshmen, there still weren't any players on the squad who had ever beaten VT. And despite all the progress that Mike London has made - and let's give credit where credit is due, he's made a TON of progress in Hooville - the gap between the two programs seems to be widening.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Virginia Open Thread

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Our Distinguished Opponent: Hate

This is the face of the enemy.
Great rivalry games get great titles.

Alabama/Auburn is the Iron Bowl. Georgia/Florida is the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Oklahoma/Oklahoma State is Bedlam. Oregon/Oregon State is the Civil War. Pitt/WVU is the Backyard Brawl. Virginia Tech/Georgia Tech is the Techmo Bowl.

I hereby move that we refer to the Virginia Tech/UVA rivalry as the Culture War.

I fucking hate Virginia. I hate so much more about them than just their football program. I hate their pompous, self-important attitude. I hate their sense of entitlement. I hate their fairweather fans who hide behind non-revenue sports and academics when their football team sucks (often), only to come trolling out of the woodwork as soon as the program displays some basic level of competency (rare). I hate the fact that they have to create a YouTube video begging their apathetic, whiny student body to fill their shithole of a stadium against their in-state rival.

There is a basic, fundamental divide between Hokies and Wahoos. Hokies are rowdy and rough around the edges. We drink bourbon at a wine tasting. We're intense, not pretentious. We expect more than success; we expect excellence. We are proud to support our football team. We show up after losses. In fact, history proves we show up harder after losses. And we don't lose to the fucking Wahoos.

A man walks into a bar in Richmond on the last Saturday in November with a little dog under his arm. The bartender says, "No dogs allowed in here." The man says, "This is a special dog. He's been trained to watch the UVA/Virginia Tech game and react to it. When UVA scores a touchdown he barks. When VT scores a touchdown he does a backflip. When Virginia Tech wins he walks in a circle on his front paws." The bartender says, "That's amazing! What does he do when UVA wins?" The man replies, "I don't know. He's only seven years old."

This rivalry has become a joke, and I feel robbed for it. But start sculpting mountains out of your mashed potatoes, because this means something.


What's at stake? The Coastal Division. Our shot at redemption against Clemson. Our first 11 win regular season since 1999. Pride. Our dominance over the Hoos. Take your pick. But for me, first and foremost, this game is about maintaining dominance.

Mike London is doing his damndest to enact a culture change at UVA, and in year two he's already making some headway. He's starting to reestablish in-state recruiting. He has some signature wins to his name. Perhaps most importantly, he has his players believing they can win. If they beat us it has the potential to become a moment of transition between to two programs. We cannot afford to let that happen.

Throw the stats out the window. I don't care who leads what statistical category for the Hoos. On Saturday in Scott Stadium there is one maxim to follow, one supreme commandment: break them.

Whoever is trying to pass the ball against us, break them.

Whoever is trying to run the ball against us, break them.

Whoever is trying to tackle us, break them.

Break the Hoos. Win the Culture War. Own the state. Earn our shot at redemption.

One more time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from FBS



Or as Hokies like to call it, the Eucharist.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

UNC Recap

I hate when we finish ugly. Whether it's a drive, a game or a season, when we finish ugly it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It makes it easy to forget the positives and feel (incorrectly) that the entire effort was as bad from start to finish as it looked at the end. I'm not sure why it's so much easier to forgive a slow start than an ugly finish, but it's true. (Not that we don't indulge in our fair share of hand-wringing over slow starts.) Psychologists would probably call it the recency effect. I call it disappointing to watch.

All the credit in the world to UNC's defensive front seven, who are legitimately as big and as good as any defensive line we've faced this season. They made us fight for every yard we gained on the ground, like I thought they would. And credit as well to UNC's entire team for playing sixty minutes of football. Everett Withers and his team believed they were still in this game when they were down 17 with 9:49 left to play, when we quite obviously did not. The ensuing disparity of effort and intensity between the two sides damn near resulted in what would have been one of the great all-time VT collapses under Beamer. Thankfully the Tarheels came up just short.

Let's be clear about exactly what happened in this game: we quit. It's as simple as that. The game was in hand, UNC had been stopped cold, we were doing what we do this season on offense. Then we got up by a comfortable margin. It's cold, it's senior night, and we're ready to be in a warm locker room while UNC is busy trying to mount their comeback. And we played like absolute shit on both sides of the ball for the last nine minutes of the game.

It is important - in fact, I might argue it's absolutely critical - to remember that for the first three quarters of this game there were a fair share of positives. First of all, this was probably LT's finest effort to date as a quarterback. It certainly wasn't his best game statistically, but this was far and away the best defensive front seven he has ever faced, and for the first time all season our offensive line was just simply fracturing under their pass rush. LT had defenders in his face all game long and was forced to scramble out of a broken pocket on multiple occasions. The results were often incredible to watch, like his NFL-caliber throw to DJ Coles on the run - a play that even fooled ESPN's prime time camera crew - and his 18 yard scramble on 3rd and 19 that was reminiscent of a Tyrod Taylor play...if Tyrod Taylor had been involved in some freak taffy puller mishap. His 23 yard touchdown run on the zone read proves that play with LT and David Wilson is damn near undefendable. And his first touchdown pass to Chris Drager was NFL-right-now good.

Second, let's talk more about that drive that was capped off by the touchdown pass to the Drager Bomb. OH...MY...GOD. In the comments on the open thread my response was, "This is what this offense has ALWAYS been capable of," and I stand firmly behind that statement. That drive - all 18 plays and 7 minutes 59 seconds worth - is a summary of the difference between the offense this season as called by O'Cain versus the past nine years of futility under Stinespring. Ten passes, eight rushes. Six first downs. A key fourth down conversion. And an absolutely colossal swing of momentum in the game.

Third, the defense did a good job reverting back to the base Bud Foster defense after spending basically two weeks preparing to defend the flexbone. I wanted to talk more about this in the preview but was limited by time constraints and had to leave it as just a bullet point, but you really can't overstate how difficult it is for our defense to switch everything up for one game against Georgia Tech and then go right back to how they had been playing before that. We really do defend Georgia Tech completely differently than any other team we play, and while it took a while for us to settle in on D, once we did we locked the Tarheels down. No small part of that was the sidelining of Giovani Bernard, but after giving up a quick touchdown on a short field to open the game, the defense did not allow the Heels another point until they decided to start mailing it in come the fourth quarter.

But sweet Jesus the wheels damn near fell off on this one. It was nauseating to watch how close we nearly came to a world-class bed-shitting on senior night, which I would argue is a more hallowed event than homecoming. In the end we survived our trap game when many top teams did not, but we came perilously close to shooting ourselves right in the Lisfranc. There's no excuse for what we saw at the end of that game. Hopefully it will serve as a wake up call as we finish out the season.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

UNC Open Thread

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

GT (UNC p)review

Part the First: A Cornucopia of the Spectacular



First of all, thanks to all of you for the kind words of support.

Second of all, HOLY SHIT did you see that?

I always try to find an angle in my game reviews that maybe wasn't totally apparent when you just watch the game, some little quirk or stat or something that happened that was unusual or noteworthy. Against Georgia Tech it was hard to find some aspect of the game that wasn't spectacular in some form or fashion.

Spectacular Thing No. 1: LT finished with a relatively un-spectacular 209 yards passing. But 105 of those yards - over half - came from passes on third down with more than ten yards to go. The play calls on these downs might as well have been called Western Union; the pass that was coming was just that telegraphed. And remember that Georgia Tech's passing defense was supposed to be good.

Spectacular Thing No. 2: Although at times throughout the game it felt like GT was gashing Bud Foster's defense (and they were; see the part of my preview about blocking one defender out of the play making the entire defense look like idiots), our defense held GT to 134 fewer total yards, 85 fewer rushing yards, and 11.5 fewer points than they came in averaging. We did this exactly the way I said we would have to: by forcing Georgia Tech out of the triple option late in the game and once we did that set up...

Spectacular Thing No. 3: Georgia Tech had NEGATIVE ONE YARD TOTAL OFFENSE in the fourth quarter. I don't think I have ever seen a defense clamp down and ice a game the way this defense did against Georgia Tech, especially when the first three quarters were of a decidedly more "bend but don't break" flavor.

Spectacular Thing No. 4: We stuck with the run. Despite LT's ridiculous passing stats on third and long, the game plan was to line up and run at them until they proved they could stop it. And a twelve yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown proved they couldn't stop it. Every third and short I kept thinking to myself, okay, here's where we see a classic Stiney slow developing off tackle run by the tailback, and every time I was halfway through that thought LT was already eight yards down the field. Mike O'Cain called a BRILLIANT game with the exception of two plays, and I'll always cut some slack when the number of situationally inappropriate play calls can be counted on one hand. We stuck with what was working. That's a theme I could get used to.

Spectacular Thing No. 5:
It just doesn't get old.

I could write more about this game, but the combination of time constraints and physical exhaustion mandate that I instead move ahead to...

Part the Second: Our Distinguished Opponents: UNCheat



Thank God it's Senior Day.

There are so, so many reasons to be worried about this game:
  1. We are coming off an emotional win against a heated rival.
  2. Bud Foster has one week to get the defense back to playing base after changing essentially everything for one game.
  3. Next week is a rivalry game (okay, UVA isn't much of a rivalry these days)
  4. It's against a team that has nothing to play for but pride.
But this will be the final home game for a lot of really talented Hokies, who should be fully motivated to make their last game on Worsham Field a good one. I'm having a very difficult time wrapping my mind around the idea that after tomorrow we will never again see Danny Coale or Jarrett Boykin catch a pass inside Lane Stadium. 

UNC is a schizophrenic mess of a football team. One week they look great, then they turn right around and get shut out by a very bad NC State team. We have no way of knowing which team will actually show up on a frigid Thursday night in Blacksburg, so we need to be prepared for their best shot. 

This is a matchup of two stout rushing defenses versus two good running backs. Freshman Giovani Bernard is the primary workhorse for the Tarheels. He's over 1,000 yards rushing for the season and averages over 5.4 yards per carry. David Wilson, on the other hand, is David Wilson. Both backs will probably get their yards, but look for each man to have to fight for them.

The disparity in this matchup is our passing game against their passing defense. UNC is piss poor and defending the pass, giving up over 248 yards through the air. That's good for 90th in the nation and dead last in the ACC. Meathooks and 7-Eleven have an opportunity here to make their last game at Lane Stadium a memorable one. 

I don't know if any players read this blog. If they do, please humor me in taking some advice from someone who never played the game at anything approximating this level. You only get so many of these. That rings true of everything, no matter what the hell it is. Downs of football. Years of college. Sunrises. You only get so many. Make every one count.

Thanks again.

A Quick Look Ahead to Next Weekend...



Yup. They have to ASK students to come to the game.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled Thursday night pregaming.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pardon my absence.

Due to the death of my aunt I will be on the road for the next few days as I travel to attend the funeral. This will unfortunately delay my recap of the Georgia Tech game by a few days, and I'll probably just roll it into my preview for UNC when I get back from Virginia.

My apologies for the delay but it is regrettably unavoidable.

Go Hokies.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Georgia Tech Open Thread

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

When VT takes the field against Georgia Tech...

they will be coached by the winningest active coach in the Bowl Subdivision.

Regarding Penn State

Monday, November 7, 2011

Our Distinguished Opponents: Here we Groh again.


Part Two: Fileting the 3-4

So here's the thing.

All that stuff I just talked about how to defend the flexbone? We can do all that and still lose. The triple option will always win in the end if a team is able to run it for the entire game, because even if you have the defense to stop it, that defense will eventually wear down from overexertion. Every defender has to go full speed every down against the flexbone, and by the end of the game even the best defense is gassed. So you have to get a triple option team away from the option. You have to dictate the flow and the speed of the game by making an option team play from behind and not giving them the luxury of grinding out a seven minute scoring drive.

Against Georgia Tech's flexbone, the best defense is a good offense.

You want to know why the Georgia Tech game gives you ulcers? It's because we have a rich tradition of shitting the bed on offense in this game. A lot. Here is the drive log for the first half of the 2008 Georgia Tech game:

And 2009: 

And 2010:

We have a problem with slow starts, and slow starts against Georgia Tech can lose the game for you. So even if the defense stops the flexbone dead in its tracks, it will still be up to the offense to fulfill its end of the bargain and put points on the board. I'm not saying we have to drop half a hundred on the Ramblin' Wreck (it'd be nice), but we do have to make it a multiple possession game for them as quickly as possible. The secret to doing that is to aim our David Wilson cannon right at the heart of their defense and fire at will.

GT uses the same 3-4 defense that UVA used under Al Groh with no major noticeable tweaks. And like most 3-4 defenses, GT is better against the pass (185 yards allowed per game, 15th in the nation) than they are against the run (162 ypg, 69th nationally). If you watched the Hoos take down GT you don't need me to tell you that the weakest spot in their defense is right in the middle, so look for a lot of straight ahead runs. It's more difficult to find the outside against a 3-4 because the extra linebacker gives the defense more lateral quickness than a 4-3. That also means we will probably see a lot of 5 and 6 yard gains and probably not so many huge runs because once Wilson gets into the second level he's going to find quicker defenders there to tackle him. Oglesby also has the potential for a big game. I like his chances of plowing through an inside linebacker better than a down lineman.

Don't get frustrated without seeing Wilson blow through the defense for a 30 yard run. If we can get five to six yards a carry consistently we will hold our own in the time of possession battle and will keep our defense rested. What we need are more drives that look like our first scoring drive against them in '08. We came close to that last year, with our first three possessions each bleeding nearly five minutes off the clock. It's okay that the first series wound up ending in a punt, because it gave our defense a rest. But the INT in the red zone on our third possession is something we need to see less of. We need to take advantage of every scoring opportunity and not leave points on the field.

Having a bye week before Georgia Tech is something of a blessing and a curse. It's given Bud Foster the chance to set his defense exactly the way he wants it (and if you've been keeping up with the reports of defensive personnel shifts then you know he's given this a lot of thought). But it also has given Bryan Stinespring the extra time he always seems to use to overthink the hell out of his game plan. Mike O'Cain might be better served to let his 16-play "script" accidentally fall out of the truck as he comes to work Thursday. "Sorry, Bryan, geeze, I know it was in my briefcase this morning. You know... tell you what, I'll just take this one, okay?"

We've never put together a great offensive game against Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets. We've averaged 305.3 yards per game and 8 points before halftime against them. In other words, this nerve-wracking rivalry with the Ramblin' Wreck (say that three times fast) has been of our own making. This year the game could follow the same script - and very possibly cost us an appearance in the ACCCG - or we could finally show up on both sides of the ball and prove that the only Tech worth talking about in this conference is Virginia Tech. I have no doubt that Bud Foster is ready. Now lets see if Mike O'Cain can do (once more) what Stiney couldn't.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Topic for Discussion

After watching this season's GAME OF THE CENTURYTM, how much better is the defense at Bama and LSU than ours, if at all?

What's the reason for whatever difference you see? Better scheme? Better defensive coordinator? Players with better measureables?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Our Distinguished Opponents: Captain Chopblock and the Kneecappers





Part One: Deboning the Flexbone


Ah, the Techmo Bowl. Since Paul Johnson brought his three headed dragon of an offense to Atlanta there is no conference game that fills me with more anticipation, excitement, and nausea.

Forget Miami and screw the Hoos. It's readily apparent that Georgia Tech is our true nemesis. The winner of VT/GT went on to win the division and the ACC every year PJ has been with the program, though of course the Ramblin' Wreck did get their '09 conference title stripped by the NCAA for some cardinal sin or another. But let's get down to brass tacks: this game is our season. Georgia Tech has one remaining conference game, at Duke. Losing this game would give us as many conference loses as GT currently possesses (2), and the chances of GT losing to the Blue Devils is slim. That means even if we won out against UNC and UVA, Georgia Tech would still own the tiebreaker against us and would be off to Charlotte, most likely to pants Clemson again and punch their ticket to Miami.

So a big game deserves a big preview. A two part preview, even (since I have the bye week to work on it). And it deserves the type of preview I almost never do: a preview of our defense.

My knee jerk reaction is never question the defense. We have a bad game? Don't question the defense. We have an off year? Don't question the defense. The defense is fine. And even if the defense isn't fine, the defense will be fine. Because Bud Foster is a very bad man. He's the best defensive coordinator in football. I trust his judgement implicitly. I named my son after him, for Christ sake.

But Georgia Tech is a different kind of animal, and to understand how critical this game is you have to understand why Georgia Tech has given Bud Foster fits the last three years. So that's what I'm going to spend this first part of the preview talking about. It's going to be a long wall of text and it's going to be boring if you don't like getting into specifics, so I'll put a jump here. Follow it if you like. I'll get around to posting my preview of our offense versus their defense in a couple of days, which will read much more like the normal previews I do. In the meantime, enjoy some Georgia Tech cheerleaders.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quick Hits

Since there's no game to preview this week I thought it might be a good time to revisit a few things.

Wilson Watch Update
Mr. Wilson is on pace to break Ryan Williams' single season rushing record at Virginia Tech.

Through 9 Games Williams '09 Wilson '11
Rushing Yards
1,109
1,185
Rushing TDs
10
7
Receiving Yards
176
99
Receiving TDs
1
1

Wilson is on pace to run for 1,711 yards in a 13 game season, which would break both Ryan Williams' record and his own personal goal of 1,700 yards. If the Hokies make the ACCCG and give David an extra game to work with he projects to run for 1,843 yards, which would break Thomas Jones' all time ACC single season rushing record and make him the first ACC player in history to crack the 1,800 yard mark.

Interesting to note that after nine games Ryan Williams actually accounted for one more yard of total offense than David Wilson has. Wilson has caught up a bit in the receiving game since my update in late September, but he is still not the passing target RMFW was.

I'd also like to point out that despite the fact that it feels like DW hasn't found the end zone a lot this season, RMFW only had three more touchdowns by this point in the 2009 season. Ryan padded his stats down the stretch that year with back to back 4 TD games against NC State and Virginia. Should Wilson have a similar late season explosion you will see his name skyrocket up some people's Heisman short lists.

It's How You Finish
These numbers speak for themselves:

Quarter DW's YPC
1st
5.9
2nd
5.5
3rd
6.8
4th
7.2

David Wilson does not slow down. He does not tire out. He gets better as the game goes on and has his best runs when we need it most. There's a reason defenders are trying to punch his junk in the pile: he breaks their spirit.

Extended Handoffs
Lost in all the hype surrounding David Wilson's record-breaking pace and LT's development as a quarterback is the fact that Virginia Tech could potentially see its first 1,000 yard receiver this season in one Danny "Open Like a 7-Eleven" Coale. Through nine games DC19 has 627 receiving yards. To crack four digits Danny would need to average 74.6 yards per game if we make the ACCCG, and 93.25 ypg if we don't. He's currently averaging 69.7, so he's going to need that extra game to stand much of a chance. But I can think of no receiver in VT history that I'd rather see reach this particular milestone more.

Also, both Coale and Jarrett Boykin are on pace to break Ernest Wilford's single season receptions record (55) regardless of whether or not we make the ACCCG. 

But Play Calling Doesn't Really Matter
In beating Duke, VT went over 400 yards of total offense in a game for the seventh time this season. Last season, with senior QB and ACC player of the year Tyrod Taylor leading the offense, the Hokies managed the same accomplishment six times all year.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

(P)Laying Down on the Job

In his onfield interview immediately after the ECU game, Frank Beamer said he had to go into the locker room and apologize to his players for not having them prepared to play. It was an incredible moment: the man with the second most coaching wins in Bowl Subdivision football, who has been atop his program for 25 years in the era of drive-by coaching, felt he had to apologize to his players. He didn't pass the buck. He took the blame.

Then we came out cold against Wake Forest. And then against Duke. The reason given by the coaching staff both times? Not being ready to play. Stiney stood up and took the heat for the first quarter at Wake Forest. This week it was again Frank Beamer who said the team just didn't quite show up in Durham.

How many times can you apologize for not being ready to play before the apology rings empty?

It's a classic criticism of the Virginia Tech football program: we "play down" to our opponent. We squeak by teams that - simply judging from a talent and quality of coaching staff level - we should roll. That is one problem area that has not improved with the adjustments to play calling made after the Orange Bowl.

The possible culprit at I see it? Frank Beamer's favorite word.  "Consistency."

"We practice the same way every week, win or lose," Frank told a reporter in an interview earlier this season. The game prep never changes in Blacksburg. We prepared for Duke the same way we prepared for Miami. Not in the technical aspects, of course. We game plan on both sides of the ball based on what scheme the opponent is going to be using against. But in regards how the offense and defense practices, how reps get assigned, how much time goes to film study, it all stays the same week to week. In other words, we treat every opponent the same on paper.

The problem is that the players don't treat the opponents the same. We naturally don't get as "up" for Duke as we do for Miami. A noon kickoff on the ACC network doesn't keep the adrenaline levels as high as a primetime game on ESPN. In practice it's the same. In the minds of the players, it's two completely different animals.

To a certain extent it's the job of a head coach to manufacture excitement when it's lacking. We don't really like to think about these players needing a little extra "rah rah" to get their motors revved up, but it's the truth. Barry Switzer once said it shouldn't matter who the opponent is, great teams go out onto the field to play against themselves. To be elite you have to relish every opportunity to play a down of football and make the most of it, regardless of what team is lined up against you. And instilling that mindset into a program is the job of the head coach. Beamer tries to do it through preaching consistency, but the message is falling just a little short. The players obviously understand that we are not a program that panics, and that consistency is what has allowed us to be one of the best rebounding teams in college football. Heartbreaking losses like BC '07 and JMU '10 did not derail our seasons the way you see gut wrenching losses derail the seasons of other teams. We have the mindset of always getting back up when we've been knocked down. What we are lacking is the iron-jawed determination to pay no attention to what the jerseys lined up against us say.

Putting it another way, you have to actively find a reason to bring your best effort onto the field for every game. This is David Wilson's epic locker room speech before the 2009 International Federation of American Football Junior World Championship:



It's fair to say Mr. Wilson was ready to play. He also got his team ready to play. He found his motivation in something as simple as which locker room his team was assigned. But David Wilson is a special player. You're always going to get his best effort every week. And, unfortunately, he's also the exception. There's a reason why momentum is such a crucial factor in college football, and the higher the level of college football the more crucial it is. The BCS conferences are stocked with the most talented players coming out of high school year after year, and quite often these players were so far above their peers in talent level that all they had to do was show up every Friday night and go through the motions and they'd be pretty much unstoppable. But when you make the transition from high school football to BCS-level college football you're suddenly on a much more level playing field, even when you're facing the Dukes and Wake Forests of your conference. That transition requires a lot more attention to detail and development of sound mechanics, but it also requires the ability to put your entire focus on the game at hand regardless of your opponent. It's the coaching staff's job to help their players make that transition. Our coaching staff does a fantastic job of coaching up the fundamentals and the techniques that are needed to compete at this level. But they don't seem to be so good at keeping the fires stoked under the player's asses.

There's another potential downfall to Frank Beamer's complete devotion to consistency: lack of accountability. After they enjoy their much needed and much deserved days off during this bye week, the players will begin to practice in preparation for Georgia Tech just like they did after beating Miami, just like they did after beating ECU, just like they did after losing to Clemson. The approach and the mindset will be essentially the same as it would have been had we dropped half a hundred on Duke and been playing our fourth string by halftime. The particulars of the last game will have no bearing on the preparations for the next. There were some players who barely brought their D+ game to Durham, let alone their A game, but this will be a week like any other for them. So, really, what's the incentive to show up every week?

Don't get me wrong. A win is a win. And not every loss should be punished. But there should be consequences and rewards for performance. Perhaps there are, and it happens behind closed doors and well away from the media and the public (as it should), but based on everything we've heard about the mindset of practice inside the Virginia Tech football program, there's nothing to indicate that it is. But if, say, someone were to have to run steps or do a hundred up-downs or get up in front of the team during film study and explain why he consistently gave up on his routes and gave minimal effort on his blocks for the entire Duke game, then perhaps we would see an improvement in fundamentals.

I often shy away from being critical of the players, and in general I think it's a good policy. But we also must remember that these are in fact men, not boys, who are playing this game. They are representatives of our university and their effort, or lack thereof, is a reflection on Virginia Tech. They are also learning, as I learned in college, what it really means to be a man and how to live your life when the person you are ultimately most accountable to is yourself. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn. I can't imagine doing it while the eyes of so many people are on you every Saturday. But Virginia Tech and its football program have an obligation to these players to help them learn that lesson. Not holding them accountable when they fail to meet expectations of effort and focus would be a disservice to them and a failure of our coaching staff.

I was at the Appalachian State game this season. It's a heck of a drive but I always try to make it down for one game each season. I always stop by Volume Two Bookstore and among the other overpriced items I walk out with I always buy this year's team bracelet. Yes, they're exceptionally lame in general, but I've bought one every year since 2007 and in its own weird way it helps me feel a little more connected with my alma mater and its football program now that I've moved so far away from it. Instead of the more familiar "Team United" slogan, this year's bracelet has this season's motto: "Every day in every way." That, of course, is the foundation of Virginia Tech football: 100% effort in all phases of the game. But it's not enough just to tell these young men that's what you expect from them. You have to show them what it means. And in this case I think Frank Beamer is missing the forest for the trees.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Duke Recap

I never write my review until I've watched a game a second time. Why? Because when I watch the game live, I'm watching as a simple spectator, a fan, an alum. As such, my focus on the game is shallow. I follow the ball pretty much exclusively, without paying any attention to blocking, assignments, or any of the Xs and Os that go into a successful game plan. While watching live I'm prone to snap judgments and tend to fly off the handle a bit. Only upon a second watching, when I really break down the game, can I set the excitement of the moment aside and give an honest assessment of our game plan, our play calling, and our effort as a team. This week was no different, and I can honestly say my outlook on this game shifted significantly after giving it a second look.

First things first. The game plan was solid. We came out again this week showing the spread look that has worked its way onto the field as our base formation this season. It worked well, but we also used a lot of LT under center, which also worked well especially in play action. Mike O'Cain called a nice, unpredictable mix of runs and passes, did indeed get David Wilson ten touches before halftime, and perhaps most importantly did not shy away from the pass for the rest of the game when LT tossed a couple of picks early on. In the first half LT led the Hokies down the field on drives that covered 85, 90, and 77 yards. We scored first, for once. Going into halftime the Hokies had run 40 plays for over 300 yards.

So what happened in the second half? Did the lack of focus and discipline catch up to us? Did the game plan break down? Did we make bad adjustments at halftime, or did Duke make some great adjustments on defense?

Watching the game live, my knee jerk reaction was that we were playing way too conservative in the second half. The numbers from the game appear to support that position, too. In the first half we passed 18 times; in the second half we only passed ten. On every series of downs in the second half on which our possession ended, we ran the ball on both first and second down. But when I went back and watched the game a second time I realized that Duke simply took away the big play in the second half. In the first half VT had five plays of 25+ yards, while in the second half we only had one. It wasn't for lack of trying. We were still taking our shots downfield in the second half, we just weren't hitting on them.

On the first play of the fourth quarter LT threw a beautiful ball to Jarrett Boykin on a deep slant over the middle, a play on which Boykin got absolutely jobbed by the Duke cornerback. Not only did the defender lock arms with Boykin for the last three steps before the ball arrived (oh the beauty of 1/15 slow-motion on my DVR), he also grabbed Boykin's facemask as the ball was arriving, preventing Meathooks from jumping for a very catchable ball. The no-call on this play baffles me. Later in the fourth LT throws yet another beautiful ball, hitting Danny Coale perfectly down the right sideline. But Coale, who had a step on his defender, lost his grip on the ball as he was falling to the ground and the Duke corner managed to scoop it away as he rolled over top of Danny. That play was just a heartbreaker, as Coale catches that ball at least eight times out of ten. And a couple of other times in the fourth quarter LT had to check down off a deep receiver who was covered and take the shorter pass.

It also didn't really register while I was watching the game live that in the second half our average starting field position was our own 15 yard line. Four of our seven drives started inside of our own 20, and two started inside our own five. I don't know how much of an excuse this really is, since both of our first half touchdown drives started at our own 15 and 10 yard line, respectively, but it's a tall order to be called on to drive the length of the field repeatedly, especially when for whatever reason your opponent has effectively clamped down against the big play.

And that brings up the kicking game, unfortunately. Look, we have to realize that Branthover is a true freshman. He is not Demler redux, he's just inconsistent. Unlike Demler, Branthover has the leg to boot it 50+ yards every punt. He just needs to get his mechanics nailed down to be able to do it consistently, which is probably what Beamer had hoped to give him a redshirt year to be able to do. So please don't hang this kid out to dry because he's not quite ready for prime time. Having said that, punting is going to be an adventure down the stretch as it has been all year. We're going to lose the field position battle this year and there's nothing we can do about it, so our offense just needs to accept that more often than they would prefer they are going to be looking at 80+ yards to the endzone.

Not to say this game can just get written off as a couple of missed big plays and bad field position. This was a lousy effort. We were looking forward to the bye week and looking ahead to Georgia Tech. We played without urgency, enthusiasm, or spirit. And we most certainly did not give the dozens of fans who crowded Wallace Wade Outdoor Stadium their money's worth. But we escaped back to the bus with a win. We sleepwalked through an inferior opponent and lived to fight another day.

Marcus Davis... what the fuck? I'm not calling you out or cutting you down. I am saying that you are better than you played today. Next season you will be called upon to anchor this corps of receivers. It's time to nut up or shut up, young man.

But even in this underwhelming performance there were some bright spots on offense. Logan Thomas's jump pass to Eric Martin for the first touchdown was maybe the best touch I've seen LT put on a pass all season, and that aspect of his game could become a major weapon in his arsenal if he works on it in goal-to-go situations. Extra defenders will break on LT as soon as he leaves the pocket because he's such a hoss to bring down on the open run. This will frequently bring a receiver open, and if LT can routinely hit them on little flicks like this then he is going of frustrate the hell out of a lot of defensive coordinators. Despite the two picks - one of which was the result of poor route running rather than a poor pass - LT was threading the ball into tight coverage all day and has developed so, so much since I watched him from the stands against Appalachian State.

And to our injured, exhausted and beleaguered defense: thank you. You gave us this W when our offense came out cold in the second half. Enjoy your bye week, as you have most certainly and especially earned it.

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