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If you want the cold hard truth, our Virginia Tech football team just isn’t that good this year. Blame the coaches if you must but I’m not convinced that coaching problems is why we’re 3-2 this season. Do they deserve some blame, of course. They’re paid extremely well to win football games. When that doesn’t happen, you have to question their motives and philosophy. That comes with the territory in the profession.
But, in my lifetime, I’ve watched Virginia Tech win 10 games for eight straight years, dominate UVA for most of the last 15 years, and beat countless top 25 opponents. That doesn’t happen unless you have a competent coaching staff. If you think these guys have become bumbling fools overnight then you are sadly mistaken.
With that being said, we do need to make some adjustments going forward. Whatever our goal is on offense needs to be redefined and we need to simplify our gameplan. You can’t play an entire half of football and record just two first downs if you want to win the game. You can’t wait until the 2nd half to open up the playbook. Adjustments are needed but I’ll dive into that more in a second.
Back to the team itself, our team is young and not as talented in key areas. For whatever reason, we’ve struggled with attrition in the 2008 and 2009 classes, which have led to a lot of the 2010 and 2011 recruiting class playing snaps probably a year before they’re ready. A good example of that is Michael Cole, who was beat with 13 seconds left for the game winning touchdown. Cole is a heady player, a savvy guy, and a good athlete. He’s also a freshman who made a very costly freshman mistake in letting Damon Julian behind him in the final seconds.
Those mistakes happen in college football. It’s what makes the game so exciting and gut-wrenching at the same time. Honestly, that’s all I have to say about yesterday’s game. It hurt but at the end of the day the loss is largely meaningless. We’re not in the National Title race this year and Cincinnati is not an ACC opponent. Should we have won that game? Probably. From my view, VT was the more talented team. But, when you can’t find any rhythm on offense, the talent level goes out the window and the victory will go to the better, more well-oiled machine and Cincinnati was definitely the better ‘team’ yesterday.
Now, the Hokies need to make the trip back to Blacksburg and figure out what’s gone wrong this season. I’ll give my thoughts on that below.
The offense has three major problems right now. First, the offensive line cannot get a push. I don’t know if it’s a personnel issue, a scheme issue, or a combination of the two. But, our offensive line cannot move an opposing defensive tackle off the line of scrimmage. We also look incredibly confused on who to block at certain times in the game. That lack of physicality has cost us two games this season.
Second, Logan Thomas has struggled to overcome the first issue listed above and thus has looked out of rhythm all season. He continues to overthrow receivers, miss open receivers down field, and hasn’t been a threat in the running game all year. This is not the same Logan Thomas we saw last season.
Lastly, we just don’t have a playmaker on offense that can kick-start our offense. Last year, Wilson was a sparkplug that could break a 30 or 40 yard run at any time. Opposing defenses had to respect that, which left Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale in a lot of one-on-one coverage. That led to a lot of big plays from those guys. This year, we don’t have a David Wilson. Our running backs are struggling, largely due to the lack of effective interior run blocking.
Combine all of that and you’re going to have an offense that sputters, struggles, and looks anemic. That’s exactly what we have this season. No more no less.
But the question is can those problems be fixed this year. Right now, I think they can be but it may result in some much-needed changes up front. First, I would love for Caleb Farris to play more at center and at right guard. Yes, I know he’s the backup center and he’s important, especially if Miller keeps getting injured. But, he’s one of the more physical players up front. He needs to be on the field.
Second, why the hell can’t Laurence Gibson see a few snaps in games like this? He was clearly one of our better linemen against Austin Peay so insert him in on a drive and see if he can get a push. It was clear that Matt Arkema wasn’t doing anything of note yesterday so you’re not risking a whole lot giving another guy a chance.
Also, I would love to see more of J.C. Coleman in a full-time role at running back. I know Michael Holmes played well yesterday and I think he needs to touch the ball as well. But we’re not going to be able to run the ball up the middle effectively this season. So, find a way to go to the outside more and teach these linemen how to move and who to block. This really shouldn’t be that hard.
I get that you have to keep the defense honest but you can’t keep running the ball right behind your weakest link in hopes of something magical happening. This isn’t Hogwarts.
Going forward, I don’t know what to expect out of this offense because we have the talent to score points. But, something in our scheme, our play calling, or our general approach to gameplanning needs to change.
This part is going to be a lot shorter just because I have a lot more faith in Bud Foster to fix issues than I do our offense. When our offense struggles, it tends to struggle for the entire year. However, our defense tends to improve on a game-to-game basis. Yesterday, I will admit for at least the first half, our defense looked like our 2011 Virginia Tech defense for the first time all season (maybe sans Georgia Tech).
Our defensive line was active and we were able to pressure, hit, and sack Munchie Legaux. But, our defense faltered in the 2nd half, giving up 21 points including a last second touchdown that sealed a Cincinnati victory.
Thankfully, our defense has a few less critical problems then our offense and a lot of these problems will fix themselves. Antone Exum took a lot of criticism for his play yesterday and deservedly so. Exum struggled in coverage but you have to cut him some slack. He’s playing his third position in three years. He’s in his fifth game as a cornerback. I’m not ready to send him back to safety, especially since he wasn’t exactly great at rover last season either.
I think the quickest fix for that issue is to swap Kyle Fuller and Exum. Move Fuller over to boundary cornerback where he’s in more one-on-one coverage and let Exum drop back and cover the deeper part of the field. To me, this makes the most sense and seems to play to both player’s strongpoints.
The rest of the defense has improved. Our linebackers were better yesterday and our defensive line is improving. Although, the loss of Luther Maddy to a leg injury did hurt, Kris Harley played well in his absence. He even recorded his first career interception. Just wish he could have stayed on his feet for a fat guy touchdown.
Overall: We Are Who We Are
I’ve never understood College Football fan’s irrational fascination with firing a coach after a unit’s poor performance. Firing coaches rarely fixes the main issue and often times hurts a program. If you make a coaching change it needs to be a strategic one, not an irrational panicky move to try to plug a potential leak. Plus, you can’t fire a coach during the middle of a season. That too is irrational.
At this point, you just have to accept our team this season. We are who were are. That’s not going to change. This isn’t the NFL and we can’t trade players. We have the 105 guys we have and that’s it.
Going forward, I think we need to be more creative in our use of talent in hopes that it masks some of our more pressing issues. The real fix will come on the recruiting trail. If you want the offensive line to get better well bring in more physical offensive linemen who have strong lower bodies.
For some strange reason, I think our team will be OK this year. Our current issues are troublesome but we have enough skill position talent to mask some of them. Plus, we’ve always been a better team in conference since joining the ACC. So, this season isn’t a lost cause yet. But, next week’s game against UNC becomes crucial. It’s officially go time for this team and this offense. Our margin for error is razor thin if we want that 10 win streak to continue. A loss next week to UNC and you can kiss it goodbye.
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