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Slow-starts have killed Virginia Tech over the years. The Hokies fell down 17-0 to Boise State in 2010 and failed to overcome that deficit. On Saturday, the Hokies fell down 21-0 to a team that had scored just 27 points total over their first two games against Cincinnati and Youngstown State (both losses). That was the most surprising aspect of Saturday's defeat. The offense struggled mightily but nobody, including myself, expected Pittsburgh to dominate our defense like that. In fact, the Panthers gained more yards (537 yards) than Stanford in 2010 (534 yards). It was one of the worst defensive and overall team performances in recent memory. Losing to a top 10 team in a bowl game is one thing. Losing to a very average Pittsburgh team is another.
But let's focus on the slow start. Tech's first five drives went like so:
- 4 plays, 41 yards - Interception
- 5 plays, 8 yards - Punt
- 4 plays, 18 yards - Interception
- 1 play, 10 yards - Fumble
- 11 plays, 60 yards - Field Goal
The Hokies had a similar slow start last week, which really makes me wonder the motivation tactics of our staff. For the 2nd time this season, the Hokies have entered a game not ready to play mentally or physically. With Pittsburgh backed against the wall, you know they were going to come out jacked. Instead of Virginia Tech using that to their advantage, the Hokies came out flat and were steamrolled by a more physical team. Just for comparisons sake, here is Pittsburgh's first five drives.
- 6 plays, 75 yards - Touchdown
- 3 plays, 1 yard - Punt
- 8 plays, 86 yards - Touchdown
- 8 plays, 35 yards - Missed field goal
- 2 plays, 10 yards - Touchdown
That's how you want to start a football game. 21 points in five drives. In fact, the Hokies are very lucky the outcome wasn't worse than what it was. Pittsburgh's kicker missed two very makeable field goals. 41-17 should have been the final score of this game.
So, I guess the question now is what's wrong with this team? Why are they not performing up to their abilities and why did we look so poor yesterday on the road? This is a very complicated answer. I'll dive into a few things I noticed yesterday below.
Offensive Line's Rough Day
The Virginia Tech offensive line has improved over the past four years but one area where the offensive line has struggled is in run blocking. The Hokies lack the tenacity and raw, brute strength up front to be a physical run blocking offensive line. A lot of them stems from the Hokies wanting to become more agile up front. Being more agile allows linemen to move into the secondary, pickup more blocks and it aids the style of offense we want to run. But, I feel that this experiment has set us back offensively. Yes, we have offensive linemen that can move their feet but we don't have the interior blockers who can open up holes. Some of it is technique and some it is just plain lack of ability.
That's the reason our rushing game has been so poor this season. It's not Michael Holmes or JC Coleman lacking ability (although they've had their share of mistakes as well) it's the offensive line's inability to open up holes. So, can this be fixed this season? Well, yes and no. The line will improve going forward. We still have to remember that even though this offensive line is "experienced" most of these guys are in their first true year as a starter. And, we're seeing some growing pains. The bad news is Nick Becton, Vinston Painter, and Michael Via won't be able to return next year with a full year of starting experience under their belt. It will be back to the drawing board again in 2013 for this group, which is a huge concern.
Also, the Hokies do need to be concerned about David Wang's ankle injury. If he is out for a few games, Matt Arkema did very little to install any confidence in me yesterday.
Logan Thomas Need to Forget About The NFL
I can't peer into the mind of Logan Thomas. But, whenever your an athlete and a media source starts calling you a 1st round pick, it's going to affect you. Thomas is a very relaxed kid, similar to Tyrod Taylor in that aspect. But, it wouldn't shock me if the NFL is on the back of his mind. To me, Logan just needs to go out there and play his game. Don't worry about getting injured, don't worry about turning the ball over... just go play football. There was a lot of talk about giving Logan full control of the offense. To this date, I don't think he has full control. Thomas has made only a hand full of checks at the line of scrimmage. I still don't think the coaches have given him the keys to the Cadillac yet.
Thomas was 14-31 yesterday with three interceptions. It was probably his worst statistical game as a Hokie. Other than some poor footwork (which in hindsight was due more to a pass rush in his face), I still think Thomas will have a good season. I will admit, Logan needs another year at the college level. Anybody who thinks he can leave after this year and walk into the starting lineup in the NFL is fooling themselves. I think David Wilson is starting to realize just how tough the NFL is. I said the same thing about Wilson last season. A lot of these kids jump one year too early and I'm hoping Logan doesn't make that mistake.
Defense... There... What?
The defensive tackles got whipped, James Gayle was ineffective, our linebackers were given very little opportunity to make a play, and our defensive backs were atrocious. All of that adds up to 35 points and over 500 yards of total offensive for Pittsburgh. Somewhere along the line, our defense lost it's mojo, much like Austin Powers. I was tweeting after the game with @Hokieguru on twitter and I brought up the fact that I just don't have the same "feeling" with this defense. You remember that feeling back 5 years ago when you knew our defense was just one play away from intercepting a pass or making a huge game-changing play? Yea, that feeling is gone. Today, I just hold my breath and hope the opposing offense doesn't score.
That's a far cry from where our defense used to be. If any of you watched the Alabama vs. Arkansas game yesterday. That used to be our defense. Dominating, smothering, and physical as hell. Now, our defense is softer than a college aged male at an 80 and over strip club. It's almost embarrassing how far our defense has fallen from grace. It's also sad when you have former defensive players reiterating the same things I'm saying in this article
"We're soft on defense today.." - DJ Parker
"We don't have a 15 yard dig. A Post/ Deep comeback.. Soo basic and been for years" - DJ Parker
"Welp..Didn't come ready to play today" - DJ Parker
"The team needs some real leadership right now. Stop ____ feeling sorry for yourself. Pitt players on scholarship too." - Corey Moore
"This is the same Pittsburgh team I changed the channel on last week. Playing to the level of your opponent will get your ass beat every time" - Corey Moore
Overall, yesterday was a really bad performance. But, I refuse to let it define this team. Like other Tech teams, they'll have to overcome this loss and find a way to improve before ACC play starts. The good news is that the Hokies won the one game that mattered so far this year. The next two will be chances for the Hokies to improve and redeem themselves with the fans. Then, the season starts again against UNC in October. Let's just hope we can patch some holes and mask some deficiencies over the next few weeks.
Lastly, I am now without a computer, which may greatly hamper my blogging for a bit. Plus, I'm starting a new job this week so there may not be a whole lot of new content on the blog for the next few days. Sorry for the inconvenience but hopefully this is temporary.
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