Hokies’ Pass Rush Must Improve if They Want to Save the Season

by bmann4 on October 10, 2012 · 14 comments

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jgayle1 Hokies Pass Rush Must Improve if They Want to Save the Season

Remember before the season how Virginia Tech was supposed to have one of the best defensive units in the country? Well, what a difference a month makes. As the Hokies sit at 3-3 on the season, their defense is left looking for answers after their most embarrassing performance in several years. North Carolina amassed 533 total yards in last week’s defeat of the Hokies, including 339 on the ground.

This makes the second time this season an opponent has went for over 500 total yards on Bud Foster’s defense. It is the first time in his tenure as defensive coordinator that two teams in the same season went for over 500 total yards against his unit.

So what appears to be the problem?

Unfortunately for the Hokies, there are problems are everywhere. Injuries cannot be blamed for the Hokies’ misfortune. While key players such as Tariq Edwards, Kyle Fuller, Bruce Taylor and Luther Maddy have been hurt, some missing more time than others, their depth was supposed to get them through times like this. At least that is what we thought.

The numbers are staggering for this Virginia Tech defense. After their loss at North Carolina, they rank 98th nationally against the run. Their pass defense, despite struggles against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, still ranks 27th nationally. Those numbers are somewhat skewed because Georgia Tech rarely throws the ball.

Anyone who has followed the Hokies for any length of time knows the two main priorities for a Foster-coached defense are stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. Well, they aren’t stopping the run, which leads me to the pass-rush.

Through six games, including two against noted lightweights Austin Peay and Bowling Green, the Hokies have eight sacks. Yes, eight sacks through six games. That number is astounding if you think about it.

Before the season, many thought this defensive line could go 10-deep and not miss a beat. Led by junior defensive ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, this group was thought to be one of the best in recent school history.

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In 2011, Collins and Gayle combined for 22 tackles-for-loss and 13 sacks. This year the two have combined for 7.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks, both by Gayle.

Foster has never met a blitz he didn’t like and that can sometimes cause a team trouble if they don’t get to the quarterback. That happened to the Hokies against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Failed blitzes left the Hokies vulnerable down the field and they paid for it.

As the Hokies prepare to play host to Duke on Saturday, getting pressure on Duke quarterback Sean Renfree is essential to them winning the game. Duke possesses a very good passing attack and rank 30th in the country in passing offense.

Renfree is completing 72-percent of his passes and through five games has thrown five interceptions. However, he has only been sacked four times.

Duke shouldn’t threaten the Hokies in the running game, as they are 95th in rushing offense.

Foster will have to lean heavily on his front four this weekend as the Hokies’ defensive backs will have their hands full with Duke’s trio of wide receivers. If Gayle and Collins are having trouble winning individual matchups, perhaps it is important to give even more playing time to other defensive ends like Tyrel Wilson, Zack McCray and Matt Roth.

The rest of the Hokies’ schedule is filled with teams who throw the ball well. It is imperative for the Hokies that Gayle and Collins begin producing some pressure up front. The more Foster feels the need to blitz, the likelihood increases the Hokies will continue giving up big plays in the passing game.

We know there are problems across the board, but this team has enough talent to rebound and save what’s left of the season. They can still win an ACC title, but that will take quite a bit of work. Its time some of these players take it upon themselves to get better and leave the excuses in the rearview mirror.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Hokiepoppa October 10, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Part of the reason for not getting to the UNC QB was Gayle was being held repeatedly. If that starts happening against Duke, Beamer needs to let the refs have it. Being a nice guy only lets the holding continue. CFB, speak up for your team!

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fernleyhokie October 11, 2012 at 12:17 am

Another point to save the season. Hokie’s Receivers need to actually “receive” a football:

I was a receiver throughout my playing time, which wasn’t long, but our coach had 3 core lessons for us that he hammered into us day in, day out that have always stuck with me:
3) go balls out. Whether it’s a passing play, running play. your assignment is a route or a block, or to sell, you went 100% every play.
2) Attack the ball. Go get the damn ball before someone else does. Go up for it. Jump. Dive. Back flip. Do whatever it takes to get to the ball first.

and his number 1 rule, which we receivers called the Wrath of God was:
If you can touch it. Then you damn sure can catch it.

If you can put a finger on that ball then you can catch that ball. Try harder. Jump higher. Do something and catch the damn ball.

Dropped balls are worse than fumbles for running backs. It’s the core duty of that position. You receive the football. If we dropped a ball in practice our ass would be doing suicides for the number of yards we had just lost our team. ten yard out route dropped? Your running 10 suicides. Drop a ball on a 50 yard fade? Your there until the lights are out running suicides.

And if we dropped a ball in a game then you were guaranteed to be puking the next week from how much running you were going to do. And we likely wouldn’t be playing much at all in the next game. The result: we almost never dropped passes. And those who did either got cut or were moved to other positions.

Accountability. It means something.

Now let’s look at our receivers efforts:
Davis – Physical freak. Athletic as all get out. But just not a good receiver. If he is not involved in the play he half asses his assignments. Barely blocks. Never sells. I’m surprised he gets off the line if the play is going the other direction he is so lazy. And how many dropped passes does it take to bench this guy? He just is not good at this.

Roberts – had a bad day. Can be much better. At least makes an effort to block and sell. But again… dropped passes. One right off his helmet… get running, and don’t stop until Duke has left town. You’re now #3 on the depth chart.

Fuller – Plays balls out every play. Look who’s the new #1 on the depth chart.

Knowles – Breakout game. Here’s looking at you #2. Give it to him more and more.

TE’s – All of them. Depressingly bad at catching a football. I almost wish Logan was at TE with Leal throwing to him. Something tells me Logan can catch a ball like flypaper.

Now, for real accountability. Coach Sherman. How in the world does this guy have a job still? I’ve heard people say that this is the first year for a new receiving corps… bullcrap. These guys have been ”coached” for at least a year or two in the system, so things like dropped balls should not happen. He has never had a true breakout player but has had the talent to mold one. Boykin and Coale were great but I can’t see that much of that came from their coach.

When your job is to coach players to catch a ball and your players cannot do the one principal thing they are meant to do… well, get running Coach Sherman. In fact, don’t stop, just keep going

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justinc October 11, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Whoa! Whoa! Coach Sherman has actually been one of our better coaches. You have to remember that he helped develop Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, and Justin Harper into NFL players as well as Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. My guess is Marcus Davis gets drafted as well.

Also, our top two receivers this year did not play receiver in high school. Marcus was a quarterback most of his final two years and Dyrell played running back. Also, Corey Fuller was a track guy at Kansas and Sherm has helped develop him into a guy who may be a late round pick or a UDFA next April.

I share your frustrations with our wide receivers but I think you’re channeling that anger in the wrong direction. Some players aren’t going to go all out. They just won’t, for whatever reason. Davis is a great athlete but I just don’t like his attitude at times. You can’t look for a flag every time you don’t catch it and you have to actually block, no matter how much you dislike to. But, after 5 years of coaching, if he isn’t doing it now he’ll probably never do it, no matter who the coach is.

Sherm is very well respected and he was a major upgrade for us at wide receiver as far as coaching goes. Honestly, we do need to continue to bring in better wide receivers and maybe stop recruiting so many “ATH” types at those positions.

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fernleyhokie October 12, 2012 at 5:17 am

Justin, you’re the best, but i don’t agree.

It should not matter if Davis was a QB in high school. If he can’t catch the ball, then he should be benched and not be our #1 receiver. Anyone through even one year at receiver position should have already been coached enough to catch a football. Catching a football is core to what a receiver does. What takes more time to learn, and requires more coaching, is how to get out of jams, timing routes, correct actions on scrambles, crack backs, screens, blocking, etc. Anyone that does not block their assignment, nor sell on a play going the opposite direction should be benched. Those are the tough calls you have to make when you’re a coach.

I’ll take your word on Coach Sherman’s ability and contribution. You know a hell of lot more than I do about Hokie football, and it may be a product of my frustration. But I just have hard time believing that anyone is being coached correctly if our #1 and #2, and TE’s (though I realize not his coaching assignment) have so many issues with actually catching the ball. Nor do I believe he is making the correct call by not holding those players accountable and moving others up who are making plays.

Fuller has come on after one year, and yet if I am not mistaken, was also a QB in high school as Davis was. If he can actually catch the ball after only 1 year of coaching, while our #1 and #2 cannot after several years, then is Fuller a product of Coach Sherman or just a naturally gifted athlete that can actually catch a ball?

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justinc October 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I think it’s a product of not recruiting enough natural wide receivers out of high school. Although with our location, that’s tougher to do. I mean you can’t say no to a guy like Joel Caleb even though he’s going to have to move from QB to wide receiver. But, there’s a larger learning curve there and he might not truly master the position until he’s in the NFL. I’m just using Caleb as an example here.

As for Sherman, I think when you place a lot of blame on these coaches you’re making a huge assumption of “well he’s not teaching it or he’s not coaching them up.” Which is tough to say just because we all don’t have the access to the coaching staff. Sherman could be yelling at them every day in practice for these things and then it all unravels when the game actually starts on Saturday.

I will admit in Davis’s case, it’s hard to bench the guy because he is our best receiver. Whether he blocks or not he leads our team in catches and yards. So, it would be tough to sit him down, especially if Dyrell doesn’t play tomorrow. We’re just in a tough situation at wide receiver this year with Coles hurt and Caleb not being that immediate contributor a lot of people were hoping for. We have who we have this year and that’s it.

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John October 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

I agree completely with the comments regarding Davis, I am so tired of people saying he is our number 1 wide out. Like hell he is, he is lazy, can’t catch a cold, and your right all that athletic ability means squat if you can’t do anything with it. Fuller is without a doubt our most cluth receiver to this point, sucks he is a sr we would really use him next year.

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hokiefan4life October 11, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Being that Tariq Edwards has missed like 6 games is it just smart for him to just go ahead and apply for a medical redshirt???

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hokiefan4life October 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I meant hardship, but I don’t think he can use that.

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sparko October 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

He is not eligible for a medical redshirt .. He’s already shirted

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justinc October 11, 2012 at 6:41 pm

He may be able to apply for a hardship waiver but he won’t be able to do that until after the season. Those rules are a little tricky so don’t quote me on that. But he cannot redshirt again. He’ll have to be granted a 6th year from the NCAA which requires more review.

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robV703 October 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Time to get Dadi Nicholas some more playing time I think, even if it’s only in pass rush situations.

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justinc October 11, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Dadi has played well but since he missed the entire preseason, he’s been behind on certain things. He actually has seen time but he needs to get stronger to be effective. But, he’s a guy that has a lot of potential.

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rjco October 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm

We have not pass Rush at all. This is the softest defense I have seen in 25 years of watching VT play. Looks like Foster has given up. No big hitters coming up to punish people like we had in previous years. I would rather lose by the Blitz then give up 500 plus yards a game and have a running back run for over 250 on us. Everyone is call out the OC to be creative( which everyone kn ows is impossible) but its time for Bud to show how good a coach he really is..

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justinc October 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I actually agree with a lot of what Bryan said in his article but I think we have a few problems based on what I saw against UNC.

1.) Our defensive line is boom or bust. We had 9 tackles for loss against the Tar Heels. That’s a good amount and we’re actually ranked fairly well in that statistic. But, we also gave up over 300 yards rushing. A very odd combo there. When our coaching staff mentions consistency, this is what they mean.

2.) I don’t think Gayle’s extra weight has helped him. He doesn’t have the explosion off the edge but I will admit, he got held a couple times on Saturday that wasn’t called. So I won’t fault him for those plays but neither he nor Collins is playing at a very high level right now.

3.) A lot of our problems isn’t talent based and I’m not sure its entirely coaching based. I mean our front 4 against UNC was entirely the same as it was last year. The starting front 5 of UNC was mostly the same as it was last year (I think UNC returned 4 starting OL this year). So, why was this year’s matchup so much different than last year. The only thing I can think of is intensity and this may be a product of Virginia Tech’s success. We’ve won so much since 2004 that I think after the first few losses, none of our guys we’re in a panic. Everybody seemed to have a “we’ve bounced back before so we’ll bounce back again approach” and now we’ve lost to UNC.

Hopefully, with a few more intense practices our guys begin to step up and we actually see a product on the field that resembles a Virginia Tech team. We’ll have to wait and see how they respond against Duke on Saturday.

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