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The last time the Hokies were 3-2 at this point in the season, a Tyrod Taylor led group just completed a miraculous comeback against NC State in 2010. That comeback sparked a four game span of the Virginia Tech offense scoring over 40 points. Tech didn't lose again that season until the Orange Bowl in January. My guess is this 2012 group will not follow in those same footsteps. The offense is still green, the defense is inconsistent, and the ACC has improved recently. All of that spells trouble ahead for the Hokies if they can't fix their own issues in a hurry.
It's Friday so we're back with our sixth installment of our VirginiaTechFan Roundtable discussion. This week we're joined by Virginia Tech author Chris Colston. If you haven't already, I strongly urge you to pickup this year's Hokie Football Annual. You can do so by stopping by any Virginia Tech bookstore or by visiting his website http://www.chriscolston.com/. You can follow Chris on Twitter as well @HokieFootballCC. Also, Chris has a new book out entitled "I Am The Wolfman" - It's a fast-paced thriller about a serial killer loose in Loudoun County, Virginia who thinks--and might be--a werewolf. It's a Perfect read for Halloween and it's just $2.99. Check it out here: "I Am The Wolfman" on Amazon. Now let's talk some football!
1. Another Big East opponent and another tally in the loss column for the Hokies. What can Virginia Tech do going forward to help recapture some momentum and get this train back on the right tracks?
Chris Colston: First of all, the Hokies need to realize they're in the ACC, where they are 1-0, and not the Big East, where they are 0-2. I mean, the losses are disappointing and all, but unless the Hokies harbored dreams of a national title (OK, please stifle your laughter) this year, it really doesn't matter. THEORETICALLY, they can still win the Coastal, theoretically they can still win the ACC title, and theoretically they can still go to the Orange Bowl. But to do that, they need to get their heads right. If you're an optimist, you understand that Coach Frank Beamer is really really good in ACC games, and really really good when his back is against the wall.
I think everybody agrees that the offense needs to figure out who they are and what they do best, and execute, because for Tech to win it's going to have to out-score people this year. The defense, which was expected to be so Kick-A, is going to keep struggling until the secondary gets better. Outside of Kyle Fuller, the defensive secondary is still learning their positions and the backups are young. And the strength of the team, the d-line (particularly the tackles) has been neutralized by the spread offenses.
HokieG: We could make this a long column if we got into all the ‘long term’ fixes that are needed, many with evidence from the last several years but also painfully in the spotlight this year. But if you are looking for short-term fixes for this year, that’s a different story.
As I said last week, I think with this team ‘we are what we are’, but here is what I’d recommend:
- Settle the running back rotation: after 5 games I still don’t know what our plan is with the RBs. Who are the ‘go to’ guys(s)? Every game seems different. Personally I’d start Michael Holmes and get him in rhythm, and bring in JC Coleman as the speed change of pace. Let those 2 be our mainstays.
- Get the ball more to Marcus Davis. He’s got his issues but if he gets enough touches he is going to make big plays. Run him deep, throw him screens, send him on the end around.
- Go after more punts. This team needs game changing plays, I’d roll the dice and go after more blocked punts. CFB has been reluctant in recent years because roughing calls are so easy to get, but at this point I’d go all out with the Pride and Joy team. Once teams start keeping more players back to protect, this would also get Keyshawn Jarrett more return opportunities.
JustinC: Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of midseason fixes that you can make when both sides of the ball are extremely inconsistent. The only thing you can hope for is that what you've practiced over the past two months begins to click. Otherwise, you can make small changes but nothing that will completely mask some of our larger issues. I think HokieG summed it up best above me so I won't go into much more detail. But, I think we just need to start being more aggressive. I mean what's worse, throwing a 40 yard interception downfield or going 3 and out and punting ball to roughly the same spot? We have some speed out wide and in the backfield. Let's isolate a corner we want to pick on and see if we can get a few big plays. Same goes for the defense.
BryanM: At this point the Hokies need to do everything they can to avoid a slow start. Sounds simple, but it HAS to happen. If they can avoid slow start, they will win this game. Get Thomas comfortable with a short passing game, get Coleman involved in the passing game so he can work in the open field.
MMinor: Focusing mostly on the offense, because I think defense has some correctable issues that will be solved with time, I think the biggest change this season has been the fact that we've lost all sense of stability. For the first time in my life watching VT, I feel hopeless when we drop back to pass (well, this one was at least since Grant Noel), I cringe when we hand the ball off, and I am befuddled at the carousel of players we have that seemingly enter the game randomly at tailback. What we need is a leader.
Coming into the season, I would have thought Logan would be that guy considering his leap (or sneak, if you will) from a tight end converted quarterback prospect to solid QB that the team could rally around. But where has his accuracy gone? Why isn't he truck-sticking defenders and getting the crowd & team rallied around him as much as he was last year?
He's looked like a deer caught in headlights the past couple games, but I know he has the skill set and mentality to lead this team to victory. I saw it with my own eyes sitting in section 4, row Z, seat 3 on the last drive we had against Georgia Tech to take us to overtime. There was a glimpse of the offense we have the potential to be, and I honestly believe it was because we were in an up-tempo offense that didn't give him time to think (which I think is the biggest problem he has: over-thinking the defense and not being quick on his toes).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I'm not saying he should cry tears of sorrow and yell at his team in the locker room (and possibly get a prematurely built statue of himself and his speech outside the locker room), but he needs to throw some stiff arms and truck some bitches. We need him to step up big-time in the coming games if we expect any sort of offensive life to be found. We also need one to have ONE featured back, and I think J.C. Coleman should be that back. The kid is a hybrid of LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice: quick jukes, small enough to hide behind the offensive line, and he seems to be the only tailback we have aside from Martin Scales that doesn’t shy away from contact.
2. Antone Exum had an extremely rough game against Cincinnati with three costly 15 yard penalties. Are there any changes that Virginia Tech needs to make to help improve our secondary?
Chris Colston: The reason Torrian Gray moved Exum from safety to corner is because he could just use his athleticism to lock down on receivers and not worry about reading offenses and communicating that to teammates. The position is still relatively new to him at this level and he's trying to figure it out. Do they move him back to safety? Maybe, but only as a last resort. I do think, if Exum stays at CB, that he will get better at it as his comfort level rises.
HokieG: This is a real head scratcher for me. I trust Bud Foster and sure he had his reasons, but why is Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett playing safety (both were natural corners) and Exum (natural safety) playing corner? This move didn’t make sense to me when it was announced and makes even less sense now. We’ve got a real issue at CB, and there are two guys on the roster who’ve played CB for 2 years starting at safety. I’m sure this move had good intentions and hopefully will work out, but it’s a puzzler.
I wouldn’t change anything yet, as I think Exum can still get his confidence settled and work out at CB, and switching guys around now probably would do more harm than good.
JustinC: I would still like to see both cornerbacks swap positions but after listening to Bud Foster rant to the media this week, I've reversed course on that a little bit (he scares me!). Really, had it not been for the penalties, I don't think Exum's name would have been in the news so much this week. Did he get burned a couple times? Yes. But that's the nature of beast when you play Boundary corner here at Virginia Tech. As much as I hate to say this, I think we're just in a rebuilding year in our secondary. There's not much you can do other than just coach these kids up and point out their mistakes during the week in film review. We'll be a lot better next season but next season is still at least eight games away, hopefully nine.
BryanM: We are six games into the season on Saturday. It is too late to make any drastic changes. Exum is a junior, he's been a good player so you keep sticking him out there. You have no real alternative. The backups are true freshmen and they've looked bad. Exum will get picked on every week until he makes a few plays. I am confident he can bounce back. It is like anything you do, one bad thing and everything rolls downhill it seems. That was how last Saturday was for him
MMinor: As I said before, the defense I think has some correctable issues that I know Foster will do his best to adjust. I think it’s mostly a matter of inexperience in the defensive backfield, as well as some fatigue from the amount of time they spend on the field because the offense can’t seem to get a first down until the end of the second quarter. My biggest problem with Exum during that Cincinnati game was the amount of talking he was doing in between plays. I remember vividly one of his passing interference penalties, he got up and started talking shit to one of the receivers after the play was over in front of the ref, and a flag came in extremely late. I’m not a ref by any means, but I’m willing to bet referees use that as one of the deciding factors if a play is too close to call. He needs to calm down and play cornerback like Fuller: quietly and effectively. Right now, he’s too much of a Ronyell Whitaker ‘more focused on talking than playing’-type cornerback.
Michael Cole I think is going to be one of the greats to come through VT, but he definitely needs to work on his coverage abilities. My gut tells me he’ll end up at Whip and be a Cody Grimm type of guy before his career at Tech is over. The defensive line is actually doing pretty well in my opinion, and Jack Tyler and Bruce Taylor are starting to gain some real chemistry in the middle.
3. A lot of posters on Virginia Tech sites have complained about the way Frank Beamer handles his post-game press conferences. Really, they’re upset at the amount of coach speak he uses. Do you prefer a let’s keep it behind the scenes method or should Frank air at least some issues to the media to help satisfy a distraught fanbase?
Chris Colston: The posters are probably just upset because of the losses. Frank Beamer has been doing this since he arrived in 1987 and he's not going to suddenly change now. It's part of the legacy, just like the way Bill Dooley loved to talk about his "sweep-style" plays.
Frank Beamer was raised the right way and he knows how to deal with people. Believe me, if people are screwing up, he's letting them know about it. He is just not one to publicly embarrass anybody.
HokieG: I don’t think CFB is any more evasive than your average college football coach. Maybe because we’ve had him for 2 plus decades, and we’ve heard his saying and mannerisms for so long, it sounds old. But if you are looking for a lot of inside information or airing of grievances from your head coach, you are not going to get if from someone as seasoned as coach Beamer.
Beamer does his talking with his actions, so pay more attention to those. Then you know what he really thinks.
JustinC: I think college football today is beginning to adapt the win-at-all-cost persona that the NFL has emitted since the dawn of their existence. And that's a really sad thing. We should really celebrate sportsmanship and integrity more than we do. But, at the end of the day all the fanbase sees is a win or a loss. I have no problem with the way Frank Beamer conducts his post game press conferences. I think that's one of the reasons why we have such a stable coaching staff. You never want to throw your coaches under a bus and if he spoke negatively about the offense or defense, that's what he would be doing.
BryanM: I don't think Frank owes it to the media or fans to tell us what is really going on. He protects his players, they respect that. I respect that. However, instead of focusing on post-game pressers, he needs to get involved with this coaching staff. Settle on an offensive line before the ACC becomes out of reach. I think Bud's group will be good enough.
MMinor: I’ve noticed a surge in this lately, and as fans that live and die with the team, I don’t blame them for wanting to know what the hell is happening. We’ve gotten this sense of entitlement from watch VT from ’99 to the present. Hell, any team with 10 years of ten-win seasons wouldn’t know how to react to watching a team that just doesn’t look very good. There’s always been this sense of hope that even though we lost to Boise State and JMU, we were actually a really good football team. We had a solid QB in Tyrod and a stable of running backs that could run around and run over the opposing defense. We have none of that this year.
Before I lead you down the path, however, that I think Beamer should tell us every single thing that happens behind closed doors, we all need to remember that most of these players can’t even legally drink yet. You’ll never see Beamer or Foster criticize any of his team, because it won’t help the situation. They are the coaches, they get paid to do this stuff. Leave the behind-the-scenes stuff to them, and for god’s sake, stop calling for Beamer to get fired. He built this program from nothing, and he can coach it ‘til he’s 100 years old for all I care.
4. Virginia Tech’s return to ACC play starts again this week with a trip down to Chapel Hill. What matchups are you most concerned about heading into this Saturday’s game?
Chris Colston: Giovani Bernard was tearing up the Hokies last year before he left the game. I reckon he's one guy I'm worried about. Carolina QB Bryn Renner's Dad played at Virginia Tech so you can count on Bryn being fired up to beat the Hokies. It's another spread offense, which has given this secondary trouble.
HokieG: Probably better to list what I’m not concerned about. I’m concerned their defensive line and blitzing linebackers will totally befuddle our O-Line and offensive coaches. Logan Thomas and the WRs we’ve seen are not totally and in sync this year, and with just a little extra pressure from the UNC front, our passing game will go nowhere. We can try to lean on the running game, but as I’ve said that is far from reliable at this point. I think we need some big plays, and special teams plays.
I’m concerned they’re QB Renner is going to pick our secondary apart like Cincy did. I’m worried their experienced offensive line will battle our D-Line enough to force Bud to blitz linebackers and safeties to bring pressure. Once that happens, Renner will start finding the UNC playmakers with separation from our DBs. Cue the lights on the UNC scoreboard.
I think VT can win this game, but it doesn’t feel good analyzing pre-game. I think it’s going to take some turnovers, special teams plays, or just some breaks in general for the Hokies to win.
JustinC: North Carolina has a few dynamic playmakers on offense that concern me. Giovanni Bernard, although banged up, had two carries and two touchdowns against Idaho. He's just a big play threat every time he touches the ball. Bryn Renner has improved as a quarterback and has multiple 300 yard passing games this year. On defense, UNC has the 16th ranked total defense as well as the 19th best scoring defense. This is going to be a tough matchup for the Hokies. If they don't play well out of the gate, Tech will lose this game by maybe more than 10 points.
BryanM: I am concerned about our secondary. UNC's new spread offense will test this group. I am also concerned about the pass rush. If the pass rush was as good as we were led to believe, the secondary wouldn't be hung out to dry as much as they have been.
MMinor: UNC has always intrigued me. Not because I wish I could park for free and have someone write all my papers, but because they’ve been able to recruit some under-the-radar guys who can actually play pretty well. One of those players is Giovani Bernard, who I think is the most underrated running back in the ACC.
VT’s defense has had a problem stopping the run this season. Pitt’s game plan to run cutbacks and veer plays that take advantage of our defense’s tendency to over pursue has been picked up by every team we’ve played against since that god awful weekend, and I know UNC will follow suit. Bernard is a lean, athletic running back with great vision and balance that can accelerate through a hole with precision and will always fight for extra yards. He’s also a threat to catch the ball out of the back field, which could lead to some mismatches. I’m interested to see if we can fully contain him and the running game as well as we did against GT. Bryn Renner also has the potential to take advantage of our weak defensive secondary.
5. Lastly, give me a prediction for this weekend’s game.
Chris Colston: Even though Virginia Tech is 27-5 in road ACC games and has has never lost an ACC road opener, I have low expectations tomorrow. Anybody who has watched all five Tech games this year has seen an offensive line that, despite its size and athleticism, can't seem to blow anybody off the line of scrimmage; a quarterback who has been shockingly inaccurate on even the easiest of throws; Skill players playing tentatively, perhaps because their heads are spinning with too many formations and responsibilities, though I can't say that for certain; a defense whose strength has been neutralized by the spread offenses that are so in vogue in today's game; and a secondary, with players inexperienced at their positions, being exploited.
Now, I'm pretty sure the Tech coaches have identified all these issues and are working to correct them. I'm sure they are scaling back the playbook and formations on offense. I'm sure the players are fired up to turn this thing around. It's Carolina, so motivation shouldn't be an issue. On the other side, Carolina isn't eligible for the ACC title, so each game is its bowl game. Larry Fedora is a good coach and it's a White Out and all that.
This is a tough one to predict. This is a game and situation where Tech usually wins, but from what I've seen so far, I'm not feeling it. If the Hokies come out with passion and purpose, they will win. If they play like they have so far this season, they will lose. Either way it will be close, in the 27-24 realm most likely.
HokieG: UNC 28 17 VT (Hope I’m wrong).
JustinC: I've gone back and forth on the prediction all week and now that we're closer to game time I'm leaning towards UNC winning this game. This is their bowl game of sorts this season since they won't be able to go to one at the end of the season. The Tar Heels are having a white out and there's going to be a lot of emotion prior to the game. Just have to hope Tech can weather the storm and score some points. If not, the Tar Heels will win. My guess is UNC 34, Virginia Tech 20.
BryanM: It pains me to say this, but the way the Hokies have been playing I cannot pick them. I am truly hoping me picking against them will spur them to a victory (I wish I had that power). I think the Hokies have the better team, but I am not sure where they are mentally. Past teams have shown an ability to bounce back from painful losses, this team hasn't -- yet. The Bowling Green game doesn't really count. My prediction - UNC 31 - VT 27
MMinor: Well, It can’t get much worse than it has been, right? I think the team understands that there is a fire lit under their asses and that it’s time to start playing well from start to finish. The offense will start to flow better and the defense will be inspired by a Bud Foster that seems to be smoking bath salts lately. I predict a defensive touchdown byway of Kyle Fuller returning an INT...he's got to be pissed after last weekend. VT-24 UNC-14
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