Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Miami Thoughts and Ryan Williams

That was one heckuva game. The wife and I made a trip to Blacksburg in the pouring rain to see Virginia Tech play its best game of the season. I'm hoping we'll get to one more game this year, but I'm not sure how possible that is at this point. The schedule is loading up quickly with weddings and other commitments. But anyway, back to Saturday... the Hokies came out with a renewed vigor and a confidence that has been lacking from every player during every previous game, with the exceptions of Ryan Williams, Cody Grimm, and Jason Worilds. Williams ran wild for 150 yards and 2 scores (giving him 8 scores on the season... tops for RBs in NCAA FBS). Grimm had a monster game and seemed to be everywhere on the field. In fact, that always seems to be the case with Grimm. I told my wife, "Watch #26... he will be in on almost every tackle," and he backed up my prediction and then some. Cody had 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 pass break-up, and 1 QB hurry. Worilds continued his incredible season with 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 QB hurries. Dorrian Porch had his best game of the season forcing a fumble, getting a big sack, and blocking a big pass play for Miami. He had 9 tackles as well.

Honestly, I could probably keep spouting stats about all of our players, but I've got to stop somewhere. Just about everybody played a great game and deserves to be recognized for their achievements. Even BS (Bryan Stinespring) deserves some credit for calling a good first half. He used misdirection and put the team in position to win. You could argue that he made a smart decision in the second half by choosing to go vanilla and run the ball 90% of the time, but I didn't like it. Miami is a team with a potent offense, and I didn't like that BS left the game entirely up to the defense to hold the win. He needs to keep giving the offense good chances to get first downs and keep Miami's offense off the field. I would also like to see more play action than we ran in that game. But like I said before, I can't be upset with the results because 24 points from the offense against a good defense like Miami is always welcome.

I was reading Kyle Tucker's blog today (a must-read for any Hokie fan as he has the best access to the players and coaches out of anyone in the media), and he proposed that Ryan Williams is as good a Heisman candidate as anyone at this point in the season. I am inclined to agree. Williams is ranked 6th in rushing yards/game and 1st in touchdowns among all FBS running backs. He's obviously a very dynamic runner, and isn't just benefiting from huge holes created by his offensive line. I would venture to guess that Williams leads the FBS in broken tackles, if an official stat was kept for that. What is even more incredible to me are the defenses he has done this against. You can throw out Marshall, but check out these other teams:

Alabama - 2nd in total defense, 2nd in rushing defense, 13th in scoring defense
Ryan Williams - 113 total yards, 2 TDs

Nebraska - 23rd in total defense, 45th in rushing defense, 3rd in scoring defense
Ryan Williams - 109 total yards, 1 TD

Miami - 50th in total defense (stat inflated by VT's abuse), 85th in scoring defense (stat inflated by VT's abuse)
Ryan Williams - 190 total yards, 2 TDs

So you can see that Williams' stats aren't inflated by playing bad opponents... he has ran against quality defenses, and he's still amassing stats. Sounds like a viable Heisman candidate to me. He gets a pretty soft defense to run against this weekend at Duke, but things will be more difficult against Boston College in the next game. Boston College is ranked 18th in total defense and 16th in scoring defense. They should be another good barometer for our guy.

Now if only I could play rec soccer the way Williams plays college football. Incomplete or complete, first down or fourth down, his demeanor is always the same. He never flies off the handle and always seems to keep his calm. Honestly, I wish I played sports the same way.

I <3 Ryan Williams

Friday, September 25, 2009

Looking Ahead to Miami

#9 Miami is coming to Blacksburg tomorrow, and I am actually going to be at the game! It's going to be rainy and somewhat cold, but this is the first chance I have had to get to a game this season, and it's probably our biggest game of '09. So the wife and I will be donning our new maroon ponchos and rooting hard for the Hokies in what will hopefully be more of a slugfest than an ass-whooping. Miami brings the top offense in the ACC to town, and they're going to want to show that Jacory Harris and the 'Canes are no fluke. Virginia Tech will have to play their best offense AND defense of the season to get the win. Using our game last week as a barometer, that doesn't seem like a cheery proposition. Although our defense turned up the intensity in the red zone last week, they failed between the 20's and gave up some huge plays, which is a complete shocker for a Bud Foster defense. They didn't tackle well and they didn't cover their assignments. You'd better believe that Foster will whip them into shape for the game this weekend (and having Stephan Virgil back is a huge positive), so I'm going to say that we give Miami a harder time than Georgia Tech.

Unfortunately, the offense probably won't be much better. That's just being realistic... in two games against top competition this year, our offense has looked out-of-sync and pedestrian. The offensive line HAS to create holes for the running backs to get through. Ryan Williams is dynamic in the open field, but he has rarely gotten a sniff of that open field in those two games. Tyrod Taylor needs to calm down and make the throws when they're present. You get the feeling when watching him that he doesn't really check to his 2nd and 3rd options very quickly, resulting in good pass protection, but not much to show for it. Tyrod needs to make confident throws, and when I say "make" them, that also means he has to "try" them. We have good receivers and I have a hard time believing that they are never open.

With that said, there's also changes that Bryan Stinespring needs to make as an offensive coordinator. You didn't really see any play-action in the last game against Nebraska, and that's what our offense is geared towards. The run sets up the pass. That's how it's always been under both Stinespring and former OC Ricky Bustle. Miami will be keying on the run this weekend, so if we can have at least a little success there or BS notices that Miami is stacking 8 in the box, then VT needs to run play-action to catch Miami off guard. There's opportunity for long passes this weekend, and Greg Boone, Sam Wheeler, and Andre Smith have the chance to make big, big plays down the middle of the field. I'd also like to see some Wild Turkey formations now that Greg Boone is looking healthy... he was successful with those chances last year.

Miami looks leaps and bounds better this year, that is for sure, but this is still a Randy Shannon coached team, and I have a hard time believing he has suddenly figured it all out. So let's bring the pressure, bring the determination, and bring the hustle! This game is in Blacksburg with a sold-out crowd... there's no way Miami should win this game even if it's a close one. I have VT winning 23-20.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

God Must Be a Hokie Fan

You've probably heard that line in some form or another, but I never fully realized the power of its awesomeness until I saw this shirt. It's right on point, especially because we seemingly always win IN SPITE of our offense. I am clearly on the Fire Bryan Stinespring bandwagon, and have been for a while now. The talent doesn't match the production, and that's just BS.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bombs Away

I'm willing to bet you didn't see that one coming. I know I didn't... at least I didn't see it live. In fact, I was forced to DVR the game on Saturday because my wife and I were attending a wedding in Norfolk. What Hokie fan has their wedding the day of the Nebraska game?? I drove about 2 hours down to the wedding, where a few friends and I were trying desperately to avoid hearing about the game, which was already well underway. We knew it would be a struggle seeing as how former VT defensive end Cols Colas is married to the groom's sister, but we felt like we could just avoid him and everyone else long enough to get out of that wedding with our game-virginity intact. While we are waiting in line to get food at the reception, the DJ decided he was going to update the pro-VT wedding attenders with the final outcome of the game. In an era where DVRs are so prevalent, what was this guy thinking? Surely several males and possibly a few females were planning to watch the game when they got home! I was stuck... I had a plate of food in my hands and couldn't drop the plate in time to cover my ears. I tried to yell "La La La La La" to myself, freaking out a woman on the other side of the buffet, but it was to no avail. I heard the cheer of the wedding guests and knew the Hokies had won. Fortunately, I didn't know anything about how we had won.

When was the last time Virginia Tech scored the winning touchdown on our last drive of the game? I'm serious, I really can't remember. 2004? Was Bryan Randall our quarterback? It's possible that it's never happened. I really don't know... my researching skills aren't quite good enough to figure it out. At any rate, WOW. Tyrod Taylor hadn't made a good, confident throw all game, then he throws two in the same drive. One being an 81 yard bomb to Danny Coale where Coale stealthily slipped past his defender, caught the ball in stride, then just barely stepped out of bounds at the 3 yard line. The next incredible pass was to Dyrell Roberts as Tyrod rolled left, couldn't find anyone open, then rolled back right and made a desperation pass as he was being tackled. This was also after Taylor was sacked sending the Hokies back to the 11 yard line. It was an incredible feat and I couldn't believe it was our Hokies doing it.

I have to put my usual somewhat-pessimistic slant on this game, though. Nebraska really deserved to win. They screwed themselves out of a field goal by committing about 4 or 5 penalties back-to-back-to-back-to-back, forcing a punt that went into the end zone. They also ran all over us. Tech's players probably have cleat marks on their backs from where Roy Helu Jr stomped on them. He gained 176 yards on 6.0 yards per carry. The Hokie run defense is usually what keeps us in games, but in this case, it was actually the pass defense. Either that or Nebraska's Zac Lee is a terrible quarterback. I think the jury is still out on that one. If it weren't for a penalty here and a timely drop there, you might have seen fans in red and white rushing the field instead of Maroon and Orange.

With all that being said, the defense actually played well enough to give us the win... it was, again, the anemic Hokie offense that almost ruined the game. VT got some solid runs from Ryan Williams, but most of his 107 yards came on a 46 yard jaunt. Tyrod Taylor and the boys had a really rough time trying to pick up first downs, especially with Ndamukong Suh continually batting down passes and getting pressure on the quarterback. He led his team in tackles from the defensive tackle position. That almost never happens... this guy is a top 5 NFL draft prospect and he showed why on Saturday. The offensive line continues to disappoint against quality opponents, and I really don't understand why. You would have Beau Warren and Jaymes Brooks double-teaming Suh, but they would let him disengage and drop back just far enough to jump and get his hand on a pass. It feels like poor coaching to me. In previous seasons, the rap on Tyrod was that he took too long to find receivers and so the high sack totals were his fault. That wasn't really the case in this game. Tyrod had a few opportunities where he waited too long, but most of the pressure came quickly as the Cornhusker defensive line crashed through our flimsy barrier. This was a game where you just had to be happy that your team came out with a "W".

Some other items I noticed in the game:

- Jason Worilds is a quality pass rusher... he's just a little unlucky right now. He only has one sack on the season, but he is always around the quarterback. He had 6 QB hurries in that game. To compare, Nebraska only had 1 QB hurry for their whole team. Granted, the other "hurry" situations ended in sacks, but two of those hurries helped lead to interceptions. He has 13 QB hurries on the year, compared to 7 as the next highest from John Graves and Nekos Brown.

- When we can get the ball to our receivers, they are good. Xavier Boyce had a drop, but he also had a nice gain on his one catch. Jarret Boykin had two catches where he jumped and twisted so he could grab a ball that was thrown behind him. Those size XXXL hands are coming in very handy (hyuck hyuck hyuck). Dyrell Roberts had a key drop on a tough catch on the drive just before the final winning drive. He more than made up for it with his grab in the endzone to win the game. That was not an easy ball to catch as it had just slipped past a defenders arm, which no doubt shielded Roberts from seeing the ball for a split second. And let's not forget the over-the-shoulder grab that Danny Coale had on the 81 yard bomb. That was a very difficult catch to make, and the pressure was on. The receivers are young, but boiling over with talent.

- Kam Chancellor is playing better. He had a nice read on his interception, and he came up to help with the run game every time the line and the linebackers let Helu slip through.

- Jake Johnson has a lot of talent, but his frequent misreads are a little off-putting. Barquell Rivers has adjusted very nicely to his new role as starting middle linebacker and leader of the defense. He had 10 tackles and 2 passes broken up (both game-highs for Tech).

Next week we face a Miami team with an offense about 5 times better than the one we just played. I am a little bit worried about our ability to contain Jacory Harris and stop the Miami running game. Miami's defense is a bit worse than Nebraska's, so we really need to see improved play from the offense. This is a home game, and I hope the Hokies will come out fired up.

Monday, September 14, 2009

We Are NOT Marshall

And thank God for that. The Marshall teams from the early 00's are long gone. There's no more Chad Pennington. There's no more Byron Leftwich. There is only Brian Anderson throwing for 116 yards and no scores. I guess you have to hand it to the guy for not throwing an interception, but still, 48% completion is pretty darn bad. On the other hand, Darius Marshall, who possibly chose which college to attend by looking up his own name on the Internet, had a 61 yard run for a touchdown and averaged 6.4 yards per carry against our usually-stout run defense. Marshall (the university) might actually have something with this running back. Their defense on the other hand... disgusting.

Because of Marshall's horrid defense, VT fans need to keep their expectations tempered after this win. We did not come away from this game learning that we are world-beaters. We came away with this game knowing a few things:

1) Our running backs are going to be good. This is, of course, only true if the offensive line is capable of occasionally creating some holes for them to run through against a good defense. However, when you watch Ryan Williams and David Wilson run, you can see that they both have top-end speed, great acceleration, and deceptive power. Wilson broke tackles like he was being hit by a stiff wind. Williams broke more ankles than tackles, and proved that the best way to not get tackled is to not get touched. Josh Oglesby was decent averaging five yards per carry, but all that tells me against a run defense this bad is that he won't be able to muster up much of anything against the Nebraskas and Miamis of the world. Overall, I thought our running backs were the biggest positive from Saturday's game.

2) The defense is going to be dominant once again this season, but the players need more reps. Jake Johnson still made some mental errors and decided to chase some plays instead of staying home in his assignment, as did a few other players. I also think we need to create better pressure on the QB. One sack against Marshall is not great... we probably should have had 4 or 5. I've been disappointed with the pass-rush abilities of Nekos Brown... he just doesn't seem to have any moves to beat the offensive tackles. But otherwise, the defense was fantastic. Our defensive backs shut down the opposing receivers on just about every play. Our linebackers came in and sniffed out most runs before Marshall could get any momentum. Our defensive tackles were busting up the middle of that O-line and I think we've got a very good tackle in Antoine Hopkins. Demetrius Taylor is powerful and a man.

3) Special Teams was unbeatable. The kick and punt return games were both very impressive, and Jayron Hosley looks to be a very dynamic returner. Didn't I say that we should give Hosley a chance in place of Davon Morgan? I'm glad Beamer decided to do that... it makes me look like I know what I'm talking about. By the end of the game, Marshall decided to stop kicking the ball to our returners. Their final kickoff was a short but high kick that was fair-caught by Chris Drager... I assumed they were not interested in seeing what either David Wilson or Dyrell Roberts had left in the tank.

4) Tyrod Taylor is not one of the best QBs in the nation. I'm not even sure he's in the top 50. His accuracy just hasn't come along like we all were hoping it would, and he doesn't seem to have a good sense of when to throw the ball, when to tuck-and-run, and when to just throw the ball away. I'm hoping that more games this season will help him to figure out the quarterback position, but my guess is that when all is said and done, we have a QB who is somewhere between Marcus Vick and Bryan Randall. Ju-Ju Clayton looks to be somewhere between Grant Noel and Nick Sorensen, but I'll give him a free pass as he's still only a freshman.

5) We were able to fine-tune some things and I think we're ready for Nebraska this weekend. Nebraska is historically a run-heavy team, and we are historically a run-killing program, so you have to like our odds if those two things stay true to form. Not to mention this is a 3:30 game on ABC and our fans will be going nuts. I don't think this will be a high-scoring game, at all, but I do think we will win by 7+ points.

Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Alabama Afterthoughts

That was such a great game to watch... for 3 quarters at least. If you were watching the game, you were probably thinking much like I was that one of those two offenses out on the field would be able to put together some drives in the 4th quarter. Unfortunately, it was Alabama and not Virginia Tech. And, also unfortunately, the same questions that have mired the Hokies over the past couple years are back in full force again this year. Here are some questions that I believe every Hokie fan has, and some of my own answers to those questions.

Q1) Will we ever have a good offensive line?
A1) Not so long as Curt Newsome remains as our offensive line coach, and not so long as Bryan Stinespring remains as our offensive coordinator. The O-line positions are supposed to be among the deepest on our team. Riddled with upperclassmen and experience, the offensive line should at least know their assignments, even if they are unable to execute. The problem was that the line missed assignments all night, and the Alabama defense rolled right through those porous openings. I would be less unhappy about the sacks and weak running attempts if our guys had at least shown that they new what they were doing. I wanted to credit Alabama's stout defense for the lack of effectiveness in our passing and running games, but instead I have to say that our offensive line allowed them to rack up those stats. We couldn't pick up a blitz all night, which left Tyrod Taylor out on an island.

Q2) What's up with the fumbles on special teams?
A2) The fumbles can be attributed to anxiousness, and that should go away as the season progresses. Ryan Williams was fielding his first punt in a Hokie uniform and his nerves got to him. That will happen and the defense did a great job of holding the Jammer Hammers (or whatever their lame cheer is) to only a field goal. The Davon Morgan fumble happened partly because the defender tackled Morgan by grabbing the underside of his helmet and flinging him to the ground (which is a foul in all 49 states except Georgia), but also because Morgan got himself into a bad position and tried to do too much. When it's 4 versus 1, good things will not happen by trying to force your way through non-existent holes. Frankly, I have never liked Davon Morgan as a return specialist and would rather see David Wilson or newbie Jeron Hosley in that role. Frank Beamer's bread-and-butter is special teams, so the fumbles don't look good for him, but I think they can't be attributed to anything Frank did to prepare the team.

Q3) Isn't Kam Chancellor supposed to be our senior leader on defense and a solid NFL prospect?
A3) Yeah I thought so too, but maybe not. He's really only had one good game in a Virginia Tech uniform, and that was the Orange Bowl win in January. Otherwise, he has always been a liability on passing downs. He seems to lack the agility to turn and run with receivers, which we already knew, but this past weekend we also saw an inability to turn and run with tight ends. That's pretty bad. Compound the bad coverage with some missed tackles and you start to see that maybe Chancellor, despite his NFL-caliber body, is not an NFL-caliber player.

Q4) Did I see a pass to the line of scrimmage on a third and long? How long do Hokie fans have to put up with Bryan Stinespring at the offensive controls?
A4) This will be his last season. There are no more excuses to be made. The receivers and running backs are young, but they have a bit of experience and are very talented. Tyrod is in his third year as the quarterback. The offensive line is experienced and deep. Ditto for the tight ends and fullbacks. With the talent on our offense this year, we should be prolific by the end of the season. Anything short of top 50 in the nation is unacceptable and should lead to the firing of Bryan Stinespring. BS had an awful game against the Rammer Hammers, with some head scratching play calls, and I see this continuing against quality opponents. I just hope Beamer doesn't point to offensive performances against teams like Marshall, Duke, or UVA as reasons not to fire the guy. And one final thought... if you are feeling bad about firing the guy, don't... he will be picked up immediately by a lesser program simply because of his pedigree at VT.

Q5) How good is Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams?
A5) Don't let BS fool you... Taylor and Williams are excellent players. Williams was starting to come on late in the game against the Yellow Rammers, but the O-line didn't do him any favors. He had to fight for every single yard he got... there was nothing given easily. The same can be said for Tyrod. He was constantly under pressure, but when given a few seconds to throw, was able to complete some nice passes. His long passes are still a work in progress though. I think he also needs to realize that he's going to have to make his mark as a running quarterback. He threw away several chances to tuck and run for 4-5 yards when all of his receivers were marked, but he chose instead to hold the ball and eventually throw out of bounds. Both players need to get a little better at their decision-making, but man the talent is definitely there.

All in all, I got over this loss more quickly than many in the past. We were not expected to beat Alabama, who was ranked 2 spots higher than Virginia Tech by the media, and especially not in Atlanta where they had at least a 2-1 advantage in fans. This loss is not the end of the season for VT. We can still win the ACC. We even have an outside chance at a national championship appearance, although that would require 11 straight wins. The loss is disappointing, but the team can regroup against a craptacular Marshall squad and build up to another big out of conference game against Nebraska (which is a home game). Don't lose hope yet, Hokie fans. There's still Dyrell Roberts, Ryan Williams, Jason Worilds, Barquell Rivers, Jake Johnson, and Danny Coale. There are plenty of other bright spots on the team. They just need more time to come together.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Receiver Harvest

This past week, I have been thinking a lot about the receivers who graduated from Tech in 2008 (and in one case, 2007). In particular, I am thinking about Eddie Royal, Justin Morgan, Josh Harper, and David Clowney. Three of those guys are currently starting for NFL teams... Josh Morgan with the San Francisco 49ers, Eddie Royal with the Denver Broncos, and David Clowney with the New York Jets. Justin Harper could possibly have been a starter for the Baltimore Ravens if Derrick Mason hadn't decided to prolong retirement and come back for another season. With receivers of that caliber on the team, it is hard to believe that they were not mishandled in some way by our quarterbacks and/or our offensive coordinator.

In 2006 when all four players were seeing significant playing time (they were all getting roughly the same amount of time as our top four receivers), Sean Glennon was in his first year at quarterback for Virginia Tech. Glennon, who was recruited for his arm and obviously not his legs, was unable to supply the receivers with quality passes that year. There are all kinds of excuses that can be made including a not-so-great offensive line, but what it really comes down to are poor quarterback play or poor play-calling. When you look at the stats, no receiver reached 500 yards receiving on the season (Royal had 497), and no receiver had more than 34 catches (Clowney had 34). You might even try to argue that by spreading the ball around to so many receivers, the stats are a bit misleading. But that's just pure bullcrap. Glennon's 56.3 completion percentage is pitiful considering the quality of receivers that he had, with all of his wideouts having started since they were freshmen.

In the next season, David Clowney had graduated, but Josh Morgan, Eddie Royal, and Justin Harper remained at VT for their senior season. The touchdown totals for those guys are too embarrassing to even mention. The yardage totals are better than they were from the previous season, but the top yardage getter was Harper with only 635. Sean Glennon was able to top 60% completions, but just barely. This was an experienced offense with a 2nd year QB, a 3rd year RB, and three 4-year starters at wide receiver, and the numbers just aren't good enough given the talent. This offense should have been rivaling some of the best in the nation, but it didn't even come close.

So what is my final point here? My final point is, "What the crap?" That's it... I think the offense partly suffered as a result of the inept play-calling of Bryan Stinespring and his inability to position our offensive pieces correctly. I also think the offense partly suffered because of Sean Glennon and a not-yet-ready-but-forced-into-action Tyrod Taylor. Glennon was a good passer when given plenty of time to throw the ball against underwhelming defenses, but when he was forced from the pocket or rolling out on a designed play, he could never seem to hit his receivers on the run. That's partly his fault for being terrible. That's partly Stinespring's fault for calling bootleg plays for a QB who can't throw out of the bootleg. But I think what every Hokie fan can take from this situation and celebrate is that our receivers are flourishing under quality quarterbacks and cunning coaching in the NFL.

So my congrats to Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, David Clowney, and Justin Harper... you made it against all odds!