Hokie fans (myself included) thought this could end up being a season for the record books. Turns out we were all right, but in the wrong way.
After two consecutive losses and the worst start (3-3) since a 2-8-1 1992 campaign, everyone is wondering the same thing. What’s wrong with the Hokies?
Well, it’s a lot. But it centers around just two aspects of the football team. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
After much thought, research, and film review here are the two things that just aren’t the same as prior Frank Beamer teams.
1. Plain and simple, the offensive line is not dominant.
When you lose four of five starters, the offensive line coach is faced with the difficult task of remodeling practically the entire front. Unfortunately for the Hokies, Curt Newsome has not been able to get any of the four new regulars to play anywhere near the level of last season’s. (hint, hint)
The most glaring weakness is in the run game, where Virginia Tech has just 788 yards rushing through 6 games. Hokies RB’s are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, and it’s almost sad to say Michael Holmes leads Tech with 230 yards. Coming in at second? Logan Thomas with 149 yards on just 2.5 yards per carry. Pretty pitiful.
Many have been quick to blame Thomas for the offensive struggles (OK, he certainly hasn’t been his best), but you just can’t win ballgames when the opposition knows you can’t beat them on the ground. Not only does this make play-action passing completely ineffective, but the defensive line can also concentrate on getting to the quarterback instead of worrying about run assignments.
Head on over to The Key Play for more, where French always goes in-depth looking at the offensive line issues in the film.
2. The nickel package is horrendous.
Observers and pundits were quick to point out that 9 of 11 defensive starters returned this season from a unit that ranked seventh in the country at 17.6 points allowed per game. But that doesn’t tell the entire story.
Linebacker Tariq Edwards was the third-leading tackler for the Hokies, registered 3.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions last year. His coverage skills on running backs and tight ends while in nickel were invaluable, and Edwards hasn’t gotten back to 100% yet from a knee injury. Jack Tyler has done a phenomenal job filling in at mike linebacker (which moves Bruce Taylor to Edwards’ backer position), but Edwards’ coverage and open-field skills are absolutely better than both of the aforementioned LB’s.
That knocks down that returning starters number from nine to eight. Add in the fact that Ronny Vandyke (who has made his share of mental mistakes when playing) has taken over for Jeron Gouveia-Winslow at whip, and that number shrinks down to seven.
The base defense played poorly against Pitt, but surrendered just 24 points in the 3 victories. In two consecutive losses against spread offense teams (Cincinnati and UNC), the nickel package has given up a combined 75 points and 1,028 yards.
While losing cornerback Jayron Hosley to the New York Giants was the headline, one loss that didn’t receive much publicity was Cris Hill (now with the Buffalo Bills), the nickel cornerback of 2011. When whip Gouveia-Winslow came out of the game, Hill would enter as a CB alongside Kyle Fuller (who would move to whip) and Hosley. We’re literally talking about three NFL cornerbacks on the field at once.
Behind the corners at safety were leading tackler Antone Exum (who hasn’t quite made the adjustment to corner this year) and the second leading tackler (now-departed) Eddie Whitley. If you look at the seven Hokie secondary positions in terms of the nickel package (including LB’s) compared to 2011, nobody is playing the same position.
2011 nickel: CB’s: Jayron Hosley, Cris Hill. Whip: Kyle Fuller. Free safety: Antone Exum. Rover: Eddie Whitley. Mike: Bruce Taylor. Backer: Tariq Edwards.
2012 nickel: CB’s: Kyle Fuller, Antone Exum. Whip: Detrick Bonner. Free safety: Michael Cole. Rover: Kyshoen Jarrett. Mike: Jack Tyler. Backer: Bruce Taylor.
Cole has been abysmal taking over Exum’s previous job, Bonner hasn’t done much better in the whip (slot receiver) spot, and Exum hasn’t performed anywhere near the level of 2011 at corner. Fuller could even be criticized for his play thus far. The only bright spot besides Tyler in the nickel package has been Jarrett (Exum’s prior position), arguably the Hokies’ best defender.
Throw in the stat that shows the (supposed studlike) Hokies defensive line with just 6.5 sacks through 6 games, and you’re gonna have a problem. So you see, the base defense that you saw allow 288 yards against Georgia Tech is fine. It’s the nickel package that’s the issue.
Up next is Duke at Lane Stadium on Saturday as Virginia Tech hopes to improve to 4-0 at home. However, the Blue Devils are seeking to be the first ACC bowl-eligible team (5-1). Expect a close battle. (never thought I would say that)
(photo courtesy of Scott Halleran/Getty Images)