Thursday, September 28, 2017

Welcome to the Terror Dome: Clemson Preview

Virginia Tech and Clemson meet for a Saturday night showdown.

By: Adam Pace
September 28, 2017

(Photo: Adam Pace)

It's here everyone. In just a little over 48 hours, we will know what this Virginia Tech football team is made of. The Hokies welcome Clemson Saturday, the defending National Champions and the current #2 team in the nation. Since Tech defeated the Mountaineers, this has been the game we have been waiting on and eager to talk about. Over the last few years, Tech fans learned that wins don't come easy, so the Clemson talk has been minimal. But now, it's time to dive in and prepare for one of the biggest games in Lane Stadium history. We are going to dive deep this week folks, so buckle up!

(Photo: Sports Illustrated) 

The Tigers

Clemson is extremely talented in all three phases of the game but the part that has stuck out this year, their defense. Lead by the best defensive line in college football, they currently rank 13th in total defense. Allowing just 227 ypg (yards per game) and 9.3 ppg (points per game), it's safe to say this is the best defense Tech will likely face all year. Against Auburn, Clemson had 11 sacks and against Louisville, they recorded four more. On the season, Clemson has 17 total sacks, good for second in the nation. As Frank would always say, "This team will really get after you."

Offensively, Clemson has a ton of play makers but are still trying to find their identity. Their biggest strength so far this year is the running game. With a three headed monster at running back and a quarterback who can run as well, Clemson is averaging 272 ypg on the ground. That is amazing and it currently ranks them ninth in the nation. The biggest star in the running game for the Tigers, freshman running back Travis Etienne. He currently has 292 yards on the year and over the last two games he has been breaking out, running for 98 yards against Louisville and 113 against Boston College. This is impressive because the Tigers will play up to three backs a game but Etienne is slowly becoming the feature back for Clemson. 

Junior quarterback Kelly Bryant leads the passing attack for Clemson. So far this year he seems to be struggling just a little bit with turnovers. Bryant has three interceptions to just two touchdowns through four games. Boston College seemed to give him the biggest fit so far, forcing two interceptions and a fumble. You could argue that Boston College is also the best defense Clemson has seen to this point. Bryant can certain run the ball very well, but how he can stand in the pocket and throw will tell a lot about the result of the Virginia Tech game, as well as the season for the Tigers.

I also believe Bryant has one of the best receiving corps in the nation to help him out. Ray-Ray McCloud, Hunter Renfrow, and Deon Cain are all threats to take beat you at any given moment. Renfrow could be the big difference maker in this game, as Clemson loves to mix his routes up and try to get him in favorable match-ups. Ray-Ray McCloud is Clemson's biggest deep threat. He has 18 receptions for 218 yards and a touchdown this year, with his touchdown being a 79 yard bomb. Clemson will use McCloud to stretch the defense vertically and use Renfrow and Cain to chip away at you in the mid to short range part of the field.

Special Teams haven't been the greatest for Clemson in 2017. They currently rank 108th in Special Teams efficiency. Up to this point, their defense has been able to over come this short fall but it could be interesting to watch this weekend. In a game like this, Special Teams could be the biggest factor. Also, Clemson's starting kicker tore his ACL last week and is out for the year. If there is weakness to the Tigers, it's Special Teams.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

When Tech has the ball....

On paper, the odds are stacked extremely high against the Hokies. The good news however, the game isn't played on paper. Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen had a great plan of attack last year against the Tigers and I'm hopeful they will have another one this year.

As I said earlier, Clemson's defensive line is the pride and joy of that unit. To slow them down, the Hokies need to have quick hitting plays. Look for Tech to go after that unit with some screens, slants, and quick outs. If Tech is successful, the Tigers will drop their linebackers in coverage and that will help to take some of the pressure off the offensive line. But ultimately, if the Hokies want to have success Saturday, they need to be able to run the ball.

Running the ball will be very difficult against this defense. If Tech is going to have success, misdirection will have to be used early and often. Fuente's offense is based around this concept and it keeps the defense guessing. With as aggressive as the Tigers play, the Hokies may be able to use that to their advantage. I look for Fuente to really use a ton of sweeps and option plays to try to take away the aggressiveness of the Clemson defense.

In the passing game, Clemson will probably play very aggressive man to man defense. This will test the youth of the Tech receivers, forcing them to get off of coverage and win the tough battles. The receivers will need to win the battles, as Clemson will be blitzing every chance they get. If there is ever a game for some of these young guys have to step up, it's this one. Cam Phillips will probably have a blanket around him all game and the only way to lighten that up is for somebody else to step up and make some plays. 

I really think Fuente has been holding back James Clark and Dalton Keene and I believe he is going to set them free against Clemson. Tech showcased them just a little bit after getting down to ECU early, but has backed off of it since. Dalton Keene has been excellent blocking this year and now I think it's time the staff let him show his skills in the passing game. James Clark is lightening fast and has yet to really be used a whole lot. Some of that could be he isn't as good a receiver as we hoped he might be, or Fuente could be holding his cards close to his chest.

Overall, if the Hokies are going to move the ball Saturday they are going to have to give their best performance. Jackson will need to be smart and not have any turnovers, the running game will need to be firing on all cylinders, and the receivers will have to catch the ball. I do think Virginia Tech can have a good offensive game, but only if they play smart and not let the moment get too big.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

When the Hokies are on defense

Virginia Tech's defense has the talent level and ability to be able to keep this low scoring. Bud Foster's unit has been solid so far this year against the run but has shown some weaknesses in the passing game. The other wild card Clemson brings to the table, a running quarterback.

We all know Foster's problems with running quarterbacks in the past. Time and time again we have seen Tech struggle to keep a mobile guy in check and not let him burn them on the ground. I believe if Tech is going to avoid that this year, Tremaine Edmunds will need to play one of his best games ever. Edmunds has the ability to run sideline to sideline and he could be the guy Foster ask to spy Bryant this weekend. Boston College did a great job of forcing Bryant to be one dimensional until the fourth quarter. Bryant has shown in the past that he can be forced into turnovers if he is uncomfortable. I look for Foster to take a similar approach to what he did against Ohio State in 2014, forcing them to try to beat him through the air.

One of the biggest match ups Saturday will be Hunter Renfrow vs. Mook Reynolds. This was a great match up last year in the ACC Championship with each one getting the better of the other at one point. Renfrow is an excellent slot receiver and seems to be Bryant's go to guy in pressure moments. They also love to use him in the screen game. This is where Mook constantly excels, he has a knack for being disruptive and shutting down opponents who try to run wide receiver screens. If Mook can win his match up, then it should give the defense a leg up.

My biggest worry Saturday is if we aren't able to limit the amount of snaps Clemson takes. We know at this point in the season that our backup defensive line just isn't very good. They might can give us a few plays here and there, but it's nowhere close to what it should be. If Clemson is able to sustain long drives, we could be in trouble in the fourth quarter. Our defense was gassed on the final drive against West Virginia and Clemson has a better running game that could make our guys even more tired if we aren't careful. Foster has to really try to throw Clemson's offense off to create short drives and turnovers. If we can do this and keep our starters fresh, we can make Bryant have a rough day.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Key Factor: Special Teams and Lane Stadium

If you compare the special teams units of each group, Virginia Tech has a big advantage. Oscar Bradburn will need to have an even better performance than he did against West Virginia. Pinning Clemson deep in their own side of the field and forcing them to drive against an electric crowd, could be the difference maker. As I mentioned earlier, Clemson's kicker tore his ACL and is out for the year, leaving Clemson with a junior walk on kicker who has never attempted a field goal. But Joey Slye has not been very reliable for Virginia Tech this year either. This game could very well come down to a game winning field goal so which ever one of the guys can be clutch, could be the deciding factor.

Clemson's toughest road game to date this year is Louisville. Now nothing against the Cardinals, but they have nothing on Virginia Tech fans. Gameday will get the party started Saturday and it will continue to last all day. By the time kickoff comes around, Hokie fans will be "hydrated" and ready to go. This will be the loudest stadium Clemson plays in all year and I'm not being bias here. Tech needs to put the pressure on the Tigers and use their home field advantage to see if Bryant and Clemson can respond. From what I have been reading, Virginia Tech is pulling out all of the tricks for this game. From guys parachuting in to a card stunt after the first quarter, this will be a scene like we have never seen before. I just hope Tech player's don't allow it to get them too hyped up. Also for what it is worth, and I'm not saying it's going to happen or that I've heard anything, but Metallica is not on tour at the moment. If there was ever a game to do, this is it.


This is going to be a lot closer than people think. Both coaching staff's are some of the best in the nation and both will have a good game plan to start. Whoever can make the best adjustments, will be the victor. If Virginia Tech wants to win, they have to move the ball on offense. Jackson will have to play even better than he did against West Virginia and someone who hasn't stepped up yet, will need to have a break out game. Defensively, Virginia Tech has an advantage in my opinion. But only if the starters don't have to play a lot of snaps. If Clemson can sustain long drives, Tech could be in trouble.

In my season preview, I predicted the Tigers to win. But as we get closer and the more I hear Fuente talk, the more I am leaning in Tech's direction. Virginia Tech has absolutely nothing to lose from this game and the world to gain from it. Fuente has said time and time again, he believes Tech should have won last year. He wants this folks, and honestly, I'm not sure I would want to coach against a determined Justin Fuente. 

This game is going to be a classic Dabo Swinney B.Y.O.G (Bring your own guts) type of game. Clemson is good, heck they are good enough to win it all again this year. But they are capable of losing a game just like they did last year. Virginia Tech is due for a break through victory. Fuente wants this one bad, the players want this one bad, and the fans want this one really bad. Clemson is about to face a Virginia Tech team that is ready to show the nation that Tech football is back.

You can call me crazy, and I don't expect us to win, but I just feel something. Something I haven't felt since 2003 when we beat the absolute crap out of Miami at Lane Stadium. Whether Tech wins or loses Saturday, this will be a moment in a few years, that we say changed this program. As coach Fuente said last year, "I'm getting real sick of hearing about other programs, and I'm ready to start hearing about ours." 

I'm taking Virginia Tech to pull off the upset 27-21 and start a party like Blacksburg has never seen. Exit Light, Enter Night. Let's Go........

Adam's season predictions: 4-0

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hokies blank Monarchs: Old Dominion Review

Virginia Tech records their second shutout of the season and sets their eyes to Clemson.

By: Adam Pace
September 24, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Virginia Tech came back to Lane Stadium on Saturday, where they beat Old Dominion behind another strong defensive performance. The Lunch Pail Defense recorded their second shutout of the year and their second straight shutout at Lane Stadium. The offense was a little slow to get started but then flipped the switch and started to light it up. Let's take a look back at this one and then take a short look ahead to Clemson.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Slow start again.

For the fourth straight game, the Virginia Tech offense had a slow start. They moved the ball early, getting in the redzone on the first two drives, but ended with only three points. Outside of the redzone, Tech was moving the ball well. But it seemed that ODU showed them something different than they expected once they were inside the 20. The coaches got it fixed, but it took a little bit of time before the offense started rolling again.

Jackson would throw his first interception on a promising drive in the middle of the second quarter. I have to give ODU props on this play, they baited Jackson into throwing the ball. I'm very glad this happened though for two reasons. One, I really wanted to see how he would respond after throwing an interception and two, I'm glad it didn't happen next week. Jackson responded well, going 12-15 for 200 yards and three touchdowns following the pick. On the next drive, with about 6:00 minutes left in the half, the Hokies found the end zone for the first time. Tech would tack on another touchdown right before halftime to take a 17-0 lead into the locker room.

After halftime, Tech didn't look to sharp again. They did score on the opening possession, but only because of a little luck. After not seeing anything open, Jackson decided to just throw the ball as hard as he could toward Phillips in the end zone. With two people on him, Phillips did get his hands on the ball but it then deflected off his chest, and happened to land right in the hands of a trailing Steven Peoples. While Tech did get the touchdown, Justin Fuente was livid. It never was shown on T.V., but Fuente was halfway on the field letting Jackson have it for throwing the ball into coverage. Jackson played a pretty good game, but there will be plenty of teaching points this week in preparation for the Tigers.

If there is one extremely bright spot we have seen the last two games, it's the running game. Virginia Tech ran the ball for 271 yards Saturday and seemed to own the line of scrimmage all game. While I understand this is against lower level competition, the confidence this will give the offensive line moving forward is huge. If Virginia Tech can get close to 200 yards a game during conference play, then they should set themselves up to have a really good season. Tech is currently averaging 218.5 yards a game this season. This is really impressive considering the fact that the Hokies don't have a true featured running back. We'll find out just how good this offensive line and running game is this Saturday, when the Hokies take on probably the best defensive line in the nation.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Second shutout

For the second straight time in Lane Stadium this season, Virginia Tech didn't allow a point to the opposing team. In fact, 11 of the last 12 quarters, Virginia Tech hasn't allowed any points. The defense continued their dominance on Saturday, allowing ODU only 149 yards of offense. The Monarchs only passed the 50 yard line one time and that was only to the 49 yard line. The best starting field position all game for ODU was their own 38.

Since the West Virginia game, this defense has been on a mission. Virginia Tech is allowing 311 yards per game and if you throw out the 592 yards that WVU had, they are averaging 217.6 a game. The last three games have shown how good we can be against mediocre talent, Saturday will prove how much better we have gotten against great talent.

There really isn't a whole lot to break down from this past game. The defense asserted their dominance from the opening whistle and forced the 17-year-old to try to beat them. While he did play good, he simply wasn't enough to beat the Hokies. I thought Foster and company did a great job of disguising coverage's while blitzing over and over again.

The Hokies did however, suffer a major loss Saturday. Divine Deablo recorded his first interception Saturday, but when he landed on his way down, he twisted his foot. Virginia Tech confirmed today that Deablo has a fracture to his left foot, causing him to miss the rest of the season. This is very unfortunate and a big time blow to this defense. Last week, I talked about how much Deablo was improving and how I thought he should start. Now the Hokies have to figure out who they will play and what they will do in his absence.

One option I saw them explore and I think that might work well, bringing Deon Newsome in to play nickle and moving Mook Reynolds to free safety. Newsome is a senior but this is only his second year playing the nickle/whip position. I fully trust Reynolds at safety but I'm not sure how I feel about Newsome at nickle/whip. The other option would be freshman Devon Hunter. We know all know that starting rover, Reggie Floyd can defend against the run very well but he has been a liability against the pass. Devon Hunter is a little more athletic than Floyd and might could provide that extra help in passing situations. But Hunter is just a true freshman and has seen the field very little this year. Someone on the defense has to step up now. Hopefully it's Floyd but maybe Newsome or Hunter can provide a spark. If there is one thing I can feel confident about, Bud Foster will adjust and put his best players out there.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
And now.....

Before I go on, watch this. If you can't tell, Fuente is ready for this next one. He has said time and time again this offseason that he felt Tech should have beat Clemson last year. Now I think he is ready to unleash the hounds and see just how good his team really is.

Blacksburg will be absolutely nuts, probably starting as soon as Thursday, in anticipation for this game. Gameday will be making their first appearance since 2007 and this will be the first 8:00 pm Saturday kickoff since 2005. Lane Stadium will be rocking Saturday night and I just hope the team isn't too hyped up come kickoff. I'm not going into anymore details about the Clemson game until my preview, but if you're wondering about the mindset of Tech, just watch this again! Let's go........ 

Friday, September 22, 2017

The one before the big one: Old Dominion preview

Hokies look to avoid a trap game against the Monarchs.

By: Adam Pace
September 22, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Virginia Tech welcomes Old Dominion to Lane Stadium Saturday for the first ever meeting between the schools. Since completely restarting the program from scratch in 2009, the Monarchs have slowly begun to make some noise in college football. Last year, ODU won the Bahamas Bowl against Eastern Michigan, it was the school's first bowl appearance. Virginia Tech is currently ranked 13th in the nation and has a meeting with #2 Clemson on September 30th. The Hokies will need to be 100% dedicated to the "1-0" mindset if they don't want to get upset this weekend.


The Monarchs

ODU brings a pass happy offense to Blacksburg on Saturday, led by true freshman Steven Williams. Williams is just 17 years-old and will be making his first career start. Let's think about that for a second, a 17 year-old making his first start against Bud Foster in Lane Stadium. Chances are, Williams could have a long day. But don't sleep on this team, they can move the football.

Williams led the charge in the second half last week against UNC after the former starting quarterback, Blake LaRussa, turned the ball over too much. Williams made some noise when he entered the game going 9-20 with 139 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 34 yards rushing, with a long run of 19 yards. Williams is a mobile threat, who will look to his primary target and then run if they aren't open. 

Old Dominion's rushing attack has been anything but special to say the least. They have averaged only 132.3 yards a game and managed just 102 yards last week against the Tar Heels. If you thought East Carolina had a bad running game, just wait until this week. If there is a saving grace for ODU though, it's their new QB. Williams has good wheels and being as young as he is, the Monarchs coaching staff may try to get him in space on the ground. If ODU is going to have any success on offense this week, they have to be able to run the ball.

Defensively, ODU has allowed opposing teams to average 372 yards of offense per game. Last week against UNC, the Monarchs gave up 511 yards to an average offense. There is one stat that sticks out to you about ODU, they are tied for first in the nation in sacks (16). But this stat is also very misleading, as ODU played some pretty bad competition the first two weeks. Against UNC however, ODU was only able to record 1 sack, after recording 15 in the previous two weeks. Overall, this defensive unit is better than East Carolina, but probably not as good as Delaware. I believe if this team is going to slow down the Hokies, they will need to try to get Jackson to turn the ball over. But if you're keeping count, Jackson has zero interceptions in 85 attempts now.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

The Hokies

Virginia Tech should be able to move the ball against ODU. They also should be able to make Williams wish he didn't have to start his first game at Lane Stadium. But the Hokies need to be very careful this week. The Monarchs have a great coach, and their offensive approach can put points up in a hurry. 

Offensively for the Hokies, look for the staff to establish the running game early again this week. To start against ECU, Tech ran the ball often and had success. This really opened up the passing game down field. I expect to see a similar approach this week against a defense that gave up 254 yards on the ground to Carolina. If Tech is successful on the ground, Jackson should have big numbers through the air again. So far in 2017, our longest pass plays have come off of play action or fake screens. Fuente and Cornelsen love misdirection and I fully expect them to use it again this week. The Hokies will look to get up early against ODU and be able to rest their starters most of the second half in preparation for Clemson.

Defensively, Bud Foster has to be licking his chops. He gets to scheme for a 17 year old freshman making his first start. I fully expect the Tech defense to be very aggressive to start the game. Foster will be mixing coverage's and sending blitz after to blitz, trying to get the young starter to throw a few interceptions. The biggest thing I will be watching for this week, is if Divine Deablo will start at safety. I have been very impressed with his performance so far this season and I think he makes this defense better. By holding down the free safety position, it allows Terrell Edmunds to play in his natural rover spot. I think we saw last week that Reggie Floyd plays great at rover against the run, but struggles against the pass. If the defense wants to take the next step forward, Floyd needs to get better against the pass or Deablo needs to step up and prove he should be the starter at free safety.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)


At the beginning of the season, this game worried me. But after watching the Monarchs play last week, I'm not as worried. I fully expect coach Fuente to have his team focused and ready to carry some momentum to play Clemson. 

Tech should control this game from the opening kick. Look for the Hokies to try to rattle the young quarterback for ODU and force some turnovers. Offensively, Tech will run the ball and then start to use it's superior athletes to put up some points. Both teams seem to be pretty solid on Special Teams, so the "hidden yardage" game could be a small factor in this one.

I know this has the making of a classic trap game, but the Hokies should be ready to go. I personally believe Fuente uses this game as a chance to send a message to Clemson. I'll take Virginia Tech to get all over ODU early and win this one, 52-10. Let's Go.... 

Adam's season predictions: 3-0

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Beat Down. Hokies blast the Pirates: East Carolina Review

Virginia Tech downs East Carolina after a record setting day.

By: Adam Pace
September 19, 2017

As I was leaving my parents house heading to a wedding, East Carolina scored to go up 14-7. Then, the Hokies missed an easy third down conversion. I said to my Dad walking out of the door, "we're going to lose today." The beginning of the game was familiar to games with ECU in the past, we came out flat on defense and the offense was kicking themselves in the foot. But there was one thing I forgot about, Justin Fuente is our coach now. 

This new staff has proven time and time again that they can make the adjustments and bring the team back. Tech found themselves down 17-7 after the first quarter, but that was all she wrote for the Pirates. The Hokies would go on a 57-0 run to close out the game. Bud made his adjustments on defense and the offense settled in and started flexing their muscles. 


Light it up!

Since Fuente took over, he has said "you pass the ball to score, but you run to win the game." Tech didn't run the ball well against Delaware, but seemed to make it a point to run it against ECU. On the first drive, the Hokies ran the ball right down the field, mixed in a few passes, then punched it in on the ground with Steven Peoples. Although they went three and out on the next series, Virginia Tech had set the tone of attack against the Pirates.

If you study Fuente's offense, you begin to understand that the Hokies setup opponents from the first play. Since Tech was able to run the ball early, it set up some deep play action passes later in the game. Starting in the second quarter, the Hokies put on an offensive clinic to finish the game. In fact, Tech tied the school record for most offensive yards in a game with 675.

Josh Jackson played and looked like a redshirt junior on Saturday. Hitting pass after pass, taking what the defense gave him, while not turning it over in the process. As I said in my preview, the Pirates would give the Hokie receivers about 8-10 yards of space before the snap. Jackson and company realized this and started moving down the field by running simple out routes. Then as ECU started creeping up, Tech went right over the top for a big play. Jackson threw some absolute darts on Saturday as well. His second touchdown pass to Cam Phillips was probably the best ball I've seen him throw all year. There wasn't much room for error in the throw and Jackson put it where only his man could grab it.

Cam Phillips had a dominating game. His 14 receptions were enough for a new single game record at Virginia Tech and he added 189 yards with three touchdowns to top it off. In case you have been living in a hole this year, Cam Phillips is one of the best receivers in the nation. He currently ranks third in receptions, first in yards, and second in touchdowns. Phillips numbers will continue to rise if the rest of the receivers can continue to improve. This will limit how much opponents can double team him. If Cam can continue at this pace, he will find himself with All-American honors at the end of the season.


Foster's adjustments

Bud Foster is known as one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation. He does a great job of having a base plan of attack coming into the game, but what makes him so great, is his ability to make in-game adjustments. In my game preview, I said don't panic if East Carolina moves the ball early. But guess what, I lost faith and panicked. At the beginning of the game, Foster was running a lot of zone. One "pop-pass" and one busted zone play later, the Hokies completely changed the scheme.

Foster put his cornerbacks in man defense, with safety help over the top. He moved his linebackers to man coverage and the defensive line started to get a pass rush. Once this adjustment was made, East Carolina's offense disappeared. There was also one other small adjustment made, Divine Deablo came in to play free safety. I like Terrell Edmunds as a free safety, but I think he is more natural at the rover position. Reggie Floyd (the starting rover) also seemed to struggle in pass protection Saturday. With Deablo continuing to get better, Foster may chose to start him at free safety and move Edmunds back to rover.

In the first quarter, Tech gave up 204 yards of offense. After that, the Pirates only gained 77 yards for the rest of the game. In addition, East Carolina only had 40 of those yards on the ground. Tech's defense absolutely crushed the running game of East Carolina and made them virtually one dimensional. The one player who really stood out to me this week, is middle linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka. Andrew's name was being called time and time again when the Pirates would run the football. This has to be the most active game I can remember seeing him play against the run. This is extremely encouraging for the Hokies. Through the years Motuapuaka has struggled against the run and would often times disappear. If he can continue to disrupt opponents rushing attack, then this defense becomes even more dangerous.

I should start giving this it's own section in the review, but I was pleased with the backup defensive line this week. We're still nowhere near where we should be, but I am starting to see some progression. Just about all of the backup players on offense and defense got some time this week and I thought they performed fairly well. At some point this season, we will need some of these guys, so these game repetitions are very important.


Final thoughts

Going forward Tech needs to stop with the slow starts. Against a better team, the Hokies may not have been able to come back. I look for the coaches to make this a point of emphasis this week preparing for Old Dominion. I thought Virginia Tech would get a little better special teams play this week, but the unit was still solid. Oscar Bradburn averaged 46 yards per punt, keeping him on par with his season average (46.1 ypg). Tech did block a field goal, so I guess it wasn't that bad of a day.

This week against Old Dominion could be the making of a classic trap game. After watching ODU play UNC, I'm not as worried about this game as I was two weeks ago. But if Tech isn't focused and is looking ahead to Clemson, the Monarchs could cause some trouble. They love to pass the ball around and can put up points in a hurry. I truly believe this staff has the team 100% dedicated to the 1-0 mindset. Tech will need it this week, as the Clemson game will be a distraction. We will dive more into the ODU preview later this week. Until then, Let's Go......

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Pesky Pirates: East Carolina Preview

Hokies hit the road to take on East Carolina University 

By: Adam Pace


Virginia Tech will travel to Greenville, NC this Saturday to take on the Pirates of ECU. This will be the first road game for Tech in 2017. As Tech fans, we know just how dangerous ECU can be. Since 2010, the series between the two schools is 4-2 in favor of Virginia Tech. ECU certainly gave us fits over the past few years, but since the firing of Ruffin McNeil, ECU has dropped off really bad.

ECU is off to a rough start so far this season, losing 34-14 to JMU and 56-20 to West Virginia. Last year, the Hokies beat ECU 54-17, in a game which Tech dominated on all three units. Since the Pirates played the Hokies last year, they have lost 11 of their last 12 football games. Needless to say, East Carolina is not very good right now. But don't sleep on the Pirates, they would want nothing more than to get a program saving win against the Hokies. Virginia Tech will need to play sound football on all three units Saturday to walk away with a victory.

Playing on the road.

Playing on the road is never easy. It's also never easy when you have a redshirt freshman quarterback, as well as young receivers. Josh Jackson faced some noise and adversity against WVU at FedEx field, but he also had a lot of Hokie fans there to back him when he made a great play. I'm sure Hokie Nation will show up in force Saturday, but it won't be like it was in the opening game. How Jackson can handle the early pressure and the intensity from the Pirates, will say a lot about just how good he can be this year. 

The defense needs to be prepared as well. East Carolina runs an up tempo offense and will try to catch the Hokies off guard early. There are some big play guys for ECU, who can really make our secondary have a rough game. If the defense can get off the field quickly, than the Hokies should be fine on Saturday.


What to watch for on offense

I reviewed last week's game between ECU and WVU, the biggest thing that stood out to me was the Pirates secondary. West Virginia absolutely gashed ECU through the air. Running quick screens, curl routes, and slants to chip away at the space the Pirates were allowing them to have. Then as soon as the Pirates moved up to take it away, West Virginia went right over the top for big plays. 

Fuente and Cornelsen will need to come out with some tempo on offense. Expect to see some quick hitting passes early. In the game against West Virginia, ECU's secondary was giving about 8-10 yards of space between them and the Mountaineer receivers. This allows for quick routes and West Virginia was taking full advantage of it. If the Pirates come out with this same strategy, look for the offense to get the ball in Cam Phillips hands quickly. As Cam showed last year, if you get him the ball in space, he causes havoc with his ability to run. I also look for some quick screens to James Clark. I believe it's safe to say Clark is the fastest guy on the team and the coaching staff should use that to their advantage. If the receivers can block and get Clark in space, his speed will cause a headache for the Pirates' coaching staff. 

As much as I want to see us run the ball more, I really think this is a game where you let Jackson sling it. ECU was pretty good at slowing down the rushing attack of WVU early in the game. But once their secondary started to get beat and tired, West Virginia started to run the ball at will. I personally hope Tech takes a similar approach. If we can soften up the linebackers by passing the ball early, then the running lanes will open up for the running backs. 

Since it is the first road game, it might take a quarter or so for the offense to start clicking. But I think the coaching staff cuts the offense loose this week, taking advantage of a pretty bad defense. If Tech can continue to value the football and not turn it over, then they should have no problem moving and scoring against this team.


What to watch for on defense.

East Carolina will run out quarterback Thomas Sirk on Saturday, assuming he passes concussion protocol. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Sirk was the starting quarterback for Duke up until last year when he tore his Achilles tendon. Also if you remember, Sirk absolutely picked apart the Hokies in 2015. Running at will and finding the open receiver time after time, leading Duke to an overtime victory at Lane Stadium. Sirk transferred to East Carolina this past offseason and has been the main guy over the last two weeks. 

The Pirates love tempo and love to get quick easy receptions for their receivers. Senior Jimmy Williams (who seems like he's been there 8 years), will be the main target for Sirk. Williams can hurt you in all sorts of ways. He can run the quick routes and be dangerous after the catch, or he can burn you over the top. Williams was a bright spot against the Mountaineers last week, catching seven passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. There's no doubt the Hokies better be prepared for the Pirates to target Williams often.

The big weakness for East Carolina, is their offensive line. Time after time last week, Sirk was under pressure, causing him to throw two interceptions. The biggest weakness, is on the inside of the line. With two freshman manning the center and the right guard position, most of the pressure for Sirk is coming from right up the middle. This plays very well for Virginia Tech. Tim Settle and Ricky Walker should have a strong day feasting on the young guys in the interior. I really look for Foster to bring the pressure a lot this game and see if the Pirates can handle it. 

Don't panic if East Carolina moves the ball early and scores. While they are young, they have a good offensive minded coach in Scottie Montgomery. He will have a good plan of attack to start, but how Foster and company adjust will be the key in this one. If the defense can exploit the flaws of the Pirates and get off the field quickly, the Hokies should have another strong defensive showing.


What to watch for on Special Teams

Tech absolutely dominated ECU last year on special teams. Returning a punt for a touchdown, blocking a punt, and blocking a field goal, Beamerball ran rapid. Look for this to be a big point of emphasis for Tech this week. East Carolina is extremely weak on special teams and the Hokies have a big advantage. Especially on punt returns. Greg Stroman took one to the house against them last year, and based on what I've seen of ECU this season, he might just get another one. West Virginia had 84 return yards against ECU, and if you remember West Virginia had -3 against the Hokies. Get ready for a big play when the Pirates punt on Saturday, because Tech should be able to set up some good returns.

If Oscar Bradburn can continue his season average of 46 yards per punt, than the Hokies will make ECU earn their yards. Bradburn will be key early in the game, as the young offense for Tech gets settled in. If Bradburn can keep pinning the Pirates deep, it will allow the defense to pin their ears back and give the offense better field position. The more I think about the last two games, the more I feel Bradburn is the team MVP so far this year. He has been special up to this point and has been key in allowing this offense to grow. 


In the season preview, I said the Hokies would win this one 42-21. After watching both teams play this year, I think Tech will win, but I'm not sure if they will score 42 points. Fuente will protect Jackson early, and try to get him settled in on the road. By the second quarter, the offense should be comfortable and moving the ball. Don't be surprised if we don't dominate offensively, but we should move the ball and score enough to win.

Defensively, I believe Tech could really give Sirk a long day. Foster has to notice the weakness in the Pirates offensive line and should be able to exploit it. If the secondary can limit the big plays and tackle in space, then ECU will struggle to move the ball. I look for Tremaine Edmunds to follow up his big week against Delaware and have another great game. His athletic ability and speed moving sideline to sideline, make him a problem for opposing offense's.

The Hokies should have this game under control by halftime. The talent difference between these two teams isn't even close and coaching heavily favors Tech. Fuente and Cornelsen should have the offense clicking again and Foster will have his unit looking to be better against the pass. I'll take the Hokies to win this one 34-10. Let's Go.........

Adam's season predictions: 2-0

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sloppy or Conservative?: Delaware Review

(Photo: Adam Pace)

Hokies pitch a shutout, but leave many wanting more from the offense.

By: Adam Pace

Leaving Blacksburg Saturday evening, I was happy I saw a shutout, but a little frustrated with the offensive performance. The defense looked normal again, allowing only 223 yards and forcing two turnovers. They were flying all over the place and were looking like the unit I thought we had at the beginning of the year. But the offense was a totally different story. 

At first glance, I thought this was just a sloppy game off of a short week and we seemed a little unfocused. But after watching the game again, I'm starting to think it was a combination of two things. One, we were sloppy after the short week and looked very young. But two, I think the coaching staff may have played their cards close to the chest this week. I'll break this one down covering all three units, but starting with the offense.


Struggling or doing what was asked?

If you go back and watch this one over, you see the Hokies just missed on a few big plays in the first half. The first missed opportunity, James Clark dropped a big pass that could have put Tech in great scoring position. Clark is extremely fast, but if he wants to see the field more, he has to catch those. The second missed opportunity, Sean Savoy dropped what was a sure touchdown pass. I'll give Savoy a pass here since he is a freshman and made up for it later in the game with a big grab in the redzone (see the picture above). The third missed opportunity, Jackson over threw a wide open Travon McMillian on a "pop pass" out of the back field. McMillian would probably still be running if Jackson hits that pass. All three of these plays cost us points and valuable yardage. If all three would have been successful, we probably wouldn't be talking about the offense struggling.

I also think that the coaching staff was playing it pretty safe this week. If you have studied Fuente's system at all, then you understand how much he likes to use misdirection and R.P.O.'s (run pass options). While he did run a small number of R.P.O.'s, the misdirection was missing this week. This makes me wonder if Fuente and Cornelsen didn't want to put too much on Jackson and risk injury or turnovers. I think coming off the short week, Fuente knew that Tech could win off talent alone. He knew the defense would own Delaware and that the offense just needed to not turn it over. By missing those shots early in the game, it really took away from what the staff could call later. If you start hitting those passes, then it softens up the defense and allows you to run it better. Fuente did seem a little concerned after game, stating the offense shouldn't have missed those opportunities, but also saying he was "pleased with Josh and liked how he valued the football." 

While I'm sure the staff would have loved to see 40+ points on the board, I think this gives them the opportunity to do a lot of teaching this week. Also, this is the first time we've seen Fuente and company work off of a short week. Remember, the team didn't get home until 6:00 am Monday morning. This shouldn't be an excuse, but I think this was a learning opportunity for not only the players, but the staff as well moving forward. I fully expect this coming week for the offense to open up the playbook and try to get up early on a really bad defense. There is cause for concern folks, but after reading quotes and watching the game again, I'm not as worried as I was Saturday evening.



While the offense struggled, the defense did not. After giving up 592 yards to West Virginia, Foster's unit came out with something to prove. Allowing just 223 yards of offense to the Blue Hens, while also forcing two turnovers, the defense started to show what we were excited about coming into the season. While the second string defensive line still struggled, I thought there was some improvement. This will probably take until the middle of the season before we see these backups become a reliable unit, but Saturday was a small step in the right direction.

Tim Settle played a great game and absolutely destroyed a lineman on the interception by Terrell Edmunds. Settle came right up the middle driving his man in the back field and tipped Walker's pass, allowing Edmunds to take the ball all the way to the Delaware 30 yard line. Speaking of Edmunds, Terrell's brother Tremaine Edmunds, was all over the place Saturday. He recorded 14 tackles, four of them for a loss, two sacks, and one forced fumble. Edmunds has unbelievable talent and is on pace to be an All-American. All in all this was a great rebounding game for the defense. They played great, and good thing they did, as it allowed our offense to struggle while not costing us the game.


Beamerball still alive in Blacksburg.

Special Teams was once again huge for the Hokies. Oscar Bradburn averaged 45.6 yards per punt, continuing to help flip the field and keep the pressure on the other team. I know it's early in the season, but this kid might be one of the best freshman punter's I've ever seen. Greg Stroman provided an early spark for Tech, taking a punt to the house in the first quarter. Delaware only had 10 men on the field for the play, but I'm not sure it would have mattered, as the punt return unit provided excellent blocking. Stroman now has three career punt returns and is slowly becoming one of the best returner's Virginia Tech has ever seen. If he keeps it going, he might just become the best.

Tech ended the game with 59 return yards to just 5 for Delaware. The Hokies also had only 10 penalty yards while Delaware had 84. In games where youth and inexperience show, these advantages in "hidden yardage" will go a long way. So far this year we have seen a solid special teams unit (minus field goal kicking) and a very disciplined team with few penalties. At some point this season, this will help Tech win a close game. Frank Beamer may not be coaching anymore, but thanks to special teams coach James Shibest, Beamerball is still alive and well in Blacksburg.

Moving forward

This Saturday, Tech takes on the pesky pirates of East Carolina. So far this year, ECU has been absolutely terrible. Losing to JMU 34-14 to start the year and then losing 56-20 to West Virginia on Saturday. It's safe to say ECU isn't really intimating anyone right now. But the Hokies need to be focused heading to Greenville. ECU does not want to start the season 0-3 and there would be no better way to get back on track than knocking off the 16th ranked team in the nation. Fuente absolutely picked apart the Pirates last year, displaying brilliant offensive play calling. I fully expect the Hokies to take advantage of the mismatch again this year. We'll dive deeper into this match up toward the end of the week.

It can be easy to look at this past weekend's game and start to get worried. But I think everything will be just fine and we need to continue to enjoy the ride. This team is extremely young and will have some more growing pains, but the next two weeks give us a great opportunity to grow up and be prepared for conference play. Go Hokies!

Friday, September 8, 2017

This is Home: Delaware preview


Finally, football is back in Lane Stadium
By: Adam Pace

The excitement from the win over West Virginia still is running through my head, but it's time to put it away and move on to Delaware. The Hokies return to Lane Stadium this Saturday, where they will welcome the Blue Hens of Delaware. Off of a short week, Tech could look a tad rusty Saturday. But I fully expect Tech to be focused and ready to go. Delaware is an FCS team and recently hasn't been very good. However, we all remember the JMU loss and I can guarantee the coaches have been reminding the team all week. 

Knowing your opponent

When I first think of UD two things come to mind. First, Joe Flacco, and second, their helmets look just like Michigan. I've had to dig and do some research for this game here's what I've found.

The Blue Hens are coached by Danny Rocco, who if you are wondering why his name sounds familiar, coached at Liberty and Richmond prior to arriving at UD. This is Rocco's first year with the Blue Hens and throughout his coaching career he has never had a losing season. Now I understand that he has only been coaching at the FCS level, but that is a very impressive statistic to have attached to your name.

The Blue Hens are lead by redshirt junior quarterback Joe Walker. This will be the third year that Walker has been the starter for UD. While considered more of a passer, Walker can run when needed. In the season opener, Walker passed for 192 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. While Walker rushed for net total of 15 yards, he did have a long rush of 22 yards. But due to sacks, his rushing totals for the game were a bit low. Walker seems to have a pretty arm and from what I can tell likes to stand in the pocket. However, Walker struggles with interceptions, throwing 13 so far in his career. Look for the Tech secondary to try to create some turnovers.

Senior wide receiver Diante Cherry could be the big play maker for Delaware. In the season opener, he had 102 all purpose yards with a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. I look for them to try to see if Cherry can cause havoc to the secondary of Tech, much like West Virginia had success doing.

The pride and joy of this team seems to be their defense. They allowed just 224 yards in the opening game, while creating two turnovers and recording a safety. The defense held their week one opponent to just 3-13 on third down conversions. To me it seems this team will rely on their defense to try to help win the field position battle and give them a chance to get a few easy touchdowns against the Hokies.


Time to grow up

Every football coach always says, your team makes the biggest improvements from week one to week two. The Hokies played pretty good in the opener against West Virginia, but now it's time to start getting better. 

Offensively, I want to see Tech continue to run the ball. Tech ran pretty good Sunday night, but I want to see it continue to get better. If the offense can run the ball, then it will take the pressure off of Josh Jackson and open up the passing game.

This week will be a good look at just how good our offensive line can be this year. West Virginia ran a 3-3-5 stack defense which is completely unique and one that Tech will not see again this year. How this offensive line and offense can handle a more familiar defensive set up, will let us know just what to expect this season. The Blue Hens will try to disguise blitzes and coverage's to see if they can get Jackson to make some freshman mistakes. I expect the coaching staff for Tech to take a similar approach as they did last week. Protecting Jackson early, allowing the game to come to him, while opening him up later and taking what the defense gives you.

What I am looking for the most this week offensively, is how many receivers play and play well. This game is a perfect opportunity for the young guys to get some experience and start proving to the coaches and fans they can play.

Defensively, I'm interested to see if Bud will start to crank up the blitz again. I felt with the conservative approach against WVU, it put a lot of pressure on the secondary. I look for our front four to get a great push this week and live in the back field of the Blue Hens. This will in turn, provide the secondary with opportunities for turnovers.

The biggest thing I am looking for from the defense, is how much better our second defensive line will be. They struggled against the Mountaineers and didn't provide the rest for our starters like we needed. I know I've talked about this a lot, but our second unit has to grow up fast if we want to have a great defense this year. Now that defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive line coach Charlie Wiles have game film on these guys, they can start to work even more with them on technique and game plan how to use them efficiently.


Overall, Virginia Tech is far more talented than Delaware and should have no problem winning this game. The coaching staff is going to try to get up early on these guys so we can start getting repetitions for the younger players. Defensively, I expect Bud's group to rebound this week and should probably only allow UD a little over 250 yards of offense. Offensively, I think we run the ball early and often and try to go through the air off of play action. I expect Josh Jackson to have another high game through the air this week but I highly doubt he rushes for over a 100 yards again.

In my original season preview, I predicted the Hokies to win 42-10. I think even after watching Tech play a game, I'll stick with that score. Don't be surprised if the game is a tad sloppy to start, but I expect by the middle of the second quarter, the difference in talent will begin to show.

Let's go 1-0 this week and 2-0 overall! Go Hokies!!

Adam's 2017 season predictions record: 1-0.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Black Diamond Stays Home: West Virginia Recap

(Photo: Adam Pace)

Country roads, take the Black Diamond back to Blacksburg! 

The Hokies finally got the FedEx monkey off of their back Sunday night, in a thriller against West Virginia. Josh Jackson was excellent, the defense was clutch when we needed them to be, and the play calling was great. Today we will take a look back at first game of the 2017 season and analyze what was good from the Hokies and what still needs some work.


The Game

First and foremost, this was one of the most entertaining college football games I've ever been to. In the first half, both teams were feeling each other out and shaking the rust off. But the second half started an explosion of exciting plays with ups and downs that Hollywood couldn't have scripted any better.

Before this game, I really thought that Tech could win based off coaching and now that it's over, my theory was correct. Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen did a great job of keeping their young quarterback out of trouble in the first half. Allowing Josh Jackson the opportunity to get comfortable with the game, while not asking him to do that much, the offense really opened up in the second half. The play calling in the second half was brilliant. From the rub route off of play action to get Chris Cunningham wide open for a big gain, to the fake screen for a touchdown to Cam Phillips to retake the lead later, Brad Cornelsen called a great second half.

The one part of the game that can often go unnoticed and Tech excelled on, was field position and special teams. The freshman Aussie punter, Oscar Bradburn, played awesome! Averaging 46.5 yards per punt and only allowing West Virginia to have their best starting field position from their own 27 yard line. Little things like that can make a huge difference in the game and the punting unit from the Hokies really made the Mountaineers have to earn their points.

Defensively I thought the Hokies kind of took a conservative approach. Really playing a little bit of a bend don't break type defense. Bud Foster chose not to send a lot of pressure on West Virginia quarterback Will Grier. Instead, he dropped his guys back into zone and often straight man to try to confuse the gunslinger. This worked fairly well in the first half, but starting in the middle of the third quarter, the Hokies got tired and had a difficult time stopping the West Virginia offense. By the end of the fourth quarter, the Tech defense was just holding on.

This game is one that we will remember for some time as Tech fans. From being able to see the young guys grow up in the second half to getting rid of the FedEx curse, I'm never going to forget that night. This was a hard nosed football game and for once, we ended up on the right side of it.


The Good

The first good from this game would have to be Josh Jackson. I've been high on this guy for sometime and I'm glad he was able to show his worth Sunday night. Jackson just plays the game different. First, he protects the ball and second, he knows exactly where to go with it. Whether through the air or on the ground, Jackson made smart plays all night. With that being said, there's going to be a game this year, where Jackson struggles. While he is smart and way ahead of the usual learning curve of a redshirt freshman, he is still a redshirt freshman. With all of the youth surrounding him, there is going to be one game this year where we all look at each other and say, "what was that?" But be patient everyone, Josh Jackson is the future of this Virginia Tech program.

The second area I was really please with was running back. I think Virginia Tech finally has a great mix at tailback this year. Steven Peoples was great running between the tackles and really brought some physicality to the position that's been missing for some time. Travon McMillian showed that he's still a great runner but more importantly he's improved his pass protection. Deshawn McClease was everything the coaches have hyped him up to be. He's a quick guy who can run with a great mix of speed and elusiveness. The coaching staff has been excited to play him, hinting at times that he is the perfect back for this system and that was verified Sunday night. As the season progress, look for the staff to continue to use the specific strength's of these back's to steadily improve the running game.

Last, punting was key to victory. I've already talked about the punting game earlier but it begs repeating. With the offense so young this year, the punt unit has to be solid and keep the pressure on the other team when our offense is struggling. They did just that Sunday night. During the second quarter, we were really struggling to move the ball on offense. Had we not been able to constantly put WVU's backs against the wall, they could have easily pulled away. Oscar Bradburn. who was making his first career start and in a completely different country, was excellent Sunday night. I don't know if Fuente gives out game ball's or not, but this kid deserves one.

Still needs some work

The game was awesome and it can be easy to get caught up in the moment, but the Hokies still have some work to do at certain areas. The defense gave up close to 600 yards, the wide receivers besides Phillips, Savoy, and Carroll, were almost non-existent, and Joey Slye missed two huge field goals.

As I mentioned early, it looked like the defense went with a bend don't break game plan. Even during his interview yesterday, Foster said the amount of yards the Hokies gave up didn't bother him. What hurt us and where we got lucky was the lack of depth up front. I talked about this in the preseason, defensive tackle depth for the Hokies is lacking. Early on, Tim Settle and Ricky Walker were getting a great push and were really limiting what the West Virginia offense could do. But when the second unit came in, you tell a big drop off in not only talent, but the ability to be disruptive. The problem with that is by the end of the game, Settle and Walker had logged over 60 plays each and hardly had anything left in the tank. It showed as well, the pass rush from the front four was virtually nonexistent late in the fourth quarter. If Tech wants to be able to have a great year defensively, the backup defensive line has to get better quick.

Some might be quick to point out that the secondary struggled Sunday night as well. I agree, but this was probably the best quarterback we will face all season. I'm not in panic mode yet, but there needs to be improvement. One bright spot however, is Divine Deablo. Deablo started at Tech as a wide receiver but was moved to safety this spring. When the depth chart came out I was surprised to see his name in the two deep at safety. But man did this kid shine. He played a little in the first half on certain packages, but was called into a big spot in the second half when Terrell Edmunds went down. Deablo answered the call, playing with great confidence and poise to close out the game. The future is very bright for him at the safety position.

We all knew receiving for the Hokies this year was a question mark. Heck even in my preview, I didn't have Sean Savoy listed as someone I thought would play this year. But he is probably our best receiver outside of Cam Phillips. Something Tech has to get going over the next three games is these other receivers. Eric Kumah seemed to struggle out there and was only targeted once that I can remember. Besides a jet sweep to James Clark, I don't think any other receivers played Sunday. Now this could have been the coaches wanting only those they trust out there for that game. But if this offense is going to take a step forward, we need more receivers. The next three games should really provide a chance for some of these guys to start earning their keep. Fuente has always said that he likes to play up to eight receivers and I can now see why he said we were no where close to that in the week leading up to West Virginia.

Finally, Joey Slye has to start making these clutch field goals. This is the same thing that happened last year early in the season. Slye had two opportunities to really change the game Sunday night and missed both of them.  Joey has a cannon for a leg and is a great kid, but we need to start seeing some better accuracy from him. He seems to like to draw the ball from the right to left but both times Sunday, the ball stayed out to the right. This was the exact same problem he had to start the season last year. Personally, I just want to see Joey square up his hips and drive the ball through the uprights. Over the next three weeks, Slye needs to begin to gain some confidence back and start hitting these field goals. We are going to need him at some point this season to win a game for us, so I hope he can get rid of the demons soon.


Moving Forward

After the big win, Tech takes on Delaware this coming Saturday. This game as well as the next two after it, should give the young guys from Virginia Tech a chance to improve and grow. Although the names on the schedule don't look intimidating, these games are very important for the success of this season. This is an opportunity for all of the young guys to get some valuable game reps. and prove their worth.

It's about time Tech won a big national prime time game but let's hope they continue to improve! Go Hokies!