Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Whatever it takes: Duke review

Virginia Tech slides past Duke in a rain soaked game

By: Adam Pace
October 31, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

I sat in the hurricane game against Texas A&M, I sat through Boston College in '07, Miami in '09, Marshall in '13, and I sat through the hurricane against UNC last season, but this game against Duke may have been one of the wettest games I've ever sat through! The first quarter and a half were very nice and dry but then the gates opened up. Lucky for the Hokies, they got most of their points in before it became hard to score. This one wasn't pretty, but Tech did just enough to get the win and set the stage for another big game.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Not pretty but no turnovers

On offense, Tech did just enough to win the game but there were times it just wasn't very pretty. Jackson seemed a little in his own head on Saturday missing his guys high early on. I'm not sure if he was a little pumped up or if he was just thinking too much since it was suppose to be a wet ball, either way Josh was just a little off to get started. But midway through the second quarter, Jackson settled down and started to complete his passes.


Tech was also able to get a little bit of a running game going on Saturday as well. Steven Peoples started but re-injured himself shortly into the game. That meant someone else was going to have to show up to help give Tech a spark. Deshawn McClease answered the call. He finished the day with 75 yards and a touchdown. His biggest accomplishment though, he didn't fumble the ball when it was soaking wet.

There isn't a whole lot to write about for this one because for most of the game, Tech just had to grind out yards in the pouring rain. We all remember playing football at one point growing up in the pouring rain and if you can remember, it's about impossible to get any footing when it's that wet. Tech did block well Saturday but the backs just didn't have enough traction to be able to make a move to spring free. I was actually very pleased with our performance on offense. Although I wish Josh would have played a little bit better, he continued to protect the football and had a huge touchdown pass to Sean Savoy before the half. That play probably changed the entire outcome of the game because it gave the Hokies a 17-3 halftime lead. We all kind of knew at that point that the Hokies should be fine.

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Lunch Pail Defense loves the slop

If you are a Seinfeld fan than you'll understand my reference here, Tech's defense is starting to look like their mother was a mudder. In last year's hurricane game against the Tar Heels and in this year's game against the Blue Devils, Tech has only allowed an average of 157 yards with only six points. It's safe to say that Bud's group isn't afraid of a little rain. His guys were flying all over the place and gave Duke's quarterback Daniel Jones, a very long night. Jones was officially 10-24 for 82 yards. However, only eight of those passes were actually down field as two of them we forward laterals to a sweeping running back behind the offensive line. The more impressive stat though, Jones didn't complete a single pass in the second half. Jones had been struggling coming into this game and Tech made sure it was going to continue. Then once the rain starting to pour, you just knew he wasn't going to be able to beat Tech over the top.

The Hokies also did a great job of slowing down the Duke running game. Allowing just 101 yards rushing, Tech bottled up the backs all night. With Jones not being able to beat them in the air, Tech pinned their ears back and started stuffing the run game. My defensive MVP would have to be Mook Reynolds. Reynolds had four solo tackles and two assisted for a total of six tackles on the day. Mook was constantly in the back field of Duke and did a great job of chasing down the backs on the outside. Reynolds was also credited with a forced fumble after running down Shaun Wilson from behind and knocking the ball loose.

In all, Tech forced two turnovers and are plus six in the turnover margin on the year. That currently ranks the Hokies 19th in the nation. There is no doubt that Bud Foster's group is going to get some turnovers and if the offense can protect the ball, chances are they will be working with a short field on a regular bases.

The Hokies defense is starting to be everything that we thought it might be this season. They currently rank 10th in total defense and are third in 3rd down conversion percentage, allowing teams to convert only 24% of the time. We knew that depth could be an issue for these guys, but so far (knock on wood) the starters have stayed healthy and are getting better as the season progresses. We are about to find out exactly what this defense is made of over the next four games. Tech has three of the next four on the road and the next one against Miami is pretty much for the Coastal Division title.

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Hidden yardage

I was glad when I woke up this morning to see that Oscar Bradburn had been named a finalist for the Ray Guy award (Best punter in the nation). Although his stats may be a bit misleading in yards per punt, Bradburn has downed 17 inside the 20 this season. To go along with that, through eight games, teams only have four return yards! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on who the team MVP should be this year, but my choice is Bradburn and there isn't a close second. Tech's formula to winning games this year is very simple but it rest on Bradburn's shoulders. The Hokies are going to be smart with the football and not turn it over, use Bradburn's leg to pin opponents deep in their own territory, and then say good luck driving the length of the field against this defense. With Bradburn's ability to flip the field on a regular bases, the Hokies are giving themselves a big advantage in hidden yards. One quick look at the average starting field position shows that the Hokies' rank 10th in the nation and usually start with the ball on their own 36 yard line. This is a very big advantage when you have a young offense like Tech does.


Moving on

Now the grind really begins for Tech. As I mentioned earlier, the Hokies have three of the next four on the road and the big game against the Miami Hurricanes this weekend. Miami is undefeated and could clinch the Coastal Division by beating the Hokies and having Georgia Tech beat UVA. To say this game has big implications would be an understatement. Tech will need to have their best performance all around this weekend if they want to beat this Hurricane team. It will be a great game but we'll dive more into that on Thursday. Until then, Let's Go........

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Devil with the Blue Dress: Hokies take on a struggling Duke Team

Virginia Tech host Duke in a Saturday night showdown.

By: Adam Pace
October 26, 2017

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Virginia Tech will welcome the Duke Blue Devils to Lane Stadium on Saturday evening in what could be a very close game. The Hokies are currently 6-1 and Duke currently sits at 4-4 and is struggling as of late. Duke started the season really well and showed quickly that their strength would be their defense, but everyone expected the Duke offense to play better than they have recently. At the beginning of the season, I said this game really worried me because of how close this match up has been over the last few years. During the last four seasons the series is tied 2-2 with Virginia Tech winning twice at Duke and the Blue Devils winning twice at Virginia Tech. Duke is lead by head coach David Cutcliffe and he really knows how to game plan against Bud Foster. Virginia Tech must really focus on not turning the ball over and actually establishing a run game while on offense and on defense the Hokies need to blitz Duke time and time again. Lets break this one down.

(goduke.com)
Duke

The Blue Devils are lead by quarterback Daniel Jones, a redshirt sophomore from Charlotte, NC. Jones had an excellent first year throwing for 2,836 yards and 16 touchdowns but seems to be having a little bit of a sophomore slump this year with 1,670 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Over the last four games, Jones has only thrown 3 touchdowns to four interceptions. You can point to Jones as being one of the big issues to Duke's offense this year but most of it starts upfront for the Blue Devils. They have allowed 21 sacks which currently ranks them 101st in the nation. This is very good news for a Tech defense that is coming off of a six sack performance against North Carolina. I'm not sure if Foster will blitz a lot this game though as Jones can run when they need him too but if you look at the numbers and if you look at film, Tech should bring the pressure.

While Duke's offensive line is struggling against the pass rush, they are performing pretty well in the running game. Duke averages about 176 yards a game and are lead by Shaun Wilson who has 569 yards and five touchdowns on the year. But if Wilson starts getting tired then the Devils turn to Brittain Brown who has 512 yards and three touchdowns on the year. It's safe to say that Duke can run the ball pretty well but the passing game has been the struggle this year. Bud Foster's group will need to stuff the run and be able to get Duke in long passing situations. At that point, Tech can pin their ears back, go after Jones and force a few throws. It doesn't seem that Duke has a receiver this year who can make big plays on a regular bases, so the secondary should be able to win their match ups on Saturday.

On defense, Duke will trout out the 27th best unit in the nation. Duke is allowing 334 yards a game with 136 of those yards coming from other teams running the ball and only 198 yards from teams passing. This is a very big stat because the forecast for Saturday calls for rain. Virginia Tech hasn't been able to consistently run the football this year and in rainy conditions, you need to run the ball. Duke will stack the box Saturday and make Jackson beat them with his arm in the rain. Although this team maybe struggling, their defense will keep them in the game.

Overall, Duke isn't doing as well as I thought they might this season. On defense they are solid and make you earn every yard but on offense they seem to be their own enemy. David Cutcliffe always has a good game plan to go up against Bud Foster, so how the Tech offense can perform will tell a lot about this one. 

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Virginia Tech

Tech got off again to a slow start last week and really struggled to move the ball on offense. The execution level just wasn't there and it looked like everyone was just watching to see if someone else would make a play. The Hokies can't do that again this week or they could be in for a long day. The good news for the Hokies, Steven Peoples should be back this week and boy is he needed. Peoples runs with confidence and can actually see and hit a hole. His toughness has really been missing over the last few weeks and with the forecast calling for rain, we are going to need the running game. If Tech can run the ball well and set up play action, then the offense should be able to do just enough to win this one.

On defense, the Hokies need to bring the same intensity they showed last week against the Tar Heels. As I noted earlier, Duke's offense is really struggling and Tech should be able to put Jones on his back a few times Saturday. Linebacker play will be huge in this one, as Duke loves to run the football. Edmunds and Motuapuaka will need to get off blocks and get to the ball carrier. They will also need to be sound in their assignments as Duke isn't afraid to run Jones on read option plays. Last year, Jones and his running backs gave Tech's defense a long day after they ran on them time and time again. Hopefully Tech has made a few adjustments and will be able to force Duke to throw the ball.

Prediction 

I'm very happy that Tech was awarded another night game this year, I'm not happy that it's probably going to rain. This game was going to be a tough one in good conditions, but now it's going to be even harder. Ever since Cutcliffe arrived at Duke, he has been able to play the Hokies tough just about every game. I'm not sure what it is but the man just knows how to coach against us. This one will probably be a punting showcase for most of the night, so special teams will be a big factor. Virginia Tech has a big time advantage in that field and it could be what ultimately wins them the game. Justin Fuente and his staff should have a pretty good game plan put together and hopefully this week the offense will start out with some intensity. Duke will play Tech hard and keep it close for most of the game, but I look for the Hokies to pull away midway through the fourth quarter. I'll take Tech to win this one 27-14. Let's Go.......

Adam's season predictions: 6-1


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dominant: Hokies blast the Tar Heels

Virginia Tech dominates North Carolina in three phases.

By: Adam Pace
October 24, 2017

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
I knew coming that Virginia Tech should be able to handle Carolina, but I didn't think they would absolutely dominate the Tar Heels the way they did. Saturday looked like vintage Beamerball with defense and specials teams leading the way and giving the Hokies offense great field position to work with. We'll look at this from all three phases, offense, defense, and special teams.

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Slow start......... again

Tech's offense got off to a slow start again and it was mainly just lack of execution from the younger guys. On the very first series, Tech drove right down the field but stalled out leaving Joey Slye with a field goal attempt. However, Slye wasn't able to convert leaving the kick out wide to the right again after he tried to draw the ball. After that, it wasn't until the second quarter that the Hokies were able to finally find the end zone on offense. Watching live during the game, I was a little upset with the play calling and thought that may be the problem. But after watching the game again, the young guys just couldn't execute. Tech had the right play called the majority of the time but due to drops and missed blocks, the Hokies just couldn't get it going. This could have been because of the bye and needing to get some rust off, or it could just be this unit needs some time to get comfortable with the game before they start to find success. 

It was good to see Cam Phillips back in the lineup and it was also good to hear that Steven Peoples was available to go in an emergency situation, which should mean he is close to returning. The running game is still not performing at a high level and after watching film, it's on the running backs. Time and time again, holes were open but the backs just couldn't see it or hit them quick enough. I am starting to get on the Coleman Fox train a little bit because it seems he is the only one with the vision and quickness to hit the hole. McMillian was extremely inconsistent and ran into his own guys over and over again. Holston showed he has a heavy shoulder but also looked like a freshman whose confidence is lacking a bit. Virginia Tech has four backs who are all capable of being the go to guy but not one has stepped up yet. I personally believe that once Peoples returns, he will be the one to step up. He had a great game against Old Dominion but has been hurt since then. If he is back to full strength, then I believe we will start to see him take over the tailback position.

There is no doubt that this offense has talent and the pieces to be good. However, youth is still continuing to show up early in games. I look for the staff to start calling some pretty simple plays to start games from here on out to try to get these guys comfortable and to create early success. It looked like this is what they did on the first drive this past Saturday and it worked pretty well until they stalled out. As we get deeper into the season and the team continues to get healthier, hopefully we will see these slow starts begin to go away. All in all I was pleased with the performance from this unit this past weekend. Although they struggled early, they did enough to win the game and they protected the football. With the way Tech's defense is playing, all this offense needs to do is not turn it over and score when they have a short field. It's easy to forget sometimes that this is only the second year in Fuente's system and to top that off, it's the first year in it for a lot of our skill players.

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Defense owns the day

I really thought that Tech's defense could get a few turnovers in this game but I didn't think they would force three of them. From the first snap these guys were disruptive and it all started up front with the defensive line. Tim Settle and Ricky Walker absolutely owned the inside of Carolina's line and between the two of them they recorded nine total tackles and two and a half sacks. During the post game Walker said that coach Foster had really challenged the defensive line and man did they step up to the call. In total, the starting defensive line (Mihota, Hill, Walker, & Settle) had 16 tackles and four sacks. It is was apparent that the bye week really did wonders for this unit and I'm hoping now maybe they have found something that they can carry through the rest of the season.


Linebacker play was great as well with Edmunds and Motuapuaka recording 17 total tackles combined and Motuapuaka with one interception. If you throw in whip/nickleback Mook Reynolds, the group had a total of 21 tackles. I'm really starting to think this is one of the best linebacker units in the nation. The way all three of these guys have developed over the season has been fun to watch and hopefully they can continue to play at a high level moving forward.

Tech's secondary really didn't have to do much this past Saturday thanks to the constant pressure the front four were creating. Carolina only completed eight passes the entire day and most of those were dump offs to the running back or hot route receiver. There were a few times that the Tar Heels were able to find a hole in the zone, but all in all I would say Tech's secondary played a great game. I would have to go back and really watch but I'm not sure that UNC even attempted a pass to the guy that Greg Stroman was guarding. Believe it or not, Stroman has become that good of a corner now that teams won't even throw toward him. I would have laughed at you if you would have told me that two years ago.

This was a near perfect day for Bud Foster's defense. Had they been able to keep the shut out alive and not given up the one big play, it would have been perfect. This unit did what is was suppose to do by not letting a young team even think they had a chance. Tech's defense continues to improve each week and I think they should have just as good of a performance this coming week against Duke. It will be a tough game though as Duke's David Cutcliffe really knows how to coach against Foster, but talent wise Tech is far better.

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Greg Stroman, best returner ever?

Stroman added another punt return for a touchdown this past weekend, giving him four career touchdowns and only one away from the Virginia Tech record. I've been hinting for a while now that he might be the best Tech has ever had and it's starting to show. I would not be surprised at all to see him get one or maybe two more before this season is over with. Stroman's vision along with his speed really make him a threat to pop out of a crowd and break one for a touchdown. As the season progresses, I really think Tech will set up more punt returns than they will try for a punt block. Stroman has become a special piece for this unit and it would not surprise me in the least to see him get to wear the #25 jersey again this season.


Speaking of number #25, Oscar Bradburn had the opportunity to wear the famous number this past weekend and he didn't disappoint. He had four punts for an average of 44.3 yards and was able to put all four inside the 20 yard line. Of those four, two were inside the 10 with one being pinned on the one yard line. Oscar again continued to show that he should be listed up there with Stroman as special teams MVP this year. Tech will need Oscar to continue to play at a high level as the Hokies' final stretch will be a tough one.

Final thoughts

I enjoyed every single second of the game this past Saturday. Tech owned Carolina from the get go and really made the Tar Heels hurt. I said last week that I wouldn't be surprised if Tech ran the score up and they did just that. Carolina is now the proud recipients of the largest margin of defeat (52 points) for an ACC school that Tech has faced. I hope Tech continues to beat the Tar out of the Heels over the next few years as it will never get old watching those in that ugly blue get frustrated.


Moving on, Tech has a tough game against a Duke team that has been struggling lately. But just because Duke isn't having the season they wanted, don't sleep on the Blue Devils. David Cutcliffe can always seem to find a way to move the ball against Bud Foster and Duke's defense is pretty good this year. Don't be surprised if this one is close headed into the fourth quarter next week. We will be back with our Duke preview later this week, until then Let's Go.......

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Back in Lane: Hokies take on the Tar Heels

Virginia Tech welcomes UNC to Lane Stadium after the bye week.

By: Adam Pace
October 19, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Virginia Tech welcomes the Tar Heels of North Carolina, better known as UNC(AA), to Blacksburg Saturday. Last year, Virginia Tech absolutely punished Carolina in the middle of a hurricane much like the NCAA should have punished the Tar Heels over their academic fraud case. Okay, I promise I'm done taking jabs at UNCheat, never mind I'll never be done. Anyways, back to football.

The Tar Heels will probably be transported to this game in an ambulance, as over 16 players have been lost for the season due to injury. Of those 16, nine are usual starters. If you look at that and then look and see that UNC is currently 1-6, you start to understand why. But this is football and injuries happen and we all know Carolina loves to come up with excuses, so I'm only giving them a very tiny bit of sympathy. Virginia Tech has some uncertainty as well in the injury field and we aren't sure how many starters will actually play on Saturday.

(Photo: Jeffrey A. Camarati)
Tar Heels

On offense Carolina will play two quarterbacks, graduate transfer from LSU Brandon Harris and redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt. Until last week, Surratt had been the guy since week one but due to illness, Harris got the nod against UVA. Harris continued to show why he couldn't make it at LSU, throwing three interceptions against the Wahoos which gives him a total of six interceptions on the season to only one touchdown. Surratt hasn't been much better this season throwing six touchdowns to three interceptions. I fully expect that if Surratt is healthy, he will get the nod against the Hokies. Fedora's offense relies heavily on good quarterback play and this year with poor play from the signal callers UNC's offense currently ranks 99th in the nation.

I am a little surprised with all of the issues Carolina is having at QB that Fedora hasn't ran the ball more. His top two backs, Jordan Brown and Michael Carter are actually having pretty good seasons. Brown has 327 yards with three touchdowns and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, while Carter has 388 yards with seven touchdowns and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry. It might seem like Fedora is just being stubborn with his play calling (which could be true i.e. Elijah Hood), but in all actuality teams are stacking the box and forcing the Tar Heels to have to throw it.

On defense Carolina is one of the worst teams in the nation. They currently rank 82nd and ever since Fedora arrived in Chapel Hill, his best defense has only been ranked 39th. It's safe to say he doesn't make defense a huge priority. What I don't understand though, is there are a lot of good athletes on that side of the ball for the Tar Heels. In fact, Carolina has seven guys playing defense that the Hokies were actively recruiting until they picked UNC. There is no doubt that UNC has the guys, just for whatever reason they can't seem to put it together and play consistently. Maybe if they studied just a little harder (I couldn't resist).

Overall, Carolina is just plain bad this year. The Tar Heels are on the verge of not being able to go to a bowl and honestly probably won't win more than three games this year. However, there is still some talent on that roster and if Tech isn't focused, Carolina could give them fits. 

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Hokies

Virginia Tech spent the bye week resting and hopefully getting healthy. Although it is starting to seem that they didn't get as healthy as they wanted, as a lot of guys still remain in question for this week's game. The good news however, Justin Fuente is 3-0 after bye weeks since 2014. Tech played Carolina last year after and bye and took them to the woodshed. The coaches spent a lot of time self scouting last week and I look for the offense and the defense to really play to their strengths. 

On offense, I expect the Hokies to lean on the running game this week as Carolina allows 229 rushing yards a game. There are still some question marks at tailback for the Hokies as Steven Peoples remains hurt and questionable and there have been some rumblings that McClease is in concussion protocol. Coming off a strong game against Boston College, hopefully Travon McMillian can bring is A game and lead the Tech rushing attack. He could be set to have a big day if the Tar Heels continue to struggle against the run. 

The running game will also be an important factor in helping to open up the pass. Cam Phillips is still banged up and uncertain if he will play, along with C.J. Carroll still trying to get healthy, and Sean Savoy coming off the sudden death of his brother. This means there could be a ton of youth on the field at wide receiver for Tech Saturday, so opening up the play action game can go a long way in getting some of these young guys open. With this much inexperience I expect Tech to try to spread the wealth and get guys like Dalton Keene and Chris Cunningham involved to take the pressure off the receiving corp. As long as Jackson continues to be smart with the football, Tech should still be able to move the chains against this defense, even with all of the injuries.

On defense, Bud Foster has to be licking his chops. He is about to go up against an offense that is very turnover prone. I expect to see a lot more blitzing than we have all season with some different looks in the secondary to confuse the Carolina quarterbacks. While Tech's offense might be a little banged up, the defense is still pretty healthy. I fully expect to see this unit completely shut down this offense and give our guys great field position throughout the day.

Prediction

Carolina is really bad this year and Tech should be able to take full advantage. Usually, I would worry about a game like this but I'm not this year. Time and time again I have read that Tech's staff cannot stand Carolina for many reasons, so I can guarantee you they will have the team focused and ready to go. Don't be surprised if Tech stays on the gas pretty late into this one, as rumor has it Fuente wants to rub their noses in it a little bit. If Tech can protect the football and force Carolina into two or three turnovers, this one will be over by halftime. I'll take the Hokies to beat the Cheaters 49-7. Let's Go.....

Adam's Season Predictions: 5-1


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

State of the Hokies: Part Three; Special Teams

Looking at Special Teams play for the Hokies so far in 2017

By: Adam Pace
October 18, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
If you have followed Virginia Tech football for any amount of time, when you hear special teams the word that comes to mind is probably Beamerball. But after coach Beamer retired in 2015, everyone was wondering how new coach Justin Fuente would value special teams play. But as we saw last year, Fuente sees special teams as a key aspect to winning football games. With the youth on offense this year, special teams have been critical to the Hokies. Special teams coach James Shibest has put together one of the best units in the country this season, as the Hokies currently rank sixth in the nation is special teams efficiency. We are going to break this one down by punting (kicking & returning), kickoffs (kicking & returning), and field goals (kicking & defending).


(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Punting

Last season, punter Mitchell Ludwig wasn't terrible but he struggled with providing consistency and the ability to flip the field position on opponents. During the offseason it was made known that he had graduated early, leaving the Hokies without a punter. Shibest quickly recruited Oscar Bradburn from Sydney, Australia and had him here in time to participate in spring practice. Bradburn has been great so far in 2017, pinning opponents inside their own 20 yard line nine times and averaging 43.8 yards per punt. Besides one complete whiff on a rugby style punt against Clemson (which I blame on the coaches), Bradburn has really been able to provide some consistency and ability to force teams to have to drive a long way against a really good defense. Shibest was quoted in saying the other day that we have yet to see everything Oscar can do as a punter so the future is bright for this young freshman.

Punting grade so far: A

Greg Stroman entered the season with two career punt returns for touchdowns and has already added another one in 2017. He was really close to adding his second one for the season against Clemson but was stopped short of the goal line. Stroman has shown time and time again that he has the ability to break a game wide open if he is given space on a return. So far this season, Stroman has a 190 return yards and is averaging 10.6 yards per return, good for seventh in the nation. The best improvement I have personally seen from Greg this year, he is actually calling fair catches. I often joked last year that he was allergic to the fair catch, as he would rarely call one. But after not calling one against Duke in 2016 and getting his ankle messed up because of it, he seems to have learned when to take a risk and when not to take one. Stroman's ability to break a big return at any point will certainly keep Virginia Tech within striking distance of any opponent remaining in 2017. He has had a solid season to this point and could really help the Hokies steal a game down the stretch run.

Punt return grade so far: A

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Kickoffs

Joey Sly has continued to be able to give the Tech defense an advantage by kicking touchback after touchback. Of the 39 kickoffs Slye has had this season, 36 of them have been for touchbacks. This means teams are starting on their own 25 yard line 92% of the time after a Tech touchdown. Not only can Joey kick the ball far, he isn't afraid to tackle someone if they decide to bring the ball out. He has two tackles in 2017, one assisted tackle and one solo tackle. On the solo tackle, Slye absolutely leveled the poor return man from East Carolina. This isn't surprising though because unlike most kickers, Slye is actually built more like a linebacker. Hopefully Joey can continue to put the ball out of the back of the end zone and keep the pressure on the opposing teams, by making them have to drive the ball 75 yards against Bud Foster's unit.

Kickoffs grade so far: A+

The kick return game this year for the Hokies has been a bit below average. A lot has factored into that though, as the main returner James Clark suffered an injury against ECU and hasn't played since. Clark was really bringing a spark to the return unit that we hadn't seen in sometime. After West Virginia tied the game at 17, Clark had a great return and set the Hokies up with good field position, where they would score on the very next play. Since Clark went down, the Tech return game has as well. Travon McMillian and Henry Murphy have been rotating at the position and while both guys have great speed, they both seem to be lacking that spark that Clark seemed to have. Currently Tech ranks 108th in the nation in kick return efficiency with an average of 24.3 yards per return. That's not good at all considering a touchback gives you 25 yards. Which means on average, Tech is starting a yard shorter than where they would be if they just took a touchback. I hope some emphasis was put on this unit during the bye week because small added yards on kick returns can go a long way in helping a very young offense.

Kick return grade so far: C-

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Field Goals

As good as Joey Slye has been on kickoffs, he has struggled a little bit with field goals. There is no question that he has the leg to hit one from about anywhere once you cross the 50, but his accuracy has been the big issue. It seems to be recently that Slye struggles to handle the pressure in making one when the game is close. It showed against West Virginia when he missed two field goals that could have put the Hokies up 10 points both times. He also missed one against Clemson when Tech could have really used some points. I have touched on it before on here, but it seems far too often Slye wants to try to draw the football instead of kicking it straight through the uprights. This is what a lot of kickers do at the professional level and much like golf, drawing the ball can actually give you some added yardage. The problem Slye seems to be having is being able to draw the ball back to the left after kicking it out to the right. In turn, this is causing him to miss wide right each time. For the last two seasons, this has been a major issue for Joey and it always ends with him just squaring up and kicking the ball straight instead of trying to draw it. I'm not sure why the coaches haven't addressed this with him and told him to stop trying to draw it up until now, but it seems he has given up on it as he was a perfect 3-3 against Boston College. I really hope Joey has cleaned this issue up and can start getting a little more accurate through the final stretch as we might need him to win a game or two for us.

Field goal kicking grade so far: B-

As much as Tech likes to block punts, they also like to try to block field goals. Often times a good rush on a field goal attempt might not get a block, but can cause the kicker to rush the kick and miss the field goal. Teams are currently kicking at a success rate of 50% on the Hokies and Tech has one block on the year. I'll take this stat and hope to see that success rate go down as the season continues and the Hokies can hopefully still be disruptive. Although I'll be honest, watching Tech block field goal attempts is probably my favorite thing, so I'm hoping we see some more as the year goes on.

Field goal defense grade so far: A-

Overall

The stats don't lie on this one, ranked 6th in the nation in special teams efficiency is pretty dang good. I think we all would like to see the Hokies improve on field goal attempts and on kickoff returns but right now, this unit is fairly solid. There is no doubt though that to this point, Oscar Bradburn has been the special teams MVP with his ability to switch the field on opponents. I'm hoping we don't have to see him kick it as much in the second half of the season, but if he does, hopefully he can continue to impress. I would say that Tech is really relying on this unit to win some games for them this year and to this point they have answered the call pretty well. There is still a lot of football to be played but the special teams group for Tech in 2017 has been pretty good.

Overall special teams grade: A-





Monday, October 16, 2017

State of the Hokies: Part Two; Defense

Examining the Tech defense so far in 2017.

By: Adam Pace
October 16, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Coming into 2017, we all knew that Virginia Tech would have a pretty good defense. But the biggest question surrounding the defense, who would provide the depth? So far, the starting unit has performed pretty well, but the backups are still learning and an injury to the wrong person could mean devastation to the Hokies. Lets take this one unit by unit and grade their performance halfway through the season.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Defensive Line

The starting four on the defensive line for the Hokies have performed fairly well to this point. Tim Settle and Ricky Walker have been an anchor on the inside while Vinny Mihota and Trevon Hill have played the edges good as well. At defensive end, Houshun Gaines and Emmanual Belmar have provided good depth. What has been the biggest issues since the clock hit zero to end the season last year, who would provide the depth at defensive tackle? 

Jimmy Taylor and Jarrod Hewitt have been the main guys taking reps behind Settle and Walker. At this point, both guys haven't been very good. There have been very few flashes from these two and as the season has progressed, they are starting to show improvement. However, the level Tech needs these two to perform, is still not being reached. It hasn't happened yet, but at some point this year the season will start to take a toll on Settle and Walker. If one of them get hurt, it could mean major problems for the defense.

I knew at the beginning of the season that the backups would struggle. However, I thought by this point in the year we would see better productions from them. Chances are Settle or Walker are probably going to get banged up and we will need one of the backups to step up and give some decent time. That probably won't go well, so we just need to hope that no one gets hurt. The line is one of the weak points to this defense and so far they are holding up. I can't stress it enough though that if an injury occurs on the inside, we are in big trouble. Here's to hoping Georgia Tech doesn't try anything dirty.

Position grade so far: B

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Linebacker 

Tech did have the luxury of returning all three linebackers from last year. There was some pretty genuine excitement about watching what this unit could do this year. Andrew Motuapuaka has improved in his ability to stop the run and Tremaine Edmunds is starting to show flashes of being a top five prospect in his position entering the draft next year. Enjoy Edmunds while we have him everyone because you'll be hearing his name read during the draft in April. Mook Reynolds has continued to be a really good whip. Reynolds has the unique ability to help against the run and also shut down the pass. Reynolds has been fun to watch and I'm really looking forward to seeing what Foster does with him against Georgia Tech.

The good thing about this unit is there is some depth behind them. Hopefully none of these guys get hurt, but even if they did I believe Tech would be fine. There isn't a whole lot to say about this group except, they have been the best on the defensive side so far this year. While there is always room for improvement, I have complete trust in these guys and know they are fine even playing at the level they are currently playing.

Position grade so far: A+

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Secondary

We knew after 2016 that the Hokies had plenty of depth and experience at cornerback, what we didn't know is how Terrell Edmunds would play at free safety and who would play rover. Edmunds has been sub par at free safety so far and Reggie Floyd has been really good in run support at rover but still struggles a little bit in pass protection.


I personally think had Divine Deablo not had a season ending injury, he would have been the starting free safety by the end of the season. This would have allowed Edmunds to play rover, which is his more natural position. I also believe Edmunds put on too much weight this offseason and it has slowed him down in the passing game. It really stinks that Deablo got hurt because he was going to add an extra element to the back line of this defense. I'm optimistic though that Floyd will get better, as I've heard on multiple occasions, he has one of the best work ethics on the team. If Floyd and Edmunds both can improve their ability to defend the pass then this unit will improve.

If I would have told you two years ago that Greg Stroman would be our best cornerback in 2017, would you have believed me? Probably not. In 2015, Stroman wasn't very reliable at corner and kept bouncing from receiver to corner and had a pretty rough year. But ever since last year, Stroman has shown time and time again that he can be a lock down guy. With Facyson still recovering from injury and Alexander dealing with off the field issues, Stroman has been the steady guy this year.

All in all I think this unit has been just a little above average with the ability to get better during the back half of the season. A lot of pressure has been put on these guys with Foster choosing not to blitz as much as he has in the past. If Tech's defensive line can start to get a little better pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, then I can see this unit start to give other teams nightmares. But until then, there is some room to go in pure cover skills from just about all of these guys.

Position grade so far: B+

Overall

I have been pleasantly surprised at this point from our defense. I knew our starting 11 would be very good but what we got from the rest of the group would be the wild card. While the backups haven't been great, they've done enough to get the starters a little bit of rest. I'm really hoping the bye week got some of these guys some more experience and I hope they took some small steps forward in progression. We are about to enter a hard stretch in a couple of weeks and I think we will learn a lot about where this group is. If this defense can elevate it's production just a little bit more, Tech can finish on a strong note.

Overall defensive grade: B+

Thursday, October 12, 2017

State of the Hokies: Part one; Offense

Examining the Hokies offense halfway through the season.

By: Adam Pace
October 12, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Virginia Tech is officially halfway through the 2017 football regular season and is currently 5-1. The Hokies are ranked 15th in the AP poll and 17th in the Coaches poll. At the beginning of the season if you would have told me that Tech would be 5-1 going into the bye week, I would have really liked what I was hearing. In my season preview, I picked the Hokies to be 5-1 but I really wasn't sure if they could beat West Virginia in the season opener. Now knowing they did and their only loss is to the number two team in the nation, I feel like this season has been a success so far. 

I'm calling this series "The State of the Hokies" and we will be breaking this one into a three parts. We'll examining the offense, defense, and special team. First, let's start with the offense. 

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Quarterback

Josh Jackson was given the starting position in mid August and has been very productive so far this year. Just a redshirt freshman, Jackson has thrown for 1700 yards, 13 touchdowns, and four interceptions. He currently has a quarterback rating of 158.2 good for 18th in the nation and a completion percentage of 65.6%, good for 28th in the nation. We had heard from the beginning that Jackson wouldn't wow you with his physical attributes, but that he was a very efficient and so far the stats back that up. Jackson is a much more developed passer than Jerod Evans was but Jackson does lack just a little but of that athleticism that Evans brought to the table. 

Justin Fuente's system really puts the quarterback at an advantage and doesn't require him to make many risky throws. Time and time again Fuente has said that he expects his quarterback to value the football and not turn it over. Jackson has responded to that by only throwing four interceptions. If you really look at the film though, only one has been his fault. One went right through a receiver's hands, another was a freakishly athletic play by a defensive end, and one was because the referees called pass interference instead of holding and the ball was tipped negating the flag, causing the interception to stand. Jackson has done a great job valuing the football and as his supporting cast continues to get better, his efficiency should only go up.

Position grade so far: A-

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Running Back

This was a wild card coming into the year. The Hokies returned Travon McMillian and Steven Peoples, while gaining DeShawn McClease from injury and picking up freshman Jalen Holston. Before the season, I was worried about McMillian's pass blocking ability and if Peoples could provide enough speed to go along with his power. The coaches had been talking up McClease sense last season and Holston was a three star recruit from Georgia. I didn't think that Tech would be dominant at running the ball but I thought we should be better than we were last year.

To date, I think this unit has shown flashes but has been very inconsistent. Each running back has had a really good game but each one has also had a really bad game. There is only one game where I thought all of them played well and that was the season opener. Since then we have seen fumbling issues from McMillian, inconsistency from McClease, Peoples has been injured, and Holston has been battling illness, limiting his time.

Because of this, most of the fan base is asking for redshirt sophomore Coleman Fox to get more carries. Fox has looked really shifty in his limited time (against mostly second string defenses) and from a pure statistical stand point, he is one of the best on the team. I do like Fox and I think he plays with great vision and a lot of heart. But if we are being honest, there is enough talent ahead of him that we shouldn't even be asking why he isn't playing more. 

If Tech is going to continue winning games down the stretch, then this unit has to get more consistent and begin to be able to provide a good running game. That doesn't mean we need to gain over 200 rushing yards a game, it just means doing enough that the defense has to respect it, opening up the passing game. I really hope Peoples gets better soon because I think he was starting to become the man prior to injury. The bye week should really help this unit not only get healthy, but hopefully get better.

Position grade so far: B-

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Wide Receiver

Coming into the season, we thought the top four receivers for Tech would be Cam Phillips, C.J. Carroll, Phillip Patterson, and Eric Kumah. Then Fuente drops a bombshell and puts Sean Savoy as the number two option on the outside and list James Clark as Phillips back up and Henry Murphy as Savoy's backup. This completely threw out everything we thought we knew prior to the start of the year. But as time went on, we learned that Savoy was pretty good and Phillip Patterson had to have a knee scope. 

Cam Phillips has been as good as advertised but unfortunately, was hurt against Boston College. The team has said it is just a foot sprain and that they expect to get him back for UNC, but you have to wonder if this will become a nagging injury that slows Cam down. I really hope Cam can get at least back to about 90-95% because we are really going to need him down the stretch.

Outside of Phillips and Carroll, no one was really sure what to expect from the other guys. Sean Savoy has answered the call well to this point. I've said it before and I'll say it again, he reminds me a lot of Eddie Royal. I don't think he is as explosive as Royal, but he does have the ability to line up on the outside or inside and has great speed in the open field. He has had his freshman moments though, dropping a few easy passes and turning the wrong way after catching a screen pass. But I would say all in all, he has been a very good addition to this offense. A really tragic story however, Savoy's brother was shot and killed this past weekend. This isn't something anyone should have to go through but it really isn't something an 18 year-old should have to deal with. Savoy has taken a leave of absence to be with his family during this time. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family and we hope to see him back soon. If you would like to help Savoy's family, here is the link to a gofundme page to help with funeral cost.

The rest of the group has kind of been a toss up at this point. We've seen very small flashes from Eric Kumah, Henry Murphy, Hezekiah Grimsley, and James Clark. However, Clark is dealing with a hand injury and hasn't played in three games and until Boston College, Kumah hadn't been able to get separation. Murphy's hands have been inconsistent, and Grimsley can't always remember where to line up. There is no doubt that there is some talent in the supporting cast, but youth and injuries have really slowed them down. On Tuesday, Tech had a practice for just the young guys and backups. I really think this practice could have helped with some of the small mistakes these guys were making. 

There is no doubt that Fuente likes to play a lot of receivers in a game. He has gone on the record multiple times saying he would like to play somewhere around eight a game. Right now, Tech doesn't have the luxury and is doing the best with what they got. I do have to say that I have been impressed with how we've done all things considered. But I promise you, if these guys can get better, this offense will explode. Jackson can find the open receiver but his guys have to get open first. If this unit starts to get separation and catch the ball when it's thrown to them, then we will take a huge step forward.

Position grade so far: B+

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Tight End/H-Back

Let me first start off by saying Virginia Tech rarely uses a traditional tight end in their current system. Sometimes they will put one person with their hand down in the dirt and use them to block or to run a route. However typically, Tech uses what we call an H-Back. This person usually lines up right behind the offensive line and can help with run blocking or can run routes and catch passes. The position can also line up on the outside as a receiver from time to time too.


The Hokies have primarily used Dalton Keene at H-Back this year. Keene is just a true freshman and played quarterback in high school. Keene enrolled in January and was able to go through spring practice. He put on a ton of good weight during the summer and has shown that he can be a very good blocker in the run game. He is still new to the position and is continuing to learn, but he has showed really good flashes this year. It did take a while to get him going in the passing game but over the last few weeks, Keene has started to become a weapon for Josh Jackson. I have been extremely pleased with Keene and expect that he will have a great career with Virginia Tech.

Chris Cunningham has been the main guy at tight end and is having a quiet year compared to last season. It seemed every time we turned around last year, Chris was catching touchdowns. But he hasn't registered one yet in 2017. There are a few reasons for this. One, tape is out on him from last year and teams are limiting what he can do. Two, with Virginia Tech struggling to rush the ball this season it makes it harder to get the tight end involved in the passing game. I'm hoping Cunningham is able to get it going in the second half of the season because it was really fun watching him get open time and time again for touchdowns last year.

Although it may not show up in the box score, this unit has been better than last year. They are a huge upgrade in the run game and are also more athletic in the passing game as well. I don't think the offensive staff has used this unit to their full capability in the passing game yet, but hopefully it's coming soon. As the year has progressed, I have noticed this unit getting stronger and I fully think we haven't seen the best of them yet.

Position grade so far: B+

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Offensive Line

Offensive line has been one of the biggest issues for Virginia Tech since about 2006. Last year, this unit was pretty good but not great and with the staff having to replace the entire right side, we weren't sure what we would get this season. So far we have been about right on pace with how the unit was last year. The line is pretty good at pass blocking but seems to struggle when it comes to run blocking.


I was worried when the first depth chart came out and Kyle Chung was listed as the starting right tackle. Chung had been a center or guard his entire career so I was really uneasy about him playing tackle. Although he isn't perfect, Chung actually has played pretty well at that position this year. Over the last two weeks he has had to face probably the best talent he'll face all year and he's held up pretty well. Though he is a little undersized, Chung has quick feet and he uses it to his advantage. He isn't who I would have chose to play right tackle, but he's doing well.

At right guard, Braxton Pfaff has also held his own this season. He struggles with open field blocking but he has done well against the pass. I thought the staff might have asked too much of him during the Clemson game asking him to block in space but every other game this season, I haven't seen him make too many mistakes.

The remaining guys on the line, Nijman, Teller, and Gallo, have played fairly well. Nijman has been dealing with a nagging injury but seems to be turning the corner and getting healthier. Teller hasn't been as dominant this season as in the past but he continues to be the best lineman on the team. As a whole, I really want to see this line improve with the run game. I expect the staff knows all of the strengths and weaknesses of this group and I look for them to start leaning on those strength more through the remaining games.

Position grade so far: B

Final thoughts

The offense had a lot of question marks coming into the season but so far I think they have produced better than everyone thought. We are now six games in and there is enough tape out there on teams that now it just comes down to execution. If the young guys can continue to get better, then maybe this offense can take the step forward. But for right now, as long as they continue to protect and value the football, they are a good enough unit to beat the teams we are suppose to beat and possibly pull off an upset or two. I have been pleasantly surprised with these guys and I really hope they continue to push themselves to be better. I am confident in saying though, you can see how bright the future is for this offense.

Offensive grade so far: B+ 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hokies down the Eagles: Boston College review

Virginia Tech grinds out a win against Boston College.

By: Adam Pace
October 10, 2017

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

I said last week in my preview that I really didn't have much motivation to write about this game. I thought this game would be really boring and it was. Playing in front of a half empty stadium, the Hokies were able to get out of Boston with a win, but did suffer a few nicks and bruises along the way. The bye week is perfect timing for Virginia Tech, as the Hokies should be able to heal up before taking on North Carolina in two weeks.

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Just enough to win

On offense, Tech hit the Eagles quick in the beginning and were moving the ball very well. Jackson hit a perfect pass to Sean Savoy to get the Hokies going and it looked like they might start running away with it. But after Cam Phillips got hurt, a lot of youth entered the game for the Hokies and it started to show. Honestly the third quarter of this game was pretty boring and I was ready for it to be over and go to bed. Just in case you didn't know, I never get tired during a Tech game, that's how bad this was.

There were some bright spots that we can take away from the offense in this game. Seeing guys like Eric Kumah and Henry Murphy step up after Phillips went down is really encouraging. Sean Savoy had a great game as well ending up with 139 yards and a touchdown. I am really starting to see Savoy as a guy very similar to what Eddie Royal used to bring to the table. They both were a little undersized but can play inside or outside and have great speed in the open field. I've really pleased with Savoy's progression this year and he is starting to show that he could have a solid career here in Blacksburg.

Another bright spot was Travon McMillian. McMillian had a very tough outing against Clemson and had an extremely costly fumble in the second half of that game. We weren't sure how much the coaches were going to trust him after that, but he got the start Saturday. He stepped up his game as though, registering 88 yards and touchdown against the Eagles. I really hope we begin to see some consistency from Travon as he has the best chance to be the breakout back on this team. 

Moving forward we need to hope this bye week allows Phillips to get healthy. C.J. Carroll is out with what seems to be a pretty serious foot issue and we cannot afford Phillips to be out for a long period of time. The bye week should not only allow for healing, but should allow the chance for the younger guys to really spend sometime understanding the playbook a little better. If there is an area of focuse for the Hokies during the bye, it's redzone efficiency. So far this year tech ranks 77th in the nation in scoring percentage and 104th in the nation in touchdown percentage. That's not good if you were wondering. Tech really needs to figure out what is killing them once they enter the 20 if they are going to have a good year. 

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

A full 53 minutes 

Tech's defense absolutely dominated the Eagles for 53:20. But with 6:40 left in the fourth quarter the defense fell asleep. Until the late surge by the Eagles, Tech had only allowed 178 yards. But in the last little bit, the Eagles tacked on 166 more yards. This was a classic case of not staying mentally focused for the full game. 

Defensively, I felt that Mook Reynolds played a very solid game. He had four total tackles and five assisted tackles for a total of nine tackles on the day. Tim Settle probably played his best game to date as well, recording five total tackles and two for a loss. I have been waiting all year for Settle to begin to live up to the hype and over the last few games, he is beginning to show flashes.

All in all until the last 6:40, this was a very good defensive performance. I am sure the coaches will use this as an example of why you should remain focused an entire game. But if we're being honest, who can blame the guys for checking out. There was just a little bit to go and the coaching staff had slowed the offense down in hopes that no one would get hurt, so I can't really fault the group that much for losing focus. 

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Final thoughts

I really wish the ACC would just ask Boston College to leave. I mean honestly, the Boston viewership market can't be that good that we allow this program to continue in the conference. I know it won't happen but seriously, Boston College is bad in pretty much everything except Hockey and the ACC doesn't even recognize that sport. Also if you haven't noticed, I am having a hard time writing anything. Boston College just doesn't excite me and there are more things I'd rather write about honestly.

All in all I'm just happy we got a win. Sometimes when you're dealing with a young team bad games just happen, but the best part is we still won. There will be a learning experience here for the younger guys but we did get the win and at times, looked pretty good. Hopefully during the bye week we can get healthy and make great strides with the development of some younger players. 

Later this week, I plan to provide a "State of the Hokies" article and then early next week start to take a look at a few of the recruits who have committed to Tech. Until then, Let's Go.....