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.....

Friday, October 6, 2017

Hokies head north: Boston College Preview

Virginia Tech looks to move on and beat the Eagles

By: Adam Pace
October 6, 2017

(Photo: Wikipedia)

Virginia Tech will load up on a jet this evening to head to Boston and begin the process of showing the nation that they aren't as bad as they played against Clemson. The Hokies will take on Boston College tomorrow night at 7:15 pm on ESPN 2. This isn't your Matt Ryan Eagles team but BC does have a pretty good defense and will look to try to give their bad offense a short field. Last year, the Hokies beat the Eagles 49-0 so I expect that Boston College will be looking to show Tech that they can play better than that.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel) 

On Offense

Last week just wasn't a good offensive game for the Hokies. There were plenty of chances to make a play but execution errors caused major problems against the best defense in the nation. This week, Tech will need to execute at a high level again because the Eagles defense is pretty good. Don't forget, Boston College had Clemson 7-7 going into the fourth quarter before the Tigers put the game away.

BC will play a lot of man in secondary and load the box to take away the run. The Hokies will need to try to run even with all the traffic and the receivers will need to make a play against their defender. I look for Fuente to really bring a lot of misdirection this week and get guys into open space. Last year against the Eagles, Tech did this time and time again with great success. Look for the offensive staff to get creative and bring a much better game plan this week than they did against the Tigers.

There are some big question marks this week as two very key individuals are banged up. Steven Peoples didn't play last week and is still listed as questionable this week. Also, C.J. Carroll is listed as questionable and has been spotted on campus with crutches and a boot. For a team that is extremely thin, this isn't welcomed news. Peoples is needed badly at this point with all the inconsistency we have seen from the other running backs thus far. C.J. Carroll has been a reliable option in the and if he can't go, I'm not sure who we will see take his place. If there is a positive out of any of this, it would be that the younger guys have a chance to step up.

I think even with the injuries, Tech should be able to move the ball and have success this week. But don't be surprised if it takes a little bit to get going. We know that Tech has been having slow starts all year, but this week if they start slow, it's because of BC. The Eagles have been able to keep teams close until the second half this year. This is mainly because the defense is just worn down by the fourth quarter due to their offense's inability to maintain possession and score points. During the fourth quarter this year, the Eagles are being outscored 54-10. Clemson put up 27 points in the fourth quarter, so don't panic if the game is a little close at the end of the third. I have full faith in the staff and our players to get back on track this week and get another win before going into the bye week.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
On Defense

Boston College has been absolutely terrible on offense this year. Lead by former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler the Eagles rank 124 out of 129 in the nation in total offense. Not to really knock Loeffler, but his offense is way too complicated for college and if he is actually going to have success running it, he needs more than two years. To back this up, look no further than starting quarterback Anthony Brown. Brown was recruited to Tech when Loeffler was there but chose Boston College after the Hokies landed Josh Jackson (Thanks Scot). Brown has had many troubles this year throwing seven interceptions to six touchdowns. Brown can run if given space but you want to keep him in the pocket and let him throw, as he will probably turn it over.

When you think back to the better Eagles teams, you probably think of a good power running game. Well that's not the case this year. Boston College is really struggling to run the ball and their offensive line is really struggling to get a push. The Eagles only average about 3.6 yards per carry and Loeffler gets his receivers involved in the running game to try to help this. As long as Foster's group plays good disciplined football, they should have no problem slowing this team down.

I'm not sure we can shut out BC again this year, but I look for our defense to control the game. More than ever, we really need our defense to force a lot of three and outs so we can wear their defense down. Look for us to blitz often and try to force some turnovers against a pretty bad offense. I really think we will probably see two turnovers by BC and should help our offense get easy points.

Predicition

I'm not sure why, but I'm having a hard time getting excited for this game. Boston College is probably about as bad as it gets in college football and the Hokies should handle this one pretty well. But as veteran Hokie fans know, we never really play well in Boston. I think that changes this week and the players look to prove that last week was just a bad performance. 

I expect the coaches to really get after BC early and try to get the score up quick. With the bye week coming next week, any extra rest you can give your starters is welcomed. The Hokies might start a little slow but by the middle of the third quarter, they should have it under control. I'm taking the Hokies to win this one 38-7. Let's Go.....

Adam's season predictions: 4-1

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Growing Pains: Clemson Review

Clemson shows their strength against a young Virginia Tech team.

By: Adam Pace
October 3, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Well I know I picked the Hokies to pull off the upset and it felt like things really seemed to be falling in place for Tech to do just that. But as soon as Tech attempted a rugby style punt after not trying one all year, I knew the chance was probably over. When you play team as good as Clemson, you have to be perfect. Unfortunately for the Hokies, it wasn't meant to be Saturday night.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)


The atmosphere

I got things kicked off pretty early Saturday, as my brother and I arrived in Blacksburg at about 7:45 am. We quickly grabbed our signs and headed over to Gameday. By the time we arrived to the Gameday set at 8:15 am, there were already a ton of Hokie fans there. Gameday was great, Hokie nation was in full force, and the guys on air could hardly hear themselves talk. At one point, I just had to look around and soak it all in. This kind of excitement for Hokie football hadn't been around since the early 2000's. Although Corso didn't pick Tech, Hokie nation made their presence known. If the football program continues to rise, Gameday will be back.

With 30 minutes to kickoff, Lane Stadium was packed. The excitement was buzzing and everyone was just waiting for the first cord of "Enter Sandman" to strike. The athletic department kept the excitement building as well, having three skydivers jump into Lane prior to the team entrance. Then when Metallica started playing over the jumbotron, Hokie nation erupted! I personally found it almost hard to enjoy though. I jumped and screamed but at the same time I just wanted to stop and soak it all in. Over the last few years, Tech hasn't had an atmosphere like this and I just wanted to enjoy the moment. This crowd was ready and made themselves known on the first two drives of Clemson. But after the Tigers scored to go up 10-0, the air left the stadium and never really returned.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

The game


Tech's game plan for this one was to really go after Clemson's aggressive rush. Tech had planned to call screens and slants in an attempt to take away the blitz and attack the vacated areas. It was a good plan and if you watched any film on Clemson prior to this game, it would have worked well. The only problem, Clemson didn't hardly blitz Saturday. Instead, the Tigers let their talented defensive line apply the pressure. This is why it seemed like every time the Hokies had a good play set up, the Tigers were there to stop it. Tech did adjust late in the first half and started to move the ball. However (stop me if you've heard this before), turnovers killed any chance Tech had at a comeback. Until Saturday night, Tech had been +5 in the turnover margin. In the game against the Tigers, the Hokies went -3. You cannot beat the #2 team in the nation if you give up three turnovers. Hopefully this doesn't become an issue going forward like it was last year.


I know a lot of people were really upset with our offensive performance Saturday, but I'm not feeling that bad about it. We have a young offense and Saturday it showed. Yes, I would have loved to have played better and won the game, but I'm kind of glad we struggled. This gives our coaches a great opportunity to work with our young guys and show them where and how to be better. If Tech had played better or even really well, I would have been worried about our players willingness to learn moving forward. Now there is a chance to go to the film room and show them why they have to do everything perfect. In our first four games, we could make little mistakes and still be able to win the game. But if you want to beat the best team in the nation, you can't mess up anything. We will be fine moving forward, this was a big learning experience for our guys and I believe they will respond.

Defensively, Tech could have played better. The busted coverage on the second series really hurt, but after that I thought we did pretty well against a talented offense. There were times I thought we could have been better and had chances to really gain some momentum. But all in all, I wasn't too displeased with the defense. After giving up 258 yards in the first half, the Hokies only allowed 122 in the second half. To top that off, Clemson's offense only scored 7 points in the second half and that was off of a fumble at the 50 yard line. Foster's unit adjusted well Saturday and had Tech not shot themselves in the foot on offense, this unit was ready to give them a chance. Moving forward we should only probably see one more real offense (Georgia Tech doesn't count) as good as Clemson's, and that is Miami. As long as this unit can stay healthy, we should have a chance in every remaining game we play.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Moving on

There really isn't anything left to say about Clemson. Except, their defense was probably the fastest I have ever seen and Dabo better stop running Bryant so much if they want to make another playoff run. Other than that, Clemson had a great game plan and executed it well. If you really think about this game, Tech isn't that far away. Fuente needs a few more recruiting classes to build depth, then I think we will see us take the next step. Right now our top 22 guys are pretty good, but after that we drop off quite a bit. We still need time everyone, so be patient and just enjoy the ride.


Moving forward, Tech needs more consistency. That is extremely apparent at the tailback position. Steven Peoples was hurt and didn't play after a great game against ODU. In his absence, Travon McMillian was having a decent game until he had a huge fumble. Deshawn McClease was playing good as well, but then he missed a big block that about got C.J. Carroll killed. Fuente doesn't mess around when he says he expects you to do the little things right. Neither one of those guys got any more time at tailback the rest of the night. In fact, in the post game Fuente said "If you don't value the football or do your assignment right, you will be fired from your position and someone else will get a shot." Wow. That is harsh and I may be a little old school, but I love it! Fuente is only in his second season and he is still getting this team to truly understand his expectations. This is how you get your point across. This team has a very small margin of error and little mistakes like these can cause major problems. Fuente realizes this and is handling it by playing the guys who will not make these mistakes and sitting the ones who do it far too often.

Next up is Boston College. Last year, the Hokies dismantled the Eagles 49-0. I don't think Tech will beat BC that bad this year, but the Hokies should win. Tech will need to come out ready to prove a point that they are better than they played Saturday night. Boston College's defense is about as good as it gets, how our offense can respond to another challenge should tell us a lot about the rest of the year. I expect the Hokies to go out and lay it all on the line because the bye week awaits them after this game.We'll dive deeper into the game later this week. Until then, Let's Go....