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....

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