Saturday, November 25, 2017

14 straight: UVA review

Hokies extend the streak to 14 behind a great defensive performance.

By: Adam Pace
November 25, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

I’m not going to lie; when I woke yesterday, I really thought the streak was about to end. Virginia Tech entered this game really banged up and had to use a four-play goal line stand to keep from losing three straight. Virginia was coming off a let down against Miami, but at times in that game, Virginia looked really good. Benkert had a hot hand and UVA was a big play offense. Everything just seemed to set up for a let down for the Hokies. But Bud Foster continues to amaze me! This defense was missing four starters and still managed to put on one of its best performance all year. While the offense may have struggled from a scoring standpoint, the controlled the clock and did just enough to get out of Scott Stadium with a victory.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Bud Foster the magician

Virginia lived on the deep ball all year and the Hokies were ready for it Friday night. UVA managed just 191 yards of total offense with 186 of those coming through the air. Virginia Tech was dominant in run defense allowing UVA just 5 yards. That broke down to an average of nine inches a carry for the Cavaliers. I’m not sure I can ever remember a better performance against the run than what the Hokies did last night. They completely made UVA one-dimensional and were able to pin their ears back and pressure Benkert time and time again.

I knew at some point this unit would need to make a big play to get the offense rolling and get them in position to put points on the board. Reggie Floyd did just that last night right after halftime. He put a perfect form tackle on the UVA running back, forcing the ball out and the Hokies recovered. Just a few plays later the offense made it count and were able to put six points up, stretching the Hokies lead and making it a little more comfortable.

The last four weeks of the season have been very interesting for this defense. But if there has been one consistent player, it’s been Reggie Floyd. After Divine Deablo went down with an injury early this year, I said Floyd would need to step up. He answered that call big time and has been a strong contender for defensive MVP during the back half of the season. I’m happy for Floyd because he has been doubted his whole career and he has stepped up every time this team needed him too.

If there is someone who deserves a raise this year, it’s Bud Foster. We knew this defense would be good coming into this year but what he’s been able to do the last two weeks with a banged up group is remarkable. I was really worried last night with all of the starters missing, but Foster had a great game plan and made sure his guys were right where they needed to be. The best hire two years ago wasn’t Justin Fuente, it was keeping Bud Foster in Blacksburg.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

Just enough from the offense

It wasn’t pretty from the offense Friday but it was just enough to get the victory. There were times that they left points on the field and could have put the game away much earlier, but overall I was pleased with the group.

Tech gained 202 yards on the ground and controlled the tempo and clock all night. This group was missing some starters as well but also got two key players back. One of the returnees was Steven Peoples and boy was he a sight for sore eyes. Peoples had a great game and his presence alone just brings something to this offense that has been missing ever since he went down two months ago. With his inside power game and McClease’s speed and shiftiness to accommodate, it really added a one-two rushing punch this offense has been lacking.

Josh Jackson played about like he has all year. He had some good throws and a few bad ones but overall, he did what he needed to do for his team to win. Jackson will really need to work on his deep ball this offseason because if he can start hitting that regularly, than he can take the next step. I’ve been very please with Jackson this year and I think he handled himself really well to only be a freshman.

What’s next?

It’s been a pretty solid season. Considering this team’s youth and injury issues, 9-3 is a very good season. I know at times it was frustrating to watch, but this offense was pretty good this year. With so many young guys there were going to be growing pains, but I thought this group did pretty good and I’m looking forward to the future. Now the Hokies wait a week to find out where they will be playing their bowl game. I am also going to enjoy the week off in the warm weather of the Bahamas! So enjoy 14 straight years and the time off. Let’s Go….

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rivalry Week UVA preview

Virginia Tech looks to get it's fourteenth straight victory against Virginia.

By: Adam Pace
November 23, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
It's that time of the year everyone, rivalry week in college football. Virginia Tech and Virginia will renew yet another battle on Friday and although it's been a lop sided one, it is still one of the better rivalry games in college football. 2003 was the last time the Cavaliers were able to top the Hokies and while there have been a few blowouts during that time, most of these games are very close and decided at the end. While the Hokies may have better overall talent, this year just feels like it could be the one that Virginia could end the streak. Let's break it down.....

(Photo: thesabre.com)
The Hoos

Virginia rolls into this one with a record of 6-5. They have lost four of their last five but at times they have looked like a pretty good football team. They are led on offense by quarterback Kurt Benkert, who is having a pretty good year. Benkert is a true gunslinger who has good arm strength and isn't afraid to try to force one in a tight window. He has 2,876 yards with 25 touchdowns to eight interceptions. UVA has found success at throwing the ball deep down field this year. They will throw short out routes and dumps to the running backs to draw you in and then hit you deep over the top when you least expect it. 

The running game for the Cavs has been lacking to put it nicely. Their running game ranks 119th in the nation and their second best runner this year is wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. Zaccheaus is a great weapon for UVA and will line up everywhere on Friday but the fact he is being used to help the running game tells you everything you need to know. With the lack of a running game, the Cavs offense is very limited in what they can accomplish. If Tech can stop the big plays from UVA, they have a great chance to come away with a victory.

On defense UVA is a solid group from a statistical stand point ranking 33rd in the nation in total defense. However, they do have a tendency to give up a lot of points. In the last five games they have allowed an average of 36 points per game and 414 yards per game. While this unit is good, it seems you can move the ball on them and score points.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
How to keep the streak alive

Virginia Tech's troubles with injuries continued against Pitt last week and the Hokies have now lost defensive end Vinny Mihota for the season. There are also a few more guys who are banged up and we aren't sure if they will play or not on Friday night. With that many guys banged up the question is, what do the Hokies need to do to win? First and foremost, Tech has to stop the big play. When UVA was finding success against Miami last week it was with big passing plays down the sideline. While I do feel confident in Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson to stop the plays down the line, I'm a little worried about the big plays over the middle. Mook Reynolds isn't a 100% and is questionable for Friday. While his back up Ladler has talent, his experience is limited and UVA could try to take advantage of that. It will be interesting to see if these young players can step up and not allow the Hoos to have big plays.

On offense I want to see the Hokies build off of their running success last week. Deshawn McClease had a good game and Jalen Holston ran the ball with confidence as well. Rumor has it that Steven Peoples might try to give it a go on Friday and we can only hope he his healthy again. Peoples just brings something to this offense that it has been missing since he went down in September. If Tech can run the ball well on Friday it also helps to take the pressure off of Jackson and company in the passing game. 

One thing I noticed during the first half last week was Cam Phillips was playing more in the slot. With Eric Kumah progressing and now Phil Patterson coming along, Phillips and Savoy might be able to play their natural slot positions more. I have been wondering what this offensive staff might do to try to get this offense rolling again and moving Cam into the slot, might be what does the trick. Phillips had a huge finish to the season last year when playing the slot and maybe we can find a little bit more of that magic to end this year on a high note.

Special teams play could be the biggest factor in this one when it is all said and done. With UVA giving up so many points over the last five games, the Hokies will need to keep themselves in good field position Friday. Oscar Bradburn continued his great season last week and hopefully he can keep the mojo going in this one. I was also very impressed with Brian Johnson stepping in for the injured Joey Slye last week and Tech will need one of them to continue the solid play this game. In a tight game like this one will probably be, special teams can be the deciding factor.

Prediction

This one has me very worried. Although UVA lost last week to Miami, the Hoos have a lot of confidence right now and the Hokies have a lot of key players out. This one just has the making of an upset. Tech will need to make sure they limit the big passing plays from UVA and keep the pressure on Benkert to release the ball early. With all of that said, I feel like Tech's offense is going to move the ball this week. UVA has a good defense but if you can run on them, you can score a lot of points. McClease looked good last week and if Peoples plays, I like our chance on the ground. While I am worried about this one, I'm just not sure UVA can pull it off. Give me Virginia Tech to pull away late in the fourth quarter and win this one 31-21. Let's Go.....

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

An instant classic: Pitt review

Hokies hold on a goal line stand to beat the Panthers.

By: Adam Pace
November 21, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
What I witnessed on November 18, 2017 at Lane Stadium, I will talk about for the rest of my life. In a matter of 10 minutes the Hokies went from losing three in a row to winning one of the most dramatic games ever played in Blacksburg. When I saw the Pitt receiver break free from both tackles and start sprinting toward the end zone, I could only think of how much this moment described the back end of this season for the Hokies. So close, yet so far away. But then something happened. Reggie Floyd left it all on the field and chased down the receiver stopping him on the one yard line and gave the Hokies a chance. The rest was history.....

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Reliving the moment.

I've been going to Tech games for almost 18 years now. The cold truth for Virginia Tech is when a play like Pittsburgh had at the end happens, the Hokies end up losing. I could talk all day about how many times I saw Virginia Tech come so close, only to have it ripped away at the very end. There is only one or two games I can remember that Tech did the opposite. Over the last two days I have thought multiple times, when thinking about the Pitt receiver running free down the sideline, this is what Nebraska fans must have felt like seeing Danny Coale running free. But then, something crazy happened. The Hokies found some energy deep down and held the Panthers at the one yard line FOUR TIMES IN A ROW! In case you didn't know, that doesn't happen very often. Pittsburgh had a 75% chance of winning the game once they got down to the one yard line. Virginia Tech defied the odds and walked out of Blacksburg on senior day with a victory.

Had Pitt won this game I was going to be extremely mad because they scored their second touchdown on a trick play that should have never counted. The formation the Panthers lined up in actually covered multiple receivers up making them ineligible. On top of all that, they had a lineman 10 yards down field, which should have been called for an ineligible man down field. Then to put the cherry on top, look at the pictures below, the receiver didn't catch the ball. Maybe Karma is the reason the Hokies held Pitt at the end, I guess we'll never know.

(Photo: techsideline.com/Ivan Morozov)

(Photo: techsideline.com/Ivan Morozov)
Why is the offense struggling.

Someone asked me the other day if I knew why this offense seems to have taken a few steps back over the last few weeks. The answer is two fold. First, during the first 4-5 games a year it is all about coaching. Film isn't out on the team and coaches can put in wrinkles your defense hasn't seen to create success. After that, it comes down to execution and talent. If you are better than the other team you're playing, it doesn't matter if they know what's coming, you can beat them with good execution. Virginia Tech is extremely young so they have to be perfect to have great success. But as we all know, you can't expect perfection from multiple 18 & 19 year-old college students.  

The second reason is injuries. Virginia Tech is really good with their starters but the depth after that is lacking a little bit. We knew coming into the year that certain people couldn't afford to get injured, unfortunately those people have gotten hurt. The biggest injury I think that has hurt the offense the last three weeks, Yoshua Nijman. Nijman is the starting left tackle for the Hokies and has NFL level talent. He got hurt in the second half of the Duke game and hasn't played since. Left tackle is the second most important position on the offense and usually the left tackle is one of the highest paid guys on an NFL team. That is because they protect the quarterback's blind side and keep him from having to get rid of the ball early. Nijman's backup, Parker Osterloh, is a senior but has battled a career of injuries and usually played guard until recently. Osterloh is doing the best he can and I don't want to throw the guy under the bus, but he struggled a bit lately. I watched film of the Miami, Georgia Tech, and Pittsburgh game over the last few days and decided to count how many quarterback hurries he has allowed. (Some of the hurries have been sacks but not all of them, it was easier to just group them all together.)

Miami: 13 Hurries
Georgia Tech: 3 Hurries
Pittsburgh: 7 Hurries

Three game total: 23 Hurries

You want to know what is really bothering Josh Jackson? The fact that over the last three games he has been hurried from his blind side 23 times. Curious to know how many sacks Nijman has allowed in his career? One. Now once again, I'm not trying to throw rocks at Osterloh, he's giving it a 100%. But he just isn't as talented as Nijman and it is showing. Jackson got really banged up against Miami and didn't even practice the Tuesday after that game. For everyone wondering why A.J. Bush isn't playing more, multiple players have said that the Tuesday after the Miami game was the worst practice they have had all year. A.J. is a very athletic guy with great speed and a cannon arm, but he isn't a better quarterback than Jackson. In the limited snaps he played against Pitt, Bush made the wrong read twice and gained only 1 yard. I know when the starter is struggling the backup looks better, but everyone needs to understand Jackson is our best quarterback. Even a banged up throwing shoulder Josh Jackson is better than a healthy A.J. Bush. If you can't seem to wrap your head around that, then I don't know how to explain it to you any better. But here are three paragraphs from Chris Coleman of Techsideline.com that might;

"Josh Jackson got really banged up in the Miami game.  He left the stadium in a walking boot that night, and was also suffering a fairly substantial arm injury thanks to that blindside hit late in the game.  There is no internal damage to any ligaments, bones, or anything like that as far as I know.  It’s just really sore.

As a result of those injuries, AJ Bush took the vast majority of snaps in practice leading up to the Georgia Tech game.  From what I understand, Jackson couldn’t even practice at all on that Tuesday, and as it turned out, that Tuesday practice was one of Tech’s worst practices of the season.  The Tech staff got a long look at AJ Bush with the No. 1 offense that week, and apparently they were not impressed.  Jackson was so banged up that if there was ever a time to try Bush, it would have been that week.  The Tech staff chose not to, outside of a few running plays, which shows they don’t place any confidence whatsoever in him in the passing game.
Jackson’s arm still isn’t a hundred percent.  I’m sure there are other parts of him that aren’t a hundred percent either, as he left the game for three plays with an injury against Pitt.  His health went downhill as soon as Yosh Nijman got hurt.  Coaches like to use the “next man up” mantra when injuries occur, but in truth some players really can’t be replaced.  I believe Nijman has only allowed one sack his entire career.  Wyatt Teller has only allowed one QB pressure all year.  Jackson could be completely confident in his blindside protection, but take one of those guys out, and things get dicey.  It got Jackson hurt, and now he’s sped up his delivery, throwing off his back foot at times because he doesn’t trust his backside protection.  That affects his accuracy down the field, and I’m sure that arm injury doesn’t help matters either."
On top of Nijman and Jackson being hurt, Steven Peoples has played three snaps since the ODU game because of injury and C.J. Carroll hasn't played since Clemson. That is four offensive starters who have missed multiple games or have been laying it all on the line playing banged up. Virginia Tech doesn't have the luxury that Clemson and Alabama have right now. We can't replace a starter with a player who was a four star recruit and could start at any other school in the nation. It's going to take time to build depth. I know it is frustrating to watch this offense work right now, but just remember how good it was when it was healthy and still young. Now think about what it's going to be in the years to come when this youth gets more experience and hopefully stays healthy. The good news is we ran the ball really well Saturday, so maybe we are turning a corner there. But in reality, were just mediocre this year. However, we aren't that far off so just keep the faith everyone. 

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Hate Week.

Next up it's rivalry week or as I like to call it, remind myself how much I don't like UVA week. The Hokies have won 13 straight in this series but this year feels different. Although UVA doesn't have an impressive record (6-5), they are playing pretty good football right now and have come close a few times this year of knocking off a few good teams. The Hoos are going to give Tech everything they can possibly handle Friday night. If you're a Tech fan and think that the Hokies are going to roll into Scott Stadium and blow out UVA, you need to really check your confidence level. This is one of the best years UVA has had in a long time to end the streak. We will dive into that more later this week but until then, Let's Go...... 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Senior Day: Pittsburgh preview

Virginia Tech looks to send the senior class out with a win against Pitt.

By: Adam Pace
November 16, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel) 
On Saturday the Hokies will look to end their first two game skid under head coach Justin Fuente. The Miami loss isn't as frustrating now but the Georgia Tech loss is still hurting. It will be senior day at Lane Stadium and the Hokies will look to send their seniors out the right way. Pittsburgh may not have the team they had last year but you can bet this game will be a close one until the end and could go either way. Let's break it down.....


(Photo: collegefootballnews.com)
The Panthers

Pittsburgh is currently 4-6 and isn't having the year they thought they would. They did lose a few players from last year but everyone thought they would be better than what they have been in 2017. As always, they bring in one of the best rushing attacks in the nation but what has hurt their offense has been the lack of a passing game. The Panthers rank 10th in the nation in rushing success rate and have two backs who are very reliable. Leading rusher Darrin Hall has 594 yards on the year and he is complimented by Quadree Ollison who has 330 yards so far in 2017. While it is a bit unusual for Pitt to not have someone close to 1,000 yards by now, these backs are still very big and extremely physical when running like most of the classic running backs are for the Panthers.


What's been the biggest issue for their offense this year, the passing game. Pitt ranks 79th in the nation in total passing but ranks 120th in explosive plays through the air. Pitt's quarterback Ben DiNucci has only thrown for over 200 yards once this season. It's safe to say that you can stack the box against the Panthers and make them throw it. But Tech will need to be careful, last week DiNucci was able to run the ball 83 yards. We all know Tech's struggles against a running quarterback but also if DiNucci is successful on the ground, then it could open up a whole new attack for the Panthers through the air.

On defense, the Panthers are struggling a little bit as well. They are currently ranked 86th in the nation and are 117th in the nation in explosive passing plays allowed. But don't start thinking we are going to have success just yet. Pitt plays press man coverage, which means they will be in the receivers face from the snap, trying to force them to get separation. On top of that, the Panthers will load the box and try to slow down or stop your running game. Against good rushing opponents the Pitt defense has allowed a lot of rushing yards but against teams who struggle to run it, they have been dominant at stopping the run. While statistically Pitt's defense isn't that good, they are going to make the Hokies earn every single yard this week.


(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Limping Hokies

While the last two weeks have been frustrating, I have also started to realize just how many guys are hurt for the Hokies. Steven Peoples, C.J. Carroll, and Yoshuah Nijman have all missed games for Tech so far this year and aren't looking like they are returning anytime soon. For what it's worth, when I was at the Tech basketball game Sunday, I saw Nijman still in a walking boot. On top of those three missing multiple games, Josh Jackson and Cam Phillips have been a bit banged up over the last few weeks. Coming into the year we knew how thin Virginia Tech was and over the last two weeks it has shown. Then to top it off, Terrell Edmunds had season ending surgery on Tuesday. We can sit and sulk all we want but at the end of the day, that's no excuse you still have to play the game.


It will be very interesting this week to see what this staff will do with the offense. Fuente has said that a big point of emphasis this week has been put on improving the offense and to get them started quicker. I will be tuned in to see if this young receiving corp can get separation and give the Pitt secondary fits. The big plays will be there through the air this week but only if the guys can get off of their man and win the ball in the air. Even in the loss last week, I think we saw some of the young guys grow up. Eric Kumah had probably his best game this year and Sean Savoy continues to get better and provides a great threat on the jet sweep. With Kumah improving, it should allow Savoy to slide inside more where he is best suited and should be able to provided a mismatch for defenses. Tech's offense is still growing and it is very frustrating to watch at times, but you can see the progress and it gets you excited for the future. However, I'm ready to see them step up and get back on track this week.

Defensively, this game might be a little different. Terrell Edmunds is out for the year and Tevon Hill, Tim Settle, and Ricky Walker all feel victim to the Georgia Tech chop block last week. It's going to be really interesting to see how Bud approaches this one. Do you play Mook at free safety and slide Anthony Shegog or Deon Newsome to whip? Or do you put Khalil Ladler at free safety and trust that he won't make a huge mistake? I have to say I really feel for Bud this week, he has a few big decisions to make. While a lot of guys might be banged up or out, Tech will still need to bring the intensity. If there is something I want to see be better on Saturday it's the Hokies tackling. Against Miami a lot of big running plays were given up due to missed tackles, it also showed up against Georgia Tech a time or two as well. If this unit wants to remind everyone how dominant they can be, they need to get back to the basics and wrap guys up.

Another big key will be, stopping the big play. This defense has allowed big plays to be a huge thorn in their side the last two weeks and if they want to stop this losing streak, they need to stop the big play. Communication needs to be better and the trust level between each of the players needs to improve as well. Pittsburgh hasn't been an explosive team all year but if there was a team for them to do it against, it's the Hokies.

Predicition

Three weeks ago I would have taken the Hokies by 14 points plus. Now, I really think this game is a toss up. On paper, Virginia Tech is just better. But as we all know, games aren't won on paper. The wild cards for this one will be the amount of separation the Tech receivers can get and if the defense can stop the big play. I think the players and staff have a bit of a chip on their shoulder this week and will be looking to get back on track. It's going to be close to the end but I will take Virginia Tech to win 24-14.


It's the last game in Lane Stadium until September 8, 2018. So if you are on the fence about going or not, get up Saturday morning and make your way to Blacksburg. I know the last two weeks have been hard to watch but this team is young and needs your support. Wake up, eat some food, and get on the road, the Hokies are playing football in Blacksburg. Let's Go......


Adam's season predictions: 7-3

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

That one stung: Georgia Tech recap

Virginia Tech falls on the road to Georgia Tech.

By: Adam Pace
November 14, 2017

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

I've had a very hard time coming up with how I was going to approach this weeks blog. I could probably rant for hours about what the play calling should have been on the last two plays or what the defense was doing that allowed the Jackets to hit big play after big play, but I think I am just going to lay out some basic thoughts on the game and then my opinion on who this team is.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
The game

As mad as we all were with the final two plays, this game wasn't lost on that drive. Early on when Tech scored to bring the game to 14-9, the Hokies decided to go for two. In a way I understand why Fuente chose this option but I also wondered why we were chasing points. I assume Fuente thought making it a three point game would possibly make it a little less taxing for the offense later in the game but If you kick the extra point, you're only down four and the missed point doesn't hurt you later. The problem was Tech missed to conversion and the defense let Georgia Tech score again. Now once the Hokies scored, they had no option but to go for two. Of course, they didn't convert and were now down 21-16. Also earlier in the game the Hokies went for it on 4th and one instead of kicking a field goal which brought the total points left on the field to five. On the last drive of the game the score was 28-22, had the Hokies took the points they would have been down one point and could have kicked the game winning field goal. Play calling would have been much different at that point. The coaches made a few small mistakes in this one that lead to big problems down the stretch.

I still believe Justin Fuente is the perfect coach for Virginia Tech and it's going to take more than one game to change my mind. But I have to say sometimes, he gets a little cute when he shouldn't. I do love his aggressiveness but when you're playing a team like Georgia Tech, you probably should take the conservative route because the game is going to be close. I also didn't understand the aggressiveness this past week after we were so conservative against Clemson and Miami. But Fuente makes 3.5 million dollars a year and I make nothing writing this so I'm not the expert, he is. With all of that being said, we are still doing to best we can with the talent we have. I really thought that we would see more toward the end of the year, but it looks like teams are better at exposing our weaknesses than we are working toward our strengths.

Who this team is.

This season isn't over and there is still plenty to play for. The Hokies are 7-3 and realistically a lot of people would have said preseason that is about right at this point. The 7-1 start and the chance to control our destiny to a possible playoff spot, may have had us a little too excited. But to know that in year two of a complete rebuild that we even had that thought, is a good problem. Trust me when I say I'm disappointed as well, but we are a long way ahead of where we were two years ago. 

Right now this team is just a fringe top 25 team with the ability to beat anyone and the ability to lose to anyone. The defense is a very good unit but is having a hard time stopping the big play. The offense is young and is in desperate need of a big play guy. Honestly, it's that simple right now for the Hokies. I wrote about it earlier this year, but the game plan every week is simple. Play great defense, great special teams, and be opportunistic on offense. The problem the last two weeks has been all three of those phases have failed. Tech's margin of victory is extremely thin. Fuente said earlier this year, "each game is going to be a three and a half hour stomach ache." That basically wraps it up for you.

Moving forward

The good news is on paper, Tech should beat their next two opponents. The question is, can they? Pittsburgh will play tight defense on the Hokie receivers and dare them to try to get separation. So far, this group hasn't showed that they can do that consistently. Then you have UVA, who is having a decent year compared to the last few. The Cavilers will have a ton of confidence going into that game and will be ready to break the streak. Virginia Tech has the chance to still end this season with a respectable record and carry momentum into next year. Or they can fold and not have a disappointing end to a once promising season. We are going to learn a lot about the character of this team over the next two weeks. Let's just hope it's a positive one! 
I really hope that the Hokie faithful will show up strong to Blacksburg this weekend and give this senior class a well deserved send off. I know the season hasn't been what it could have but this group still needs support. They are very young and live off of the crowd and we should be there to support them. Also, I just need to throw in my two cent here, Josh Jackson is the best quarterback on this roster right now. It's not even close, so stop questioning it. A.J. Bush is a great runner but trust me when I say we don't want him running the offense regularly. He has a turnover issue and that is the last thing we need right now. 

I know that last two weeks haven't been very fun Hokie fans, but keep the faith and know this team is going to be special soon! We will be back on Thursday with our game preview but until then, Let's Go......

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Moving on: Battle of the Tech's

Virginia Tech heads to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech.


By: Adam Pace
November 9, 2017

(Photo: ramblinwreck.com)

After a disappointing loss to Miami, the Hokies look to get back on track against the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. If you have followed this series over the years, you can almost guarantee it's going to be a close game that is won in the fourth quarter. The spread option offense that Georgia Tech runs does a great job of controlling the clock and moving the football. Their head coach Paul Johnson, isn't afraid to go for it on fourth and short either, making the difficulty of stopping this offense even harder. Since the Yellow Jackets control the clock so much, it's even more important that you score touchdowns when you have the ball. Last year, Georgia Tech came into Blacksburg and shut the Hokies down on offense and got out of town with a victory. 

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics: Dave Knachel)

What the Hokies need to do to win.

With Virginia Tech officially being eliminated from the ACC championship game, the talk this week has been what motivates them now? All the coaches and players have said winning 10 games and going to a good bowl is the motivation, but will we still see a fire from this team? Having to play at Bobby Dodd Stadium at noon isn't an electric environment and can certainly cause you to get off to a slow start. That could be trouble, especially for an offense that can't seem to get off to a hot start.

If the Hokies want to get out of the ATL with a victory, they have to jump on the Jackets early. Slow starts have hurt this team time and time again this season. The youth and the lack of a go to big play player, have kept this offense from being able to put points up early against good opponents. The Hokies will have their work cut out for them in this game as well, as the Jackets have the ninth ranked defense in the nation. This worries me a lot because the film is out on the Hokies now. Tech's receivers have shown time and time again that they struggle to get separation and with the Hokies lack of a running game, this has the makings of a long day for the offense. Offensively, this unit will have to first protect the ball. They did not do a great job of this last week against Miami and will need to make sure this isn't an issue again against the Jackets. Second, they have to find a way to move the ball early and not have such a slow start. Maybe this calls for a trick play or an early play action bomb, but this offense needs to score on either their first or second possession to give the defense a little bit of breathing room. Finally, they have to find a way to run the ball consistently. The Hokies defense will be tired, so that means this offense needs to be able to move the chains and take a little time off the clock. The best way to do that, is on the ground. Running hasn't been a strong point for this team but they need to find something this week.

Defensively, the Hokies need to make sure they don't fall for the misdirection, like they did last week. Miami was able to get big plays on the ground off misdirection time and time again. The linebackers for the Hokies were fooled big time and weren't able to recover allowing the Hurricanes to gash them for big yardage. This isn't exactly what you want to hear when you are about to play a team that lives on the art of deception. The option that the Jackets run is all about reading the defense and trying to fool them into thinking they know where the ball is going. It requires the defensive players to know their assignments and trust their teammates. Bud knows how to coach against this offense, but can the players do a better job of staying disciplined than they did last year against the Jackets and last week against the Hurricanes? This Yellow Jacket team is lead by junior quarterback TaQoun Marshall, who is a great runner (870 yards) but is very limited in the passing game (667 yards). Virginia Tech will need to get good penetration on first and second down and force Marshall to have to throw the ball down field.

Prediction

I'll be honest, I really don't know who to pick on this one. Georgia Tech always give the Hokies fits and it always comes down to the end of the game. The other factor in this one is Georgia Tech is currently 4-4 on the year. Their game against UCF was canceled due to a hurricane and it probably won't be made up. Left on their schedule after the Hokies are Duke and Georgia. It's safe to say that the Jackets will probably beat Duke but I don't believe they will beat the number one team in the nation. So it is absolutely crucial they beat the Hokies on Saturday if they want to go to a bowl game. It never fails that every time we have the chance to give the Yellow Jackets a bad year and possibly get Paul Johnson fired, they show up and beat us, saving their season and their coach's job. 

But on the other hand, the road team has won the last four games. In addition, Paul Johnson's group has never been able to beat a Bud Foster defense two years in a row. This game is a complete toss up and one that will no doubt come down to the whether the Hokies offense can score points or not. Virginia Tech's offense has taken a lot of criticism this week and while most of it is probably over the top, some of it is fair. Justin Fuente should be able to use that as motivation this week to try to get the best out of his guys and motivate them to go prove a point this weekend. If the Hokies can limit the Jackets to 17 points or less, than I think they can win this one. But if that option offense starts to shine and light up the score board, the Hokies don't have the offense to keep up. With all of that being said, I always trust Bud Foster. Fuente and Cornelsen will do just enough to get the offense to score and the Hokies will sneak out of Atlanta with a victory. Give me the Hokies to win a close one, 20-14. Let's Go.......

Adam's season predictions: 7-2


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Just not there yet: Miami Recap

Hokies fall to Miami in another big time game.

By: Adam Pace
November 7, 2017

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)

I am starting to realize now that maybe I should follow my preseason predictions. I had the Hokies losing to both Clemson and Miami in my preseason preview but changed both of them after watching the Hokies play. But what I have realized over the last few days since the loss, Virginia Tech just doesn't have enough right now to take a big step forward. The Hokies are a team worthy of a 15-25 ranking and can beat the lesser teams, but can't really hang with teams that have more talent than them. Miami is still young and I'm not certain they are as good as their ranking but they did prove that they are a top 15 team this year. I've been a little torn about how to approach this blog, do I want to give all the reason why this went wrong for Tech, or do I just want to lay out who the Hokies are this year? I decided I would talk about who Tech is this year.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Defense is good but not great.

The Hokies defense is still one of the best in the nation but they aren't top of the line. They have shown they can be dominant against weaker opponents but when playing guys with a lot of speed and talent, they struggle. Not to mention every time we play a running quarterback, he gashes us for close to a 100 yards on the ground.

The strength of the unit is no doubt it's secondary. With that being said, only Greg Stroman has proven he can be a reliable lock down cornerback. Brandon Facyson and Adnois Alexander have shown they can only be counted upon when the quarterback doesn't have a lot of time to throw. That's not really a bad thing, but it's a huge advantage for the other team when they have time to throw it. I do like our secondary and I think it's one of the best in the nation but only one guy is top notch right now and it's starting to show. At the safety position I have been very please with rover Reggie Floyd's development. At the beginning of the year he wasn't very good in pass protection but since Divine Deablo's injury, Floyd has stepped up and become an above average defender. He does still have weaknesses and it showed on the long touchdown pass but overall, he is getting better. Terrell Edmunds has done well at free safety after a shaky start but I still believe he is better at rover. He had a pretty good game against Miami but I'm not a 100% sold on him at the free safety position. Edmunds will need to be very disciplined this week against Georgia Tech's option offense.

Linebacker play for the Hokies has just been above average. Andrew Motuapuaka has gotten better over the last two years but he is still very prone to falling for misdirection. He was out of position on just about every long run Miami had Saturday night, making him an easy target to block for the Hurricanes' offensive line. Tremaine Edmunds is one of the best outside linebackers in the country but unfortunately, he can't do it all himself. Teams are doing a great job now of double teaming him or just completely scheming him out of the play and seeing if Motuapuaka can make a stop. Miami and Clemson both did a great job in their game plans of moving him out of the picture to get big gains on running plays. Mook Reynolds had a pretty good game for the Hokies Saturday but due to the success of Miami's slot receiver Berrios, Reynolds was basically taken out of run support because he was the only player of ours who could guard him. 

I've talked enough about the defensive line this year that I'm not going to talk about that one much anymore. They are a good first string of four guys who on a good day can cause havoc, but they have hardly any depth behind them and get tired very easily. Tech really needs to continue to recruit these positions hard right now because this line needs help.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this defense is good right now but just not great. They are really good at keeping teams behind the chains but if teams can stay ahead of them, they are open to allowing big plays. The next game is the only other game this year that I believe this defense will have it's hands full. Georgia Tech's offense is different and is hard to teach the defense for it on a short week. To make matters worse, the Hokies had a terrible time trying to get home on Saturday/Sunday and missed a day of practice. They will need to rebound quick if they want to shut down the Yellow Jackets and get back on track. I still love this unit but learned a lot about them after the Clemson and Miami games.

(Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
Help Wanted: Explosive players needed for this offense.

Without Isiah Ford and Bucky Hodges, we knew coming into this year we would need an explosive player. Cam Phillips is a great receiver but he isn't explosive when he has to play on the outside. As I watched Josh Jackson get sacked time and time again, I couldn't help but notice that nobody was open. Miami has one the best secondary's in the nation and used that strength to their advantage against a young Hokie receiver corp. They put their best on Cam Phillips, ran tight coverage on the other Hokie receivers and dared them to try to beat them. Tech's young guys just couldn't do it. On just about every single sack Jackson took, no was even close to getting separation. To make matters worse, when they did get open, they usually dropped the ball. These are just some of the issues you have to deal with when you have a young team. Fuente has known this all year and has tried his best to work around it, but the better teams have been able to expose the issue.

Not having left tackle Yosh Nijman really hurt Tech on Saturday as well. Late in the second half, the Hurricanes were sending the house and there was nothing this offensive line could do about it. We knew that this unit isn't great to begin with but has done well when Tech can get rid of the ball quickly. With the receivers not getting space, the line couldn't hold their blocks and allowed Jackson to get hit a lot. If the Hokies had a better running game it could have helped take the pressure off, but David Wilson isn't walking through the locker room anytime soon so we just know what we got with the running backs now. All of the backs seem to be average guys who can run it well, but they aren't going to make guys miss in space or make something out of nothing.

I've read a lot of criticism this week about Josh Jackson and I have to say that is completely silly and needs to stop.  Jackson is the best quarterback on this team and it isn't even close. Coach Fuente has said since the beginning that this team needed to be better around Jackson and now we are starting to see why. All of this is just what happens when there is a lot of youth and first time starters on the field. It would also be nice if Tech had an explosive option to go to in big time moments. The lack of a deep threat receiver or a big time running back are really holding this unit back right now. But it's coming soon so don't panic. Fuente and his staff are recruiting hard to get some play makers to Blacksburg but it isn't going to happen over night. Think about how good Jackson has been this year as a freshman with all the youth surrounding him. Now think about where they will be in two years after having experience and with a few more play makers coming into the program. There is still plenty of reasons to be excited right now if you're a Hokie fan.

Moving forward.

Tech was officially eliminated from winning the Coastal Division Saturday night. So the question is what is there to play for? Simple, winning. If Tech wants to get better and get better players in the program, they need to keep winning a lot of games. The Hokies still have the chance to win 10 games this year and that goes a long way in recruiting. Plus, let's not forget how far we were from winning 10 games three to four years ago. Winning 10 games also just about guarantees you a good bowl game. As fun as the Belk bowl was last year, Tech needs to be playing in bigger bowls against better opponents. If Tech wins 10 games in the regular season this year, than we are looking at a big time bowl against a quality Big 10 or SEC team. 

Fuente and his staff still have this team way ahead schedule and are doing wonders on the recruiting trail, it's just going to take time. I know as a fan base we are ready for the national stage and ready to take that next step forward, but the team just isn't there yet. I do have faith that it's coming soon though, we have the right staff here that can get us there, they just need time. 

Up next for the Hokies, Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are always a hard team to play against and you can bet this one will be close to the very end. Virginia Tech needs to put the loss behind them and get ready to play or we are looking at losing two in a row. We will dive deeper into this one on Thursday but until then, Let's Go.......


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Coastal Division Implications: Miami preview

Virginia Tech heads to Miami for a big showdown against the Hurricanes.

By: Adam Pace
November 2, 2017

(Virginia Tech Athletics/Dave Knachel)
After Miami came back to beat Florida State and then came back to beat Georgia Tech, I told my Dad I guess the Hokies would have to do it the hard way this year. Miami currently sits in first place in the Coastal Division and first place overall in the ACC. Virginia Tech is just a game back and could jump to first place by beating the Hurricanes this weekend. Although this game has big implications for the ACC, it feels like a classic late 90's game for a Big East title. Miami rolls into this one undefeated and ranked number 10 in the playoff rankings, while the Hokies come in at 7-1 and sit at 13th in the playoff rankings. A lot is on the line this weekend not only with the ACC but in the national playoff picture as well. Let's break it down...

(Photo: athlonsports.com)
Miami 

The Hurricanes are entering their second year under head coach Mark Richt and really seem to be playing with some confidence. I personally have a ton of respect for Richt and thought he was dealt a bad hand during his time at Georgia. All this guy does is win and while he may have never got the big win that Georgia wanted, odds are it was coming at some point. Last year, Richt lead the Hurricanes to a 9-4 record with notable wins over Pittsburgh, N.C. State, and West Virginia. Miami did have a down point losing four in a row during the month of October last year but they haven't lost since, holding one of the longest winning streaks in the nation at 12 straight games. Even though they keep winning game after game, there are some weaknesses to this team.

On offense the Hurricanes are lead by redshirt junior, Malik Rosier. Rosier's stats are almost identical to Hokies quarterback Josh Jackson. Both have a little over 2,000 yards passing and both have 17 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. Rosier is just a little bit better of a runner than Jackson, as he has 211 yards rushing compared to Jackson's 193. It's easy to say that in this match-up, no one has the advantage at quarterback. However, Rosier is dealing with a little bit of a sore throwing shoulder. 

Miami does have an advantage at running back though. After losing starting running back Mark Walton, Miami turned to his back up Travis Homer. Homer hasn't let his team down either, running for 512 yards so far this season and adding five touchdowns to go along with it. But the good news for Tech, Homer seems to be cooling down. His last three games have looked like this....

Georgia Tech: 184 yards
Syracuse: 136 yards
North Carolina: 59 yards

The Hokies will still need to be sound in their assignments, but it seems that the tape is out on Homer now and teams are able to adjust and slow him down. Miami will need Homer to step up and take the pressure off of Rosier. If Miami can establish a good running game, they should put themselves in position to be able to win the game. But if they allow this defense of Virginia Tech to live in the back field like they did last year, the Hurricanes are in for a long night.

Defensively, Miami has a really good unit. They currently rank 28th in the nation and have a secondary that doesn't allow many passes to be completed. But if there is a weakness, it's third down defense. The Canes rank 118th in the nation, allowing teams to convert at a rate of 30.7%. Look for Miami to try to get after the Hokies on first and second down to try to set up third and long. While this defense is good, they have many short comings and will need to play a great game to slow down the Hokies.

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

Justin Fuente has had some great success at Virginia Tech so far but he is still missing a big time signature win. He was close last year against Clemson in the ACC championship game but came up just a little short. This is his chance and the teams chance to say they are the real deal and deserve some respect. 

On offense, the Hokies need to continue to protect the football. Tech has had zero turnovers during the last two games, while the defense has forced five. Just by the law of averages, Tech's defense should get a turnover Saturday. So it becomes even more important that the offense doesn't give it back. Tech will need to be able to run the football efficiently again this week to help avoid long third downs. From my observations, Tech has been able to really keep drives going this year when they have a successful second down. This prevents the offense from getting into third and long and makes the conversion rate higher. Also as I noted earlier, Miami is one of the worst teams in the nation at stopping teams on third down. All in all, it should be a very simple game plan for this offense. Protect the football, avoid long third downs, and score when the opportunity presents itself.

Defensively, I would give the Hokies a big advantage. Tech comes to this game very healthy and has the opportunity to show that they are better than they played against Clemson. This defense currently ranks 10th overall in the nation and holds the nation's best third down conversion rate against FBS schools. As I noted in the Duke review, the Hokies plan of attack this year is to make teams have to move the ball against this defense. So far, only two teams have had any real success, West Virginia and Clemson. I'm not sure if Miami is good enough on offense to be able to move the ball on a regular bases. If the Hokies defense can keep it low scoring, then they put themselves in a good position.

Predicition

These two teams are just about even. I would give the Hokies a little bit of an advantage due to their defense but all in all, there isn't much difference between the teams. This game is probably going to be a lower scoring defensive battle. For the Hokies to win this one, they will have to protect the ball, play sound defense, and have outstanding special teams play. At the beginning of the season I predicted the Hurricanes to win this one but now I think Tech has a great chance. This one will be close to the very end because just about every Miami game this year has been that way. But when it is all said and done, I believe Foster's group will have something to say about it. Give me the Hokies to win this one 24-20. Let's Go.......

Adam's season predictions: 7-1