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...... 

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