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.......

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