I just want to start by saying that I am just as pissed as you all are. We can all point to the reasons that the scoreboard said 23-3 after the Clemson game Saturday night, and I could rehash many of them. First, I want to focus on a couple of positives, and then I want to fire some howitzers.
First, I want to commend the Hopkins brothers for an absolutely stellar game at defensive tackle. For the most part, Clemson had absolutely zero inside running game thanks to the dominant performance of the two brothers. Bruce Taylor also had an outstanding game, and for the most part, the secondary (particularly Chris Hill and Jaron Hosley) played well. I was dissappointed in the lack of pass rush, but the VT style of defense is neutered in a large part by teams that use a significant amount of option, misdirection, and play action. As I noted in my comments last week, Clemson was a terrible matchup for the Hokie defense, and despite some challenges, the kids made a good showing of themselves (although the safety play, and Tariq Edwards, both did not play up to the level we saw in weeks 1-4.)
Offensively, I thought that the line had major stretches where they looked as dominant as they did all year running the football. Many of the negative running plays were due to down and distance coupled with poor play design, not a failure athletically. I thought David Wilson had his best game this season (he is still nowhere close to being Ryan Williams or Darren Evans, regardless of the numbers). And, that is about all I have.
Now for the bad and the ugly, and boy oh boy was some of it ugly. Let's start from the begining.
Develop an Identity on Offense: I know this may stun some folks, but during the game (and every game this season) at least one time I have thought to myself "damn it, I wish Ricky Bustle was still the offensive coordinator for this team." It may sound absurd, but I have found that good offensive football teams create an identity, recruit to that identity, and win/lose with that identity. The VT offensive staff has created an offense that is an amalgamation of several "flavor of the month" offenses around college football with some of Coach Beamer's holdover conservative philosophy. As result, the offense spends one series using a zone blocking scheme similar to the Washington Redskins, followed by an offensive series that runs spread/shotgun read option, followed by power I. Each "mini-system" if you will has totally different principles that have been added to the offense seemingly to maximize the talents of their best playrs. On paper, that makes total sense, but in practice, the lack of a singular philosophy creates confusion, uncertainty, and the players don't trust the offense play design in the biggest moments.
Lets make one thing clear. THIS SEASON, the playcalling is NOT the problem. Mike O'Cain has done an excellent job of adding play action, counters, option, designed QB runs, and screens into the offense. He is almost too aggressive in his playcalling, which has put the Hokie offense into tough down and distance situations, but it is a far cry from the predictable offense they exhibited during the Sean Glennon area. The problem is that they have incorporated so many different philosophies into their scheme, that the players are so-so in their execution. The best programs have a philosophy, and they recruit to it. Bud Foster does it on defense. Beamer must decide if his team is going to be a power running team, a zone blocking team, or a spread team, and recruit accordingly. Counting on having better athletes to overcome doesn't work when the other good athletes have more faith in their system (see Stanford and Clemson.)
This season, they added this zone read option to fit Wilson and Thomas. Well, run the hell out of it. Also, whatever happened to all those wonderful plans for Wilson in the passing game?
Figure out how to design a passing offense: I have seen this in other posts, but dating back to 2004, how many times have we seen the Hokie wide receivers running 3 deep routes time and again when the QB doesn't have time to throw. Coach Beamer must bring in someone who can create a passing structure that has layered routes, check downs, and then teach the quarterbacks to effectively go through progressions. Go back and watch the 2005 game against Miami, or the Orange Bowl against Kansas. The receivers are running rounded off routes, with almost no effort to use one route action to get another route open.
Make top talent play like top talent: One of the reasons that non VT alumni love the program is that the Hokies "coach kids up." Much is made of all the former walkons that have ended up as Hokie stars and NFL players. However, there is a disturbing trend of top talents underperforming, especially on the offensive line. Today, the Hokies have five 4-star offensive linemen on their roster. While Blake DeChristopher has been a solid starter, Vinston Painter, Laurence Gibson, Ryan Shuman, and Nick Acree can not even get on the field. Only Vinston Painter is on the depth chart, and all four have been moved out of their recruited positions. I would venture to say that only Acree has been moved to his "natural" position. Meanwhile, the Hokies start two converted tight ends, a wrestler, and a lightly recruited undersized guard across their line. Am I missing something?
There could be a couple of explanations. One, the zone blocking scheme requires small, quick, offensive linemen who can get to the second level. However, they don't run that scheme all the time (especially on short yardage), and if that is their philosophy, then why waste recruiting resources to get prototypical NFL sized offensive linemen? Two, perhaps Painter, Gibson, Shuman etc are having trouble "learning the offense?" Well, that gets back to my first point. The Hokies are running at least 4 different types of blocking schemes, each which have their own techniques, line calls, and responsibilities. Alabama uses multiple formations, but their blocking techniques are the same on every play. So are Clemsons (running the spread single wing.) So are Oregons (spread.). So are Georgia Tech's (wishbone/veer.) The Hokies must figure out a way to get the most out of these talents.
Stop playing "the safe guy": The Hokies didn't play well enough to beat Clemson, but having Scott Demler continue to punt poisoned the atmosphere of the stadium and continually put the Hokie defense in a bad position on the field. I can rant and rave about how Demler should be benched, but the reality is, we have seen this in the Tech program for years. If Tech has an upperclassman and a younger player who are playing at the same level, the upper classman plays, regardless of the upside. We see it now on the offensive line. We saw it last year at defensive end and the backer position. It has been an ongoing theme. Bruce Taylor is an excellent example of a player with big time talent, who languished on the bench until injuries allowed him to get on the field. Once he got his feet wet, he FLOURISHED.
The Gap Defense: This is one area that I am very critical of Bud Foster. His gap system has two negative effects. 1, it damages recruiting. ACC coaches can walk into the homes of top notch defensive ends, tackles, and linebackers, and tell them "look, you may be a hero at Virginia Tech, but you won't learn what it take to play in the NFL." The numbers back them up. Right now, only one former Hokie is a front-seven starter in the NFL (James Anderson in Charlotte.) Guys who were Hokie stars (Jason Worilds, Darryl Tapp, Xavier Adibi) are languishing on the bench and/or have had to change position because the fundamentals taught in Foster's system do not translate to the NFL. Cody Grimm was even moved back to a safety position, even though he couldn't cover a wet fart at the whip position at Tech.
2. Some positions are so regimented that Foster doesn't adjust his personel against teams that give the Hokies a bad matchup. The Hokies were outmanned at the point of attack using their nickle package, but Jeron Gouviea Winslow wasn't enough of a factor in the running game to justify VT going to their base defense. The Hokies have two former starters in Jack Tyler and Barquell Rivers who have barely been used, and an all-world talent in Telvion Clark. Figure out a way to get them on the field.
I miss the days when the Hokies were bigger, stronger, and faster than their opponents, and dominated the line of scrimmage. Now, it seems that in some big games, Foster adjusts to the offense he is playing against instead of causing them to worry about his scheme. Against Clemson, the Hokies played zone more in the first half than they did all of the first four games. Where were the blitzes. Where were the looks with 7 and 8 in the box. Where were the zone blitzes? Where was the disruption of the Clemson play fakes? It seemed like the Hokies ran a very vanilla gameplan on D, and as result they reacted instead of dictating.
Quarterbacking: I think Logan Thomas can be a good QB, but they didn't recruit him to be a good QB. It is inexcusable that they do not have a legitimate ACC starting QB on scholarship, ESPECIALLY since they do not have a commitment from one this year. Also, they have given him way more responsibility than any first year starting QB I can remember going back to Jim Drukenmiller. They need to simplify the game for him, get through this season, and then do some major work on his vision and fundamentals. They have put in him a position where only the VERY best can succeed, and it isn't fair to him that he now is in the crosshairs of the not so football savy Lane stadium faithful for the rest of his career.