Okay folks, lets not press the panic button yet. Yes, the Hokie offense struggled against a weak East Carolina defense, but the score of this game really should have been at least 26-10. I think this team shows a lot of promise, but there is vast room for improvement.
Before I focus on the critical, I would like to note some positives about the game.
For me, the most exciting aspect of the ECU game was the transcendent performance by the Hokie defensive line. For the first time in recent memory, the Hokie front four consistently put pressure on a quarterback in an offense designed to be pass happy and get the ball out quickly. The positives are too numerous to repeat, but I think most impressive was to see all the starters using terrific hand technique (rip moves, swim moves, shoulder dips) and terrific effort to get to the quarterback. Over the last two seasons, the Hokie pass rush has consisted of occasional speed rushes from the stud end, or blitzing. Jason Worilds (who was tremendous) would get upfield, but didn't have the leverage to come back if he didn't get the corner on the speed rush. Stephen Friday was even worse, and didn't use hand technique at all. This exposed our defensive tackles to double teams and allowed blockers to get to the second level and block our weaker backs and whips. With Collins and Gayle exhibiting great technique, without getting too far up field, it allowed us to see a dominant performance in between the tackles by the Hopkins brothers that allowed zilch in the running game. In addition, Luther Maddy had a solid effort, while Corey Marshall played much bigger than his listed 250 pounds and exhibited great motor and power inside rush techniques on a devestating sack of Dominique Davis that echoed one of my favorite Hokies, Jim Davis. Take note, the series following Logan Thomas shakey mid-3rd quarter 3 and out which gave the ball to ECU in Hokie territory, Maddy and Marshall were the two DT's on the field. That exhibits trust, and good things for us fans in the future.
Behind the defensive line, the secondary played tremendous press coverage, which allowed the d-line more time to get to the quarterback. I also thought Bruce Taylor played well, and Tariq Edwards played fantastic in space. Edwards is a HUGE upgrade over Lyndell Gibson. JWG looked better on his sack than any play he made last year, even though he didn't play as much this game. I feel good about the defense, especially if we can develop some quality depth at safety.
This was a maddeningly frustrating day for the Hokie offense. Again, early in the season we see a struggle for an identity. Are the Hokies going to be a shotgun/spread team? Are they going to be a one back/zone team? Are they going to be an "I" team? Even more frustrating for me is that the coaching staff seems to use entire series to determine the answer, rather than shuttling in different personnel groups for each corresponding down and distance. It seemed like when the Hokies offense struggled the most, the first down personnel group clearly indicated to the defense what kind of play was coming. This puts the offensive line at a disadvantage.
However, there is one part of the game that the offensive line can control, and that is the man on man contact at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line had a ragged performance, where three players would have WONDERFUL BLOCKS, and one guy would wiff. It was frustrating to watch, especially after the effort last week.
On the positive side, Andrew Miller continues to be fantastic. It is no coincidence that in crunch time, you saw Hokie running backs taking the zone play directly up the middle rather than the 8 gap that we saw last year. Miller dominated the ECU nose tackle for much of the game, and had numerous pancake blocks. He gives consistent effort, and you rarely see the whistle blown with him not engaged with a defender. I am not sure how well he is doing on his line calls, but the pass protection was solid by the line throughout the game, so until I hear otherwise from the coaching staff, he gets my thumbs up.
Jaymes Brooks. Ah big Jaymes. Jaymes was inconsistent throughout the game, but again shows flashes of why he is the most important member of the OL. He is by far the best trap blocker, and when he stays low, he dominates at the point of attack. Saturday, there were too many plays where he was way too high, and failed to get leverage. It is no accident that the Hokie offense had a good drive when Brooks was replaced by David Wang (who was growing on me rapidly), but then he was hurt. Brooks seemed to pick it up when he returned to the game.
Greg Nosal stunk up the joint this weekend. He has a great motor, and always seems to reach his assignment, but he consistently gets pushed into the backfield on the zone plays, sometimes taking away the huge cutback lane that Andrew Miller often created. He is too small, and doesn't play low enough to compensate. It is no accident that the Hokie offense had a good drive when Nosal was replaced by David Wang (who was growing on me rapidly), but then he was hurt. When Nosal played well, the Hokie offense moved. When he was bad, they stalled.
Lainer is what he is. He has good technique, and like Nosal he gets to his man, but he doesn't drive people off the ball. Lainer also had a couple of busts in pass pro (one on thr 3rd and 11 in the 3rd quarter where he was beat inside, the TB picked up the end, and the safety came free to flush Thomas, who rolled right and threw to Boykin for the 1st down), but they didn't cost the Hokies. He isn't dominant enough to afford those mental lapses. However, Lainer's best drive was the Hokies final TD drive. He delivered an good combo block on the NT to LB, then gave great second effort to push the pile into the end zone on the last Oglesby TD run.
For this team to get where they want to go, Nick Becton MUST get a stranglehold on this starting job, and do what he is capable of on the field. With Lainer being driven backwards, Becton had a chance to shine when he got playing time, and instead was mediocre. Too often, he comes out of his stance vertically, and hand fights the opponent without engaging and driving him. Perhaps that is the left tackle technique that is being taught, but it doesn't help the run game.
And finally, Mr. All-Acc Blake DeChristopher really struggled. He is too slow to get his head in front of the defender on down blocks, and his hook blocks on the outside zone were either devestating, or he missed the defender entirely. He is not consistently quick enough, and I fear teams that have fast 4-3 defensive ends against him. His scoop blocks (away from the play) also leave much to be desired. If you watch back to back plays on the Hokies first drive of the second quarter, DeChristopher knocks the ECU DE almost 7 yards inside on a Logan Thomas zone read. The next "highlighted play", a bruising off tackle run where David Wilson turned a 1 yard gain into a 7 yard run, featured DeChristopher almost standing upright, while the DE prevents Wilson from hitting a huge cutback lane. As the most experienced OL starter, in a tough road game with a young QB, this just can't happen.
Other blocking notes:
- Chris Drager was up and down. He needs to be quicker and more aggressive at the point of attack. Eric Martin was much improved over last week in short yardage. He had a key block on the first Oglesby TD run.
- Jarret Boykin had a couple of pitiful efforts in short yardage situations.
- On Oglesby's nice bounce before the first touchdown run, Eric Martin had a real nice block. Nosal, Miller, and Brooks all managed to end up blocking the ECU nose. That is a break down.