I woke up this morning with teeth gritted, brain throbbing, and my heart aching. The Hokies played their collective asses off last night, and for the outcome to be what it was just makes you sick to your stomach for those kids. The defensive line, perhaps for the first time since the injury to Antoine Hopkins, completely dominated the line of scrimmage. The Hokie secondary (after a couple of hickups early) was a ballhawking unit. The linebackers did all that was asked to make Denard Robinson look like a freshman without a clue. Logan Thomas and his receivers had an outstanding game. If you told me all those things happen, I would assume you would have a huge bowl win for the Hokies, even in the eyes of someone like me who completely minimizes the importance of bowl performances in non-title games.
And instead, both the players and the fan base are left to mutter over what might have been.
I normally start out positively, and Lord knows there is more than enough venom to direct at Frank Beamer and the offensive coaching staff for the playcalling, but before I begin, I want to absolutely crush Frank Beamer for something that had no outcome on the football game. During the post game interview, Beamer indicated to the reporters that Danny Coale had a "run/kick option" on the dreadful 4th down call that perhaps cost the Hokies a victory in the fourth quarter. Even if that was the case, here is a well-respected head coach of 25 years, PASSING THE BUCK TO THE KID FOR HIS OWN BAD DECISION. Nothing, not the playcalling, not the officiating, not even the piss poor play of the left side of the Hokie offensive line pissed me the fuck off more than Frank Beamer skirting responsibility for the decision to fake punt. Even if Coale had the option, the head coach MUST take responsibility for making that boneheaded call (made to look even more boneheaded based on the down and distance, which was an easy QB sneak away, coupled with the use of a timeout, which is the equivilant of flying a propeller plane through the Superdome with a sign that says "I AM GOING FOR IT ON 4TH DOWN." Instead, Beamer passed the puck on a devestated kid, a kid who gave every inch of himself to this program, was as selfless as any football player the Hokies have put on the field, and who just had his ultimate moment of glory ripped away from him by a corrupt or incompetant officiating crew in his last game. I have never thought less of Frank Beamer than I did when he uttered those words last night, and I will be holding a grudge for a long time because of it. Danny Coale deserved better from the coaching staff than that, and instead, Beamer deflected, as Beamer always deflects when his team can't hide big game ineptitude behind the spector of "the other team had more talent."
Be assured, the Hokies were the much better football team in almost all aspects of the game last night. Gayle, Maddy, Collins, and Hopkins controlled the line of scrimmage all night. Michigan's offensive line got their asses kicked so much that it almost made the Hokies OL look average. The linebackers filled effectively and other than one poor angle by Tariq Edwards (that didn't end up costing VT), both were textbook in tackling. All four corners were outstanding, and, while both Eddie Whitley and Antone Exum were exposed in pass coverage as a weakness (improving the playmaking at the safety position is a must next year), they both tackled well in support of the run game. Bud Foster called an outstanding game, with my only point of contention being failing to adjust to Michigan targeting his safeties in man coverage. (I would have like to see Foster blitz Exum, and drop Fuller into coverage.) If Hosley decides to come back, and if the Hokies can get a playmaker (Cyrus Jones, Joel Caleb anyone?) to replace Whitley at safety, I think this is a defense that can be even better than the terrific 06 defense.
Offensively, I thought the skill position guys all played their dicks off. There were several close misses that I think will haunt Logan Thomas, but, other than risking the coaching staff wrath and audibling out of some of the 4th quarter and OT runs, he played as well as you could have asked him to. Boykin was MIA, and I am not sure why, but Danny Coale was lights out, and both a hobbled DJ Coles and Marcus Davis made some plays. David Wilson ran hard, but again his stupid, selfish Darnell Jefferson wanna-be act killed the Hokies on their opening drive, and I almost sensed that some of the horrendous playcalling down the stretch was the result of an effort by the coaching staff to let Wilson be the hero in an effort to get him to stay. The right side of the Hokie OL had a decent night, if not great, but the left side, especially Greg Nosal and Andrew Miller, were destroyed snap after snap by Michigan's Mike Martin (number 68.) Even when they weren't, what little pressure Michgan got on Thomas stemmed from a series of busts against stunts by Nick Becton, Andrew Lainer, Nosal, and Miller. I don't know if David Wang is an upgrade, but if he has footspeed and leg drive, he can't be any worse. I really hope Laurence Gibson, despite his OJ Simpson style run through the airport, gets a look at left guard.
Now, for offensive identity. It became abundantly clear very early in the game that the Hokies would have a great deal of difficulty running the football, and that Logan Thomas could have a big day passing. The passing game and some of the option game was effective in getting mismatches against the Michigan secondary, UNTIL the Hokies got down into the red zone. On the first series, David Wilson sabotaged a touchdown run, again showing that while his athleticism and willpower are off the charts, his vision and football savy are not up to NFL standards. From there on, Hokie playcalling became MUCH more conservative inside the red zone. I thought the staff under-utilized the screen game, and completely went away from it inside Michigan's 30. The waggle plays and double moves were underutilized until the Coale TOUCHDOWN CATCH in overtime. Perhaps most frustrating was the nagging feeling that the coaching staff was trying to outsmart Michgan by running plays for guys who were not the "go to" guys in crunch time, like Joey Phillips and Eric Martin. Added to that, why were they force feeding Wilson the ball and seemingly playing for the field goal when a touchdown seemed such a certainty?
I have supported the offensive staff all year. They have showed creativity and aggression that has lacked in the Hokie program on offense. This game was a regression in all facets, until of course, Beamer decides to fake punt at perhaps the most ludicrous time (after a timeout, on 4th and 1 at midfield, when the opponent will clearly be in punt safe.) Hello? QB sneak? Regular punt? Anything besides what they called. would have been a better call.
The officiating was terrible, but it should not have mattered. The Hokies outplayed Michigan more than they outplayed UVA. Again, the small details (inches on a sneak, not finding the ball on a jump ball in the endzone, fumbling a kickoff, losing yards near the goal line, a false start, not maintaining deep 1/3 integrity) burned the Hokies. Most frustrating was that those mistakes, for the most part, were made by guys heading out the door, and by a coaching staff (looking at offense and the Big Man tonight) which doesn't seem to be able to develop an identity and have faith in their players to make plays.
The future is bright, but somebody or something needs to break the glass ceiling. If Hosley returns, this is a national championship caliber defense returning (especially if they consider moving Edwards to whip and Taylor to backer, keeping Tyler at mike.) They need a safety, and they will need more next year from guys like a Zach McCray. Corey Marshall also needs to learn how to lineup, because he can be unblockable.
Offensively, everything hinges on the offensive line. Everyone lauds the value of experience, but the guys who were busting assigments last night were seniors. The potential exists for the line to be upgraded in talent and athleticism at every open position IF the coaching staff can coach up some of the guys. If Stinespring goes with the "safe guys", we can expect more of the same ass whippings when the Hokies line up against NFL caliber DT's.
Tailback will be a question mark, but if Holmes or one of the freshmen can be a dependable grinder and pick up blitzes, things should be ok, if not dynamic. The receivers can be explosive, especially if DJ Coles can also play the role of dependable possession guy. Tight end will be a BIG question mark, so as much as I would like to see the Hokies become Wisconsin South, it isn't happening next year.
Thanks to everyone who read my drivel this season. I really appreciated the great feedback. Next year I will work on standardizing the format a bit. Until then, lets hope the Hokies can land a couple of stars over the next couple of days. I will see you guys at the Spring Game.