The 2012-13 football season is a one to forget for Hokie fans. Finishing 6-6 and being bowl eligible is not what everyone had in mind in August. So what happened here? I think there are a few things that can be traced back to the Pitt game.
- First, we were shocked that Pitt could come out and punch us in the mouth like they did. They were 0-2 and had lost to an FCS opponent.
- The defense gave up 567 yards.
- Logan Thomas was terrible in the first half. He threw two picks and seemed to be overthrowing everything. He played well in the second half, but when it was crunch time, and VT needed a drive, he didn't come through.
- Kyle Fuller hurt his shoulder and never seemed to be the same. He let the Cincinnati WR get behind him and score the winning TD with 13 seconds left in the game. A few games later, he injured his groin and continued to struggle.
After this game, we continued to see revealing inconsistencies in the team's play. The offense sputtered all season and the defense could play well at times but was very prone to giving up a few big plays a game. Tackling seemed to be a major issue, particularly in the secondary. The surest tackler on the team (Fuller) had become a liability.
To help determine what actually happened, there are two key things that I believe contributed to this uneven performance.
First was the move from a traditional Hokie power running game to add some twists for Logan Thomas (particularly the use of the Pistol). VT has been running a Jerry Claiborne power running offense for decades. Suddenly, new formations and plays are introduced when you are replacing 4 starters on the offensive line, an all-world running back and your top 3 receivers (I'm counting Coles because he hardly played this year). While people have been advocating changes in the offensive scheme for about a decade, these changes appeared to fall flat and make the offense look disfunctional. The offensive line could never get a consistent ground game going and because of this, no running game could be established. Nor could a consistent running back be found. Thomas was continually forced into 3rd and long situations.
What was the problem? There were two. As mentioned, the first was new personnel who were used to playing a particular flavor (vanilla) of offense. Second, you had coaches who had never shown themselves as being particularly innovative attempting to be .... innovative. They were not prepared nor were they able to make the change. O'Cain, Stinespring, Newsome and Sherman are all meat and potato guys. You can't expect them to switch to Thai food without some ... negative side effects.
Now on the defense, a similar problem occurred. This one was more surprising. Why did Foster and Gray decide to switch the corners and safeties around. Yes, there was attrition. However, these were unproven guys leaving. The move of the better players was very puzzling. I thought Exum was a perfect fit at either safety slot and Fuller was going to be the next great CB in the vein of Flowers, Macho, Hosley, etc. Other teams easily found the new players at CB (Bonner) and S (Jarrett, Cole, etc) and went after them. However, the defense got better after the thrashing by UNC. The remaining six opponents were held significantly below their average per game total offense numbers:
- Duke. 329 yards to 396 yards: net -67
- Clemson: 295 to 518: net -223
- Miami: 347 to 440: net -93
- FSU: 311 to 477: net -166
- BC: 296 to 350: net -54
- UVA: 217 to 396: net -179
So Foster and Gray showed, that they can put things back together again. On the offensive side, no such improvement was shown. They could gain some yards but they couldn't score points.
Conclusion: VT tried to make a too many changes with new personnel and the whole thing was a mess. On the offense, the coaching staff created messy inefficient offense that may have gotten worse as the year progressed. The coaches were not equiped to handle a scheme change or the new personnel. At this point, I think we can expect that most or all the offensive coaches will be released or assigned different duties. I fully expect that there will be a new offensive coordinator in place after the bowl season and will bring his own staff with him. I expect that the new OC is going to bring his own way of doing things with him.
On the defense, don't change much. Stick with what is working. Foster will get these guys better. He's not going any where.