BeamerBall: Attrition and Will Likely's Touchdown Return

It is clich to say that football is a game of inches or moments, but it often proves to be the case. Saturday's game against Maryland provided a wealth of frustrating moments, but ultimately two special teams plays haunted the Hokies as they muddled their way to overtime. Walk-on kicker Eric Kristensen dinged a 3-point attempt off the left post that would have given the Hokies a 10-point lead, and the Hokies punt return team gave up a touchdown return to freshman Will Likely that completely took the air out of Lane Stadium. If either play goes differently, perhaps the Hokies pull out a win in a game where they definitely were not sharp. I can't be critical of Kristensen. He was thrust into an impossible situation, and he hit both attempts solidly. Against an average opponent, the Hokies should not have been in a position where kicker needed to win the game. However, special teams as a whole continued to stink. Little was accomplished in the return game. And the coverage teams again struggled as they did against the Hurricanes and Alabama.

Against Miami, the Hurricanes busted two kicks right up the middle of the Hokies coverage, but great hustle and good fortune combined to give the Hokies two reprieves. Against Maryland, one of the top punt returners made the Hokies pay for their breakdown in coverage. The Likely touchdown return came as the Hokie defense was dominating and the offense had mucked their way to what should have been a two score lead. How did it happen, and is this part of a larger trend?

I will begin with a quick tutorial on punt coverage. Virginia Tech uses a standard put alignment, with two "gunners" aligned wide, two wing backs, and a personal protector in front of the punter. The gunner position plays two roles. First, it forces the return team to account for the gunner on a potential fake, removing a rusher. Second, the gunner (being far from the punter) can immediately release up field. Once releasing, they are free hitters without lane or contain responsibility. Their job is to either make the tackle for no gain, or cause the returner to hesitate or go east-west.

The linemen, wingbacks, and personal protectors have an assigned gap responsibility. They step through their gap, take the first man that comes, and then release to go down field and cover. The deep snapper, which is rarely as athletic as most coverage players, releases from the line of scrimmage almost immediately. The four remaining linemen usually fan out, with each having a lane responsibility. The personal protector (if he does not need to pick up an opponent) releases up the middle and acts as a third "free hitter." The wing backs usually are the last to release, and release wide to take outside contain.

The down side to this type of coverage is the vulnerability right up the middle on low kicks. A kick with low hang time allows the returner to catch the ball with forward momentum before the two gunners can close. A successful middle return almost resembles a trap play to the fullback, where unblocked players go up field taking themselves out of the play. The middle coverage guys (often the least athletic of the coverage players) are at an added disadvantage as they are forced to make a tackle before the entire group can converge on the football.

Frank Beamer's punt unit managed to do everything wrong on this kick. First, A.J. Hughes kicked a low line drive punt. The two gunners (Donovan Riley and I can't catch the name of the other one) are pushed well beyond the point where Likely makes the catch, effectively taking themselves out of the play.

That now leaves 9 players, including the deep snapper and punter, to make the tackle with Likely coming at them. Still, the Hokies players maintain good lane integrity through the catch. Then, things go haywire. Derek DiNardo doesn't break down on Likely, and Likely leaves him hugging air. Tight end Darius Redman mysteriously comes flying into the picture before crumpling on the ground.

I can't find a definitive camera angle, but with a Maryland player behind Redman and his odd collapse, I am guessing that he was blocked in the back. Another look shows Redman mysteriously knocked down (again, the Terrapin blocker looks to be in position for a block in the back, but the camera only captures the fall), and Woody Baron apparently looking out for a block in the back rather than focusing on the football. Baron ultimately steps outside, opening the lane up wider for Likely.

At this point, the Hokies now have five of their eleven defenders out of position, along with three of the four coverage guys closest to the returner. Josh Trimble is one-on-one with Likely, and he loses. Likely then makes short work of Hughes, and Maryland is suddenly back in a game after essentially mailing it in early on.

It is easy to get on DiNardo and Trimble, but coverage is a team game, and tackling a player one-on-one when the returner is coming down hill is a tremendous challenge. Great special teams play results from getting multiple players to the football before the returner gets that momentum, and that happens as result of a good kick, good gap discipline, and great athleticism.

Hughes has had a terrific season, and punting is such an inexact science that you are going to get a less than perfect kick now and then. The Hokies had solid gap integrity until Redman went down. But, a quick scan of the personnel demonstrates how the Hokies depth issues have really hurt their special teams play.

On coverage, there was a punter, a deep snapper. Darius Redman who has struggled in coverage, but replaced Zack McCray after the Alabama game. Derek DiNardo and Josh Trimble have been solid role players all season, but both players came to the Hokies as walk-on's. Woody Baron, Dahman McKinnon, and Jerome Wright are all freshmen. Tariq Edwards and J.R. Collins are both the only players on the coverage team that were expected to be contributors this season, and both are defensive starters playing a role that I am willing to be that Bud Foster isn't too thrilled with. Meanwhile, there are a wealth of talented players who are athletic and have the experience to tackle and provide coverage, yet are either injured (Devin and Ronny Vandyke, Matt Roth), in trouble (Deon Clarke), left the team (Donaldven Manning, Davion Tookes), or have been conspicuous by their absence from coverage (Chase Williams, DeWayne Alford, Ken Ekanem, and the aforementioned McCray).

Until Knowles long kickoff return on Saturday, the return teams also lacked punch (and especially any semblance of blocking). These are not the guys I'd imagine that Coach Beamer was planning on going to war with this season, even if there are high hopes for the future. Attrition, either by injury, players quitting, or team discipline, has left Beamer in dire need of rebuilding talented depth in order to return to success on special teams. Expect to see many of the talented freshmen in this recruiting class, as well as athletic redshirted players like David Prince and Deon Newsome to have an opportunity to make an impact on special teams next season.

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"You know when the Hokies say 'We are Virginia Tech' they're going to mean it."- Lee Corso

Chuck Clark was the other gunner. Seems he was limited to just special teams duty.

Redman was blocked in the back from the viewpoint I had and later in the game on another return, there were two blocks in the back on the same play that didn't get called.

Looking at height and complexion (and the number ending in "5"), I thought McKinnon was the other gunner.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

Mckinnon I'm pretty sure is one of the wingbacks so I'm sure he was down there, but after this punt I payed attention to who the gunners were and Riley and Clark were always the two out there.

Yeah, and you can see in the second screen shot above :48, #60 is looking at the guy in stripes, looking for the yellow flag, not the ball carrier. With the ball carrier juking to the right, he's taken himself from the play.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

Malleck and RVD were both starters on the punt coverage team before their injuries. Injuries have hurt this team all over the place, but it is not excuse.

Malleck's injury may directly have cost this team two games this year.

It's all UVA's fault, and they need to be held accountable on the 30th of November! We haven't gotten our shutout game yet...

The U invented Swag, but UVA invented Smug.

VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804. Hokies, Keydets, Army Black Knights, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and ATL Braves.

First off, thanks for the insight French. I know I'll probably catch some heat for this but is it just me or does anyone else notice what seems to be a lack of effort in some of these losses to what I consider inferior opponents? Not saying from the entire team and I certainly will not call out players by name because I don't believe in that but some of the missed tackles, missed blocks and so on seems to lack some fire and effort just from what I've seen. I noticed a lot of the same in the "heart breakers" last season. I refuse to believe that Maryland's offense can match the talent level of our Linebackers and Defensive Backs but they seemed to get beat a lot on Saturday. Same in the BC game. I won't even talk about Duke because I believe they actually are better than anyone thought they would be. It just seems to me that Xs and Os aren't the only reason for the Hokies losing to some of these teams. I hope that my observations are baseless and it's just a way for me to make sense of losing these games. Thoughts?

"Everyone has the will to win, but not everyone has the will to prepare to win"

In all of our "bad" losses, there has been a point in about the second quarter where I've almost been able to feel that a loss is coming. This game it was the drive after Maryland housed the punt. It just started to seem like our players were less focused, not playing with the same intensity as they were prior.

Right around the same time the thought "This feels like Duke all over again" crossed my mind.

Lack of effort isn't as big a problem as lack of talent, unfortunately.

Thanks for the analysis French. It really is amazing how little they are working with on special teams. Something to keep in mind for those who say that Beamer has lost his coaching ability.

Here's what bug me: this wasn't the film review I was looking for.

Ok, on a serious note, I am perturbed why there wasn't the best players on punt coverage. I thought Beamer made it a point to have the best players on special team after the Alabama game.

Can you all help me to understand?

I support Logan Thomas and make no apologies for it.

It's my impression we have more banged up than we are reporting.

I'm not sure what our roster for ST is supposed to look like but Frank commented after the Alabama game that we're personnel weak there. I don't think we ever really got that resolved.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

The players that French listed are really the only ones available to be used. Kendall and Facyson are the only two that would make enough of a difference to risk injury and there is no chance in hell right now that Bud would let them be put out there.

Didn't they experiment with Dadi as a Gunner earlier this year? I think he would probably be a better choice for the coverage part of the team than Collins, though Colins might be better in the protection phase.

I don't give a FvCk. No Fvcks are given. The only thing I want now is a complete and total beat down of UVA. A disgusting display of physical dominance. I want it to be medieval, Neanderthal, prime, base, raw, abuse. Only that will suffice.

Fortune Favors the Bold

I agree with Griffer ... Give no fucks, take no hostages, total destruction of Coach Dream's dream

It was good the first read when it was applicable but after it was posted at least another 5 or 6 times in irrelevant situations, I think people got a little tired of it.

Hokies, Redskins and Braves fan since birth.

+1 for the Beat Down. Let it begin. Is it too early to start UVA HATE Week?

Stop it with the Negative Waves!

I accidentially down voted this pic. I wanted to upvote. How do I change that?

you can't change it. That may or may not be changing in the off season. Nothing you can really do about it now. I upvoted to balance you out though.

"I like to hit a home run early" ~ Whit "knows how to create a Buzz" Babcock

When that return happened..I thought "that Will Likely come back to bite us..."

"I like to hit a home run early" ~ Whit "knows how to create a Buzz" Babcock

AJ is a great punter, could possibly play in the NFL. He had an off game against Maryland and it cost the team. If he didn't botch that punt, Likely doesn't score. But AJ has had so many good punts this season, I can't really call him out for a few bad punts.

In my opinion, a punt that gets no return is the best punt. Especially when you have a Bud Foster Defense. If the returner calls a fair-catch every time, that's perfect punt coverage. Every punt needs to have enough air for the gunners to be in the returner's face. I would gladly sacrifice 10 yards of field position to never have another returned punt. However, AJ is good enough to boom 45 yarders with enough hang-time to ensure a fair-catch, he just needs a little more consistency.

One more reason why 2015 is my target year. AJ Hughes will be a monster his senior year. Well, more of a monster than he is now.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

The second coming of Jimmy Kibble....

"And it is caught, it is caught for a touchdown"

This just made me realize how lucky we were that Kibble played at Tech before social media

Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.

Word is that after AJ wins his Heisman, he'll declare early.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

In my book, it would take a lot of bad punts from A.J. to cancel out all the good ones, plus the tide turning tackle ('re welcome) in the Miami game, and the first down scamper in the Marshall game.

A.J. has a strong resume for MVP as far as I'm concerned.

Anyone who could criticize A J Hughes must have been asleep during the 2011 season. Every time I see him I mutter, "Thank God for A J Hughes."

I don't know how many hours a week it takes to be a great head coach. I don't know how many hours a week it takes to be a great special teams coach. But I have a hunch the total of the two is greater than 168. I'm not saying anyone in the country would be a better special teams coach than Frank Beamer ... if Frank Beamer could devote xx hours per week to being the special teams coach. But I have started to wonder whether the team would be better served by Beamer focusing 100% on being head coach, and letting someone else focus 100% on being special teams coach.

The way I understand it, there is an NCAA limit on the number of coaches.
Don't want to upset that apple cart that is the Foster organization.
Just got new Offense jut about everything.

I estimate that in a year or 2, he'll be able to hand off some of that to some of the Offensive Coaching staff but, can't right now. They have too much in trying to get the offense trained.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

As a devil's advocate, I would imagine it takes more time to be an offensive coordinator and head coach. Jimbo Fisher seems to handle that role well...

All head coaches have a major secondary coaching job. In fact, Beamer is one of the few that isn't a major coordinator on offense or defense.

Thanks French. This perfectly answers the questions I have been having about our trend in special teams. Certainly hoping the incoming recruits plus a more experienced Hughes will improve our ST woes.

I was most annoyed that Logan wasn't used more to rush in the multiple 3rd and 1 situations.

He's 2 yards tall.

get some dum-dums!

Look there's no reason not to give the ball to Coleman when we need 1 yard but between the 260lb QB and Rogers, they should be throwing him for a 1st down.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

Hahaha I like this idea (upvote!) but it just may violate that whole "helping/aiding the runner" rule

Hokies, Redskins and Braves fan since birth.

The yellow flag will be so afraid of Sam Rogers, it'll never hit the ground.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

LOL! Okay, that made me feel better ^_^

But seeing Coleman, at 190 lbs, run head-on and literally bounce off of the Maryland defenders was quite humbling. He was trying that's for sure.

get some dum-dums!

Or lining up in shotgun on short yardage situations to make 2 yard runs into 7 yard runs

Which wallet is yours?

The one that says "Bad Motherfucker"

Also, I just hope the Hokies that show up Tennessee in 2016 are better than the 2013 Hokies...ugh...just bitter thinking about losing to Maryland...and BC...and Duke...and 'Bama.

get some dum-dums!

By then we have players coached under what is hopefully a better offensive scheme then the "Tyrod goes out and makes shit up" scheme of the old regime. We have a lot of cohesive talent coming in. I think it's fair to say that there is a great chance of us being good in 2016.

I really hope so. I've been saying, "Bah! Maybe next year!" for too many years since, at least, January of 2000 which was literally the closest we were to getting a crystal football in our empty trophy case.

If we get it done before 2016, well, that would be fine by me. ^_^

get some dum-dums!

Yes folks, a second film review is on the way. I am working on a primary film review highlighting the play of both lines. You won't be disappointed.

Viva El Guapo

I'm going to assume you meant we won't be disappointed in your work.

I have a feeling we'll be disappointed in the performance of our line...


What French really mean his film analysis will be so expectional, it will be accompanied by a whole bottle of Maalox to settle indigestion.

I support Logan Thomas and make no apologies for it.

Word has it that Maryland noticed something in our defensive tendencies that they felt they could exploit, and they did. Something to do with coercing us into going in to man coverage, which freed up their QB to work his magic.

Reality has a mighty pimp hand.

For as much as we love Bud Foster, he has never handled that gameplan well. Maryland's not the first team to do that to us.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

I might be tempted to agree, but from what I saw the majority of his big runs came off busted plays, with his agility holding the advantage over free-hitters that couldn't break down from top-speed to make the sure tackle.

The difference wasn't his arm or his RB's or his O-line. It was his ability to escape sacks.

... and it didn't hurt that two of our best defenders were out with injuries.

The talent level on special teams is fairly even now. In years past The Hokies were putting their best players on ST as we all know. Now that other teams are doing the same thing..the talent has evened out or we are at a disadvantage.

Touchdown Tech - Bill Roth

I was talking to a friend about this. I'm afraid we might never see quite the same level of crazy motherfucking shit that we used to have with Beamerball. Everyone else in the country has figured out the simple formula of "Talent + Aggression = Points" and has restructured their special teams to minimize the affects of "Talent + Aggression" and have also learned the inverse property of "Defensive Aggression + Punt Unit Fake = Punt Unit Conversion".

I think French found evidence of a great conspiracy by the ACC refs with the block on Redman. Why is there no photographic evidence of this block? These pictures clearly show something is wrong. I think the ACC burned all the evidence. We need to do some sleuthing. Expose this thing for what it is.

"That move was slicker than a peeled onion in a bowl of snot." -Mike Burnop

I need to start bringing more of these into Lane Stadium....and maybe leave more in my pocket for reading articles after the game...

-Mr. 501

"If there is oxygen in your brain, you're not loud enough"

upvote for your signature

"I'm just rocking the Fuller"-Kendall Fuller
"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

I remember the good ole days when you would see speedy and strong starters on special teams. Now it's like backyard scrimmage players. Beamer was one of the first to use starters on special teams and now it's like he's backing away from it.

Someone teach Dadi how to long snap! Imagine that heat seeking missile coming straight down the field!!!

We put the K in Kwality

This may actually be the best idea I've ever seen on a message board.

They tried to teach Dadi to play quarterback. Snapping it between his legs was the only way he could pass it without breaking his receivers' hands.

Another speacial team play that was huge was VT's kick return to set up their last score. We were in desperate need of a big play and we got it, if not, we don't make OT and lose early.

Forget special teams, CJ Brown was breaking contain and busting big plays all game, we couldn't stop him when we needed to.

Which wallet is yours?

The one that says "Bad Motherfucker"

That KO return was amazing. I had just finished telling my dad that every team kicked directly to Knowles because he was a terrible kick returner. Then that return happened.

Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Whitley, Hosley, Fuller, Exum

I will admit when he caught that ball in the end zone, I just muttered take a knee we will get better field position. Then he has his best KR of the season.