When Experience Fails

It's Sunday morning here in Abingdon, and after a night of grinding teeth and muttering curse words in my sleep, I awoke to find the film of the Duke game sitting in my inbox. The loss was not just critical in the current chase for the Coastal Division title, but is perhaps even more damaging to program perception. Even though Duke is a vastly improved football team, nationally they are regarded as a traditionally weak program. The Hokies giftwrapped the game on a silver platter even though Duke gave them every opportunity to, not only win the football game, but win in a comfortable, albeit not pretty fashion, similar to wins over Georgia Tech, Pitt, and UNC. It was a perfect cauldron of injuries, bye week rust, distractions, suspensions, bad decisions, bounces, fundamental breakdowns, and an opponent that fought like hell.

Watching the film, I was overwhelmed by numerous breakdowns by players who have produced critical plays all season, and at the same time I was left scratching my head at some of the game planning and decisions. Throughout the bye week, we heard that the running game would be cleaned up, and that players on both sides of the ball had an opportunity to heal for the stretch run. Instead, the offensive playcalling often seemed to play right into the strength of the Duke defense, and some defense senior leaders delivered quiet performances. Even when the Hokies dialed up the perfect call, things seemed to go Duke's way. Accordingly, this week's film review will require two parts. The next installment will feature the offensive game plan and coaching, and I want the extra time to really take a good look at the read option game and understand the diminishing returns. As for today, I want to focus on the breakdowns by some of those experienced players. I pride myself on trying not being overly critical of players, and instead trying to focus on technique and the application to the success and failure of the plays. I want every player in the Virginia Tech uniform to succeed, and nobody is happier than me when one of the players who I have been critical of comes back to make a huge play. I will gladly eat that humble pie.

We Lost to Duke

Well, the kudos by Tech's coaches for Duke's program during the week weren't bullshit after all. Duke was/is a well coached football team without quit in them. If you read anything French and Mason wrote here over the last two weeks you knew that already. A sincere congratulations to them for winning.

I only have a few thoughts because I haven't rewatched the game, and I think it's unfair to criticize without at least putting in the due diligence of rewatching the game.

I praised J.R. Collins' play over the bye week, then he missed the game for a violation of team rules. What happened hasn't been disclosed, but it changes the narrative of his comeback story. Credit to the coaches for suspending him. As well as Dadi's played, he's not as complete a player, or as seasoned as J.R. In my opinion, J.R. was the MVP of the defense heading into Duke. It's tough to head into any game without your best player, especially a senior, but the coaches aren't putting up with any crap.

Game Preview: Duke

Virginia Tech Hokies (6-1, 3-0) against Duke Blue Devils (5-2, 1-2)

Time: 3:32 PM
Date: Saturday, October 25, 2013
Place: Blacksburg, Virginia
Stadium: Lane Stadium (65,632)
TV: ESPNU
Radio: Virginia Tech IMG
Spread: Virginia Tech -13.5
Weather: 33-48 F, Partly Cloudy

The Skinny

By: Joe

Thank you Duke for beating the Hoos, again.

Players to Watch

By: French

Jamison Crowder (#3): Crowder is a 5-9 junior wide receiver and punt returner that serves as both Duke's most dependable first down generator and big play guy. Crowder leads the ACC in catches (56), receiving yards (731), punt return yardage (297) and punt return touchdowns (2) coming into Saturday's game. Most of his catches happen via screens, slants, or quick curls, but he can go deep and has an uncanny ability to get himself open with double moves. Here, the pocket breaks down after Crowder runs a skinny post.

By the (Advanced) Numbers: Duke

Having a sufficient sample size, I'm now able to dive a little deeper into the personalities of each team as I preview them from a statistical perspective...but first a tribute to our defense. Statistically of course.

Football Outsiders uses two rating systems—S&P+ (which I use for overall team ratings in previews) and FEI (an efficiency-based method). This week, these are the FEI top 5 defenses:

  1. Virginia Tech (-0.926)
  2. Stanford (-0.779)
  3. Alabama (-0.739)
  4. Michigan State (-0.672)
  5. Missouri (-0.661)

"Foe"Rensics: Duke

Hello. Welcome back to our regular "Foe"Rensics feature. This week we'll delve inside the Duke football program. Though it is clearly not the strength of the athletic department1, Duke is not a challenge to be overlooked, especially as it is the last game before we enter the sweet embrace of November Hokie football.

Q&A with Ben Swain

I caught up with Ben Swain, better known as @thedevilwolf on Twitter, to ask him some questions about Duke. He obliged me. As well as being the most knowledgeable Duke football fan I know, he's also a college basketball nut (go figure). After football season, Listen to his work as the co-host of the critically acclaimed Walk-Ons podcast.

What are two things the Hokies must do on Saturday in order to defeat the Blue Devils? (I hope that questions lends itself to two answers other than score more points.) You may also read this question as, what are Duke's two biggest weaknesses?

This is such a favorable matchup for Virginia Tech because Logan's really good when he has time to set his feet and make a throw, and Duke has a difficult time getting quality pressure on the quarterback without blitzing. When they have been able to get penetration, Duke still struggles wrapping up in the backfield and we all know how difficult that is to do against Logan Thomas anyway. Why is this important? If he has time to be accurate, he should pick Duke apart. So if I'm picking two things that Virginia Tech needs to do well, it's getting good protection for Logan Thomas, and not turning the ball over. Duke and Virginia Tech have played some partially competitive games over the past four or five seasons, and it's been mostly because the Hokies have been careless with the football.

#goacc Power Rankings: Week 8

"OH WHAT THE HELL?!?"

It was a completely appropriate question. I had just checked college football scores on my phone, and at that moment Virginia, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were up (or won) by a combined score of 102 to 3. And while the question itself was appropriate, asking it out loud in the back of a car driven by my girlfriend's mom was probably not as appropriate.

The thing is, I didn't even care. It was a weird thing to do in a week that was way too weird.

In honor of the weekend that played games with so many people's hearts, I'm also breaking down the teams into which video game they would be, and why.

The Challenge of a Running Quarterback: Stopping Duke's Offense

On Saturday, the Duke Blue Devils come to Lane Stadium in search of their first win over Virginia Tech since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004. Over the last couple of seasons, the series has featured some close games featuring the innovative passing attack of the Blue Devils matched up against the superior talent of the Hokie defense.

Traditionally, Duke has featured a pro-style passing attack, operated by quarterbacks like Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree. This season, head coach David Cutcliffe has changed his system from a passing oriented spread offense to a balanced spread no huddle heavily focused on the running ability of his two quarterbacks. While each quarterback has strengths that lend themselves to specific types of plays, they operate interchangeably and both can run the full assortment of read option, triple option (dive, keep, or throw to the flat) and inverted veer that come with the spread.

Redshirt junior Anthony Boone (#7) is the starting quarterback for the Blue Devils and takes most of the snaps. He may look short (6-0), spindly (skinny arms and legs), and a little chunky (230 pounds), but Boone is a dangerous prototypical spread quarterback who excels running the read option.

Self-Scouting the Hokies

Last week, Shane Beamer mentioned that the coaching staff would spend the bye week "self-scouting". The staff likely evaluated individual performances by personnel and used statistical analysis to identify play calling trends. Statistical analysis can help provide insight into what plays were effectively executed, which ones may be chafe, and what pages of the playbook are best to turn to in critical situations during the meat of the ACC schedule.

Aside from the kick and punt return teams, the running game has been the biggest concern of the Virginia Tech fan base. I used the downtime to do my own deep dive on the Virginia Tech running game, focused on Alabama, Georgia Tech, UNC, and Pitt to try to unravel anything that can be done from a personnel/playcalling/scheme perspective to make the running game more effective. Most of my observations aligned closely with Mason's breakdown of the Pitt film last week. Yards are being left on the field as result of the occasional offensive line, tight end, or wide receiver missed assignments, poor reads on option, or being outnumbered at the point of attack. In addition to those observations, a couple of other critical realities emerged, and the staff will need to adjust accordingly to defeat the remaining teams on the ACC schedule.

Kendrick Holland Committed to Virginia Tech.

Kendrick Holland from Winter Haven, Florida is the latest wide receiver to join the Hokies 2014 recruiting class.

Both Rivals.com and 247Sports rate Holland as a 3-star prospect. Holland selected the Hokies over Kentucky and Minnesota among others.

Logan Thomas, his receivers and “catch efficiency”

Editor's Note: After you finish reading, it'll become obvious that Zach put an enormous amount of effort into charting and subsequent analysis. Bumped to front. Enjoy. --Joe

During the week leading up to the Georgia Tech game on Sept. 26, I saw a lot of Internet hate going Logan Thomas' way. Through four games in 2013, Thomas, once touted as a top-five NFL draft prospect, had completed just 65 of his 134 passes for a miserable 48.5 completion percentage, four touchdowns and six interceptions already one more than his goal for the season.

As many know, Logan performed admirably in 2011, completing 59.8 percent of his passes for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. However, during his first year as Frank Beamer's starting signal caller, Thomas was surrounded by a myriad playmakers, including the top two receivers, statiscally speaking, in school history in Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, as well as David Wilson, who would run for a school-record 1,709 yards that season.

"Foe"Rensics: Bye Week LOLUVA

Hello. Normally during "Foe"Rensics we take an in depth look at this week's opponents. Sorry to say (and I really hope I'm not the one breaking this to anyone because I hate causing sadness) but we're on a bye this week, meaning Saturday will be cold, gray and empty for many of us. That also means we have no opponent to "Foe"Rensize, so this week we're using our investigative skills to INVENT THE FUTURE.

Not too long ago, it was brought to my attention that some folks to the northeast of us were having a bit of fun at our wide variety of helmets and uniforms. I know, I know, it's pretty awful being looked upon favorably by the uniform and helmet suppliers enough that they help make possible these abominations that are good recruiting tools, honor the military, honor the community and contribute to charities (like here, here, here, here, and here). But luckily, not every fan base has to put up with stuff like this. While even programs such as Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio), and Wyoming1 have sunken to the sad, unsightly realm of customized helmets, some of the more honorable, history-laden programs have chosen not to sell themselves so cheaply.

Breaking Bud

Since I began the French on the Bench series, I have discussed certain concepts and rules that Bud Foster follows regardless of the opponent.

  1. The corners flip-flop. The boundary corner goes to the short side of the field, and the field corner goes to the wide side of the field. If there is not a wide receiver to the boundary, the boundary corner aligns on the outside shoulder of the tackle or closest eligible receiver.
  2. In a 4-4 look, the rover aligns to the passing strength of the formation and the free safety away from the passing strength.
  3. In the 46 look, the backer goes to the passing strength and lines up on the line of scrimmage. The rover replaces the backer as a strong side inside linebacker. The whip stays aligned away from the passing strength.
  4. In the 4-2-5 with the whip in, the whip plays to the field side and the rover plays to the boundary.
  5. In nickel, the nickel covers the slot receiver to the wide side of the field. The rover covers the slot to the boundary side.

#goacc Power Rankings: Week 7

Well, it finally happened. The day that everyone from John Swofford to Mark Warner was hoping would arrive for the last 10 years did: the ACC is a relevant national conference.

I'll get to that, but for now let's cherish in the part that doesn't make the ACC nationally relevant, also known as everyone outside of the top three. Just for kicks, with the news of the Battle at Bristol, I added in a location that would be the dream neutral-site game for each team.

Diagnosing the Running Game

The Hokies continued their winning ways. They were victorious again on Saturday, beating the pesky Pittsburgh Panthers. The defense dominated and the Hokies offense did just enough. Logan Thomas had another solid game, passing for 239 yards with zero turnovers. He also had good success on third down, helping Tech convert 8 of 19 opportunities. The Hokies struggled getting into the end zone, despite venturing into Panther territory multiple times, and once again the running game never got going.

After the game, like many fans, I was disappointed with the rushing attack. With maybe the country's best defense, Loeffler's group needs to be able to run the ball. It's not necessary for the offense to drop 40 points a game, but it does need to score when in the red zone, avoid three-and-outs, and milk the clock when holding a lead. The short passing game isn't going to be consistent enough to accomplish those goals. Thomas has had success in long passing situations the past few games, but being in 3rd-and-long because the ground game isn't working isn't a good formula for success. If the Hokies can improve their ground game, this team will turn into true ACC contenders.

The Offensive Line To Blame?

Whenever an offense struggles to run the ball the first reaction everyone has is to blame the offensive line. And why not? Historically, the teams with the best offensive lines have the best rushing attacks. Those guys up front have one job, and that's to keep defenders off of the guy holding the football. If the runner can't get a yard past the line of scrimmage without running into a tackler, most of the time the offensive line failed to do their job. However, after watching the game multiple times it became evident that the line can improve, but wasn't solely responsible for the poor rushing display.

Who's Your Dadi?

Against Pitt, Dadi Nicolas tied with Jack Tyler for a team high 7 tackles, and he led the Hokies outright with 3 sacks. Nicolas lined up in his traditional defensive end position, and at Whip. The latter was the latest twist by Bud Foster to his dominant defense filled with versatile playmakers. After the game Frank Beamer said of Nicolas, "He's a talented guy and we're moving him around there, getting him to pass rush from different positions, and he showed up there." Beamer continued, "He's a force back there, and got a real talent for rushing the quarterback." Indeed.

I rewatched the game on Sunday focussing only on Dadi, and by my count he played 16 snaps at Whip when subbed in for Josh Trimble, and 11 at end when spelling J.R. Collins.

On Saturday Dadi made plenty of highlight plays to "Ooh" and "Aah" over, like this one for instance.

Redemption Against Pitt

I love this team, their passion, and lunch pail mentality so much. We are 6-1 guys, and bowl eligible in the second week of October. If at any point during the bye week you forget how nasty, hungry, and tough this team is, just watch the video below.

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