"Foe"Rensics: Western Carolina

Editor's Note: Bumped to the front because I couldn't stop laughing. --Joe

Hello. Welcome to the second installment of "Foe"Rensics. Acceding to the demands of my legions of fans (and to the fact that last week we played one of the most famous teams in college football that we've spent the last eight months talking about and this week we're playing a college no one has ever heard of that used to be a high school) I've decided to deepen my research past Wikipedia (and my imagination) in an attempt to include "facts". Please note, there may be places where I've stretched the truth a bit. This week, our journey of discovery takes us to Cullowhee, home of Western Carolina University.

Offensive Potential and Foster's Genius

Alabama's won the last two national championships and are favorites to win again this year. Alabama has a Heisman candidate at quarterback, an NFL-ready running back, and a rock solid defense. Hokie fans knew that the competition on August 31st was going to be stiff, but what we didn't know was how capable our players would look on national television. Coach Frank Beamer and his staff learned a lot about what this football team is about Saturday night, and so did we.

Offensive Lessons

The offensive line is already improving on last season's debacle. As French wrote on Monday, Jeff Grimes' unit more than held their own against a front-7 that will likely be in the discussion as "best in the nation" by the end of the season. The push off the ball the o-line was able to get while run blocking exceeded my expectations. Pass protection wasn't as good, but it showed promise and is normally the part of offensive line play that needs the most work during the beginning of the season anyway. As the season progresses, expect our offensive line to continue to improve and gel together. It appears that the hire of Jeff Grimes is starting to pay dividends already. I'm excited to see what he will accomplish once the kids that he recruits are brought into the program.

Bud Foster's Umbrella Closes on the Tide

Bud Foster's defense held Alabama's offense, an explosive unit (38.71 PPG LY, 12th) with potential post-season award winners at tailback, left tackle, and wide receiver, to 206 total yards of offense, two touchdowns, and didn't allow a 100-yard rusher. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Hokies spent most of the game in the Alabama backfield, finishing with 12.0 tackles for a loss and 4.0 sacks. Tech's defense gave the Hokies every opportunity to win the football game. How did they completely shut down such a talented group?

Throughout the spring and summer, I highlighted the transition from Bud Foster using a base 4-2-5 concept with a Whip linebacker playing to the wide side of the field to a base 4-4 defense with the rover and whip playing on the line of scrimmage, creating an eight man front. Foster complimented the 4-4 with the use of a 46 front (an inside linebacker lined up on the outside edge to the strength of the passing formation with the rover lined up as an inside linebacker and the whip to the weak side), and a nickel concept where the rover drops as a traditional strong safety and a third corner covering the slot.

Pound the Rock, Progress in the Running Game

As I wrote throughout the summer, Alabama presented an opportunity for Virginia Tech to demonstrate a commitment to improved offensive line play and an effective running game. How the Hokies would fare rushing against a traditionally stout Alabama defense was a great mystery all year. The first team offense struggled to run the football during the spring game, and they didn't run it during open public scrimmages in fall camp. However, the mandate from Coach Frank Beamer this offseason was clear: the Hokies must run the football.

Fast forward to 9:30PM on Saturday night. Trey Edmunds became the first Hokie running back to break the 100-yard mark (132) in his debut since Shyrone Stith (119), and despite laments by the Crimson Tide about their performance, Alabama is much better than the 1996 Akron Zips. Tech's o-line demonstrated solid assignment football throughout the game. The unit had significantly improved fundamental footwork, contact/aiming points, and they remained engaged on blocks. The rushing yardage beyond the Edmunds touchdown run wasn't Earth shattering, but Virginia Tech consistently found themselves in much more manageable 3rd-and-4 type situations versus the 3rd-and-11s that plagued the team last year.

Game Preview: Alabama

By French, Mason, and Joe

Virginia Tech Hokies (0-0) against Alabama Crimson Tide (0-0)

Time: 5:30 PM
Date: Saturday, August 31, 2013
Place: Atlanta Georgia
Stadium: Georgia Dome (71,228)
TV: ESPN
Radio: Virginia Tech IMG
Spread: Alabama -20
Weather: Dome

The Skinny

On Saturday the Hokies will try for their second win ever against Alabama. Tech's currently 1-11 against the Tide. Beamer Co. is also looking to knock off a top-ranked team for the first time. Virginia Tech is 0-7 all-time against teams ranked number one in the AP Poll.

Keep an Eye On...

T.J. Yeldon: While Eddie Lacy got a great deal of attention last season, T.J. Yeldon quietly became the first Alabama true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Also, he ran for 12 touchdowns and over 6 yards per carry. Yeldon has elite cutback ability, tremendous power, the ability to catch the football in space, and he can make elite players miss in the open field.

Virginia Tech All-Access

Thanks to Bill anyone who missed the behind the scenes look at the Hokies can rewatch it.

I enjoyed every minute of the program, even though I didn't learn anything about scheme or personnel.

A few thoughts:

Offensive Success Against Alabama

I was disappointed with the offensive showing in the second preseason scrimmage. Tech is opening its season against two-time defending national champion, and preseason number one, Alabama. I desperately want Tech to win that game, I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I know exactly how good the offense will have to be to accomplish that tall task. I'm not as concerned with how the defense will hold up. Foster is the best in the business, and Bama has a rebuilt offensive line. I'm confident the defense will hold it's own, and I trust Foster will find a way to gameplan around the loss of Whip Ronny Vandyke. However, I was quite concerned with what the offense would be able to contribute to the cause, but after I watched this post-scrimmage interview with Shane Beamer, I slept a lot better.

00:04:00–00:04:24 H/T mike4vt

It was never about beating Alabama

#BEATBAMA was never about beating Alabama.

It was about sacking up. It was about running head first through a loss. It was knowing you're too short, but laying out anyways. It was about getting fired up and not backing down. It was about not wanting to hear one more damn word about how much Alabama was going to win by. It was about believing in these new coaches, the players, owning this offseason, and not rolling into a ball. It was about pride and scoffing at Vegas' line. It was about making the dumb choice, hope and faith over logic, that you'd repeat over and over.

A retweet from Spencer Hall, one of my favorite writers:

Am I fool for believing in my team? Am I a fool for loving my school? Am I am fool for just betting every piece of my soul I have on the underdog?

Yes.

Second Public Scrimmage: Mason's Take

The Virginia Tech football staff has 12 days, just 12 days to get their team ready to beat the top football program in the country. Keep in mind, most of Virginia Tech's players were part of a team which had to scratch and claw its way to a 7-6 season in 2012. A team which finished fourth in its division of the ACC, a conference many consider to be just the fifth best in the nation.

The football team last year was not good. The moves that Frank Beamer, a man who publicly admits to hating change, proves that last season was a disappointment. There were a lot of reasons why the Hokies struggled last year (down year in talent, poor offensive scheme, lack of senior leadership), and there's been a lot of talk this offseason about how those issues have been addressed. Loeffler and Grimes have been hired to fix Beamer's annual offensive woes, Edmunds is supposed to be the next-big-thing at tailback, and Logan Thomas claims to be much more involved with maintaining the high standards necessary to win championships. Hokie fans hope that the offense will improve enough to allow their team to beat Alabama's juggernaut. Well, the scrimmage on saturday showed me that the offense has a long way to go in 12 days to be good enough to #BEATBAMA.

Second Public Scrimmage: O-Line, Secondary, and D-Line

Today in Blacksburg, a crisp, fall-like afternoon greeted HokieNation for Virginia Tech's final public scrimmage before their game against Alabama. Questions about the Hokies' depth in the wake of an unfortunate string of injuries, effectiveness of a new offensive system, and play making ability of inexperienced skill position players loom over camp. Meanwhile, Bud Foster's defense is poised for a return to dominance built around a devastating front-seven, while a group of young, but supremely talented, cornerbacks start to establish themselves in the secondary.

What's Going On?

I haven't felt this out of the loop since I lived in Connecticut. For the last few days I've been unplugged. My office has temporarily relocated from my guest bedroom featuring a memory foam cushion office chair and MacBook Pro, to my new domicile which has tobacco stained walls, dust, and weathered windows. On an afternoon paint break I saw this text from French, "TELLER IS MOVING TO TACKLE," and initially thought he was just effing with me. Later on, I had indigestion when I saw this tweet while inhaling my day's timeline for dinner.

Football season is getting interesting, and while I love to watch the story unfold, I hate that it is due to injury. I remember watching Tony Gregory's catch-and-run scamper at the 2010 Spring Game and thinking to myself, "This kid's got good hands and a burst, he'll be a player." Unfortunately, ACL injuries got the better of a promising career. I hate when that happens to any kid, on any team.

Best Case/Worst Case Defense

If you haven't read part one on the offense, then you probably don't know what this is about. You should probably ready part one first.

James Gayle

Best case: He plays healthy, hungry, and singularly blocked all year (due to the multiple pass rushing threats around him). Feeding off the disrespect shown to him by the ACC media (by not naming him preseason All-ACC), Gayle takes no mercy while going after the quarterback. He gets over 10.5 sacks, a ton of hurries and at least two opposing quarterbacks to cry. Let's be honest, it would definitely be Bryn Renner and David Watford (if he's still starting).

Worst case: The other guys on the line aren't a pass rushing threat, making it a much easier decision for opposing coaches to double team Gayle. This wears him down, and we see the same guy who was working off injuries for the entire 2012 season.

Dadi Nicolas

Kyshoen Jarrett Shouldn't Return Punts

Among all the complaints HokieNation made last season, one prevalent gripe was a lament every time Michael Holmes returned a punt. "Where's Jarrett?!" many exclaimed. Each time I heard it, I shook my head. It will happen again this season, and I again expect HokieNation to express frustration.

August Camp: First Public Scrimmage

I love Virginia Tech football, more than just about anything else on the planet. It's an unhealthy obsession, one that keeps me up late at night watching old games on YouTube. I've watched every snap of every game of 2012 at least four times. Odds are it's probably closer to twice that number (shout-out to Billdozer). I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell football.

On Saturday night I did what is required of all the Hokie faithful, and made my pilgrimage to the holiest of holies. Lane Stadium. That cathedral was as beautiful last night as it was the day it was built. Sitting in our pews, I, along with hundreds of my brothers and sisters, watched the priests of our religion perform the most sacred of acts. Tackle football...

It was supposed to rain. Thunderstorm actually. I was half expecting the practice/scrimmage to be cancelled. I didn't have an umbrella so I stole a North Face jacket from a friend and decided against bringing a notepad that was just going to get soaked. Sitting in the pouring rain and dodging lightning strikes, but missing the first public football exhibition with the new freshmen of the '13 class simply wasn't a possibility.

The storm, like the run game, never did show up.

WE TALKIN' 'BOUT PRACTICE

Thoughts on the Early Offensive Line Shuffling

Over the last couple of days several members of Thekeyplay community have asked me for my reaction to the daily offensive line depth chart changes. I have not attended practice, so I can't comment on how each player is performing, or the level of summer work that each player underwent in order to improve. I am not sure that speculating on their performance is fair, but I would like to comment on how Grimes is using the depth chart. Laurence Gibson and Andrew Miller seem firmly entrenched, but Jonathan McLaughlin, Mark Shuman, Caleb Farris, Brent Benedict, and David Wang seem to be deadlocked in a battle over three starting positions.

"I'm not settled at all and I really like it like that," Grimes said Monday. "I told them in our first meeting: 'Nobody has a position. Nobody's earned anything yet and everyone has the opportunity to win a job.' I don't have necessarily a specific deadline to say we've got to have our starting unit by the end of Week 2 or Week 3. We're just gonna let it play out and let the best five prove it to us."

New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said he'd like to have a starting five on the offensive line sooner rather than later, but Grimes appears to be taking a more patient approach.

August Camp: Thoughts on Joel Caleb at Tailback

Beamer Co.'s announcement that Joel Caleb would practice exclusively at tailback for the first couple of days of camp was a bit of a shocker. Before yesterday, I only wondered (1) if Caleb would be available against Alabama, rumors of a suspension hit the Interwebs last week, and (2) had he improved enough as a receiver to contribute this season.

Although we don't know if Caleb will be available against Alabama, Frank Beamer said, "We'll make announcements about those things later on," when asked, it's evident he's factoring into the team's long term plans this season.

"We lost Michael, and he was one of our bigger backs," running backs coach Shane Beamer said. "Coming out of spring, we felt we had two backs who could pound it up in there in goal-line and short-yardage situations — Michael and Trey [Edmunds]. Then when you lose Michael, you're down to just one big back. Not that Tony Gregory or [Chris] Mangus couldn't do it, but we'd like to have a bigger guy to do certain things.

"The worst case scenario, we'd have Joel in there in case Trey were to get hurt, and he'd have a general understanding of what we're doing offensively.

Best Case/Worst Case Offense

It's been a weird off-season. I know that after weeks of being absent on the site my fans (hey dad) were probably hoping for something more profound. But seriously...it's been a really weird off-season.

People have been more focused on recruiting more now, than in recent memory. Who'd have thought that a guard from New Jersey whose name sounds like he's the lead singer of a struggling bluegrass group would be one of the stars of the summer? And, for the first time since I can remember, there have been more questions than answers as the season approaches.

I think it's safe to say that fans have spent more time in the abstract than ever before. Instead of certainties in black and white, the majority of conversations surrounding the program involve if or could. For example: "If Logan can get back into form, Tech could win ten games this season." Various versions of that thought have been uttered at more outdoor happy hours than the phrase "one more round?".

Believe me, I talk in uncertainties all the time. I pace holes in the floor just thinking about what could be...for better and for worse. For example, I went through such a mind numbing thought process when it was announced that Kevin Asante left the team for doing Kevin Asante things, that you would have thought I was planning an evacuation strategy in the event Sharknado hits Blacksburg.

August Camp: Initial Depth Chart Released

HokieSports.com released the first depth chart of the summer and there are a few surprises.

Both Kendall Fuller and Ronny Vandyke are listed as first team outside linebacker (Whip). It was almost universally thought that Kendall would factor into the battle at corner, especially with Antone Exum's knee injury. Perhaps Kendall is this year's nickel? Either way, Foster and Gray must feel good about the depth at corner. Kyle Fuller will resume his starting duties at the boundary, while Brandon Facyson and Donaldven Manning battle it out to replace Exum (for the time being) at field corner. Facyson had a breakout spring, his first in Blacksburg, while Manning played more consistent. Manning's also gotten bigger, last year he was listed at 5-9, 155, today HokieSports.com has him at 5-10, 181.

Speaking of size, D.J. Coles is 6-4, 234 pounds, but is the starter at split end. Guess which one is D.J.

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