Q&A with Ben Swain

As we approach the most dreaded Duke game in the history of Duke games, I sat down with Ben Swain of ACC Sports Journal. We trade witty remarks over 1,000 magical words about two teams trending in opposite directions, the faulty two quarterback system, the Blue Devil kicking game and what it's like to be even less than a little brother at your school.

I hope y'all enjoy our banter as much as the game on Saturday.

TKP: So...here we are. It's October, Duke is 5-1 while Virginia Tech sits at a paltry 3-3. The Hokies are favored, but I have also seen the line as low as a pick. This seems crazier than Nick Saban's daughter. I don't really have a question, just wanted to make a statement of how depressed I am..but for kicks, let's turn it into one. What's different about this Duke team?

Duke Football Primer, Photo Edition

Dookies are coming to town this weekend! I expect everyone to scream "TEABAG PAULUS" every opportunity they have. #HokiesRespect

The Blue Devils come into Blacksburg fesh off a 42-17 drubbing of the #NewHoos. Mike London, for all his 757 recruiting efforts, has a losing record to Duke. RUT ROH.

Trying to find the beat

I listened to and read quotes from all of Tech's media sessions this week. As someone on the outside of the program looking in, it's really the only way to take the pulse of the team. In my mind, the game against Duke will ultimately make or break the season, and it may say something about program's future. Our backs are firmly against the wall Saturday, and however unlikely, an ACC Championship is still within reach. It won't be, and bowl bid won't look promising, if we lose to Duke.

These are some quotes I found interesting and telling along with my thoughts.

Bud is getting the defense back to basics this week.

The early part of Virginia Tech's practice Tuesday focused all on tackling. Defenders rotated through three stations, one manned by defensive coordinator Bud Foster, one by defensive line coach Charley Wiles, one by defensive backs coach Torrian Gray.

Each had a different tackling drill -- wrapping up (Foster), shedding blocks (Wiles) and open field (Gray) -- all in an effort to correct the missed tackles and blown leverages against North Carolina last weekend.

"Normally when we do, that next game our execution and fundamentals are a lot better," Gray said.

UNC Film Review: A Tragic Realization

This is a hit piece. I can't run from the fact that on Saturday, the Hokies were so poor in their fundamental execution of their basic responsibilities that I find myself doubting that they can turn this ship around this season. After the end of the debacle in Chapel Hill, I tried desperately to find some kind of building block to give me hope for the immediate future. I expected to turn on the film of the game, and see tremendous effort sabotaged by singular errors in execution that we should come to expect with a young team that is struggling to gel. Instead, I saw breakdown after breakdown of the most basic fundamentals in football.

Pre-Shane Recruiting and the Debacle in Chapel Hill

One of the major problems with the defense is not only the lack of veteran depth in the secondary, but also a lack of veteran depth in the linebacker corps. In previous editions of French on the Bench, I have casually mentioned how the defense has been hampered terribly by horrific recruiting classes from 2008-2010 (prior to Shane Beamer's arrival.) Here is a quick breakdown of the defensive recruiting during that period.

Gut Reactions: North Carolina

Well, there really isn't much to say. A lot of the same issues that plagued Tech all season cropped up in Carolina. The defense gave up 533 yards, 366 of which came on the ground. Tech played Nickel most of the afternoon to counter UNC's spread and it allowed Giovani Bernard and A.J. Blue to run wild. Michael Cole and Detrick Bonner struggled to come up from the secondary and make tackles. Both of those guys had rough afternoons. Again the front-four, a perceived strength leading up to the season, struggled to generate a pass rush. The Hokies couldn't run the ball, again, and Logan Thomas ended up as the leading rusher with 20 of the team's 40 yards. (That's counting minus-19 yards on a botched Andrew Miller snap.) Ultimately, UNC pulled away from a back-and-forth game because they didn't settle for field goals, were able to run the ball, and made big plays. It's evident Foster doesn't have a solution for "spread" offenses with playmakers. Tech's offense isn't built to win track meets. So, it could be a long second-half of the season.

These are my thoughts in no particular order. They're gut reactions, so take them at face value.

ZOMBIE TURKEYS

Ten win seasons have become both an accomplishment and a crutch. No other program during the BCS-era has been more consistently great than Virginia Tech. As fans, myself included, we've been spoiled by winning. To the contrary, each season we watch excellence slip through Tech's grasp, whether it's a letdown game, busted coverage, or couple of missed blocks. It's maddening when August hopes are blown away by a September breeze before the October chill even hits. It's more frustrating when we're essentially told by Beamer Co. we should be happy with what we have, even though there's an empty trophy case in its offices.

Realistically, this wasn't the season the Hokies would contend for a national championship. Most preseason polls had Tech ranked outside the top 15, the overwhelming favorite to win the ACC was Florida State. Lack of depth in the secondary, a talented, but unproven receiving corps, and the proper distribution of carries among a medley of fresh-faced tailbacks were just some of the roster challenges Tech faced in August. Injuries to two returning starters, D.J. Coles and Tariq Edwards, complicated matters.

North Carolina Football Primer, Photo Edition

So. About last week. That Cinicinnati outcome was...disappointing. Fortunately for us fans, a new week and a new opponents awaits. Nothing eases the sting of losing quite like the possibility of victory. Back to conference opponents! Back to work! #goacc

This week, the Hokies hit the road and head south to Chapel Hill to face the Tar Heels. Like Tech fans, the Carolina Faithful have had to deal with adversity, albeit those distractions being off-the-field. Recently the announcement that Chancellor Holden Thorp will resign this coming June, in repsonse to allegations of academic dishonesty involving a number of student athletes and the African Studies academic program.

Q&A with Michael Felder

This week I spoke with UNC alum and former defensive back Michael Felder. He's the national college football lead writer at Bleacher Report, and of In The Bleachers podcast fame. I think I may have found someone who is just cynical about their team as I am. We discussed the new Fedora spread, Carolina blowing out bad teams, Bryn Renner and how the Hokies will attack this defense.

TKP: So it seems as if this game may just be between two middle of the pack ACC teams. Both have come off at least one (in UNC's case, 2) crushing losses. What is your general opinion of the first five games of the Larry Fedora regime thus far? How has the team transitioned to the spread?

Felder: I think things have gone about the way that anyone with an ounce of brain in their head would have expected. Blow out bad teams, tough game against middling teams and lose to good teams. They lost the tough game against a middling team but it could have gone either way. For the people who thought UNC was somehow going to be undefeated going into this game they didn't realize the myriad of issues this team has.

Adventures on Whiskey Lane: Episode Six

Kevin and Brian lament over the Cincinnati loss. Brian speaks with longtime Daily Press columnist David Teel, about the current mindset of the team, and what the future holds. (Via the miracle of technology, Teel goes robot voice for a bit.) The boys talk a little about UNC.

All that and more on this weeks episode of Adventures on Whiskey Lane!

MP3 Download link: http://thekeyplay.podomatic.com/enclosure/2012-10-03T19_39_15-07_00.mp3

Six Pick: Week Six

Back again for another go at it, hopefully the results are better for the home team. I love college football, even when the schedule looks bad like last week, the games produce. This week there are no such issues. Now that it's October, the non-conference portion of the schedule has faded away into league play. These tilts always mean the most*, but not every week is like this one, as I'm sure the "Separation Saturday" tag will be generously applied. Many favorites for conference championships will have emerged by late Saturday night. Led by the SEC, who have 4 of their 5 top 10 teams squaring off. Make time to sloth on the sofa folks, you aren't going anywhere. Gameday watch for week 6 shows that the World Wide Leader will be in Columbia, South Carolina. In order to be the man, you gotta beat the man ... that's the only way to keep ESPN out of the Southeast.

Cincinnati Offensive Film Review: Close Only Counts

I stated my emotional reaction to the Cincinnati game in Joe's epic "All I Have To Say" column on Saturday night. The offensive identity issue has presented itself as a long term issue, and, barring a complete cultural change in the program, it is an issue that will continue to self-correct in sputters and gaps. While I may not be a fan of the spread/pistol system, I want to be 100% clear that I think any offensive system can succeed with outstanding execution, 100% player buy-in, and a play caller who understands how to use the system. And, regardless of the system, be it from the shotgun or lining up in the straight T, any offense is better when the offensive line kicks ass.

I tried to go into the film review with an open mind. Watching the film, I came up with the following conclusions. Some may surprise you, others may not.

An Open Letter

Sunday, September 30, 2012, 12:42 AM

Dear students of Virginia Tech,

I'm sitting on a futon that isn't mine, somewhere in Arlington (though I'm still not quite sure where), staring at a blinking cursor for 10 minutes, trying to figure out what to say. After driving for four hours through an abysmal rain, I attended a thoroughly overpriced game at FedEx Field, only to watch my Hokies...no, our Hokies blow another game.

Earlier tonight, Joe did a very wonderful job summing up how mediocre this team actually is. Make no mistake...it's not a good team (and for any of you completely blinded by homerism/freshmanism please watch 'Bama or Oregon, then get back to me). But do you know what? I'm glad.

I've said this privately to an assortment of people close to me; the student section sucks. It's not even a secret anymore. It's been apparent to people going to games for over a year that the students are the worst fans in the building.

0-10

Bumped to the front. Leaving the stadium I mumbled I was done with neutral site games, but I know I'll be at the next BCS game, and in Atlanta next year. I think Vince sums up how a lot of HokieNation feels in his piece. --Joe

Over the last 13 years I have travelled with the Hokies to 10 neutral site games: 5 bowl games and 5 regular season games. All ten times the Hokies came away with loss. That's 3 Sugar Bowls (Florida State, Auburn, Michigan), 1 Orange Bowl (Kansas), and 1 Chick-fil-A Bowl (Georgia). That's also 3 trips to FedEx Field (Southern Cal, Boise State, Cincinnati), 1 trip to Charlotte (East Carolina), and 1 trip to Atlanta (Alabama).

Do the Harley Mash

Kris Harley's interception, off a tipped ball popped up by Bruce Taylor, that set up Tech's first touchdown Saturday was a terrific play. It was a blend of effort and athleticism by both Bruce and Kris. Taylor covered the short zone perfectly, Harley didn't give up on the play after leaping to bat the ball down at the line of scrimmage. The turnover jump-started the offense, and Harley's reaction fired up the crowd.

I got excited when it happened, and I made the gif because I needed a pick me up this evening. If we're going to overcome adversity, and be competitive during conference play, passion plays like that one will need to supplement talent and depth.

All I have to say

In middle school I had a gym teacher named Mr. Young. Mr. Young was lanky tall, white as chalk, and almost made it in the NBA. The rumor among students was he played against Larry Bird. When it got too cold for class to be outside, we moved inside and played basketball. Every year we'd get a 60 second crash course in hoops. We'd be seated on the bleachers and Mr. Young would stretch his arms out, ball between his hands, and say, "Boys, this is a basketball." Looking back, I'm sure he thought he was hot shit. He'd continue, "You dribble the ball," then he'd dribble, "You shoot the ball," then he'd shoot. He probably spotted up 15-or-so shots, nailed 'em all, ... and you get the idea.

Virginia Tech is 3-2, 0-2 against Big East teams. Reminder, we play in the ACC, but much like the basketball, you are what you are. This is not a good football team. Personally, I overestimated how good we'd be. My optimism got the best of me in spring and the preseason; I glossed over the loss of a lot of talent. It's evident after five games last year's reserves and some fresh-faced freshman weren't ready to step up. I also thought the coaches would be able to successfully modernize the offense. The two big changes this offseason: 1) pistol, 2) pre-snap motion. We use the pistol to throw the ball more than we do to facilitate quick-hitting rushes. The movement before the snap has looked nothing but sloppy, and has lost more in penalty yards than its gained in matchup advantages.

Adventures on Whiskey Lane: Episode Five

This week Brian and Kevin talk about the Bowling Green game, Bud Foster's spread defense, RONNY VANDYKE, Tony Gregory...?, and Kevin's one week suspension for the violation of company rules. They preview Cincinnati, express concern and hesitation about their speed, and how interesting this weekend's game will be.

All that and more on this weeks episode of Adventures on Whiskey Lane!

MP3 Download link: http://thekeyplay.podomatic.com/enclosure/2012-09-27T15_28_29-07_00.mp3

D.J. Reid commits to Virginia Tech

According to JC Shurburtt, running back/athlete Daniel Reid committed to Virginia Tech this evening. Reid held offers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and USF (his finalist along with Tech) among others.

Here's a good feature on Reid from the Chesterfield Observer.

"It's like he's gliding – big, long strides and great hips," Tucker described.

Combing speed, toughness and elusiveness, he rambled for 215 yards vs. Matoaca, 190 vs. Colonial Heights and 187 vs. Meadowbrook in Dale's district-clinching victory.

"I think of myself as a slasher," said Reid. "The big thing, though, is vision – seeing the field … vision is the difference between a 15- yard gain and getting into the end zone."

Thomas Dale coach Kevin Tucker compared him favorably to Ken Oxendine.

Q&A with Down The Drive

This week I talked with Matt from the Cincinnati blog Down The Drive. I learner a lot of things, including that thier team is scary (even though their quarterback's name is Munchie), and...arguably more terrifying...not afraid of the Hokies one bit.

Thanks to Matt for his time, and hopefully I'll see all y'all in DC!

TKP: Well it's been a little while, hasn't it? The last time the Hokies and Bearcats met was in the Orange Bowl, Tony Pike and Brian Kelly lead a Bearcat team to their first BCS bowl. How has Butch Jones handled taking over for Kelly post undefeated regular season, and do you see more BCS bids in the near future?

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