Slept On It: Hokies Completely Shut Down Hoos in Charlottesville

Reflecting on Virginia Tech's 10-0 win over Virginia after a few good night's rest.

[Virginia Tech Athletics \ Dave Knachel]

We had just returned to my wife's aunt's house after celebrating Thanksgiving with the other half of her family. We quickly re-arranged some seating, cracked open some adult beverages and watched overtime of the Duke-Texas basketball game. My brother-in-law leaned back in his chair, took another sip of his beer and asked, "So, do you think we can keep the streak alive tonight?"

It was weird enough to be watching such an important game in someone else's house (who has zero interest in the outcome of the game), let alone pondering such a question. I would be lying if the thought hadn't crossed my mind a number of times during the week leading up to the game.

Virginia Tech would be facing UVa without starters Terrell Edmunds, Mook Reynolds, Vinny Mihota, Sean Savoy, and Joey Slye. The pregame rumor mill suggested Trevon Hill, Tech's other starting defensive end, was warming up with the second string d-line while nursing an injury. Oh, and QB Josh Jackson hadn't looked healthy in weeks. And that's just accounting for injuries. It's not like Tech had looked like world-beaters over the last month. If there was ever a year where the Hokies looked to be at a disadvantage, it was this year.

When it comes to rivalry games, teams can almost always hit the reset button. The competitiveness between rivals transcends poll rankings, and both winning and losing streaks. Injuries to key players are tough to overcome, no doubt. At the end of the day, it's the little things that make the difference: Pre-game and in-game coaching decisions; team chemistry; focus; desire; and all of the other things that Al Pacino talks about in his Any Given Sunday hype speech.

At the end of the day, I felt better about the Hokies' chances when I reminded myself that Tech had the better coaching staff and the better team. Plain and simple.

I found myself thinking back to the beginning of the season and the anxiety I felt over the talent level of the Virginia Tech defense. Though depth was lacking in the front-seven, the group's overall talent and prior experience had them primed for an exceptional season. When I paired the graduating seniors with the handful of potential NFL Draft early entrants, I lamented how the wet-behind-the-ears offense could ultimately hold the Hokies back from truly maximizing the defense's potential.

It was an incredibly myopic perspective. I had watched enough Tech football to know that, come next September, a collection of new and familiar names would step up to take the reins. Every now and then, someone comes out of left field to become an integral part of Bud Foster's system (e.g. Jake Johnson). Yet more often than not, it simply becomes time for rotation players to shine. Friday night's defensive dominance of the Hoos was a perfect example.

Guys like Houshun Gaines, Emmanuel Belmar, Khalil Ladler and Deon Newsome integrated themselves rather seamlessly into the Hokie defense. They not only attacked the football all evening long, but they also played solid assignment football that allowed their teammates to bottle up the Cavalier offense. Gaines and Newsome tied for second on the team in tackles with four each, and Belmar was disruptive in place of Hill.

By the end of the night, the Tech defense held UVa to 5 yards rushing on 20 carries (0.3 ypc), 186 yards of Total Offense, sacked Kurt Benkert 4 times, and forced two fumbles (1 of which was recovered by the Hokies).

"That was critical," remarked Bud Foster after being asked about the Hokies' run defense. "We needed to make them one dimensional, when all's said and done. Early, Ricky [Walker] and Tim [Settle] were playing physical on their side of the line. Tremaine Edmunds just continues to get better. To see Houshun Gaines and Emmanuel Belmar step up, particularly Belmar in bigger roles, and then Trevon was able to come in and sustain some play without reinjuring himself. Then you've got Lad on the back end. Last week, he played four plays, and I told him, 'You're probably going to have to play probably 64 plays this week and be ready to go.' But our expectations are not going to be any different. It just makes a statement about our kids and how they work, but more importantly how they care about one another, and I think they were able to put that on display today."

It was a coming out party of sorts for Gaines. Two of his four tackles were behind the line of scrimmage, including a sack, and he also added a fumble recovery off of Reggie Floyd's strip of UVa tailback Chris Sharp. Despite a bizarre recruiting experience and disciplinary issues threatening his role on the team, it was nice to see him shine on such a big stage.

When I woke up Saturday morning and reflected on Tech's victory, I was surprised by the change in my outlook. After worrying about the talent drop-off between the defensive starters and their back-ups, I was suddenly optimistic about 2018. Sure, it was only one performance. But you can learn a lot more about a player's potential from an ACC game than a spring game.

My brain started to wander, imagining what Foster's group could look like if the Edmunds brothers and/or Walker and Settle return. The thought of Gaines, Belmar and all of the promising freshmen (like Bryce Watts and Zion Debose) playing key roles took on more meaning and made me genuinely excited for what the Hokies could look like behind a deeper and more seasoned offense.

In many ways, it's larger than the back-ups that shined Friday night. It's symbolic of the Bud Foster era and what he has been able to do year-after-year. Though some seasons have been tougher than others from a personnel standpoint, Foster essentially re-loads every year. He and his staff are constantly working behind the scenes to develop the next wave of defensive talent. It's one of the reasons why so many walk-on and 2-star recruits have gone on to be stars at Virginia Tech. That work was on full display Friday night.

It was funny. I spent the week leading up to the game worrying about the end of an era, the end of an annual tradition of reminding Tech's snooty neighbors to the north who runs the Commonwealth. When all was said and done, I had rather quickly moved on to the promise of what was to come; how Tech would reload to extend the streak to 15 and regain their foothold atop the ACC Coastal. After watching guys like Gaines and Ladler shine, I felt damn good about the future. You should too.

Comments

At the end of the day, it's the little things that make the difference: Pre-game and in-game coaching decisions; team chemistry; focus; desire; and all of the other things that Al Pacino talks about in his Any Given Sunday hype speech.

At the end of the day, I felt better about the Hokies' chances when I reminded myself that Tech had the better coaching staff and the better team. Plain and simple.

I have a slightly different belief about how the rivalry is going. Going into this past weekend, it was a 13 year streak that is now 14. Its also a streak that has now gone the way of Tech 18 of the past 19 games. There were kids playing in that game who have only been alive to see Virginia beat Virginia Tech once in their lifetime. In 4 years, if this continues, there will be kids playing who have never been alive for it. And standing in the upper deck of Scott Stadium on Friday night, you could feel it.

Virginia no longer truly believes it can beat Virginia Tech in football.

Yes, they may puff their chests early, but when push comes to shove, at the first sign of a crack, the air sucks out of the sails and you're met with "here we go again". Its the same dread that comes over any Washington fan once playoff season starts that you just know its going to go south, regardless of how good the team may be. That's where I think Virginia is now, and I think that mindset has crept into the players and administration. We just have their number, and they don't think there's anything they can do about it.

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

Its the same dread that comes over any Washington fan once playoff season starts

Curious, which sport are you talking about?

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I never met a project that couldn't justify a new tool.

Yes.

Take your pick

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

The Nationals were still the Montreal Expos when UVA last beat Virginia Tech

Now that's a perspective to remember...

Pain is Temporary
Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever
Let's Go Hokies!!

And Jordan had just finished his last season with the Wizards

Since the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards (1997), UVA has only beaten Virginia Tech 3 times.

iPods looked like this the last time UVA beat Virginia Tech.

The Orange and Maroon you see, that's fighting on to victory.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

Yes, you've read that right...

The Marvel Cinematic Universe hadn't begun, yet. In fact, it hadn't even yet been pitched to executives, as those conversations didn't even start until 2005.

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

hah, skins fans would love to be good enough to disappoint in the playoffs

Awesome write up . I only see this team getting better especially on the offensive end with so much more promise at skill positions . Settle and Walker have been my favorite defensive duo players to watch since Hall and Adibi.

So let's look at the way-too-early outlook for 2018. IF - and it's the biggest IF - we can convince the talent on defense to come back for one more go, and IF all the youth we have at skill positions should benefit from this season and another 15 bowl practices. Find a couple of offensive linemen (no simple task, I know) and a ball carrier to throw into the mix. We open with FSU. We get ND and Miami (and GT) at home. Possibilities. . .

Although the overall offensive performance was embarrassing, I was pleased to see Grimsley making a couple plays out there. And Peoples came back strong, we've missed his power. Those two deserve footnotes at least.

VT Class of '12 (MSE), MVBone, Go Hokies!

Yes - I don't think that Peoples coming back from injury this game can be emphasized enough. After his first couple carries I felt much better about our ability to move the sticks because he would almost always hit the line and fall forward for a couple extra yards that our smaller guys never got.

The proud "V" in Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University spelled out in chest paint.
North Endzone @ 03 Miami.

Although the overall offensive performance was embarrassing

Embarrassing? Whatever.

We were without Terrell Edmunds, Vinny Mihota, Mook Reynolds, and Jarrod Hewitt. In their place a bunch of young replacements and overall mighty thin.

I think Fuente asked Bud to rip the knob off, and in exchange the offense would keep the defense off the field.

Could the playcalling have been more aggressive? Yes, but it might have resulted in more minutes for the defense. Our defense was on the field for 22:44. Would they have been as dominant if we stretch that to 30 minutes? How about 32:27 (which is how long the Miami defense was on the field)?

I find nothing embarrassing about the game plan or the execution, given the situation.

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I never met a project that couldn't justify a new tool.

I totally agree with this. I wasn't thrilled but I was not disappointed either. I totally understood the approach. Run down the clock, protect the ball, good special teams and score enough to win. Fuente went with a classic Beamer Ball approach and it worked. It also showed the he and Cornelson looked at what they had and made the practical choices required to deliver a win in a long standing rivalry. One thing Fuente demonstrates in spades is that he is willing to do what works even if it's not "his thing" and that he's willing to embrace the established identity of VT football and add to it. I think our adjusted ypc was over 4 and that's good enough to convert third downs. If you look at our overall offensive performance it was WAY better than the score board suggested. In this case I am willing to be satisfied with a suboptimal score because we put up more yards against UVA away than Miami did at home.

If you look at our overall offensive performance it was WAY better than the score board suggested.

Scoreboard is what matters. Yeah, I'll give you guys that we did enough to win. But c'mon... we really need to do better than 10 points. I can agree that we had some solid drives given the situation, but something needs fixed in the red zone and I think any neutral fan that chose to watch that game would probably agree.

VT Class of '12 (MSE), MVBone, Go Hokies!

Not to be contentious but what's a "neutral fan". Isn't being a fan mutually exclusive with being neutral? I have been pretty critical of the offensive coaching this season (often the recipient of the "let's just fire everybody" reply... which is a possibility in my opinion but I digress). At the FBS level the loss of any good offensive lineman let alone the left tackle is not easy to compensate for. Look at Gallo with the bad snap as a senior and he's one of the decent ones. All things considered if I see this next year I will expect some changes and I have expressed my doubts about Cornelsen's creds. At the same time, as I stated in other posts, I expect him to do better with what he has. In this case I though he did okay with what he had. If UVA was on the board I would have fully expected us to go on 4th and I am pretty sure we would have converted. I think Fuente decided to play it safe and more or less gave us a better version of the GT game plan which worked.

I have nothing to combat your logic... because I don't understand it. Who the hell cares about style points when trying to get them costs you the win? Miami had enough horsepower to get into a shooting match with LOLUVA. With so many of our guys out we didn't.

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I never met a project that couldn't justify a new tool.

That's fine. I think we're glossing over issues here. I'm not calling for firings or anything and I'm thrilled with a win, but I've never seen our fanbase this thrilled with putting up 10 points on UVA football.

VT Class of '12 (MSE), MVBone, Go Hokies!

Our offense has been underwhelming this year but not embarrassing. Only thing glossed over are the reasons why you say they are embarrassing. Would love to hear them.

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I never met a project that couldn't justify a new tool.

I agree 100%, but feel compelled to point out that Miami HAD to get in a shooting match with LOLUVA, because even though they were playing at home, they let Benkert go nuts on them (passer rating of 193; lead by 14 twice, including once in the 2nd half).

Thanks to our D, we were in control from the beginning and Benkert had his 2nd worst game of the season (passer rating of 96). If the D is in control, I don't want to see the O force things. It's been clear that JJ has been hurt since the Miami game.

Scoreboard was 10-0 so to me that's what matters.

UVA also simulated the snap thus the -20 yard play that screwed us from 3/7

Keep calm, Gobble on

I thought the offensive game plan was effective. We left points on the field from a bad snap, missed FG and a couple other promising drives.

This game reminded me of the UNC game last year without the rain (blame it on the rain), lean on the run!

"Take care of the little things and the big things will come."

The D played awesome. Even the one long pass should have been called back for holding. (ACC Refs suck.) The backups were huge in making this win possible.

The O played well enough. Considering we were without our #2 receiver, our #1 RB was only in to pass protect on 3rd down, and our QB has been playing with a hurt foot and throwing shoulder since the game in south Florida, I think the coaches did a good job of getting the points and eating clock.

Time to heal up, get better and go 1-0 in the bowl game.

On issues with the offense: Is anyone else noticing Jackson's increasing tendency to throw off of his back foot as the season has progressed? When he stands in and steps into a throw Jackson is capable of throwing bullets right where they need to be. However, often he throws off his back foot, resulting in the balls being behind their intended targets or being floaters that are knocked away. Watching both the Pitt and UVA replays it is easy to see multiple different opportunities to score or extend drives that have fallen by the wayside because Jackson isn't stepping into throws like he used to.

According to this, Jackson's foot injury was to his left foot. Would make stepping into a throw more difficult

Chem PhD '16

With QBs like Jackson regression is usually associated with injury especially when that regression is based on athletic performance vs. mental performance. He threw a pick against UVA but Mendenhall is no slouch when it comes to D.

Yeah, the scheme on that pick, baited JJ into that throw. It's possible a two or three year starter doesn't fall into that trap, but maybe not.

I am very interested to see what JJ does in the bowl game after 4 weeks of rest/healing.

He's gonna

rip the knob off

Pain is Temporary
Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever
Let's Go Hokies!!

My guess is that most of that will depend on the opponent. 4 weeks is a nice amount of time to practice. In the early weeks I suppose you can go with a more generic schedule and tie up loose ends.

If I were to guess what we would see based on a few combinations of opponnents here is what it would be:

Explosive/High Scoring Offense, Tough Defense: Similar to the UVA game plan but incorporate a few more down field shots for explosive plays. Get Cam and Carrol working the slot, Cunningham on the crossing, A back with the opportunistic "pop" pass and Kumah and Patterson to push the outside and stretch the field vertically. Let the defense do their job but take enough chances to put points on the board.

Weak Offense, Tough Defense: UVA game plan with similar risks to first option but fewer attempts at those risky plays.

Ball control/Clock eating Offense, Tough Defense: UVA game plan.

Any Offense, Weak defense: Play any weak defense the way we played UNC. Open the play book back up and get the younger guys better versed.

It doesn't appear to me the receivers help JJ out much either. Specifically, they don't give him any space to work with on the sideline throws. Admittedly, I'm not any kind of expert but that's how it looks to me.

Also out, Nijman and Diablo. With the aforementioned injuries that's a shit ton of talent in street clothes.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

Has Nijman been on the sidelines in street clothes? Did he travel while hurt? I do not recall seeing him during his IR stint.

Being that he is such an impact player, why have we not heard anything about Njiman?

I mentioned it in another thread a few days ago, but I really do believe that if we land Webb and Edmunds (x2) and Adonis decide to stay one more year (which, in reality, I think everyone would probably recommend. If that actually happens is another thread itself..), then our defense next year could be amazing with everyone having more experience + the return of Deablo.

Add in the potential of adding Dax and KJ (I think hes probably a pretty long shot), and Bud could have the best defensive group he has fielded in a very long time.