The Randall Corollary: How Josh Jackson Can Take Advantage of Low Expectations

Logic suggests that redshirt sophomore quarterback Josh Jackson has to take a massive step forward for the Hokies to remain competitive in 2018. But history has shown that the players around him might matter more.

[Mark Umansky]

2004 was weird.

For the first time since the Michael Vick spaceship took Virginia Tech into previously unexplored stratospheres of success and relevance, expectations for the Hokie football team were low. Kevin Jones departed for the NFL, leaving an All-American-sized hole at running back. Deangelo Hall bolted as well, taking with him not only his abilities at corner, but an other-worldly talent as a punt returner (he ran three punts back for scores in '03).

Gone too was Ernest Wilford, who caught 55 of Tech's 182 completions on the season (for reference, Justin Hamilton had the second highest total with 23 catches. Fullback Doug Easlick was next with 16.) They also lost Rimington Trophy winner Jake Grove, starting defensive end Nathaniel Adibi, two strong candidates for Tech's All-Name team — end Cols Colas and starting linebacker Vegas Robinson — rover Michael Crawford, and corner Garnell Wilds.

But Marcus Vick made sure the offseason party didn't stop there (party, get it?) The younger Vick brother, incumbent kick returner and potential starting running back Mike Imoh, and future Kirk Herbstreit lambastee Brenden Hill were all charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Both Imoh and Hill were suspended for the first three games of the '04 campaign, while Vick was suspended "indefinitely."

(Side note: it wasn't conviction for having sex with underage girls that caused the harsh punishment. It was Marcus getting caught with weed two months after the conviction that did it. This era of Hokie history fascinates me, primarily because I'm not totally convinced that Frank Beamer knew how to handle the newfound success of his program. Can we crowdsource a 30 for 30 about Tech football between 1999 and 2005? We can call it "The Tale of Two Vicks", with half of it being about the last time the Hokies where true national title contenders, and the other half being about the parties in Foxridge.)

By the time preseason predictions started to take place, Tech was on no one's radar. They lost a ton of talent, and most of the returning guys were either unproven, unproductive, or known, average quantities.

And out of anyone on the roster, Bryan Randall seemed to embody the last category most. Randall came to Blacksburg in 2001 as one of the most highly touted high school prospects Beamer had ever landed. The record setting high schooler and Parade All-American was the logical successor to (Michael) Vick, and even challenged for the starting job as a true freshman.

But by 2004, the Randall love had cooled. He was (fairly or unfairly) the face of massively underachieving teams in '02 and '03. He was often blamed when the offense sputtered, and it was unclear whether Tech's run-dependant attack was so unbalanced because of Randall (who threw for over 200 yards just five times in 27 games over the two seasons), or Beamer's conservative approach (Randall had over 20 attempts in less than half of those contests over the same period).

This all came to a head in '03, when the 6-0 Hokies dropped four of their final six. And down that stretch, Randall fell apart. Not only were his numbers bad (54-100, 702 yards, two TDs, seven INTs), but his confidence waned.

Beamer even moved to (Marcus) Vick during what was possibly the most signature win of Frank's career, a 31-7 nut punching of second ranked Miami in Blacksburg.

The two split time the rest of the year. The offense fell apart. Their only other win — a 24-23 OT clunker against 1-9 Temple — doubled as the most dire example of the implosion. The Hokies kept losing, couldn't supplement Jones' production with anything through the air (both Randall and Vick were awful), and completely deflated. One brief moment of hope was Randall's 398 yard, four score performance against Cal in the Insight Bowl, but that still came as part of a 52-49 loss.

The departure of NFL talent coupled with an offense who couldn't move the ball? 2004 felt like a disaster waiting to happen.

Courtesy Virginia Tech Athletics

Josh Jackson was not a Parade All-American. He was three-star out of Michigan whose second best scholarship offer was West Virginia. His third best offer was a tie between Boston College, Minnesota, and Utah.

But like Randall, he endeared himself to the fan base right away. Jackson left high school early to enroll in January of 2016, and seemingly kept himself in the mix of the quarterback competition with upper classmen Jerod Evans and Brenden Motley. And when the two departed, Jackson stepped in with a bang.

Two scores. No turnovers. Three-hundred-plus total yards. A neutral site, prime time win over the most hated rival in program history (you heard me). That's not a bad way to say hello to hundreds of thousands of fans.

He continued to impress. Through four games, the man who wasn't old enough to celebrate with a rail at TOTS had 1,127 yards on 65% completions, 12 total touchdowns, and just one turnover. Yes, it came against a string of defenses softer than a stanza of Al Groh's poetry, but it's hard to overlook those numbers.

And then Clemson happened.

Both Jackson and his offense were never the same after the Tigers dismantled them. They were fine against Boston College (but had trouble converting in the red zone), and had their flaws hidden against UNC thanks to three non-offensive touchdowns in the first half. Jackson's stats against the Tar Heels? 10-20, 132 yards (6.6 YPA), three touchdowns (all inside the 10.) The score overshadowed an ineffective day overall.

And here are his numbers from the final five games of the regular season: 78-143 (54.5%), 911 yards (6.4 YPA), 3 TDs, 4 INTs. 101 rushing yards on 48 carries (2.1 YPA), 3 TDs.

The team came to a screeching halt. Jackson's unit averaged just 17 points per game over that stretch, and the fact that Tech went 3-2 was borderline miraculous. The team was a miracle goal line stand away from 2-3, and an other-worldly defensive performance from doing the unthinkable and losing to Virginia.

For a season that started with a win over West Virginia and ended ranked 22nd at 9-3, morale was very low. Losses against the only two opponents on the schedule who finished the season ranked (Clemson and Miami), coupled with an offensive performance not seen since the Loeffler administration, made for an ulcer-inducing nine wins.

And this feeling is the biggest difference between the national perception of the Hokies, and the local one. Tech has routinely found themselves ranked in the top 20 this preseason. They're 17th in the Coaches Poll, 15th in the ESPN.com power rankings, and 16th in Athlon's rankings. Yet despite the praise, if you cornered a Hokie fan and demanded a win-loss prediction, you'd hear far more seven-to-eight win guesses than anything remotely close to a ranked team.

But the most interesting thing about the difference in outlook is that both sides' logic centers around the same person — Jackson.

To the bigger outlets, the Hokies return a star young quarterback whose numbers looked surprisingly good for a redshirt freshman. To many fans, the Hokies return a QB who couldn't consistently get things done after week three. And with all of the attrition on the other side of the ball, it's fair to wonder if Jackson can provide enough scoring to make up for a now very young defense.

In terms of the fanbase, 2018 has a wider range of expectations than any season since—you guessed it—2004.

Courtesy Virginia Tech Athletics

But we all knew how that went for Randall. Free from the burden of a five-star backup breathing down his neck, the senior lead the Hokies to a 10-3 record, an ACC championship, and a Sugar Bowl appearance. He also won ACC Player of the Year, and kicked off the first of eight straight 10-win seasons.

In just a few months, Randall completely turned around his reputation amongst the fanbase. He ascended from being the poster child of annual disappointment to Blacksburg folk hero who'll never have to pay for a drink downtown again. And even now, when we talk about the pantheon of Virginia Tech quarterbacks, Randall is usually the third name to come up after Michael Vick and Tyrod Taylor.

It's all well deserved. He ended his career atop many of Tech's passing records, and was a great leader. And his most important role was acting as the face of the program post-Marcus suspension, when fans and pundits alike desperately needed someone who felt good to root for.

But to me, the most interesting thing about Randall's '04 run is that he didn't play significantly better statistically than he did as a sophomore or junior:

2002: 158-248 (64%), 2,134 yards, 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions.
2003: 150-245 (61%), 1,996 yards, 15 touchdowns, 10 interceptions.
2004: 170-306 (55%), 2,264 yards, 21 touchdowns, 9 interceptions.

Yes, his yards went up, but that's primarily from him attempting almost 60 more passes than the year before. His completion percentage dropped (also from the increase in attempts), and his turnovers stayed about the same.

21 touchdowns looks sexy, especially when compared to the other two totals. But how much of that is related to losing the best running back in school history? Jones' 21 (!!!) rushing touchdowns had to be distributed somewhere, which meant more red zone targets for Jeff King, John Kinzer, and Jared Mazzetta.

Randall was basically the same quarterback in '03 as he was in '04. More confident, sure. More of a leader, probably. But he did one important thing to make himself seem different. His squad exceeded expectations. They won, more than any fan imagined.

But how much of that had to do with Randall, and how much of it had to do with underestimating the talent on the roster? This Washington Post article makes the '04 preseason sound like a post-apocalyptic free-for-all with freshmen fighting freshmen for scraps of playing time. Yet when we read all of the names listed in it (Vince Hall, Xavier Adibi, D.J. Parker, Brandon Flowers, Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan), the column borders on comedy.

It was impossible to know at the time, but the Randall had five pass catchers who'd go on to the NFL (King, Royal, Morgan, David Clowney, Justin Harper), in what was the deepest group of skill players under Beamer. This also goes back to Randall's spike in touchdowns. He had a little more help after the catch than he ever had before.

Randall was great, in part, because the talent around him increased (which is ironic, because they lost Jones.) It didn't matter that he was close to the same player he'd always been. It didn't matter that the success in '04 should be closer linked to a group of young defensive players making a leap and lowering their points allowed per game from 23 in '03 (45th nationally) to 13 in '04 (2nd).

We only saw 10 wins and a couple of clutch touchdown tosses from the veteran QB (the two to Royal in particular), and that changed the Randall narrative forever.

Similar to Randall's Insight Bowl performance, Jackson had a showing in the Camping World Bowl that left fans intrigued. It wasn't as sexy, but with 248 yards and three total touchdowns, it was his best performance in over two months. With Cam Phillips out and Sean Savoy MIA, Jackson found a groove with fellow youngsters Phil Patterson, Eric Kumah, and Hezekiah Grimsley.

The 30-21 loss to Oklahoma State didn't exactly inspired confidence moving forward, but it accomplished the same thing Randall did against Cal. He may not have had nearly 400 yards and four scores, but like his predecessor 15 years earlier, but Jackson showed that he was more than the guy we watched in November.

Which is good, because in 2018 Jackson needs to be much more than that. More than a dude who was white-knuckling his way through the majority of the ACC schedule. And yes, the defensive attrition is bad. Starting two sophomores and a redshirt freshman at the three corner spots isn't ideal, neither is starting two young linebackers. To give Bud Foster's side the help it needs, the offense is going to have to play much better.

But the idea that the necessary scoring production squarely falls on Jackson's right arm isn't true.

Tech does need the offense to stay on the field longer and score with more success, but that charge extends well beyond Jackson. Think back a year ago. How many times were you wowed by something that happened in the open field? Or by a quick cut from a running back? Or by a receiver after the catch?

Not a lot comes to mind. Savoy's 53-yard score against BC, a few Jalen Holston bulldozings, Kumah's stiff-arming of Quin Blanding. There may be a few others that slip my mind, but you get the point. Even the best quarterbacks are helped by their wideouts turning a 5-yard slant into a 15-yard chunk play, or by a tailback making a man miss in the box to turn a 3-yard dive into an 8-yard pick up.

This should be the focus of offensive angst in 2018, not Jackson. Because even if the redshirt sophomore only makes incremental improvements, but his skill players perform better, we could see massive uptick in production.

And how likely is that? The chances are much higher than they may seem.

No, Jackson doesn't have the 2004 talent Randall inherited (at least not that we know yet), but the receiving corps is the deepest it's been since 2007 — when Royal, Morgan, and Harper were all seniors. Damon Hazelton is a man. Even if he struggles separating (we don't know how he'll fair against Power Five corners), he could be a consistent threat underneath. French has already sung Grimsley's praises working out of the slot, and I think Patterson has the best physical tools of anyone out wide.

That's three guys, before even getting to Savoy — who lead all returning receivers in catches, yards, and scores in 2017 — and Kumah. Add in the chance of a contribution from Tre Turner (the best receiving recruit since Royal?) and/or James Mitchell (Bucky Hodges without the position change?) and you're looking at an extremely young, explosive bunch. And it certainly beats the Cam Phillips, James Clark, Henri Murphy trifecta that came into last season as the veteran group.

The same argument could apply for this crop of running backs, too. Though the faces are still the same, there's potential for an improvement in explosiveness that hasn't been there in years past.

Of course, we've done this before. We've played one big game of "find the bellcow" roughly every year since David Wilson left for the NFL in 2011, with each guess becoming a little more desperate. Want to get bummed out? Here's a list of every back who was given the chance to take hold of the starting spot over the last six seasons: (takes deep breath) Michael Holmes, Tony Gregory, Martin Scales, J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds, Marshawn Williams, Shai McKenzie, Travon McMillian, Sam Rogers, Deshawn McClease, Steven Peoples, Jalen Holston (exhales the last remaining oxygen left in my body).

Edmunds and McKenzie were betrayed by their bodies, but outside of that, it's not a great list. It's why in half those seasons (2012, '16, '17) the quarterback lead the team in rushing attempts (before you get on me about the coaching/system change, Paxton Lynch never lead Memphis in carries during his three years as a starter. This is a Virginia Tech problem.)

If we've seen running back roulette since Shane Beamer was manning the boxing glove on a stick, why should we expect anything different now? Two reasons. For one, McClease is as promising as any player on the list above, and he showed what he can do last year. Every time he had more than 10 carries, he averaged over five yards a pop. He may not be a threat to break off a 60-yard scamper, but he's very good at turning minimal gains into medium ones.

Secondly, and I can't believe I'm about to say this, but the offensive line seems to be the

wait hold on.

I'll get the words here in a second.

Triple-checks the next sentence to make sure this isn't a fever dream.

The offensive line seems to be the strength of the offense? Is this real life? The unit has an enticing combination of youth and experience, loads of athleticism, and finally looks like what Vance Vice has been promising since his hire.

If the line is as strong as it seems today, it helps both Jackson and his running backs. If McClease — who's already good at making the most of what he's given — has even bigger holes to run through, he'll have a huge opportunity for success.

Holston's the other wild card here. I don't necessarily see the same promise others do, but there's a reason he played as a true freshman, right? If the sophomore can become the second back behind McClease, and can move the chains in short yardage situations, he'll be extremely valuable.

If it were up to me, I'd ride McClease and Holston. Peoples is a great story. He runs hard, but often runs hard directly into the back of his guard, or runs hard right into the waiting arms of a linebacker. Coleman Fox is also nice, but I don't think he gives you anything that the others can't.

But most importantly, when it comes to big plays (and helping Jackson), McClease and Holston are the best bets. It may not be as sexy as having a Jonathan Taylor or Bryce Love in the backfield, but by consistently moving the ball, they help Jackson tremendously. Not only would it limit the number of third-and-longs he'd have to manage, but it would also limit his carries. And the less Jackson puts his dad-bod into harm's way, the better off he'll be throwing the ball.

Personally, I'm not sure if Jackson has what it takes to carry the brunt of his team's expectations on his shoulders. Not in terms of his mental strength, but simply in terms of his ability. He's not an all-everything Vick-like guy. He's not a highlight machine poster child like Tyrod. He doesn't have the raw ability of a Logan Thomas. He doesn't even have the physical build to carry an offense through sheer force of will like Jerod Evans.

But does that mean I don't think he's capable of guiding the ship while remaining in his comfort zone? Not at all. He's smart. He's athletic enough. He knows where to go with the football, and more importantly, who to go to. How many quarterbacks have we seen use these three traits to tremendous success in their college careers? J.T. Barrett, Drew Stanton, Tajh Boyd, Kellen Moore — all quarterbacks who rode those traits to staggering success. Hell, Ken Dorsey parlayed those exact things into a stint as an NFL starter.

And coupled with an improved supporting cast and lower expectations overall, could 2018 change the way we think about Jackson? Could he take a page out of Randall's book and put forth a season that no one else saw coming?

He'll need his guys to step up, and for things to break the right way. But what if maybe, just maybe, there's a little bit of that 2004 magic still lying around Lane Stadium? And what if Jackson's good enough to use it to his advantage?

Comments

"Their only other win — a 24-23 OT clunker against 1-9 Temple — doubled as the most dire example of the implosion."

I was at that game in Philly vs. Temple....it was so ugly. If my memory is correct, we may have won that game when Temple failed to make an extra point on a TD to re-tie the game. It was a bad day..... but - we did win. TEAM...that's what wins games. Great write up. Made my morning.

JP

Your memory's correct.

I remember that game as well, if only because I caught the flu that day. Turned on the radio to listen to Roth and Burnop do play-by-play then promptly curled up in my bed and went to sleep in the first quarter. When I woke up, the game was in overtime and Temple was lining up to kick the extra point to tie it back up only to miss it and end the game.

I was at that game too and freezing despite huddling together with my girlfriend (now wife) under a blanket we brought in.

Side note: my wife claims a car that turned in front of us into the nearby pro sports facility as we walked over to the stadium that day was none other than Donovan McNabb.

I was there too. It sucked.

My dad had us mulching the damn yard and listening to that sorry excuse for a game. Yard work + almost losing to temple. Not a great day.

Silver linings: the yard looked fantastic and we won the damn game.

"Now Miami wants to talk about it." *Cue Enter Sandman*

First of all, great writing style. That was enjoyable to read. Is it possible that Jackson will be the second coming of Randall this year? Absolutely! This corps of receivers (Hazelton, Kumah, Patterson) are all physical specimens. I would not want to be a DB having to go up against guys that size. Get Savoy and Grimsley working the slot, throw in one, no two, no three TE's that can block and catch, plus an HB, and you have a lot of weapons for Jackson to throw to. Because if you are a defense, that is a lot of different players at different positions to account for. Throw in a physical OL, get some production out of the RB position and you have an offense that will be hard to guard.

The other similarity is that 2004 was when we had an unproven corps of receivers, somewhat similar to this year other than this year has slightly more experience.

If Coach can get everyone on the same page in his simple but deceptive offense. All those weapons in the right place at the right time.

___

-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

One of the best reads in a while did not tldr;, it was perfect, I dont think anyone can argue with any of it..

Nice article. I think JJ caught a lot of criticism that he didn't deserve for last season. Surround him with some reliable and effective weapons and he will change people's perception of him pretty quickly.

Proud author of one plaid comment.

Is it just me or does that Eddie Royal vs. GT TD play look exactly like the Danny Coale vs. Nebraska play?

It is just you.

Definitely the same route (and hand gesture):

True. Similar route.

Royal was standing there (shooting flares) and then cut across the field through 2-3 dudes to score. Coale ran down the sideline and did not score.

similar route, similar defensive calls too, with a short zone by the CB and an out of position safety. After the catch they're very different plays

Coale got past the deep safety for the catch and went straight up the sideline but ended up caught from behind
Royal caught the ball under the safety, made a cut back inside and out ran 3 defenders (with a helpful block) to the opposite side of the endzone

The only real difference is that Tyrod can't throw a deep ball.

/s

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

Very similar looking back. Both games dealt with a VT offense that had been largely lethargic up to that point but then caught absolute fire the rest of the way. Those plays signified the turning point of both seasons.

"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

caught absolute fire the rest of the way.

In the Nebraska game, it was for a whole one minute and twelve seconds. Luckily, it was the best possible minute and twelve seconds for it to happen.

Those plays signified the turning point of both seasons.

"Why gobble gobble chumps asks such good questions, I will never know." - TheFifthFuller

and to be fair, in those 72 seconds, we only gained a total of 3 net yards.

Old sigline: I've been cutting back on the drinking.

New Sigline: lol it's football season.

A few thoughts on Jackson:

- The dude was BEAT up after the Miami game and probably would have sat for a game or two if we had a capable backup. Jackson was playing with injuries last season and I think that hurt is productivity.
- Jackson looked better in the bowl game because he had some time to heal. There is a reason he looked great at the beginning of the season and in the bowl game....he was healthy.
- The loss of Nijman hurt the offense and Jackson lost his protection on the blind side

It was stated in the article, but he'll have more talent to work with this year. Cam is gone, but there is more depth at WR. There will also be more of a threat at the HB/TE position with Keene having more experience. Jackson will also have more experience in the offense.

The dude was BEAT up after the Miami game and probably would have sat for a game or two if we had a capable backup. Jackson was playing with injuries last season and I think that hurt is productivity.

We should have put in Leal...

Ju-Ju Clayton!

This is probably my favorite TKP article I've ever read.

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

TheFifthFuller would like a word. Love me some FOErensics.

"It's a miracle in Blacksburg, TYROD DID IT MIKEY, TYROD DID IT!"

Alright fine.....14-0 HERE WE COME!

Am I doing this right?

ME Class of '16
Facts don't care about your feelings

No - I believe its 15-0!

Can't go 15-0 without first going 14-0

Fantastic article. Found myself reaching for google to re-remember past seasons and players multiple times. Great job reconnecting with our own history and tying it together to provide a little perspective we tend to lose always being focused on the next season. And I had not seen that Al Groh "poem" before, wonderful tidbit of UVA absurdity.

This is a great write up. Thank you for your time and effort for putting it together.

Fantastic article. 2004 was a great season to be a part of (and a student for), because the previous couple seasons had you just waiting for the bottom to fall out, and they kept swing haymakers. The beatdown of Maryland on Thursday in November was a shot across the bow of Hokie Nation that things were different, and the rest is history.

And for the record, I agree with absolutely everything you say, but I have a feeling Jackson could be better than Randall, at least in pure numbers, by the end of this season. If we're able to keep him healthy, he could put up some seriously large numbers this year. People forget just how much he went toe to toe with Will Grier last year, that game was every bit the shootout the Super Bowl was. With an improved set of receivers around him, and an offensive line that (seriously, this isn't real life, right?) should be a position of strength, our offense should be high powered throughout.

What's more interesting is how things are going to go on defense. The biggest knock we have is that we're just very green across the board. Its not that we don't have some great talent, we absolutely do, it just has no experience. But if we can remain in the Division hunt through the midway point, all our big tests are at home.

"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

Jackson should put up better numbers. The two offensive systems are drastically different.

hah! Yeah, well that too

"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

For the record, the super bowl had more passes to quarterbacks (2) than punts (1). Nothing is going to top that as a high profile shootout.

I would say that in my experience of watching VT football the only years I've seen explosive or atleast fairly consistent offenses was Tuh-rods last year (if only our defense had been better that year) and Evans' 1 year at QB. I feel like outside of those 2 years for about the past 10 years our offenses have been meh at best and downright enraging/frustrating at worst.

Fugazy

Good stuff. Best pre season article I've read this year and it's not even close.

And I will never get tired of making fun of this clown, even though he's off in the NFL toting Stromans sweaty jockstrap now.

Kumah's stiff-arming of Quin Blanding.

"Thoroughbred"

VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804.
Rockin the Bakken.

This needs to go plaid.

Low expectations, you say?

VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804.
Rockin the Bakken.

I would love it if he got cut particularly with all the praise the Tech DBs have been getting. But I'm not sure of what the skins' safety situation is, but they are skins so I'll just assume god awful so I'm sure he'll have a chance to make it.

Fugazy

WAT?

Have a little something extra in your morning coffee and mix up which article you were posting on?

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

Lol yeah not sure how that happened. Internet be playing games with me.

Note: I was talking about @uin Blanding

Fugazy

Don't @ him

Great article! Someone hire this guy as the TKP official reporter.

Reach for Excellence!

VT Football: It'll get after ya!

Proud Hokie since 2004.

What's even crazier about 2004 was that 2 of our 3 losses came to the two best teams in the country (USC and Auburn), and we gave each of those teams a run for their money.

Now the NC State loss at home... no justification whatsoever for that one

from my angle that FG looked good at the end of the State game, so I was celebrating for a second before I saw the visiting section in an uproar.

Being from Raleigh, the following 12 months sucked. Thankfully, we handled business in Raleigh in 2005 to set the world straight again. (had seats in the high dollar donor section of Carter-Finley that day. For some reason the girl I was with never called me back).

"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

Sitting in the Corps section of the South End Zone had that field goal looking good. What really pissed me off was their fucking back who would crawl forward for another 2-3 yards every time he got the ball because our defense kept hit-sticking him instead of tackling him to the ground.

and we gave each of those teams a run for their money.

Eh...what I remember about that Sugar Bowl was that we were down 16-0 in the fourth quarter after not being able to do anything for about 50 minutes of gametime. Even though we got 13 points in the final few minutes, there was still a lot of desperation plays going on for any attempted at even a tie.

Who was our FB that was wide open in the corner of the endzone and dropped the pass (or was it poorly thrown)? could have been a different outcome.

Jesse Allen

"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

2 of our 3 losses came to the two best teams in the country (USC and Auburn)

USC was gifted that win

well thanks a lot for that. Now I get to spend the rest of my day pissed off. How do you push off without extending your arms?

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

Such a f'ing terrible call.

It brings back memories of the Danny Coales catch (ruled not a catch) in the 2012 Sugar Bowl against Michigan. Ugh! Do refs just make game critical call against Tech, or is it just my bias?!

That call was atrocious. Unfortunately I have to admit I've somehow seen worse calls though thanks to the NCAA targeting rule.

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

Ncsu sacked us 10 times. That will do it.

God damn and I thought I was doing a great job of tempering my expectations for this season...

THE HYPE TRAIN HAS LEFT THE STATION

This article was... it was perfect. Seriously my favorite article in a long time.

Drink!

Fantastic article. Articles like this make it very difficult for me to keep a lid on my conservative expectations. Let's Go, Hokies!

I was talking to a Hokie buddy on the phone last week and telling him that JJ reminded me of Randall. 2004 was my first year, so I was not as aware of the expectations for the season, I just knew that Tech should have a good team. Winning the ACC was still a surprise and I remember heading downtown to celebrate and getting front row seats in Cassell for the team landing from Miami. That was a great and underappreciated way to kick off the 10-win season streak.

Now if JJ can be the slightly better than game manager type of QB and put the team on his back for a least two wins this year, we will be alright. Either way, the offense this season will be determined by the WRs and RBs. We need some guys to make plays once JJ gets the ball in their hands. FSU will either be eye-opening or confirm a lot of suspicions.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

RB is an interesting thing to me. I might be one of the few who really liked what I saw out of Peoples last year. He seemed to have that ability to get 3 yards every time he touched the ball. Wasn't much good for more than 5-6 yards, and he wasn't going to outrun anyone, but he was the kind of guy who could keep you moving forward. Reminded me a lot of Cedric Humes in 2004 who tenderized the defense to allow everyone else to succeed.

I am hoping we're able to see a lot more of that this year. With the talent we have at receiver, defenses won't be able to load up the box as much, and he should be able to help soften up the interior to keep things going. But maybe that's just me.

"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 OL SHOULD be better this year, too. I'm hoping to see a very efficient running game.

Better OL means all around better offense. It will provide running lanes (for RB's) and protection for Jackson. Logan Thomas suffered from a deficient OL, and it ruined his timing and confidence.

I liked French's assessment of Peoples' running style on a podcast earlier this year. Something to the effect of, "If you need 3 yards, he'll get you 3 and a half. If you need 8 or 9, he'll get you 3 and a half."

Yeah, the only quibble I had with the author was his take on Peoples. He's a tough between the tackles runner. Never seems to run into the back of guard.

He's not some Heisman winner but he's a complementary piece to McClease and Holston.

Running into the back of the guard was McMillian's go to move.

"Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our heart with tolerance."
-Stan Lee

"Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."
-Ron Swanson

"11-0, bro"
-Hunter Carpenter (probably)

Yeah a lot of times I get to an article this long, start reading, eventually skip through and maybe skim paragraphs till the end. This was phenomenally well written, kept me reading through the end.

Just for accuracy's sake, Marcus Vick lived in Chasewood, not Foxridge. I lived in that apartment and slept in that bedroom during my one super senior semester.

Marcus got a LOT of shoe catalogs.

do you remember which apartment? I lived in Chasewood when MV7 was playing

I lived in Chasewood for 2 years and would also like to know/confirm this.

Had a ladyfriend over there so I'd like to know if I was in it as well. I often walked over from Carlton Scott where I lived

I lived in Carlton Scott for 2 years before I lived in Chasewood for a semester. I loved those old apartments. A front and back door was nice too.

It was. And the plentiful free parking and proximity to 7/11

712 Appalachian Drive.....I want to say apartment 6. I remember you walked up the stairs, looked left and it was the apartment on the left of the two. So 2nd floor, left side, parking lot side.

Xavier Adibi lived one floor down and Macho Harris lived on the 3rd floor. He got into some beef with some bad dudes at OC's and my now wife and I woke up to gunfire. They filled Macho's apartment with bullets, but he wasn't home.

Phenomenal write up, love Bryan Randall, great analysis. The one thing that tempers my expectations for the offense is that the only two games where Jackson was great were against woovoo and OkSt. I get and think there is something to the 'he was healthy' thing. BUT. They don't play defense in the BigXII. Seriously. Ever. I watch a lot of OkSt. games (at least in the past I have. There was an asshole in the sports book wearing an OkSt. jersey during the bowl game that I wanted to punch in the mouth, so we'll see if that's changed my view) and none of them play a lick of D.

Old sigline: I've been cutting back on the drinking.

New Sigline: lol it's football season.

This was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed.

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

I was a 1st grader in 2004. My dad took me to the NC State game where Brandon Pace missed that field goal to win the game, and that was the first game where I learned the rules of football and became a diehard Hokie fan. The next weekend I sat on my couch for 3 hours straight and watched the entire VT-WVU game, which, as a 6 year old, is impressive given the average attention span of one. The rest is history. What a fun season that was. My first ever season watching Hokie football was the first in the ACC, the first of eight straight 10-win seasons, the first of 4 ACC Championships, and the first of quite possibly the greatest senior class in the Beamer era and certainly the ACC era.

Marshall University student.
Virginia Tech fanatic.

I actually think Randall is one of the most underappreciated Hokies of all time. That '04 team was legit. That night game against Maryland was such a fun game to watch. Ralph cussing during his post 1st half interview is one of my top 10 tech moments.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-btmPeY47eY

Edit: The WVU and Miami game that year are up there too. Vinnie Fuller cribbing the blocked field goal against WVU and then Randall hitting Eddie across the middle against Miami. Some of the happiest moments of my life.

Bud/Wiles 2020

I had an assignment due at midnight that night. Didn't get it done before the game. Went to the game, had a blast, and certainly didn't rush to get it done instead of celebrating after the game. Turns out that was not an acceptable excuse as far as my professor was concerned.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

To top it off, Frank's mom passed away the night before, so he was coaching with a heavy heart that night, and the team gave it their absolute all in his honor. Maryland never knew what hit em that night.

"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

That MD game was my first Thursday night game. I was in 8th grade. It was so cool. I was so hyped up I didn't even fall asleep on the hour and a half ride home.

2004 might be my favorite season ever. I didn't follow football at all until my freshman year (2003) and that was a rough year to be introduced to hokie football. The next year I watched us get jobbed by the refs against USC and then watched Pace blow it from the South stands against NCSU. The rest of the season was golden. I traveled down to Miami to see Tapp crush the hurricane's dreams then I went to the Sugar Bowl where Auburn returned the favor, but we ALMOST pulled it off (thanks again, Pace).

I'd be more than happy for Jackson to be the second coming of Randall.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

Pace was not very good when the pressure was on. Solid kicker otherwise, but it seemed like every kick that we absolutely had to have was not going in.

Marshall University student.
Virginia Tech fanatic.

I loved that 2004 season! I was living just outside of Raleigh, and all of my NCSU buddies were talking about how Tech was in a real football conference now (I'm not joking), and that they would only ever be mediocre from now on...

I was at the USC game that was robbed by the SEC officiating crew.

And I will never forget that Randall to Royal pass and catch in the Miami game that sealed the ACC title for the Hokies.

One of my favorite seasons. It would be amazing if this 2018 season had some of those similarities!

Is it football season yet?

Randall to Royal against Miami made me go nuts.

Hell of a read. Nice work. Now I can cancel my subscription to the Athletic ;-)

sol-a-rex

animated-arrow-image-0431 Agreed.

Get well!

Lee Suggs!!

Great article! I was at the USC game in 2004 and the Sugar Bowl. Defense played awesome in the Sugar Bowl, offense not so much.

There's a lot of youth on the defense, as we all know, but I am encouraged about the secondary after hearing Coach Nix and Coach Mitchell. How will the linebackers play?

Hokie in West Africa...sadly, I can't jump up and down hard enough for it to be felt in Lane

I'd also add that JJ's performance against Oklahoma State came against the 56th-ranked defense in terms of yards per play allowed. I'm hoping his struggles in November were because he was hurt. Miami's defense was really good, so it's no surprise he'd have a tough go against them. But GT was 58th, Pitt was 88th, and UVA was 51st. JJ went for 153, 218, and 143 yds respectively against those teams. Here's hoping he can turn it around this year.

This was a great article - thanks for writing it.

Regarding the comment that Randall performed about the same his senior year as his sophomore and junior years, I would argue that he was significantly better.

His TD to interception ratio went from just over 1.0 as a sophomore to over 2.0 as a senior (on more attempts). His INT count was lower (albeit 1 or 2) over 60 more attempts.

That tells me two things - one, his decision making was better and two, the coaching staff trusted him (and the talent around him) to make plays. He made 6 throws a game more that year and, based on our record, we weren't playing from behind much. If the staff didn't trust him, we would've run it as much as we did the year before and not been as successful.

I loved the 2004 season for all the reasons this (fantastic) article talked about - exceeding expectations, winning a championship, and finally putting the end-of-season tank jobs to bed. I was at the USC and UMD games, and both were awesome for different reasons.

One thing about Randall that the season stats don't show is that even though his total interceptions were about the same as 2003, they weren't evenly distributed in '04. I'd always remembered it this way so I went back and looked - 6 of them happened in the first 5 games. After the WVU game Randall finally "got it" and stopped throwing INTs; specifically the soul-crushing, throw-a-pick-when-we-can-least-afford-it-and-also-gets-returned-for-a-TD type throws that he seemed to specialize in until then. I think he threw one of those against WVU, but it was the last one of his career.

The rest of that season was when things came together, and when everyone saw the Good Bryan Randall that we remember so fondly. That's a big part of it to me, anyway. Love that guy.

Fantastic article, really fun to read and reminisce. 2004 was my freshman year and it was an absolute blast to watch this team, I also fondly remember the Maryland beatdown that year.

One parallel in the article that got me excited was the list of new players that year included a lot of defensive players (Hall, Adibi, Flowers, Parker). I have the same tempered hope that by the end of their careers we have some new guys coming up this year on defense (especially, LB and DB) that will we will include on lists with those guys.

Great article indeed. This is the time of year to basque in the glow of unbridled optimism.

I gain a lot of hope from your concluding thoughts on other intelligent but physically average QBs. If you've got a smart QB who really knows how to effectively use the tools around him, that can be even more dangerous for a defense than a really athletic guy with just a moderate understanding of how to bring the whole system together. That's pretty much Tom Brady's M.O. right? And they say he's the GOAT.

This is the time of year to basque in the glow

Basque..what? Oh, I get ya:

Thanks for that. I was thinking along the same lines, but I don't gif. Well done, have a leg.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

I've got chills...great article!

But by 2004, the Randall love had cooled. He was (fairly or unfairly) the face of massively underachieving teams in '02 and '03. He was often blamed when the offense sputtered, and it was unclear whether Tech's run-dependant attack was so unbalanced because of Randall (who threw for over 200 yards just five times in 27 games over the two seasons), or Beamer's conservative approach (Randall had over 20 attempts in less than half of those contests over the same period).

I remember thinking there was no way Bryan Randall would be the starting QB after the 2002 season, especially after the WVU game. Tech was down by 3 with less than a minute to go and had driven to the WVU 11 yard line. I was in the south stands (opposite side of the field) thinking that at least we can kick the field goal and take this into OT. Randall immediately throws a pick which sealed the game for WVU. The next year, Marcus Vick arrived and the campus was already clamoring for him to start.

I was really impressed with how Randall handled all the criticism that was thrown at him over those two year and became a really great leader for that 2004 team. I also believe that they could've and should've beaten that Auburn team in the Sugar Bowl.

I will also say, that after re-watching some of the 2004 games via HokieTapes, he definitely left some points out there on the field with some inaccurate passes...

This was a great article.

That's being said, I'm still bearish (as are apparently a lot of people) about this season mainly because "we don't know what we don't know" yet. Someone will emerge as a go-to option for Jackson. Someone will emerge as a bell cow back. There's a lot of young potential on defense but 247 rankings aren't always an indicator of on-field performance. But there isn't anyone outside of the some of the o-line and d-line guys that inspires a ton of confidence because they haven't proven it yet.

Come find me after the FSU game, if we play well I'll definitely change my tune. Otherwise, I'm very skiddish of a coastal run this year.

Great article. Randall played well with no pressure, true. Jackson has a stable behind him chomping at the bit. No games have been played yet and we all at least a tint of maroon on our glasses. I think Jackson will be more consistent and finish the season strong. The team has so many variables, most related to experience, depth, and injuries. I'm sticking with 7, maybe 8 wins for this year. FSU and ND are two big wins, and we will slip up vs the coastal again.

Great article. My issue with the team, other than the obvious losses on defense, is that we still don't have a game breaker on the field on offense. You mention in your article the "bell cow" search that has been ongoing since the departure of D. Wilson, a CLEAR game breaker. So, until I see that potential, I think we will see JJ spin it around the field a lot and distribute well, but points will again be hard to come by cause no one can take it to the house. I really hope I'm wrong.

"I play real sports, not trying to be the best at exercising..." - KP

You will be proven wrong shortly

Kumah's stiff-arming of Quin Blanding.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

He's smart. He's athletic enough. He knows where to go with the football, and more importantly, who to go to. How many quarterbacks have we seen use these three traits to tremendous success in their college careers?

Not just college but many of the top NFL QBs fit this description as well. Brady, Brees, and Peyton Manning, especially later in their careers, don't come close to having the best physical tools but they still win lots of games. I don't expect Jackson to ever be at that level but I do think the offense could be efficient and highly productive with him under center.

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

I love watching 2004 highlights for the uniforms alone.

This is a really well written article and it has me filled with hope for the upcoming season, but its discounting one major factor...

Bryan was not only a Senior, he was also a really experienced Senior. Bryan was also rightly an extremely highly ranked recruit squandered by any sort of developmental QB coaching by the staff at that time.

I think JJ has some nice ability, but his 'dad bod' is downright troubling. Facta non verba? Showing up to camp with a 'dad bod' doesn't scream leadership or maturity.

Great article but I'm going to be the grumpy old man and throw some cold water on this whole notion that JJ can hold the jock of one of our greatest QBs in school history. This is almost as silly as when Chris Ellis was equating himself to be the next Bruce about 12 years ago in preseason. Bruce shut that down fast, Bryan is far too nice to do so.

Don't Try To Describe The Ocean If You've Never Seen It...

One another thing that BLBVT brought up but will not post here....

Josh Jackson doesn't have the 2004 Edition of Bud Fosters Demonic Defensive Wrecking Crew.

Nothing in this article references that defense. Those USC and Auburn teams would destroy him.

Still, a well written article.

Don't Try To Describe The Ocean If You've Never Seen It...

I'm in the same mindset, generally. Randall didn't have much pressure waiting behind him to take over the reigns like Jackson has. There is a loaded stable of young gunslingers waiting for their opportunity. The comparison between teams tends to make the maroon glasses a little more Chicago maroon. Jackson will have a lot of pressure, especially if the defense falters. The year of experience will be invaluable this season, but I am not sure we win over 7 games.

I had a boatload of confidence heading into the 2004 season. I was still upbeat after the off-season suspensions that catapulted BR into the starting role (enforcing rules is a good thing)

There were too many players, on that very talented 2003 team, that were poisonous to team unity and chemistry. Plus I knew that the 2004 defense was going to be nasty.

Not as bullish on this squad yet. JJ starting FSU makes sense, but if he struggles, 87.3% of this board will be requesting , nay demanding, a change.

"Hamdog is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life"....Brian Carson from the Internet(s)

Oddly specific stats you have there.

Not as bullish on this squad yet. JJ starting FSU makes sense, but if he struggles, 87.3% of this board will be requesting , nay demanding, a change.

Then it's a good thing 100% of Fuente makes 0% of decisions based on this board.

My favorite game of 2004 was the 4th Quarter come-from-behind win that Bryan Randall engineered against GT. That was when he really sealed his legacy, in my opinion. At the time, I was running a company in Canada. The only way that I could get the game was by listening to the audio on my laptop in my Hampton Inn room. I always wondered if other hotel guests could hear me banging on the desk yelling "Go! Go!", and decided that this woman must have found a way to have a good time....

Awesome article and very well written, but as players, I don't see the similarities there at all. Randall was a hell of an athlete and had a big time arm. Most people forget that he played basketball at VT. It was the mental part of the game that held him back until the latter part of his career. JJ on the other hand, is basically the opposite. He's a passable athlete, but is and always will be a cerebral player. While he might have the ability to someday become the quality of player that Bryan was, they will have taken very different paths to get there and will be very different players.