Tech Tidbits: How Can the Hokies Upset the Irish?

Examining Tech's potential trouble on the defensive line, and beating the dead horse that is the ECU game.

[Mark Umansky]

What a difference a week makes.

A short seven days ago, the sky was falling in Blacksburg. Now, the "Ryan Willis for Heisman" t-shirts are busily being printed up by Hokies fans everywhere.

Well, the latter might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Just about everyone watching the program figured that how Virginia Tech responded on the road against a ranked opponent after the ODU loss would shape the rest of the reason, and Justin Fuente and company delivered.

Bud Foster rightly deserves a ton of credit for making that change happen. He has, time and again, shown an ability to draw up the right scheme to thwart even the most talented opponents, no matter the personnel he has on hand.

Only a handful of defensive coordinators on Earth could make this sort of thing happen, there is no doubt.

But I will reserve a moment of praise as well for Fuente and Brad Cornelsen for handling Willis' transition to the starting job.

They, rightly, took a ton of criticism for how they handled the offense and the play-calling against ODU. For as bad as the defense was, the offense's inability to turn the tide (even when Jackson was still in the game) was equally baffling.

Just as Foster delivered a gem, don't discount the job the offensive staff did either. The Hokies' wide receivers made a ton of great plays in one-on-one matchups, but all credit goes to Fuente and Cornelsen for helping draw up a game plan that helped Willis find those matchups and play within himself.

For all that good work, of course, they're rewarded with their toughest test of the season in a Notre Dame team that suddenly looks primed for a playoff berth — so long as they can get past the Hokies, of course.

After seeing the way the Irish thumped Stanford, it feels like a bit much to ask for the Hokies to win this one as well.

Consider that if Notre Dame should win in Blacksburg, their toughest test left on the schedule is some combination of a road game at Northwestern, a neutral site game against Syracuse or the road finale against USC (which has had its own fair share of problems recently). Suffice it to say, Brian Kelly has a lot more riding on this game than the Hokies do, at this point.

But nothing would make more sense in this dumb universe of ours than the Hokies losing to ODU, then winning the biggest game on the schedule. I won't ever discount the power of Lane Stadium in a night game, even if the Irish look awful daunting right now.

Let's get into the nitty gritty.

Preparing for a World Without Houshun Gaines

Fresh off Houshun Gaines playing the most dominant game of his career against Duke, he gets hit with the brutal news that his mother has passed away. An awful development for him, to say the least.

Foster told reporters Tuesday that the team is rightly leaving the decision up to Gaines about whether or not he wants to play Saturday. While he could always opt to focus on football, I think it's entirely fair to assume that Gaines will need to be with his family through all this.

That, of course, would create another sticky situation for the Hokies on the defensive line. Foster only gets one game to adjust to the loss of Trevon Hill before he has another (albeit more temporary) absence to confront, and it could be quite meaningful.

After all, the Irish have quite the formidable offensive line — consider that the unit is earning rave reviews from the coaches, even after losing multiple first-round offensive linemen from a year ago! The group does lose talented left guard Alex Bars to a season-ending injury, but this is still quite the challenge for Tech's front seven to confront.

So, not exactly the easiest game to be shuffling in ever-more experienced defensive linemen. Foster had some kind words for both Emmanuel Belmar, who started in Hill's place last Saturday, and Tyjuan Garbutt, another key contender for more snaps.

But should Gaines miss this game against the Irish, after proving so versatile and aggressive against Duke, those two will need to take their games to yet another level if the Hokies have any hope of pulling the upset.

At least it seems that Vinny Mihota is making progress, getting a few snaps against the Blue Devils, even if his future remains murky.

The secondary, of course, will face its own challenges, considering that Ian Book seems to have provided some real juice to the passing attack in taking over for Brandon Wimbush.

That group certainly recovered well against Duke — aided in part by a healthy Divine Deablo, who said Tuesday it was an ankle injury that kept him out against ODU — and it will need to stay steady on Saturday.

A Defining Moment for the Offensive Line

Notre Dame's strength on the offensive line might be matched, or even surpassed, by the Irish's excellence on the other side of the ball.

Their defensive line, headlined by DT Jerry Tillery, has helped power the unit to become one of the country's most formidable defenses. It may very well be the best such group the Hokies confront all year (unless, by some miracle, a game against Clemson is in this team's future).

So this game is also shaping up to be critical for the offensive line, which was excellent against the Blue Devils. The group allowed just one sack all night, an absolutely critical feat for ensuring Willis' success as he got his feet wet as starter.

They'll need to be just as good in pass protection against Notre Dame, and even sharper in the run game, a real deficiency for the team, as French so capably lays out in his latest film review. The running game generated just over 100 yards against the Blue Devils, and (surprisingly) it was Willis who carried the offense. That might not necessarily fly against a defense like Notre Dame's, and balance will certainly help avoid him feeling like he needs to do too much.

At least, it seems, the constant shuffling favored by Vance Vice in the early going is slowing down. It always made sense that the rotation would come into focus by the time the meat of the schedule rolled around, and Fuente confirmed that the current group (with Christian Darrisaw sticking at left tackle over Silas Dzansi) is the one he hopes to stick with.

"I think that is where it's settling down," Fuente told reporters Monday. "We still have Silas (Dzansi) who should be good to go. Our performance was good at times, I felt that everywhere to be honest with you. We showed glimpses of really doing things well, then at times I'm disappointed. I felt that we let some people off the hook and we could have hurt them with a little bit of execution on some bigger plays. I think that's the lineup that we're kind of leaning towards."

The ECU Saga, Somehow, Continues

I honestly had hoped that I wouldn't spend one more second of my life fretting over the canceled ECU game, but here we are.

Rather than leaving Dec. 1 open for a makeup game with the Hokies, the Pirates agreed to fill that empty slot on their schedule by heading to NC State, to help the Wolfpack make up their canceled game against WVU.

This is a perfectly rational thing for the Pirates to do (I'm sure that NC State dangled quite the paycheck, especially because they seem set to have a decent season, and playing ECU will likely make that record look even rosier).

But it's just another thumb in the eye for the Hokies, who now have to find their own potential opponent for Dec. 1 (should the Coastal not go their way and bowl eligibility look in doubt).

When this kerfuffle first got going, I was inclined to think that ECU was doing the right thing in canceling the game, and I wasn't especially thrilled with the petty statement the Hokies put out in the wake of it. At the time, Hurricane Florence looked like the real deal, and it made sense for ECU to be cautious.

But then we learned that ECU was holed up in Orlando to wait out the storm, rather than letting any local players be close to home with their families. I see plenty of reasons to go be close to Tampa, the site of the team's next game, with such uncertain weather. But any high-minded explanations for why that game needed to be canceled flew out the window with that decision.

It was insult to injury when the storm's path shifted and neither Blacksburg nor Greenville looked all that impacted by the hurricane — difficult to predict, but hardly helping matters.

This latest move is just one last twist that does not reflect especially well on ECU. Tech's side of things bears some blame for its initial handling of the matter, and it should perhaps be no great surprise that a program would chase a big payday rather than try to help out a rival.

But in terms of public relations, this just makes the Pirates look even smaller. Perhaps it's no great surprise that their athletic department is under interim leadership right now, and might not be firing on all cylinders in the wake of AD Jeff Compher's firing earlier this year.

As for the Hokies, I think there's only one solution: give JMU a call, see what they're up to on Dec. 1. Can't suffer two embarrassing losses one season, right?

I leave you with a fun image of Bud Foster, getting a bit too humble here.

Comments

I think if we score more points than the Leprechauns we should definitely pull off the upset.

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

Strong analysis.

das skrong!

Well, that all depends on TOP

Joe Morgan once said that the Red Sox couldn't beat the Rays by outscoring them, but maybe you're onto something

Chem PhD '16

Big, if true

"For those who have passed, for those to come, reach for excellence."

Profound wisdom you have, trust you I will

I'm glad you figure this out! ;-)

All you damn young-ins only know Madden as a video game, lol

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

Technically he never left. When his contract ran out they just hired a new guy.

Let's get into the nitty gritty.

Chem PhD '16

Court is now is session!

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

The ECU Saga, Somehow, Continues

"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

Why does JMU keep coming up in this possible 12/1 game??? They are no longer an afterthought and are the cream of the FCS crop. The 2017 FCS playoffs began the last week of Nov., so unless the sky falls in Harrisonburg too, they're going to be a little too busy for VT that week.

I know everybody wants another crack at JMU, but get over it as them as a 12/1 "possible opponent".

Having a conversation with you is like a Martian talking to a Fungo.

#JustinTime

Also, in the slight chance we need a 6th win to be bowl eligible, JMU wouldn't be useful in that situation, since W&M will already count as the 1 FCS win included in the 6 wins.

We need to try and schedule a FBS team, just in case we need to pull a 2017 FSU.

If a non-FCS win becomes a requirement for VT to become bowl eligible, then I will be too depressed to go to the bowl game anyways. Or rather, hospitalized due to liver failure.

Not sure if it's to become bowl eligible, or if it's to regain revenue lost from the initially scheduled game.

Twitter me

What I don't get is why anyone wants to attempt JMU revenge in a year where we already embrrassed ourselves against a similar opponent in similar fashion to the JMU debacle.

Zero interest in JMU. Power 5 or nothing.

If Gaines is out does Bud play more zone coverage or does he still rely on our young DBs to cover man-to-man knowing the ND QB should have more than average time to throw? NDs newest QB does not look like the run threat that Wimbush would have been so I think the LBs can comfortably drop into coverage without worrying about getting gashed by a QB run.

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

Ian Book runs really well actually.

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

Would you say his speed is...deceptive?

Cerebrally so.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

It's specifically zone that we've struggled in. I think if we pull the upset this week, it's going to have to be because the offense plays out of their minds.

"I liked you guys a lot better when everybody told you you were terrible." -Justin Fuente

Maybe it's just because I've seen Bud own Kelly on multiple occasions, but I have an unwarranted amount of hope for this game.

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

I just want my ticket money back to put towards ACCCG tickets or Christmas presents.

And I want ECU to fall into the ocean. I hope Whit uses this as leverage to tell ECU to go pound sand.

So that leaves us with only 8 fully active defensive lineman if Mihota is still out. That doesn't sound terrible except when you realize there is only 1 left that has any meaningful snaps prior to this year.

I know how we upset them.... someone dress up as Jim Harbaugh.

I don't know what a Hokie is but God is one of them (excluding JMU/ODU)- Lee Corso

With Gaines out, doesn't bode well. Terrible tragedy to happen (regardless of timing). I'm sure the guys will fight & play. But with Gaines out, I just don't see them having the guns to pull it off. Plus, now ND has more film on Willis.
For me, it's about the schematics, stats & execution of strategy. They'll have to play an almost perfect game to win. It's undoubtedly a favorable matchup for the Irish. The statistical room for errors in this game for the Hokies (which wasn't that sizable to begin with) has just decreased even further.

The team will absolutely have to play no less, or greater than, the level of intensity the fans bring to the stadium, in order to win.

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

It may very well be the best such group the Hokies confront all year (unless, by some miracle, a game against Clemson is in this team's future).

I don't think it's going to take a miracle to win the Coastal. Let's not forget that Miami has won the Coastal once in 13 tries. That's only slightly more often than UVA beating us.

I, too, was confused why it would be a miracle.

Plus, to add on to your point about Miami, there is potential for their last 4 games (vs Duke, @ GT, @ VT, vs Pitt) to turn into a minefield for them. The Coastal is still too much of a question mark to say it's going to take a miracle for VT to win it.

But nothing would make more sense in this dumb universe of ours than the Hokies losing to ODU, then winning the biggest game on the schedule

I mean, the last time we lost to the worst team on our schedule we then won every game against ACC opponents. This wouldn't be the strangest confluence of events to transpire in Blacksburg.

I hope House does whatever is best for him, it is not easy losing a parent. It's so crazy between Houses' mom passing, the Beamer statue being unveiled, and a game that has been anticipated for years on top what has already happened this season, Lane is going to be a special kind of crazy on Saturday I believe. I'm jealous of everyone who will be there.

Also...Fuck ECU, that is all.

Yeah, while the competitor in me wants him to suit up, I actually, ultimately, want him to go & be with his family. I bet Savoy is lending support as well.

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

Having lost both of my parents, I know the deal. I reacted differently each time, and couldn't have explained why. I think everyone knows the reaction to such a personal loss is extremely individual, and by definition, personal. How he chooses to deal with his particular situation is how it should be. Our job as fans who don't know him or his family, is to stay neutrally supportive. I believe we all feel this way.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Well this is a surprise.

I'm actually not that surprised. How often do we see athletes play through their tragedies? Hope we do anything we can for the rest of his fam and his brothers on the team pick him up.

That's promising to hear. My thought on that, is that best for his heart, mind & soul? I really wish he'd go to be with his immediate fam.

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

I really wish he'd go to be with his immediate fam.

No one (external) can say what the appropriate/right thing to do in a situation like this. I can see that going home to be with family and grieve the loss of her is the right thing for House to do. But I can also see that, for himself, and for his close family who probably know how much football means to him, how much him playing football (probably) meant to his mother, and how much he means to this team, playing to honor her on Saturday could be the right thing. I mean, look at Brett Favre when he played the day after his father died. All I am saying is that we shouldn't hope for him to do one thing or the other, but instead hope that he makes the decision that is best for him and his grieving process, and that no one blames him one way or the other.

Obviously a completely different situation, but I ran the 3.2 for 32 the day after my father passed a couple years ago. Sometimes it's good to be able to do something that takes your mind completely off the situation when you're in the midst of something like this.

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

I don't find that to be that different at all. At the end of the day you're with people you care about doing something that means something to you.

I have used this coping method my whole life.

To add to this, regarding his immediate family, he might think this game is not only an escape for himself, but something positive for his whole family to rally around. It might do them all some good to spend 3 hours watching him thrive on the football field after such a tough couple weeks.

Often times it's the only place where an athlete can find true comfort. It's not the first nor last time an athlete has made this choice.

It's totally up to him how he chooses to handle it.

I think ultimately none of us know what's best for him and the only person who does is himself. The two sides of the argument I can see is:

Playing: You can imagine very few things made his mom prouder than seeing her son succeed in a sport he has dedicated himself to and she would want her son to continue to play and excel.

Not playing: Loosing your mother is one of the hardest things a person may have to go through in their life and if they have to go through it, they should be surround by the people who loved both her and you the most to cope with it.

Whatever he decides I hope it's the right decision for him.

At the end of the day, its none of our business on the reasoning for him making whatever decisions he wants, either now or later. I am not comfortable at all with people trying to psychoanalyze his decision making process to determine his mental state.

If he wants to play, let him play.

"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

I know, and I wasn't trying to. I was just reflecting on a recent loss I went through back in August with my grandmother. I know he's his own person and all.

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

I'm pretty sure he stepped away to be with them for a few days, but I wouldn't be surprised if he went back to campus before Friday.

What a tough kid. I can't imagine what he's going through. I hope he has the best game of his life in front of the whole country.

I haven't seen any footage of the spring game but know Willis put up a ton of yards then so I would like to ask; does he have more in the can - is what we saw last Saturday night all he can do? As mentioned by many the film is out on him and ND must be expecting that to some extent we will make some attempt again this week at our own version of the McNeil/Carden plan. That then begs the next question: what else do we have - is there more to this offense than we have seen this season and the previous two? If the answer to those questions is yes, this is the game Fu and Co. must take the pieces they have and unleash hell, no holds barred. I don't think Notre Dame is coming in to fold. We will need our best game plus. My 2 cents.

"The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. " Rocky B.

I think Willis does have more in the can, but not throwing. He was terrible at the RPO, made the wrong read a number of times against Duke. If he can get that right and make the defense pay with his legs when they sell out on the run, he can open up the offense further. I don't think the one game of film on him will tell ND everything they need to know and they would be unwise to assume that Coach Corn won't remember what he called and work the alternative play options all night.

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

My biggest question with those plays were if they were truly RPO's or if they were called runs from the beginning. If they were RPO's then definitely, he was bad at making the correct read, but I could also see the coaches trying to simplify things for him that first game and calling more designed hand-offs. I feel like he ran the RPO much better in the ODU game. Hopefully he keeps it some against ND to keep them honest.

Another note on Willis, I just hope his success last week didn't go to his head. There were a lot of quotes from him and Fuente before the Duke game about playing within himself and not trying to do too much. I would guess that's when the turnovers come out. I just hope if we get down or face adversity he doesn't try and overcompensate.

My biggest question with those plays were if they were truly RPO's or if they were called runs from the beginning. ... but I could also see the coaches trying to simplify things for him that first game and calling more designed hand-offs.

My question is now that RPOs are much more common, why would you ever do a standard handoff? If the threat of the QB hanging on to the ball causes one defender to hesitate or be out of place, why wouldn't you do that almost every time?

The Poster Formerly Known As The Spirit Of Bernard Basham

Hope we show more offensive kinks than that clemson game

CJF on the ACC Conference Call

edit:

Now finish up them taters; I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters.

Also, s/o to ND for the thoughtful gesture! The follow-up tweet stated that someone just went over and did it!

Another white bronco? The first one didn't go too far.

That is beyond classy & extremely touching gesture of them.

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

As much as I grew up hating ND for their history, independence, sweet heart deals the more I have been exposed to their real fanbase, etc, they have some real class acts.

I think this game will come down to our WRs winning one on one battles like they did last week. Based on how well Notre Dame contained Bryce Love, the run game looks like a lost cause. If I remember correctly when I watched Stanford earlier in the year they were pretty reliant on Arcega Whiteside, so hopefully our stable of receivers matches up better. On defense I'm more concerned about their run game than Ian Book, they were basically running at will against Stanford.

I don't doubt that ND has the capability to shut down our run game, but Stanford has been struggling to get Bryce Love going this year. Teams are keying in on stopping the run and daring them to pass the ball.

"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

Joke's on ND: we don't have a run game for them to shut down!

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

One team playing with nothing to lose, the other playing to not lose everything. I think I've seen this narrative before...

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

Reminds me of what one ODU fan said to me after the game "Dare to Dream of doing something Great, we sure did"

“I'm addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn't matter”~steven wright

I tend to be a realist about most everything in life, including VT football. I know the recent record we have in Lane against P-5 opponents, and I know the recent record we have in Lane against ranked opponents. But -

This team has has something eerily 2004esque about it. They responded in a profound way against Duke just one week removed from, arguably, the worst loss in program history. The team showed a ton of grit and discipline. They didn't relent at any point in the game (the Rambo TD was a microcosm of what I'm getting at). And while the jury is still out on Willis, the stage wasn't too big for him. I think we continue to see growth this week.

I also happen to think that even if our boys are outclassed by higher ranked, more experienced players, we have a distinct advantage in the coaching staff.

Saturday is gonna be a good day!

Is it football season yet?

Y'know, history is just that, history. The past isn't necessarily an indicator of the future in college sports because every year, the players, coaches and programs change. Letting oneself become mired in past statistics is a fool's game and it's time we let our present do our talking, not our past. Sure looks good for ND, but not because of our history. Let's write this year's entry in the books and start something new.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Y'know, history is just that, history. The past isn't necessarily an indicator of the future in college sports because every year, the players, coaches and programs change.

via GIPHY

If we're talking about 2004. However, I don't want it to be true if we're talking about 2003.

The Poster Formerly Known As The Spirit Of Bernard Basham

LPD ball out for HZGFrom252.

In case Gaines is not available, put Hunter (225#) at DE

Hokies, Local Soccer, AFC Ajax, Ravens

Debose, Proctor, and Garbutt would like a word

Saw video on twitter showing House back at practice

I don't understand anyone being sad about ECU scheduling someone else. It's like we're dating and they broke up with us right before we broke up with them and now we're mad about it?? Nope, move on, and end the series but do not replace them with JMU, ODU, Liberty, or anyone else who plays in a high school stadium.

Nah, more like they broke up with us just before a cruise we were supposed to go on together, and then took the tickets and are bringing someone else.

And we already prepaid for 6 more cruises in the future, and God-damn if we aren't going to go just to prove a point, even if it means sharing a room each time.

This. None of us are mad about not getting to play them, it's the way they weaseled out of it that's not sitting well. As others have said, if anything, this is an opportunity for us to drop the series completely if played the right way.

21st century QBs Undefeated vs UVA:
MV7, MV5, LT3, Jerod Evans, Michael Brewer, Tyrod Taylor, Sean Glennon, and Grant Noel. That's right, UVA. You couldn't beat Grant Noel.

12/1 - Let's take another shot at Tennessee!

Ahhh I can get on board with that...a lil payback from Bristol.

PDXHokie

Honestly I'd rather play Clemson.

We got this!

It's all about The VPISU
VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804.
Rockin the Bakken.
GO: Freeman Rebels, Keydets, Black Knights (the VMI of the North), NY Rangers & Giants, and ATL Braves.

just printed that out and put it up in my office that I share with a Notre Dame grad.

Just score more points than the Irish. That's how we win.