There seems to be one stinker every year for Virginia Tech football against a team that the Hokies should have beaten. Last year it was in the Sugar Bowl against Michigan. The year before that it was against James Madison at home. The year before that it was against UNC on Thursday night in Lane Stadium. The year before that it was an opening season loss against East Carolina. See the trend here?
This is why Virginia Tech hasn’t gotten at national championship. This is why, every year, Virginia Tech fans leave at least one game with a terrible taste in their mouth. It all seems too familiar – to the point that I’m not surprised that Virginia Tech lost this game. We’ve all seen heard this story before, and we knew how it would end.
I’m going to do my best not to spew some knee-jerk reactions, or overreact and act like this is the end of Virginia Tech’s season after a 35-17 loss at Pittsburgh. However, there are some things that need addressing, and have for some time now. These are my musings after yesterday’s loss.
The Offensive Line
This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has watched Virginia Tech football recently. The offensive line just has not played up to snuff lately – and this goes back further than this year. We all knew Virginia Tech offensive lines of year’s past weren’t great, but perhaps, like Peyton Manning did in Indianapolis, Tech’s history of NFL-caliber running backs have been disguising just how poorly the group as a whole is.
This goes beyond the players too. This one starts at the top with Curt Newsome. Virginia Tech’s blocking scheme just doesn’t translate well to the NFL, and there’s a reason why our linemen struggle with it year-in and year-out. Virginia Tech has been “making a living” from turning converted tight-ends into Division I-A offensive linemen, and throwing them in with three-star and under offensive line recruits. Combine this with a wildly ineffective zone-blocking scheme and you have a recipe for disaster.
Against Pittsburgh the Hokies struggled to get a push up front, something that they haven’t done in the first three games. For the third straight game, the Hokies failed to convert a 4th and 1 situation. And while that is as much the fault of Michael Holmes as it is the offensive line, that group must do better at getting leverage when Virginia Tech needs it most. They haven’t done it all season, and there’s no reason to expect that to change moving forward.
We all know Stinespring has been under his fair share of heat over the years, but perhaps it’s time we place some heat on Newsome to step his game up. The entire offense hinges on his group’s ability to do their job, and so far they’ve done a very mediocre job of it. Which brings me to Logan Thomas…
I’m not going to throw Thomas completely under the bus here, because the wide receivers and running backs were laughably bad today against the Panthers (there’s no reason why wide receivers should be running into each other during routes).
However, it’s time for us to seriously start to question what is up with Thomas this year. In three games Thomas has looked erratic while throwing the ball. His footwork doesn’t appear refined in any way despite working with a very highly touted quarterbacks coach in California this off-season, he doesn’t seem to be working through his progressions completely, he seems to be hell-bent on forcing balls through tight windows (which resulted in one interception today), and he keeps throwing high and wide of his receivers (which resulted in two interceptions today).
I’m not a quarterback coach or expert by any means, but it doesn’t take a trained eye or an intense breadth of knowledge about the fundamentals to see that Logan has regressed from last season, at least to this point through three games.
Granted, it took Thomas until the Miami game last season to fully hit his stride and get into a groove (remember all the calls for Mark Leal last year?). Maybe Logan, just like Virginia Tech’s offense as a whole, is a slow starter. At this point in the season though, I’m inclined to believe that Thomas will be back for his senior season at Virginia Tech. I just can’t see him as a first round draft pick with the way he’s been playing thus far.
But this loss isn’t solely on the offense either. The defense needs to shoulder a ton of the blame here.
The Defense As A Whole
For all we heard this off-season about how this should be one of Virginia Tech’s best defenses ever, they sure haven’t been playing like it.
This group played well against Georgia Tech in the season opener, but hasn’t been the same since. The toughness that was displayed in that game has been suspiciously absent against Austin Peay and now Pittsburgh.
There’s absolutely no reason why a team that can rotate 8-10 very solid defensive linemen should be getting beaten off the line by what appears to be a wholly inferior offensive line group for Pittsburgh. This is an offensive line that struggled to get push against Youngstown State and Cincinnati. How in the world did they put it all together against the no. 13 team in the country, who has one of the best defensive coordinators in the country?
The linebacking core, despite the injuries, has looked very slow so far. Sure, Jack Tyler has a lot of tackles, but he’s a liability in pass protection, as is Bruce Taylor at this point. Jeron Gouveia-Winslow has looked good so far, but his responsibilities aren’t tailored to stopping the run. That aspect of the defense has been the Achilles heel for the Hokies so far.
In their past two games against Austin Peay and Pittsburgh, this defense has given up 413 total rushing yards (159 against Austin Peay and 254 against Pittsburgh). In the past two games, the Hokies’ opponents are averaging 4.3 yards per carry. For a defense that was supposed to have so much talent up front, this is beyond disappointing.
Beyond that though, the Hokies have looked weak defending against the pass too. Antoine Exum looks completely out of his element at field corner, and perhaps the coaching staff should consider ending that experiment. Dietrick Bonner looked miserable today, getting beaten multiple times deep at safety. For someone that played corner up until this season, I expected better ball skills from Bonner. I realize that Bonner is coming off injury, but that’s no excuse for the other two games.
The Hokies were really hurt today by losing Kyle Fuller early in the game. Fuller is easily Virginia Tech’s best pure open-field tackler, and perhaps he should be explaining to the rest of the defense how to do that.
Frankly put, this defense looks soft. Former All-American Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore shared those same sentiments on Twitter after the game.
"“Hokie defense is just soft and sweet as deer meat right now. #pathetic #idontlike”–Corey Moore, former Virginia Tech defensive end"
If Bud Foster can’t light a fire under this defense’s ass, it could be a very long season with games against Florida State and Clemson still coming.
These out-of-conference games are no longer “tune-up” games. These are all must-win games from here on out. Luckily for Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh isn’t in the ACC just yet. Beamer can talk his usual coach speak and mention how Pittsburgh was a good team and how the team needs to execute better. But after every loss, it’s always the same rhetoric. By all accounts, Pittsburgh isn’t a good team, and now there are some serious questions about whether Virginia Tech is. Perhaps it’s time to end the rhetoric and take some action instead.