If you missed our coverage from Virginia Tech’s 27-24 loss to Cincinnati yesterday, you can get to all of it here.
Now for five more thoughts about the game:
1. The slow starts have become a major, major problem
Slow starts are nothing new for Virginia Tech. It’s been a problem for a while now, but the Hokies have had a larger margin for error in the past, with a team that could routinely overcome it. This year’s group does not appear to be of that caliber, so handing opponents a 15- or 30-minute headstart is proving costly. Columnist Aaron McFarling took Frank Beamer to task for his non-answers on the subject afterward. And he’s right. It’s as if Beamer is in denial. Beamer doesn’t have to kowtow to the “Fire Stiney!” crowd — and they’re out in full force right now — but he at least has to acknowledge that there’s an issue with the way the offense starts games and address it.
I joking tweeted that Virginia Tech should have a scrimmage in the parking lot before the game to get its struggles out of the way. That was obviously tongue in cheek, but something has to change about the way the Hokies prepare themselves for playing early in games. We’ve often heard from play-caller Mike O’Cain that it takes Virginia Tech time early in the game to adjust to what defenses are doing. That’s not the mindset of a lot of offenses, which script plays ahead of time and force the defense to adjust to them. It might be simplistic thought, but perhaps a more decisive offensive game-plan out of the gate would make a difference. Virginia Tech certainly looks tepid with what it’s doing out of the gate.
2. The Hokies need to look Marcus Davis’ way more often.
It was early in the third quarter I think, after Cincinnati wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins caught one of his many passes, McFarling turned to me and said, “The Hokies need to use Marcus Davis like Cincinnati uses him.” And it’s true. Thompkins was a terror for the Virginia Tech secondary. The Bearcats targeted him 17 times. He caught seven passes for 134 yards and a touchdown and drew three penalties that resulted in first downs.
Davis, at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, is every bit the threat Thompkins is, but Tech uses him far less frequently. Davis was targeted only seven times Saturday. He was productive when the Hokies looked his way, with five catches for 101 yards, including a 50-yarder that put Tech in business deep in Cincinnati territory (it would turn it over, though). Davis had one catch for three yards through two and a half quarters, and quarterback Logan Thomas didn’t look in his direction a couple times when Davis was running free in the secondary. That can’t happen.
The Hokies have all sorts of sweeps and reverses specifically designed to get Dyrell Roberts involved. Why not do the same with Davis? I realize he’s had problems looking the ball all the way in on wide receiver screens in the past. And coaches always point out his consistency as lacking, which might account for some of low production in the first half Saturday. But outside of Thomas, he’s the Hokies’ most dynamic threat on offense, and he needs to touch the ball more. Even if it’s throwing the ball deep to him, it’s worth a shot. He was interfered with on the deep pass but caught it anyway. Tech could afford to take a few more shots where Davis simply has a chance to go up and make a play based on sheer athleticism. He might make the catch. He might draw a flag. The point is, he might do something. Cincinnati gave Thompkins multiple opportunities to do that Saturday. Tech did on occasion with Davis, but not nearly enough.
3. The passing defense is much more vulnerable than expected, and it’s heading into a very difficult stretch.
Munchie Legaux, who had not thrown for more than 217 yards in any game of his brief career, threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 13 seconds left. The last quarterback to torch Virginia Tech for that many yards? Cal’s Aaron Rodgers in the 2003 Insight Bowl, a 52-49 loss that is noted as a turning point in defensive coordinator Bud Foster‘s career, when Virginia Tech went away from an eight-man front because of the rise of passing offenses in college football.
What everyone saw Saturday was a Virginia Tech defense selling out to stop Cincinnati’s run and leaving its cornerbacks on an island to play man defense on the outside. They were overmatched. Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum, with little to no safety help, routinely gave up big plays in the passing game. And there’s little to no depth. When freshman Donaldven Manning entered the game for a cramping Fuller, he was immediately exposed with two passes that went for 59 yards and a touchdown. The Hokies will need to adjust something on the back end, particularly with the schedule coming up. The next month features games against North Carolina, Duke and Clemson, followed by a Thursday nighter at Miami, which suddenly has a fearsome passing offense. If Virginia Tech doesn’t come up with some answers in the secondary soon, it’s going to be a long month of football.
4. Could Virginia Tech revisit Antone Exum’s situation at cornerback?
Exum had a miserable day Saturday, targeted early and often. His frustration boiled over and he was also flagged four times — twice for pass interference, twice for facemasks — in what was a forgettable day. But does Tech have any other options back there? Beamer stood by Exum as a cornerback afterward, probably because the Hokies have few alternatives to him at cornerback. The thought by many is that Exum could move back to safety or rover, with Detrick Bonner or Kyshoen Jarrett going back to corner. But Jarrett has excelled at rover, and Bonner has spent the last nine months working at safety. Moving him back to corner might stunt both his and Exum’s development even more. And both are essentially playing cornerback when Tech goes to the nickel package anyway (Michael Cole comes in at safety). The Hokies played tons of nickel Saturday and, with teams that like to spread things out coming up on the schedule, figure to give that look frequently in the next month. Tech looks like it will just have to fight through its issues with the group it has.
5. It’s time to adjust expectations for this team.
Ten wins are a pipe dream at this point. With Florida State and Clemson on the schedule — two teams that have established themselves as the class of the ACC — and two losses already on the ledger, it looks like Tech’s streak of eight straight 10-win seasons will come to an end. Any kind of significant national recognition is out the window at this point, but the Hokies, with their two losses being out of the conference, still have a Coastal Division title to compete for.
Now, the Coastal appears to be completely up for grabs. The two preseason favorites, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, have underperformed. Miami, at 3-0 in the league, has overachieved, and even with a suspect defense that will eventually catch up to it in one of these close games, has a headstart on the rest of the division with a favorable schedule the rest of the way (the ‘Canes avoid Clemson, get Florida State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home, and play Virginia and Duke on the road). North Carolina seems to be coming together, and even Duke seems feisty, which is more than you can say about Virginia at this point.
I thought before this week that Virginia Tech would be favored heading into both North Carolina and Miami. Now, I don’t think that will be the case. Suddenly the Hokies are looking at two games that will be extremely hard (FSU, Clemson) and two that are close to tossups — if that (UNC, Miami). The Hokies aren’t a bad team. They were one play away from being 4-1. But there are clearly issues on both sides of the ball that could bite them in ACC play this year. There’s certainly more uncertainty in the division than there’s been in recent memory. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.