Interesting day in Chapel Hill yesterday. If you missed our game coverage, you can get to all of it here.
Now for five more thoughts about the game:
1. The defense is officially a problem.
After Pittsburgh, it was supposedly a one-game fluke. After Cincinnati, it was supposedly just a handful of plays. What can you say after North Carolina? It’s not a fluke. And it’s not a handful of plays. North Carolina did what it wanted against the Hokies defense, controlling the line of scrimmage most of the day. Running back Giovani Bernard had plenty of runs where he wasn’t touched until he was 8 or 9 yards down the field, a surprising failing for a front seven that was supposed to be the strength of the team. And when Virginia Tech had tacklers there to make plays, he’d elude them. On one instance, he spun out of a tackle by Kyle Fuller and raced 51 yards down the sideline.
North Carolina had a good offense. That should be noted. But this is twice this year now that the Hokies have given up 500 yards of total offense. And in all three losses, they’ve allowed 495 yards or more. The last time that happened to a Bud Foster-coached defense? Never. And it’s only halfway through a season in which every team remaining on the schedule has averaged more than 414 yards per game, with two (Clemson, Florida State) averaging more than 500.
Tech used to be able to rely on one part of its defense. But this year, it’s already allowed a 392-yard passing game and a 339-yard rushing game. It can be beat in both ways, which doesn’t bode well. It’s going to be a tall task for Foster to get this group back playing at a respectable level.
2. Also, help doesn’t appear to be on the way on defense.
A reader in the chat asked how the pre-Shane Beamer recruiting classes affected the defense’s depth, which was a great question I didn’t have time to explore prior to the game. Well, french60wasp at The Key Play had this wonderful breakdown of the situation today (which, I’ll be honest, is probably going to be the crux of one of my stories this week).It shows a pretty consistent string of misses on the defensive side of the ball from 2008-10 that have put the Hokies in their current predicament with regards to depth on defense.
The Hokies will just have to forge ahead with what they have. They’ve essentially played two inside linebackers all year (how much would somebody like Telvion Clark help out if he hadn’t been kicked off the team?). They have five defensive backs that they trust, and a few of those are only marginally and by necessity. And the depth crisis caused them to reshuffle everything on the back end in the offseason, which has a few players playing out of position. (In hindsight, this lack of depth was the most overlooked part by people like myself who asked this offseason if this could be one of Tech’s great defenses.)
The only help on the way could be the eventual return of linebacker Tariq Edwards, who had a death in the family last week and did not travel for the game. He’s still coming back from offseason surgeries on his leg/knee, so his effectiveness remains unknown. Still, that’s the extent of the cavalry. Nobody else is riding in on a white horse. It’ll be up to the guys Tech has on defense to sort this thing out.
3. The offense simply cannot run the ball.
I know I’m not exactly breaking new ground right now, but I think this one has been crystallized after the most recent performance. The Hokies had 40 rushing yards, their lowest total since the 2007 season opener against East Carolina. Twenty of those yards were by its quarterback. You can talk about game circumstances and how Tech had to abandon the run by the end of the game, but the fact remains, when the Hokies wanted to try to run the ball, they couldn’t. Here are the running back totals: Michael Holmes, Martin Scales and J.C. Coleman ran 16 times for 32 yards, a 2-yard average. That’s ain’t getting it done.
You can’t blame the running backs too much (other than Holmes for the costly fumble in the third quarter). The offensive line has done a terrible job of opening holes for them. That’s the reality of this group: it’s just not physical at the point of attack with any kind of consistency. And without that, you can’t have a good running game. You can’t get into consistently good down-and-distance situations. You can’t reliably pick up third-and-short situations. And without either of those, you can’t sustain drives and control the clock, which has always been Virginia Tech’s M.O.
Would it help to have an All-ACC-caliber running back like Darren Evans or Ryan Williams or David Wilson? Yes. Those kind of guys could make things happen even if the blocking wasn’t perfect. But the Hokies don’t have that type of runner active on the roster. It needs the blocking to be well-executed to make anything happen on a consistent basis. That’s simply not happening.
4. The team’s best approach might be just to air it out.
Logan Thomas finally looked like the big-time thrower fans expected him to be. The junior went 26-for-49 for a career-high 354 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception on a deep ball that was slightly overthrown. He made up for it with two beautifully thrown deep balls to Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller for touchdowns. Add in a handful of drops (Dyrell Roberts had a big one early, Ryan Malleck had another one that I remember and Davis had a couple) and you can say that Thomas was pretty sharp on the afternoon, even if the stats say he completed just 53 percent of his passes.
Tech has some weapons in the passing game. Davis, despite the drops, is still the team’s best offensive weapon outside of Thomas. Fuller had a career day with 143 yards and a touchdown, making some big catches across the middle. And Demitri Knowles, in for a concussed Dyrell Roberts, had a breakout day with six catches for 83 yards. That’s three pretty good receiving options, with Roberts figuring to come back at some point soon (you can never tell with concussions). And the line seems to pass block OK. Thomas was pressured some Saturday, yes, but with 49 pass attempts, he was sacked only once. Against a good pass-rushing UNC line, that’s a strong effort. Considering Thomas has looked his best in two-minute situations and the running game has been non-existent, going to the air more often might be a good approach.
It runs counter to everything Virginia Tech believes in — defense, running physically, controlling the clock. But this isn’t the defense the Hokies have had in the past, certainly not one that’s going to shut down pretty good offenses (of which there are many left on the schedule). And the running game hasn’t been up to snuff, so reverting to that run-first offense of Virginia Tech’s past is like banging your head against the wall. The Hokies might have to simply out-score opponents this year to win, and as they have shown, they move the ball best in the air.
5. All that said, the ACC is a hot mess right now. Anyone can win it.
I tweeted it last night and I’ll repeat it here: “An October tradition like no other — the ACC falling out of the national title race.” Florida State’s loss Saturday night to N.C. State struck a blow to the league’s attempt at gaining credibility on a national scale. It looks like it’ll be another season without someone in the national championship hunt. But look beyond the ‘Noles and there are some funky things happening in the ACC. The three teams still unbeaten in ACC play are Duke, Maryland and Miami. Who saw that coming? The league’s two non-conference games this week ended with winless Army beating Boston College and upstart Miami losing by 38 to Notre Dame. One of the teams that had the most impressive performance this week (North Carolina) is ineligible for the league title game. And really, how good are the Heels? They lost to Wake Forest, which lost to Maryland, which was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division. It’s enough to make your head spin.
So where does that put the Hokies in the ACC race? Like everyone else, smack dab in the middle of it. Here’s the Coastal Division standings right now:
- Miami (FL) 3-0
- Duke 2-0
- North Carolina 1-1
- Virginia Tech 1-1
- Georgia Tech 1-3
- Virginia 0-2
Anybody look like a sure bet there? The only team I really have no faith in winning the division (other than ineligible UNC), is Virginia, which I think had defensive issues that are far worse than what Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech or Miami are going through. Duke looks like a legit threat, but I wouldn’t call it a team that you’d trust to do well at this point. Miami plays UNC, FSU and Virginia Tech in the next three weeks. We’ll see exactly where the ‘Canes stand after that. As for Virginia Tech, no game left on the schedule is a gimme. I’d still expect wins against Duke, Boston College and Virginia, losses to Clemson and Florida State and a toss-up at Miami. That would put the Hokies at either 5-3 or 4-4 in the division. I think the former would still give them a chance to get into the ACC title game (that Miami game is a big one, especially in terms of a tiebreaker). The latter wouldn’t. Whatever the case, the Coastal’s representative this year will be an extremely flawed team. It’ll make for an exciting final two months, though.