Had a chance to do a Q&A with Chris over at Gobbler Country (SB Nation's resident Virginia Tech blog) about the game on Saturday. Be sure to definitely stop by his site as he'll be posting our my answers to his questions.
Cardiac Hill: Virginia Tech rebounded for a blowout win in their second week after nearly being upset in the first by Georgia Tech. Obviously, Austin Peay is a significant step down from Georgia Tech, but what areas did the team improve in from Week 1 to Week 2?
Gobbler Country: Quarterback play and special teams...but that's about it. I'm not really trying to be too critical of the team, but generally I've been unimpressed so far. The offensive line has been unable to get any kind of consistent push. The freshman running backs and Logan Thomas have subsequently been stuffed at the line too often (something you have to try at if you're familiar with the 6'6" 260 lb. Thomas). The defense which was lauded in the pre-season has already seen minor issues due to injuries and inexperience in the two-deep at linebacker and defensive back. All in all, I think they may have taken a baby step against Austin Peay, but as you mentioned, they are in a completely different class than Georgia Tech (they haven't won more than four games in FCS since 2007), yet we still struggled against them. Many said they were probably the worst team to ever play in Lane Stadium, and that might be true. The Hokies should've absolutely rolled them.
Next year, the ACC will go from four non-conference games to three. Personally, I'd be in favor of keeping it at four. Pitt has several opponents that have all been discussed including Penn State, West Virginia, and Notre Dame. In addition, it's nice to have a couple of cupcake games plus a unique team from time to time. Would you like to see it remain at four or are you fine with three?
Yeah, ideally I'd prefer four. But that's if, and only if the Hokies were going to stop scheduling FCS teams. I know it's the norm to do it now, but I don't like it. I get that you want to give your team rest and get your backups playing time, but ever since the gap has narrowed over the last 10 years and more FBS teams are succumbing to FCS teams (including both Pitt and Virginia Tech), it's all risk and no reward. If you beat them by 50, you should've. If you lose, shame on you! If the Hokies were going to play a more aggressive non-conference schedule (like they've done on limited occasions in the past) that would perhaps elevate their profile, I'd be all for that. But, I am okay with three too. As long as they're playing meaningful football, I'll live.
With the defense starting off so poorly, I expect Pitt to come out and really try to control the clock. Well, as long as the game remains close, anyway. What can we expect from Virginia Tech on offense?
Wide receiver screens. The Hokies, usually anemic offensively under coordinator Bryan Stinespring, are coming off their two most productive seasons offensively in school history. For one of which (last year), Stinespring was removed of his duties as a play-caller, but still retained the title (whatever that makes him...?). This season however, you can see the offense has clearly regressed. Granted the Hokies lost the 2011 ACC Player of the Year, four starting offensive linemen and the top-two receivers in program history. I didn't expect Tech would replace them without batting an eye. But, the Hokies did return four senior receivers in their top four spots, three offensive linemen who had played significant time and Logan Thomas, the Hokies' record setting quarterback. So I didn't expect this much of a drop-off, at least not in efficiency. The Hokies' stats so far are lying.
What you can expect is large doses of Thomas throwing the ball, and at least several plays where he keeps it. He's the focal point of Tech's offense. So far they've been reluctant to run with the young backs due to the poor play of the offensive line. So wide receiver screens, read option, quarterback draws and plenty of airing it out deep.
Virginia Tech's always been a very strong regular season team, but has had some struggles bowl games historically over the past ten years. What do you attribute that to? Are fans at all frustrated by that or are the 10- and 11-win seasons enough to keep everyone content?
The staff addressed that issue a few years ago by doing a complete overhaul of their bowl preparation. In the first two years under that program, Tech was 2-0 in bowl games, both pretty severe beatings to their opponents. But in 2010, they ran into a buzz-saw in a guy named Andrew Luck. And though they were in it for three quarters, they ultimately and completely collapsed. While it hasn't been fun playing guys like Luck, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers in the Beamer bowl era, that's not really a legitimate excuse. Good bowls usually have good teams with good quarterbacks, and if other teams can deal with it, why can't the Hokies?
I often think the issues have been the Hokies coaching philosophy and their inability to take advantage of opportunity. The coaches have on several occasions cost the team with their decisions. The conservative thinking of the Hokies' staff has hurt them. They do things that won't lose them the game (i.e. punting from inside an opponent's 35) instead of going for things that will win them the game (like kicking a field goal, make or miss, in that situation). That adage of not doing things that will lose you the game may work against most teams, but when the Hokies play a team capable of beating them, playing not to lose will often lose them the game. Furthermore, as was apparent in the Michigan game in January, when the Tech staff has tried to prove to their doubters they are capable of playing that way, they often choose very inopportune times or means to do so, making it clear they are inept in that department. They have the worst judgement on that kind of stuff. It's like a drunk guy at a bar, blindfolded and in the dark trying to play darts, in that, they're just throwing them out there with no rhyme or reason and hoping they stick. Unfortunately, when they inevitably fail, they cite their phony examples and then stand behind their previous conservative philosophy.
Overall, I think the fan base is very happy about the success and consistency the program has experienced. But just like in Moby Dick, there are always those ones that we feel got away.
Pitt's horrific start aside, were you pleased with the addition of the university to the ACC?
I had mixed emotions. I can say I was happier about the addition of Pitt than Syracuse. I felt that it was a move the ACC made to restore their name as the pre-eminent basketball conference in the land, as in most analyst's minds, they had been surpassed by the Big East. As a conference already with a strong basketball pedigree, I didn't feel the need to make a basketball-centric move, but instead thought it would be best to shore up the football side of things, especially since the all the other recent conference realignments to date had been football-driven for monetary reasons. But I feel like they could've done much worse. They brought in teams that were a fit academically, a fit to some degree geographically, and historically speaking, several ACC teams had history with the programs.
While I not-so-secretly clamored for West Virginia to be among the added teams, I can say that 1. I hate Morgantown, 2. I hate Mountaineers fans, and can understand if the ACC wanted to keep conference games battery-pelting/couch burning free, and 3. I realized that deep down, aside from improving the football profile of the conference, the only reason I wanted WVU admitted was to continue the Black Diamond Rivalry that had fallen by the wayside. I think even with the Mountaineers history with several of the ACC teams, and their relative geographic fit, two key factors killed them. 1. They didn't deliver any sizable market the ACC didn't already possess, and 2. their academics were SO bad comparatively that they would've set a new low for the conference.
Again, while I think there may have been a select few preferred schools out there, the pickings were pretty slim and they could've done worse. I'm just happy to be a fan of a team in a conference which isn't dissolving and has 14 teams in it.
I have a hard time imagining Pitt will win this game, so I'm looking to you to help out. What have you seen from the Hokies that could give the Panthers a chance for an upset?
For the record, I don't either, but there are several things Pitt could take advantage of. You mentioned time of possession above. Under Beamer, one of the great indicator's of how the Hokies will do in a game is T.O.P. In both games, the Hokies have lost the battle for T.O.P. This is due in large part to their inability to date to run the ball and keep the chains moving. If the Panthers could completely neutralize the Hokies' run game, they could make them one-dimensional and try to take advantage of Logan Thomas staring down receivers, one of his only weaknesses.
Furthermore, if the Panthers make the Hokies over-pursue on defense, they could rack up a ton of yards on missed tackles. Tech has struggled to wrap up sometimes so far this year, and the problem has been amplified by having several backups thrust into starting roles on defense for injured players, as they're trying to make big plays and not look bad.
Lastly, I would say Pitt has an advantage in that nobody thinks they're going to win, including the Hokies. Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Monday that Pitt was like a wounded animal, and that the Hokies had better watch out. I think that's a good analogy, because I think Pitt is better than they have played and Tech has played to their competition in both games. If the Hokies don't take the Panthers seriously, they can lose. After all, they lose at least one head-scratcher seemingly every year. Why couldn't Pitt be it?
Alas, I don't think it will be them. I think the Hokies will be challenged, but will manage to win another unimpressive, just-good-enough game 27-17.