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Is This Year's VT Team the Al Pacino of 1993?
by Chris Colson of the Hokie Football Annual 2010
TSLMail #446, August 20, 2010

Editor's Note: This article comes courtesy of Chris Colson of the Hokie Football Annual 2010. 

Pacino earned Academy Award nominations for the Godfather and Godfather Part II, deserved to win, but did not. He finally got his Oscar in 1993 for Scent of a Woman, a fine movie if you're into that sort of thing. But are you seriously telling me Frank Slade (yeah, yeah, OOH-AH and all that) was a stronger role than Michael Corleone? Please.

The Hokies might've had stronger teams (1999, 2000, maybe '05) and for sure stronger defenses. But this year's No. 6 ranking is its highest preseason ranking ever. It seems odd that the Hokies would attain such a lofty perch with so many question marks; it's a testament to the respect Frank Beamer has across the country, it's a testament to the power of a talented senior quarterback and a testament to the track record of defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

Perhaps this year's team can pull a Slade and do what the past Corleones could not: win that elusive national title.

But every team has its concerns and weaknesses, and these are the six things that worry me most heading into 2010:

CONCERN NO. 1: WHIP LINEBACKER

Going into the fall, coach Jim Cavanaugh projected Jeron Gouveia-Winslow would get 75% of the snaps and Alonzo Tweedy 25%. The only thing holding Tweedy back is his knowledge of the position, and what happens? He hasn't practiced this fall because of a groin injury. He might still emerge as the starter by November, but his missed time is a bigger deal to him than perhaps somebody else.

Whip is a playmaking position for Bud Foster's defense, but so far, at least in scrimmages, JGW has not made his mark. He's got to step up if Tech is going to have another top defense.

The third guy in the mix, Lorenzo Williams, has also missed valuable practice time. He's a sophomore who redshirted last season, which is kind of odd. He was a FS but wasn't comfortable there so they moved him to Whip.

The injuries have allowed senior Zach Luckett to get snaps at Whip. He's got a big heart and is working to put past demons (2 DUIs and a season-long suspension) behind him. But he's simply not there physically after wrecking his knee against Virginia last year. He told Kyle Tucker he's 75% physically, but put his speed at only 60%. It's a miracle he's even on the field.

CONCERN NO. 2: LEFT TACKLE

You've got a starting LT, Nick Becton, who's never started before, and now he's out with turf toe. When your MVP is your QB, you need a healthy LT who knows what he's doing. And in the spring he was still oversetting, which could allow a quick defender to swoop underneath him.

Redshirt junior Andrew Lanier is solid. But for the Tech offense to shine, it needs a seasoned Becton protecting Tyrod Taylor's blind side.

CONCERN NO. 3: WHAT TO DO WITH DAVID WILSON?

There's been talk of redshirting Wilson, who gained 334 yards last year as a true freshman (5.7 yard average). He isn't likely to get a lot of carries this year behind studs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, and the Hokies would hate to waste his talents.

Last year Williams had 293 carries in 13 games, Tyrod 106, backup RB Josh Oglesby 78 and Wilson 59. You absolutely have to give Williams the ball; he's the best runner I've ever seen wear Orange and Maroon, better even than Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones and Cyrus Lawrence. At minimum, he needs 20 carries a game this year. AT MINIMUM. Over a 13-game schedule, that's 260 carries -- just 33 fewer than last year.

So if you give those 33 carries to Evans, who gets Oglesby's carries, that leaves Evans just 111 carries if Tech's running ratio remains true to form. Over 13 games, that's just 8 or 9 per game. That ain't much for a stud like Evans. So how many carries do you think the third guy is going to get? Plus you have Oglesby in the mix. And you need to get those good receivers the ball, too, and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring likes a balanced offense. You likely aren't gonna see the Hokies running the ball 75% of the time (which actually would be fine by me if it's working).

Based on this, at best, Wilson is looking at about four or five touches a game. And don't tell me he can line up at wide receiver; if he has one weakness, it's his hands. He can't catch.

So it's a no-brainer, right? You redshirt him.

Actually, no -- you don't.

And the reason you do not redshirt Wilson is because the Hokies have a rare, rare shot this season at glory. They've got the lofty preseason ranking, so there's less to overcome. They play a higher ranked opponent in the first game, potentially knocking a contender out of the picture right away. They've got the senior QB and the Heisman candidate and they're loaded at the skill positions and a defensive coordinator who is the best in the country.

So when you have a shot like this, you go all in. You make the defense account for the Tyrods and Williams and Evanses and Boykins and you force a mismatch, a slow linebacker on David Wilson, and maybe in the fourth quarter when everybody else is exhausted, you pop Wilson in there and he makes a big play and wins a game for you. Even if it's just that one play, it's worth it.

And who knows? RBs get banged up. There could be an injury. And there's no guarantee Wilson would stay for four years anyway. If he has a big 2011, he could go pro. 

Hey, Wilson is in great shape. Along with Marcus Davis, he's one of the best athletes on the team. He called Stinespring Saturday night after the scrimmage, eager to see how he graded out. A guy like that, you can't redshirt him. He's got to be in the mix.

CONCERN NO. 4: OFFENSIVE APPROACH

You've got a great senior QB. If you don't redshirt Wilson, you have three great running backs. You've got six wideouts with big-play capability. There's more talent on offense than I've ever seen, and I've been watching Tech football since 1971.

With so many weapons at his disposal, will Stinespring be compelled to do too much?

In trying to take advantage of all these weapons, will the Hokies offense be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none? Will they not spend enough time to perfect a core number of key plays, plays that are their bread and butter, plays they can rely on when things get tough?

Because I don't want to hear any excuses about "lack of execution" this year. With all of this talent, there are no excuses. This offense has to be great.

If this were the NFL, you'd be tempted to trade a RB or a WR for another DE or DT or a Whip. But you can't, so the offense is gonna have to carry the Hokies, at least early on. And execution is going to be paramount.

CONCERN NO. 5 JOHN GRAVES' HEALTH

He's healthy now. The key is keeping him that way.

Coming out of the spring it was John Graves at nose tackle -- which is the left-handed stance, or left tackle -- and a rotation of Kwamaine Battle and Antoine Hopkins at tackle, which is the right-handed stance, or right tackle.

Graves is Tech's best defensive player and defensive leader. He battled ankle problems and was rarely 100% last year. He doesn't have great numbers: just six solo tackles and 15 overall, only 2 TFLs and only one sack.

But to know how important he is, you only have to look what happened to the Hokies when he was out. A dirty chop block knocked him out against Georgia Tech. Until that play, the Hokies were pretty much stuffing the Yellow Jackets run game. Once Graves was out, they ran wild. He didn't play against North Carolina, and the Tar Heels pretty much rammed it right up the middle against Tech and looked like the more athletic team.

Now fast forward to when he was healthy, against Tennessee: two TFLs, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery. And Tech held the Volunteers, a team with a terrific running game led by 1,306-yard rusher Montario Hardesty, to just five yards rushing.

Graves draws the double team and opens things up for others to make plays.

The Hokies are still working to develop depth behind Graves, Hopkins and Battle. Last spring they moved Isaiah Hamlette from end to tackle, and they're giving true freshman Derrick Hopkins a strong look. But that just shows how thin Tech is at tackle and how much trouble it will be in if Graves goes down.

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Colston's Hokie Football Annual 2010
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CONCERN NO. 6: REGRESSION OF TECH'S KICK BLOCKING PROWESS

Blocked extra points can be big, and a blocked FG can be huge; just ask Alabama against Tennessee last year. But there's perhaps no bigger momentum changer in a game than a blocked punt.

And the Hokies simply don't do it like they used to.

Last year they blocked just one kick, the punt against Miami.

In the last seven years, Tech has averaged just 1.4 blocked punts per year.

In the previous seven years, it averaged 4.3.

Instead, it's the Florida Gators who play the new Beamerball. In the past five seasons, the Gators have blocked 28 kicks, including 18 punts, which is the highest total among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. In that span, Tech has blocked eight punts.

Beamer has been working with young defensive ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins in a punt-block drill to get more length out there. Gayle is 6-4, 246; Collins is 6-2, 255. I'd also like to see Marcus Davis (6-4, 234, runs like a scalded cat) out there too.

-- by Chris Colson
Click the cover to the right to order Chris Colston's Hokie Football Annual 2010

 

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