has been six days since VT's big win over the GT Yellow Jackets, and it has been
fashionable all week long to praise the team for not quitting, for hanging in
there until the end, etc. Bryan Randall has been praised, Xavier Adibi's effect
on the game has been duly noted, and the 80-yard and 51-yard TD passes have been
dissected. It all leaves a certain web site GM with less and less to write about
(since I go last), but I did uncover some fun and interesting stuff, including
one astounding statistic that goes totally against what we know about the VT
First of all, as they say in the Declaration of
Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident":
- The come-from-behind victory, after trailing at the end
of the third quarter, was the first such victory since Pittsburgh
2000, and the first one on the road since UVa 1995. As such, this game
is a landmark win.
- Bryan Randall had a stellar 4th quarter, with 159 yards
passing, 2 TD passes, and 41 yards rushing.
- Randall made great reads and decisions on an 80-yard TD
pass to Eddie Royal, a 2-point conversion pass to Richard Johnson, and a
51-yard TD pass to Josh Morgan.
- GT QB Reggie Ball had a great first half (9-of-13 for
113 yards and a touchdown, plus a number of long bootleg runs for first
downs), but he became unglued in the second half, going 5-of-16 for 66 yards
and two interceptions after the break. He also accidentally ran out of the
back of the end zone on a key third-quarter play that gave VT a safety.
- GT tailback PJ Daniels bruised a knee and had to leave
the game very early in the second quarter, and the GT running game suffered
- Xavier Adibi had a fine game upon his return from
injury, leading the team in tackles (8), sacks (2), and tackles for loss
(2.5). His sack of Reggie Ball on 2nd and goal from the VT 5-yard line,
which forced a field goal by the Jackets, was one of the key plays of the
There's more, but those are the major points, and the
highlights that have been rehashed over and over, including in Raleigh Hokie's
the Keys article. Here are some other thoughts and observations on the game,
starting with the offense, where we'll spend most of our time.
The Hokies amassed 153 yards of offense in the first half
and 293 yards in the second half, for a total of 446 yards on the night. Given
GT's defensive ranking (#18) and reputation coming in, that sounds like a lot of
yardage, but the Jackets coughed up 474 to Clemson in the second game of the
season and 426 to UNC the week after. Their strong defensive reputation was
built mainly in the last two weeks, when they held Maryland to 81 yards and Duke
to 184. GT had also piled up 17 sacks in their last three games, against Miami,
the Terps, and the Blue Devils.
The Hokies were strong offensively all night long, and
most of the time they were stopped, it was because they shot themselves in the
foot (more on that later). Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring came under
fire for some questionable play calling, but overall, his offensive game plan
was very good and a complete turnaround from the 10-sack debacle against NC
State, a zone-blitzing defense similar to the Yellow Jackets.
There's a difference between the game plan and the play
calling, and regardless of what you think about some of the play calling in this
game, I thought the overall game plan was very, very good, and solid evidence
that Stinespring and the offense learned a lot from the NC State game.
For road games that I dont attend in person, I keep a
drive chart on computer on an Excel spreadsheet. It allows me to write my game
recap prior to the stats being posted on the host team's web site.
Two of the data points I record on this drive chart for
each play are "Called Play" and "Actual Play." The biggest
reason I differentiate between what was called and what actually happened is so
I can tell the difference between a designed QB run, a scramble, and a sack.
Scrambles and sacks are "called" pass plays, but "actual"
In this game, only four times did Randall drop back to
pass and get forced into a scramble or a sack. That's a pretty remarkable
statistic for the Hokies, whose drive charts usually feature many more scrambles
(denoted "Sc") and sacks ("Sa") than four. The Hokies called
35 pass plays and threw the ball 31 times (89%), and trust me when I say that
Randall's penchant for bailing out of the pocket or holding the ball too long
and getting sacked usually result in lower called-to-actual ratios than 89%.
The ability of the Hokies to execute the passing game
points to the soundness of the game plan. Randall looked like a sitting duck
against NC State, but in this game, he took a large number of 3-step drops and
fired the ball quickly to receivers just five yards downfield, or along the line
of scrimmage as a flanker screen. The game plan was to get rid of the ball
quickly and not suffer the same fate that befell the offense against NC State,
and it worked very, very well.
And the oh-by-the-way footnote is that the short passing
game set up the long 51-yard TD to Morgan. For those who haven't had the chance
to read any follow-up on the game, prior to the snap, Morgan was in man
coverage, with a cornerback in his face. When the ball was snapped, the
cornerback blitzed. Morgan knew this would require the safety to come up from
the middle of the field and cover him, which the safety (James Butler) did
too aggressively. Morgan blew past him wide open, and Randall
for his part also read it correctly and hit him in stride for the touchdown.
That was a big mistake by Butler. When you bring the
corner blitz, the safety can't charge at the receiver like that and leave
himself open to a fly pattern for an easy TD. All I can figure is that Butler
had been lulled by the short passing game, and he played the short pattern.
Boom, long TD.
One of the best examples of the offensive game plan, I
thought, was a play you probably don't even remember, an 8-yard completion to
fullback John Kinzer on the Hokies' second possession. On 3rd and 4 at the GT
37-yard line, VT lined up with two tight ends (Jeff King and Jared Mazzetta) on
the right and Kinzer and Mike Imoh in the I-formation in the backfield. GT
blitzed the strong-side linebacker, and both tight ends and Kinzer released and
went downfield, letting both the blitzer and the DE on that side rush in free.
Imoh picked up and blocked the defensive end, and Randall released the pass to
Kinzer for an 8-yard gain, before the blitzer even got there.
It was a classic example of taking what the defense gives
to you, of going straight at a blitz and dumping the ball right into the spot
the blitzer has just vacated. It's the kind of play that Hokie fans see other
teams do and wonder why VT doesn't do it, and I just wanted to point out that VT
did do it, in this instance. Nice play call.
In his "Revisiting the Keys" article, Raleigh
Hokie noted that first-down success by the VT offense was critical to the
overall success of the offense. But if you look at the statistics, you see that
the Hokies didn't fare very well on first down. Here's the breakdown of what VT
did on 1st and 10:
Yards Gained on VT First Downs
3 yards or less gained
1st down runs
0, 0, 0, 2, 3, 1, 1, 0, 3, 0, -2
5, 4, 6
1st down passes
-, -, -, INT, -, -, 2, -, -
51, 16, 80
Note: the gains shown are not listed in
Here's the idea:
- Gaining 3 yards or less results in 2nd and long (7
yards or more to go)
- Gaining 4-6 yards results in 2nd and middle (4-6 yards
- Gaining 7-9 yards results in 2nd and short (1-3 yards
- Gaining 10+ yards results in a first down
You can see from the table that out of 29 first down
plays, 20 of them (69%) resulted in 2nd and long situations, and 24 (83%)
resulted in 2nd and middle or worse (2nd and 4 or longer).
Throw out the stat-skewing 51 and 80 yard plays, and on
the other 27 first downs, the Hokies averaged just 2.4 yards. For the Hokie
offense, that's usually a very scary stat. So, long pass plays aside, how did
the team keep this game from being a totally pathetic performance?
The answer lies in what they did on 2nd down, specifically
2nd and long, and this is the statistic that floored me. On 9 runs on 2nd and
long, the Hokies gained 120 yards they averaged 13.3 yards per rush on
2nd and long. That's incredible, and another big play, a 24-yard run by Imoh
on 2nd and 5, was called back because of a penalty! 5 of those 9 runs on 2nd and
long picked up first downs.
Another strong stat: the Hokies threw on 2nd and long 7
times and completed all 7. Oddly, though, only 3 of those 7 completions went for
Putting those two statistics together, on sixteen 2nd and
long situations, the Hokies picked up first downs 8 times. VT didn't do very
well on first down, but second down rocked. Was it coincidence? Was it
execution? Was it playcalling and game planning? I don't know, you'd have to ask
Stinespring that question.
Lastly, I ran a stat on an early season game -- the West
Virginia game, I believe that revealed that every time the Hokies faced more
than 10 yards for a first down, they failed to pick it up. In other words, every
time they backed up, they were toast. In this game, however, they picked up
three first downs when facing more than 10 yards for a first down, mostly
because of their 2nd and long gains.
So What Stopped Them?
If the offense was having such a good game, what stopped
them? Of the nine stalled drives that I tracked, four were stopped by poor play
from the QB position (Randall). Randall missed two open receivers on third down,
fumbled one possession away, and threw an interception on another.
Three other stops can be attributed to good defense by the
Jackets. On a 3rd and 10, they flushed Randall from the pocket for no gain, and
on a 3rd and 6, linebacker Chris Reis made a nice play to knock down a crossing
pattern to Josh Hyman. Lastly, on a 3rd and 7, the Hokies called a middle
screen, and GT blew it up for no gain.
Two other stops came on questionable calls by Stinespring.
One stop came on 4th and 1 on a toss sweep, when the Hokies lost 13 yards. The
other came with the Hokies running out the clock at the end of the game.
Stinespring called a rollout for Randall on 3rd and 11, and he threw a pass into
the ground that was intended for tight end Jeff King (who wouldn't have gotten
the first down anyway). It's not really fair to blame that one on Stinespring,
because had the Hokies called a running play, they probably wouldn't have gotten
the first down anyway the key gripe was that the incomplete pass stopped the
That segues nicely into the next topic, the play calls
that Stinespring took heat for, the head-scratchers in the middle of an
otherwise solid game plan.
The Offensive Head-Scratchers
Stinespring took heat for four play calls in this game. It
was a classic case of four gutsy or unusual calls not working out
therefore they are criticized as bad calls:
- 2nd quarter, 4th and 1 from the GT 22: toss sweep
right, 13 yard loss by Imoh. This play was very poorly blocked by both
Mazzetta and King at the line, and Richard Johnson downfield. Imoh never had
a chance, and he backed up, making the loss worse.
- 3rd quarter, 3rd and 1 from VT 25: pass to tight end
about 8 yards downfield. The tight end was open, but the pass was way
overthrown and incomplete. (Oddly enough, GT responded with a pass to the
flat on 3rd and 1 that was poorly thrown and incomplete, and though Lee
Corso ragged on the call by Stinespring, he said nothing when GT essentially
made the same "mistake".)
- 4th quarter, 2nd and goal from the GT 1, toss sweep
left, 9 yard loss; very poorly blocked by Mazzetta, King, and Kinzer. All
three missed blocks, and Imoh was buried.
- 4th quarter, 3rd and 11 from VT 29, Hokies leading
27-20, with 2:17 to go, GT out of timeouts: Randall rolls right, throws to
King at the 30, it's a terrible throw that is incomplete, and the clock
The toss sweeps on short yardage situations were decisions
by the entire coaching staff, not just Stinespring. Beamer talked several times
about seeing things on film that they thought they could exploit and surprise GT
with the toss sweep, but the results were awful. Note, however, that the
blocking by the two tight ends, who were lined up on the toss sweep side and
were the lead blockers, were atrocious, as were whiff blocks by Richard Johnson
and John Kinzer. Poorly executed plays all the way around, capped off by Imoh
giving up way too much ground.
As far as the 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line, my
criticism of that sequence is that bringing in the bigger Cedric Humes or Justin
Hamilton and slamming him into the line four times, in retrospect, would have
been the best route to go. Hey, if GT stops four straight runs up the middle
from the 1-yard line, more power to them. But I can understand the toss sweep,
because you've got to remember, the Hokies ran that play with Lee Suggs and
Kevin Jones many times, and it was very successful. But it was also blocked much
better than it was Thursday.
The first incompletion to the tight end on 3rd and 1 was a
case of Randall simply throwing a very poor pass. Mazzetta was open for the
first down, and Randall missed him by a mile. Corso criticized the call, but the
point is, the call worked Randall just blew it. What if the Hokies had run
off-tackle, which seemed to be Corso's preference, and the blockers and blown
their blocks, and the play had resulted in a 3-yard loss? Does that make it a
better call? No, it makes it a different call with the same result poor
execution by the players resulting in failure.
The last incompletion to the tight end, when the Hokies
really should have been running the clock down, is harder to defend.
Conventional wisdom says to run the ball into the line and milk some more clock,
running it down to about 1:30 instead of stopping it at 2:13 to go with an
As I said, it's hard to defend the play call, but you can
make two points about it: (1) Randall was probably under directions to tuck and
run if the first down wasn't there, and instead, he threw the ball into the
ground; and (2) Beamer and company were going for the throat. As much as Hokie
fans criticize Beamer and his staff for having no killer instinct, here's a
situation where they had it, and it just didn't work out.
Confession: when GT called a timeout as the Hokies were
facing that 3rd and 11, as ESPN cut away to a commercial, I thought to myself,
"Hmmm, I might be tempted to run that rollout with the tight end dragging
across the middle." Yep, if I was your offensive coordinator, I might have
called the same thing.
To sum up this discussion, I think I'd rather have a few
questionable play calls in the context of a good game plan, rather than the
other way around. In this contest, I think Stinespring put together a very good
game plan and showed a lot of growth since the NC State game. Credit goes to the
offensive line, too, because they blocked very well.
Whew, that was a lot on the offense. On the other hand, I
just looked over my notes on the defense, and I don't have much written down.
That's probably because the key matchup in this game was VT's offense being able
to score on GT's defense. At this point in the season, we have a high degree of
confidence in the Hokie defense, which is ranked 5th in the country in scoring
defense (12.6 ppg) and 7th in total defense (275.3 ypg). The key is the Hokie
offense being able to put points on the board.
Having said that, the defensive key in this game was
slowing down the three-headed monster of QB Reggie Ball, tailback P.J. Daniels
and super frosh receiver Calvin Johnson.
Ball served notice on GT's first offensive play of the
game that he was a forced to be reckoned with on the perimeter. He bootlegged
right for an 8-yard gain, and from that point on, the Hokies wished that
8 yards was all Ball could gain on that rollout. In the first half, utilizing
rollouts and bootlegs, he ran for gains of 8, 15, 10, and 14 yards. He made
every VT defensive end and linebacker who tried to contain him look slow.
The VT coaching staff admitted in post-game comments that
the number of rollouts and bootlegs surprised them a little, and they talked
about it to the players at half time, and Bud Foster made some adjustments. In
the second half, Ball picked up 13 yards on a QB draw, but his first rollout
after the break ended in disaster, when he brainlocked and ran out of the back
of the end zone under pressure from Chris Ellis. Later in the third quarter,
Ball gained just 1 yard and 3 yards on two designed rushes
In the fourth quarter, Ball did manage to break off a
13-yarder on a bootleg left when the entire VT defense, especially Xavier Adibi,
bit on a play fake up the middle on 3rd and 2 (nice offensive play call).
Adibi followed that up two plays later with his
rapidly-becoming-legendary sack of Ball that pushed the Jackets back into field
goal range, where GT went ahead 20-12. After the Hokies tied the game at 20 on
Royal's 80-yarder, the Hokies followed with a key defensive stop that hasn't
been discussed much. So let's talk about it.
On first down, Ball faked a handoff into the middle of the
line and bootlegged left. Adibi bought the fake and headed into the line, then
reversed field when he saw Ball rolling out. Adibi was well behind Ball on the
race to the perimeter, but he closed the gap quickly and escorted Ball out of
bounds for just a 4-yard gain. That was a critical play and pointed out what
speed does for you even though he was originally fooled, Adibi still had the
speed to get back and make the play, helped by the fact that Ball was a little
gimpy at this point.
On second down, Noland Burchette made an outstanding play
on a sweep right by GT. Burchette stood up two blockers at the line of
scrimmage, strung the play out, and got assists from Eric Green and James
Griffin, who shut the play down for no gain.
Then coaching took over. On 3rd and 6, Bud Foster lined
Adibi up on the left side of the defense against the slot receiver. If you look
at the tape, Adibi is actually turned sideways to the line of scrimmage, facing
up to the receiver, and shows absolutely no sign of what is coming: a blitz. At
the snap of the ball, Adibi fires down the line and leaps into the air when Ball
releases the pass. Ball never had a chance, and the result was a bad throw that
forced a punt by GT.
To that point, the Hokies had blitzed very little,
particularly in the second half, preferring to rush with just the four down
linemen. Foster's call against the shaky Reggie Ball, and the job Adibi did of
selling it and completely disguising it before the snap, were examples of
perfect play-calling and execution.
GT punted, the Hokies got a 32-yard QB draw and a 51-yard
TD pass to Josh Morgan, and that was that.
As for P.J. Daniels, I was shocked to find out that he
only had 53 yards rushing on 14 carries, because it seemed like a lot more than
that. Until he was injured early in the third quarter (one of the key plays of
the game, in my opinion), Daniels showed great strength and the ability to
always gain positive yardage, often picking up 2-3 more yards after first
contact. I felt uneasy during the first half seeing how physical Daniels was,
because I thought that was a bad sign for later in the game.
When the 210-pound Daniels exited with a bruised knee and
190-pound Chris Woods replaced him, the GT rushing game lost its steam. Woods
had 57 yards on 9 carries, which is statistically superior to what Daniels did,
but 33 of Woods' yards came on one play, when James Griffin blew a tackle and
let Woods get into the secondary. Other than that, Woods had 24 yards on 8
carries, a tolerable 3 yard per carry average, and Woods didn't have any other
runs over 10 yards (unlike Daniels, who had a pair of 13-yarders).
As for Johnson, he had four catches for 51 yards and a TD.
He wasn't much of a factor, especially in the second half. Johnson made a great
35-yard diving catch on GT's first possession of the second half, then was not
heard from again until the Hokies had taken their 34-20 lead and the game was
All in all, a sound defensive game plan by the Hokies,
which was helped along by injuries to Daniels and Ball, some key plays from
Xavier Adibi, and some good adjustments and play calling by Bud Foster.
And now, a collection of random thoughts and notes from
- GT punter Ben Arndt came in averaging 38.4 yards per
punt and put in a great game, averaging 45.8 yards on 6 kicks and keeping
the Hokies backed up all game long. VT's Vinnie Burns averaged 42.7 on 6
punts, and his 42-yarder that went out on the GT 5-yard line, leading to the
safety on the next play, was exactly what you look for from a senior punter.
- Mike Imoh did an outstanding job picking up the blitz
and rushers, and this was a key component of being able to throw the ball to
the tight ends and fullback. One example: Randall hit Mazzetta for a 21-yard
gain in the first quarter on a play where Imoh picked up the rusher that
Mazzetta let go when he released.
- As noted by tight end coach Danny Pearman on
BeamerBall.com, the Hokie TE's did a poor job blocking and generally had bad
games. They allowed Imoh to get buried for big losses on the toss sweeps,
and they missed other blocks, as well. King went without a reception for the
first time this year, and he had a holding penalty and two false starts. On
the upside, it was Jared Mazzetta's downfield blocking that sprung Eddie
Royal for his 80-yard TD. Mazzetta was the primary receiving option on that
play, and when Randall went to Royal instead, Mazzetta did a great job
switching gears and blocking downfield.
- I thought the VT OL did a very good job in this game.
One random example: on Randall's 32-yard QB draw prior to the 51-yard TD
pass to Morgan, James Miller started the play double-teaming the GT nose
guard with Will Montgomery. GT linebacker Gerris Wilkinson (#49) moved up to
fill the hole, and Miller broke off the double-team and sealed him off to
spring Randall (who also received great blocks downfield by King and Josh
Hyman). Miller has had an up and down year, but that was a nice play on his
- It was another good game by Jonathan Lewis. He wasn't
as disruptive up the middle, with the exception of a few plays, but he
pursued well on some plays, where he would have given up last year, due to
not being in the good condition he is in this season. Lewis had 5 tackles,
0.5 tackles for loss, and a QB hurry.
- Ugly #1: A GT fan threw a drink cup at David Clowney
after his TD catch. Watch the tape, and it can clearly be seen.
- Ugly #2: The slobber-knocker block that Gary Guyton
(#58) laid on Justin Hamilton was painful to watch. I hate to see a kid's
head snap around like that.
- Ugly #3: In one more example of VT players lacking
discipline on the field, James Griffin can be seen on the game tape flipping
off the GT end zone crowd after Reggie Ball's safety. The Hokies had six
personal fouls in this game, leading to Coach Beamer instituting 6 a.m.
Wednesday sprint sessions for players who commit personal fouls (100 yards
of sprinting for each yard of personal fouls, or 15 one hundred yard sprints
for each penalty). The team generally lost its composure, not handling
success very well. Griffin was ejected for taking off his helmet and high-fiving
VT fans in the stands, and Carlton Powell didn't represent VT well when he
was shown on TV waving at the GT crowd and sing-songing, "Bye-bye!
Bye-bye!" after Roland Minor's interception return for a TD.
- Tapp Watch: Darryl Tapp is back to second on the team
in tackles for the season. Mikal Baaqee has 45 tackles, Tapp has 43, and
Vince Hall has 40. Tapp leads the team in TFL's (10.5), sacks (5.5), and QB
The Hokies have survived another crossroads game, and with
the win, find themselves tied at the top of the ACC with Virginia and Miami. A
loss would have thrown the Hokies into the muddled middle of the pack, but this
win paints a whole different picture of the race.
That's the immediate, easy-to-see effect. The long-term
effects of a win like this are yet to be seen. What this win does for the
confidence of Bryan Randall, his freshman wide receivers, and the program in
general, remains to be seen.
It's hard to talk about this game without lapsing into
hyperbole. It could be the launching pad to a strong finish, but we also thought
that about the Miami game last year. If the Hokies finish 3-1 or 4-0 in their
remaining games, which would spur them to a second-place or first-place finish
in the conference, they will point to this game as a key to their strong finish.
If they go 2-2 or 1-3 or (gulp) worse in their remaining games, then that
renders this game as "just another game," an aberration that didn't
mean much in the grand scheme of things.
At this point, we can only evaluate this game on what it
was, by itself: an important come-from-behind win in which the coaching staff
put together a good game plan, the players executed it well enough to win, and a
senior QB, freshman wide receivers and a freshman linebacker made key plays down
the stretch to lock it down. It was fun, but Carolina and beyond now