Virginia Tech’s season was in trouble after the Hokies’ loss to Cincinnati, but after losing a shootout to North Carolina, it’s on life support.
Before the season, it definitely seemed like there was a chance that this team could fall to the sneaky-good Tar Heels on the road; however, that was assuming that such a loss would disrupt a five game winning streak, not continue a losing streak.
The emotions of coaches and players after the game ranged from enraged (Bud Foster) to dejected (Frank Beamer, James Gayle) and it’s clear that the team really didn’t expect to lose this one.
Ironically, it wasn’t the offense that let the team down, but instead its vaunted defense. Logan Thomas played one of his best games of the season, without needing the first quarter to get going, yet Foster’s defense just couldn’t create pressure or control their gaps.
It all starts with the defensive line; they were manhandled by UNC’s offensive line all day. Despite the many allegations of holding, it’s mystifying how something like this can happen when this was supposed to be the strength of the team. It definitely seems as if Gayle isn’t close to being completely healthy given how sparingly he’s used, but why the coaches insist on yanking talented guys like Derrick Hopkins after one or two mistakes is really confusing.
From there, the defense continued to fall apart. Foster called the tackling on the perimeter “pitiful,” and he’s absolutely accurate with that assessment. Sure, the defensive line wasn’t doing the secondary any favors by letting big holes open, but in Foster’s defense, it’s critical that the defensive backs make sure tackles to contain the damage. Instead, Michael Cole, Kyshoen Jarrett, Detrick Bonner, and even Kyle Fuller were repeatedly embarrassed.
It’s understandable that Fuller hasn’t played up to par, considering he’s still battling a shoulder injury, but the others have no excuse. They frequently abandoned their gaps in the vain hope of making a fantastic play on their own, and it’s poor decisions like this that led to Giovani Bernard running for the most yards ever allowed by a Hokie defense. Aggressive tackling has always been a staple for Foster’s defense, and his indignation at the end of the game indicates that these are not the type of results his system should produce.
After putting up 34 points, one might think that the offense is exempt from criticism, but the defense can’t take all the blame for the loss. While Thomas was sharper than normal, the running game and offensive line’s run blocking were still putrid.
The team just seems to refuse to implement any kind of power running plays, choosing instead to run mostly out of the shotgun with sweeps, and it’s clear that it’s not working. This is in part due to the personnel on the offensive line not playing the way they’d like, but this too has its own mysteries.
For example, why does the team refuse to supplant Andrew Miller at center with Caleb Farris? They used him at guard against UNC, where he’s not nearly as effective, and just seem completely unwilling to replace Miller even when he’s clearly regressed. And why all the faith in David Wang and Matt Arkema, when they just can’t get the job done? People have raved about Laurence Gibson’s performance in the past, yet they’ve never given him a real chance at guard this year.
The same confusing personnel decisions pop up at receiver. Dyrell Roberts just wasn’t playing like himself this season, and it took him suffering a concussion to get Demetri Knowles onto the field. Knowles has shown tremendous promise already, and responded to the increase in playing time with six catches for 83 yards, but he never would’ve seen any action if Dyrell hadn’t been hurt.
It all comes down to a seeming unwillingness to change anything. Beamer has frequently talked about re-evaluating the team and making changes, and one might think that a 3-3 could really stand some shake ups, yet NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
The same ineffective starters that played against Georgia Tech are playing now, as he stubbornly sticks with his older players, even when the younger guys are clearly out-performing them. Why show loyalty to veterans when your season is crumbling down around you? Isn’t it the perfect time to send the message that, no matter who you are, you have to execute if you want to see the field?
Someone told me yesterday that the one positive of having a down year like this is that coaches will get fired or Beamer will change his ways. After watching another game like this, the sad part is, I just don’t think that’s true.
Complacency rules at Virginia Tech these days, yet there just doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.