Ed. Note: Sunday Morning...Monday Evening...who's counting? Sorry for tardy-ing.
Man, Justin Thomas is a breath of fresh air, isn't he? After years of complaining about the QB play, finally there's one that fans are at least optimistic about. Tevin Washington always saw a lot of criticism and had a lot of fans hoping for Vad Lee. Then Lee got in, and people started wishing for Washington to come back. This year, Thomas has made big plays and played with a fearless attitude that has paid huge dividends thus far. I thought he played a pretty outstanding game on Saturday on the whole. He had some moments where he made mistakes (a couple of bad reads, a couple of irresponsible pitches), but he didn't make the crucial mistake. There was never a time that he did something so irresponsible or desperate that it really cost his team. At the end of the day, if he can keep not making really bad mistakes, this offense will be good enough to weather most storms.
I would have liked to see some of Byerly, but at the same time, there was never really a time when he was necessary or would have fit into the game any better than Thomas did. Thomas grades out highly in this game. The only real complaints people are going to have are about the passing game (7 of 18 for 125 yards and 1 TD), but I have two thoughts about that. First, he was able to do it when it counted. He started 0-for-6 before finishing 7-of-12, including a couple of huge completions in key moments. Second, I think that some of the accuracy issues fall on Thomas, but there are other groups that can be doing more to help out too. Overall, a really solid game from Thomas. He's an exciting guy that's giving a lot of Tech fans hope that they haven't felt for a while.
Virginia Tech did what everyone else has done so far this season, focusing on taking the B-Back out of the offense and forcing Thomas and his A-Backs to beat them. Laskey did what he's done against everyone else this season and averaged 4.7 yards per carry for 80 yards. (He actually matched his stats against Georgia Southern with 17 carries and 80 yards.) Until someone focuses more on taking Thomas out of the game plan (and trust me, that day is coming), Laskey won't be able to show folks just how dangerous he can be. There have been a number of occasions so far this season that Laskey has found ways to take a one-yard gain and turn it into five or six yards by spinning and keeping his feet long enough to get a few tough yards. He did that again against Virginia Tech, and on the season he's averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He hasn't yet truly broken out yet, but again, just wait for someone to key in more on Thomas.
Overall I thought Laskey played a really good game, even though his stats weren't anything outlandish. He's very good at doing his job, and doing his part to make the offense successful.
I wasn't quite impressed with this group. There were some good moments in there, but without Charles Perkins, things stopped working as well as they have for a few weeks now. I noticed in particular that there was some pretty bad blocking on the edge at times, often leading to plays getting blown up in the backfield where a single solid block would have meant a five or six yard gain. (In fact, this group combined for 4 carries and 7 yards, and that's including Synjyn Days' 6 yard carry that very well could have come from the B-Back spot -- I don't really remember that one. The only other touch was Deon Hill's 19-yard reception.) There's another guy in this unit who I won't name that continues to disappoint me, mainly in how contact-averse he is. The guy is awfully fast, but my goodness, he really hates contact for a running back. He's also gotten chewed out on the sidelines by CPJ on more than one occasion this season, and I think a lot of folks are pretty frustrated with him. Again, not going to name him, but I'm sure a lot of you know who I'm referring to by this point.
The perimeter blocking still needs some work, but overall not a bad game from this unit. I'm surprised that the stats tell us they had a combined 5 touches, but then again the offense was largely the Justin Thomas show. I don't necessarily expect that to be the norm going forward.
A bit of a mixed bag here, as we've seen in past weeks. First and foremost, DeAndre "The Lifeline" Smelter showed again that he might be the best player on the offense right now -- and that amongst a few really good offensive players. Frankly, his 5 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown were the difference in a win and a loss on Saturday. If the passing offense wasn't working to the degree that it was, the Hokies would have loaded the box even more than they did and completely shut down our running game. Smelter did a great job of dealing with one-on-one coverage, playing physical to catch that 4th-and-15 conversion and pulling a great double-move on the defender to get open for his touchdown. DeAndre Smelter, you get an A.
Darren Waller was a different case. He had no receptions and only a couple of targets. The one standing out in my mind is probably the same you're thinking of -- a 4th and 2 pass where Thomas floated one towards the end zone where Waller was all by himself, only to see him turn the wrong direction and end up out of position for what could have been a walk-in touchdown. Was it a great throw? Not exactly. But he shares in the fault of a play that would have undoubtedly scored another touchdown and could have reduced the amount of heart medication we all needed after the game. That's just it, though -- while it could have cost his team the game, it didn't, and so we're not going to be overly upset about it.
I thought this group was pretty solid all day long in run blocking, and pretty bad in pass protection. For run blocking in particular, it seemed that the group handled the Hokies' front 7 fairly well, a stark improvement over last season. The holes were there, and any time plays were getting blown up it was due to other groups missing a block or Virginia Tech selling out and winning. Pass protection, however, was another story. It seemed pretty constant that the Hokies' defense was getting a lot of pressure on Justin Thomas, often a lot sooner than it should have been happening. Thomas was frequently running for his life on passing plays, and luckily he's fast enough to do so, or he would have been sacked 4-5 times. That, as well as blitzing linebackers being turned loose on a few different occasions. The pass protection in this game was more or less an extension of what we've seen in the first few games this season, affecting Thomas's completion percentage more than a lot of folks probably realize. If the passing game is going to become more of a threat for this team, the offensive line is going to have to get Thomas some more time back there.
Overall, not a bad game from this unit, but lots of room for improvement too.
Putting up 27 points isn't impressive in a vacuum, but sounds a lot better when we give it some context. This offense put up 27 points on the road, in one of the most hostile environments they'll play in all year (maybe the second-most hostile, only behind uga). Now consider that, along with the fact that it's the second-most points that the Yellow Jackets have scored against the Hokies in the Paul Johnson era, with only the 28 points in 2009 trumping this weekend's output. Also, let's not forget that they scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, all of it when playing from behind or tied.
So, yeah, I'd say 27 points looks pretty good right now. There's still some room for improvement there, but overall a really solid and gutsy performance from this offense that we haven't seen since we had some guy named Nesbitt calling signals.
You know, for a group that we've ragged on quite a bit this year, I thought these guys played a pretty decent game. They were a big part of the defense only allowing 127 yards on the ground, only 87 of which came from Virginia Tech's top two running backs. They didn't get much pressure on Michael Brewer by themselves, but got some help from the linebackers to put him in some tough spots (resulting in 3 interceptions that created 17 points). Generally, I thought this group did a pretty nice job of holding their own. They weren't difference-makers, per se, but did some really nice things in both rushing and passing defense that had a big effect on the defense's success as a whole. Adam Gotsis had his best game of the season to date, and KeShun Freeman made some good plays as well. This game also saw true freshman DE Antonio Simmons in his first action, likely for depth purposes. Gotsis actually mentioned in his postgame interview that DC Ted Roof and DL Coach Mike Pelton made it a point to rotate the defensive linemen more, and it ended in the starters being more fresh later in the game.
This game was nowhere near reaching this group's potential, but it was a really nice step forward from what we've seen.
I thought that this group, Quayshawn Nealy and P.J. Davis in particular, played a pretty outstanding game. Though the two of them had different types of impacts, both Nealy and Davis played huge parts in the defense limiting Virginia Tech to what it did. Nealy had 8 tackles on the day, including 2 tackles for a loss that cost Virginia Tech 10 yards, and half a sack early in the game along with Freeman. Nealy also was able to get some pressure on Brewer when he was called upon to blitz -- he did a nice job of finding a hole and forcing Brewer to throw passes sooner than he wanted to. Davis, on the other hand, had a monumental momemtum-swinging play with his heads-up pick-six. Brewer was under pressure and looking to throw something like a tunnel screen over the middle, but floated a pass off of his back foot and right into the hands of the opportunistic Davis. Davis was then able to keep his stride and navigate his way to a huge pick-six. All that, not to mention that Davis had 9 tackles on the day, second on the team. Tyler Marcordes and Anthony Harrell also played, but most of this game was a Quayshawn Nealy-Paul Davis show for the linebackers. A really nice game from both of those guys was big in limiting the Hokies' offense.
You know, this is a tough one. Michael Brewer did complete 28 of 39 passes (71%) for about 300 yards, but he was also picked off three times (twice by this group). The unit did have a tough day, especially on third and long, but I'm also not sure it's so much an issue with the players as the scheme. That's the most alarming part of the entire defensive performance, I'd say, was that Virginia Tech was 8 for 14 on third down, and that 5 of those conversions came on third and 6 or longer. In fact, it was the third quarter before Virginia Tech failed on a third down of longer than 6 yards, and they went 5-for-8 on the game (which means, conversely, they were less successful on shorter ones, going 3-for-6). I think a lot of this was due to soft coverage being played by the secondary, though that was through no fault of their own. Sure, player ability has something to do with schemes being played by a defensive coordinator, but a lot of times it seemed like Roof was trying to play as conservatively as possible, perhaps looking to prevent the big play when he was sending an extra pass rusher or two. What he ended up with was a ton of room in the short- and mid-range passing range, making it easier for the QB to find someone with a pass rush in his face and basically negating the value that sending extra rushers brings.
That's a lot of chalk talk, basically saying that the secondary didn't have a great game, but that wasn't necessarily only their fault. Yes, they struggled to make tackles at times and Isaiah Johnson is continuing to knock rust off after he hadn't really played football between the 2012 Sun Bowl and the start of fall camp (19 months, for those keeping score back home). D.J. White, on the other hand, had a great game, leading the team in tackles and making the interception on Virginia Tech's final offensive snap of the game. Corey Griffin also did a nice job of playing the ball prior to halftime, making his first career interception that led to a major momentum-changing touchdown. This group can be better and needs to be, but made some plays when it needed to and ended up decent in this game. Ted Roof's defensive playcalling left something to be desired, but the players did fairly well all things considered.
For giving up 16 points before halftime, this group really battened down the hatches by only allowing 8 points after the break. They also notched two turnovers after halftime and would've had a third, except that it instead ended with Virginia Tech scoring one of the weirdest touchdowns I've ever seen (their only points of the second half, it should be mentioned). They gave up 424 yards all in all, which isn't good, but did a nice job of not breaking most of the time (Remember how last year's defensive calling card was "bend, not break" a lot of times). From a standpoint of results and competition, this was their best game of the year. The points they allowed was their second-worst of the season, but it came against what should have been the best offensive team they've seen so far. A lot of fans were ready to abandon this group after the first half, but what a lot of folks don't realize is that 7 second half drives resulted in 3 punts, 2 interceptions, and a single touchdown (that came off of a fumble). You might be uncomfortable with the idea, but this group actually had a pretty solid game. I think there were good moments and bad, as has been seen so far this year, but at the end of the day this group had a huge second half and is a large reason as to why the team came home with the W.
"Special" indeed, for better or worse. Harrison Butker hit the game-winning field goal, succeeding in a moment that had Tech fans everywhere biting their nails. He also booted 4 of 5 kickoffs deep enough for touchbacks. Chris Milton blocked what would have been a chip-shot field goal for the Hokies, in retrospect heavily changing the rest of the game. Ryan Rodwell averaged 47 yards per punt and downed one inside the 20. All of that was pretty great. Butker also missed a 30-yard field goal, continuing his struggles with short field goals (it's just like the third-and-long thing...just the complete opposite of what you'd expect.) Kickoff returns continue to be a struggle, mainly from a blocking standpoint.
Special teams continue to be a work in progress for this team, but in this game the highs outweighed the lows. The unit ended up being a big reason for the win, and so I can only complain so much.
If I had a chance to address this team, here's what I'd say:
Here's the deal. You're a young team that makes a lot of mistakes and can be infuriating to watch. But at the same time, you're a resilient group with a knack for making big plays when it counts most. You just went on the road and beat a rival that you haven't beaten since we had two 1st-round Draft picks on the team and won a conference championship. You have work to do and a lot of room for improvement, but you've laid the groundwork for this to become the most special season we've had since the magical run of 2009. Stay humble and hungry, but know that the sky is the limit for you at this point in time. Go get it.
It wasn't pretty, but it didn't need to be. This young, inconsistent, infuriating team got it done in a way that no Georgia Tech team has since Nesbitt was the QB (for a full game). That's good enough for me.
Do you agree with this week's grades? What do your grades look like for this game?