Virginia Tech enters another week with a matchup in which it is heavily favored—but we saw how that turned out in Pittsburgh. The Hokies need to get back on track against Bowling Green, especially with the game taking place at Lane Stadium.
Tech failed to do the simple things last week, and there is still doubt about the team's ability to produce consistently. The Panthers played to their strengths, and the Hokies failed to stop them. It's as simple as that.
This week cannot be a repeat of that game—if Tech were to lose two games marked out as guaranteed wins, its season would start to unravel. We're taking a backwards step with the five keys this week, because that's what the team did in Pittsburgh.
It's hard to pin everything on the defense, because some of the play-calling was terrible.
The Hokies knew that Pittsburgh's main threat was its rushing attack, but they consistently allowed space for Rushel Shell and Ray Graham, who amassed 251 yards and two touchdowns between them.
The Hokies stood too far off the ball after the snap and looked complacent throughout the entire game. There were plays in which it was clear some of the players weren't even looking for the ball, instead seeming content to wander aimlessly as the Panthers breezed by.
The defense was supposed to be the strength of this team, but the “best ever” claims made in August now look faintly ridiculous. Pittsburgh showed a lot of heart, take nothing away from them, but this was a team that Tech should have beaten by 10 points or more.
Instead, a previously porous Panthers offensive line suddenly looked like the '72 Oakland Raiders, mostly due to poor blocking on the Hokies side. If they are to improve as a team, this is where it has to start.
Bowling Green running back Anthon Samuel had a 100-yard game against Toledo last week. Allowing a similar amount again this week would suggest that the Hokies have more of a problem on the ground than they would care to admit.
Logan Thomas shouldered a lot of the blame following the Panthers game, but his three interceptions weren't all on him. His offensive line consistently allowed Pittsburgh to pressure his throws, with two of the interceptions caused by either throws made under duress or tipped passes.
The second pick was entirely on him, however. It's unclear whom he was throwing to when he launched the ball, but there was no one there. Maybe he was trying to throw the ball away, but if that's the case, then the middle of the field is not the place to do it.
Thomas has looked out of sync with his receivers so far. Rhythm will come in time, since he lost his favorite targets, but right now the offense is playing like it’s had a lockout-shortened offseason. Thomas is regularly overthrowing his targets, due to both lazy route running from his receivers and poor mechanics on his part.
Marcus Davis has looked like the biggest offensive threat so far—12 catches, 245 yards, one touchdown—so it would make sense to favor him whenever possible.
So much is expected of Thomas this year, and so far he hasn't been able to produce. It looks like he is trying to do too much; to take the team on his back and carry it through its early development.
This approach isn't working, and he needs to be the one to make the change. Bowling Green offers a chance to keep the playbook simple and develop a connection with his receiving corps.
Only by doing this will it grow into a unit.
To say that the defensive backs had a tough time after Fuller left the field on Saturday would be an understatement.
Fuller made a tackle in the first quarter and came up feeling his right shoulder. He tried to carry on but was taken out of the game after a couple of plays with a contusion.
While Jayron Hosley proved himself a legitimate NFL player on Thursday, his alma mater is suddenly short of options in the defensive backfield. Detrick Bonner was overwhelmed as he was switched around different positions, and the Panthers reeled off 537 yards of total offense.
He wasn’t alone, as the secondary frequently missed tackles and got stung by an offense which simply wanted it more.
Fuller has six tackles and a team-high two interceptions already this year, so the Hokies need him to return for the Bowling Green game. He is a strong tackler and makes good hits in open-field situations.
The Hokies defense is front loaded, with the defensive backfield boasting less experience and depth. It was always going to be tough if a member of the secondary went down injured, especially one as integral as Fuller.
Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray has reportedly said Fuller looked “very good” in Tuesday’s practice, with Fuller himself saying that he feels 70 percent healthy (via The Washington Post).
It’s likely that Fuller plays, even at 70 percent, as the Hokies need him too much to leave him out.
Expect him to get a shot before the game and start.
Getting to the Quarterback
After being embarrassed by the Pittsburgh offensive line, the Hokies need to get back on track and prove themselves defensively. The secondary is deficient, so the front seven will look to get to Falcons junior quarterback Matt Schilz and force him into turnovers.
Schilz put up good numbers last year, but this year he has looked less impressive and made mistakes. The Falcons are a young team and have therefore struggled to string plays together, both on the ground and through the air.
Bowling Green should not be underestimated, though. The Hokies did that last week, and it cost them. The Falcons’ opening game of this year was against Florida, and until the end it was extremely close.
Bowling Green has shown it can hang with ranked opponents—although Tech fell out of the rankings after last week—so there is no room for complacency.
The Hokies defense needs to dominate from the outset and force the young Falcons line backwards, bringing constant pressure to Schilz.
With David Wang ruled out of this week’s game following his ankle injury against Pittsburgh, it will be up to the Virgina Tech offensive line to take a big step forward on Saturday.
Bowling Green defensive tackle Chris Jones was a first-team all-conference selection last year and already has 3.5 sacks to his name, so the struggling Tech offense will have a battle on its hands to get the ball released and move the chains.
Senior Michael Via will likely be the player tasked with replacing Wang. Via has been used in a variety of positions along the line but has split time at right guard with Brent Benedict this year.
Losing Wang is a blow for the Hokies, especially as he only got two games last year before breaking his foot. That year, he rose to No. 35 in the Call of Duty world rankings, such was the amount of time he had on his hands (via The Roanoke Times).
Jones has been named MAC defensive player of the week for the last two weeks (via ToledoBlade.com), so it’s fair to say that he will give Tech far less time on Saturday.