Many Virginia Tech fans have gone through this scenario before: A hotly anticipated game against a difficult opponent on neutral ground, a realistic opportunity to win, and the chance to button the lips of naysayers across the nation—all spoiled by poor play-calling and an unwillingness to adjust to the in-game, on field dynamics.
It has been shrugged off in the past as a few missed plays here and there, inexperience, or something to that effect, but it becomes consistently clear that the players have less and less to do with it. Not even the offensive line.
It’s the coaches.
Frank Beamer is a great coach with an uncanny ability to take two- and three-star players and turn out a top-25 team every year. He is a great coach when it comes to being consistent and being loyal to his coaching staff. But he is loyal to a fault.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has proved, time and time again, that his shallow play-calling and stubbornness toward game time adjustments make the offense not only easily readable, but painfully limited when it comes to production, and Beamer has done nothing to soothe the team’s constant offensive problems.
This game with Alabama is a perfect example. For three quarters Tech’s defense pinned Greg McElroy and the green Tide offense to the wall, forcing punt after punt, a few drives highlighted by recovered turnovers. But as they were goaded into play with constant Hokie three-and-outs or costly fumbles, the defense began to wear out entirely, surrendering nearly 500 yards of offense.
The fatigue turned into miscues and the backfield began to make some costly errors. At one point, Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram broke tackle after tackle, essentially shrugging off linebackers and safeties, providing his team with a series of long first-downs.
So for three quarters, Bud Foster’s defense kept Virginia Tech in the game -- giving them good field position, stopping the Alabama onslaught by forcing field goals, pressuring McElroy. But a team is only as good as it’s weakest link.
A paltry 155 yards is all Virginia Tech has to show for itself. Granted, Alabama may have the finest defense in the country this year, but with all of the speed and size on the Hokie offense, they should be able to make a case for themselves as a legitimate threat.
The poor play-calling was a thread throughout the whole game. Instead of starting with a brutal and aggressive short-passing game, Coach Stinespring told quarterback Tyrod Taylor to hand the ball off and let budding star Ryan Williams tear through the defense. Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually occur until a passing game has been established, when the defense isn’t able to guess what is coming.
And that was the lynchpin that so easily snapped on Saturday night: the reading of Virginia Tech plays. The offensive line was flooded through in the second half, allowing sack after sack, forcing Tyrod Taylor to throw the ball away.
A good defense can read an offense that is capable of only a dozen or so plays, and once the Tide linebackers were onto it, the offensive line could only do so much to stop them. Against a talented handful of linebackers, Sergio Render and the rest of the line were simply out-manned.
As far as the offensive weapons, Tyrod Taylor played the game mistake-free, but his completion rating was below fifty percent. His accuracy is better than it has been in the past, especially taking into account that some of his missed passes were in fact drops by receivers. Likely he will record much better statistics in the weeks to come.
Commodity running back-turned-wide receiver Dyrell Roberts saw all of his actions as a return man, and though he was incredible, wasn’t able to use his blinding speed and telescopic field vision in any setting otherwise.
One person that Tech fans can laud is Ryan Williams. He rushed 70 yards on a dozen carries, caught a few passes, and made a highlight-reel touchdown dive late in the game.
He brings to the table what Virginia Tech has been missing since the Eddie Royal, Brandon Ore, Josh Morgan days—a player with the ability to stretch the play. Hopefully next year the return of injured Darren Evans will provide the Hokies with a strong one-two punch backfield.
Virginia Tech’s tight ends have always made strong statements in-game, except for this one. Greg Boone and his incredible athleticism were never showcased, the fan favorite Wild Turkey formation was mysteriously missing, and he was not sent out to catch a Tyrod Taylor dump-pass and barrel twenty yards down field.
With all these weapons there is no reason that Virginia Tech shouldn’t have an amazing offense. They are being constantly impeded by one-dimensional play-calling.
And Frank Beamer won’t change a thing. He hides behind the stock string-of-10-win-seasons answer when he is questioned about it, or he blames the players for offensive miscues. But a team should not have to play an absolutely perfect game to win.
To be one of three teams with five or more consecutive ten-win seasons is a good thing, but both USC and University of Texas have won a multitude of bowl games against quality opponents and are a threat to teams in the top 10. Tech has proved that against teams ranked outside the top twelve, the games are winnable, but with a record like 1-21 against top five teams, 0-4 against the SEC, and only one BCS win, there can be no excuses.
I know it has already been said, but Bryan Stinespring has got to go. As long as he is the offensive coordinator, the Virginia Tech Hokies will remain a team on the fringes of greatness, rather than the embodiment of it.