Virginia Tech Football: Where The Problem Lies

Justin ClarkCorrespondent INovember 4, 2009

This last week has been a tough one for Hokienation as fans have gone from booking trips to Pasadena to planning their two-hour car ride down to Charlotte for the Meinikie Car Care Bowl.  Obviously, with four weeks left in this college football season, a lot can still happen (VT still has a shot at winning the ACC, can you believe that?).

However, since the Hokies have a non-conference game this weekend, I'm not going to dive into the psyche of the ECU Drunkin Pirates, instead I'm going to do some soul searching on what exactly is wrong with this Virginia Tech team.

The Virginia Tech fanbase has become spoiled over the past few years.  Going into this season, Tech was alone with USC and Texas as the only schools to win 10 or more game each of the past five seasons.  So, it's no secret that Tech fans have become accustomed to winning.  But, with the Hokies now losing two straight, some fans have pulled out their guitars and began their Kumbaya chants while other have resorted back to burning Stinespring statues in effigy.

As much as I disagree with the direction Beamer wants to take in this offense, this season has at least been a breath of fresh air for us on the offensive side of the ball.  And, this brings me back to what I wanted to talk about: What the hell is wrong with our team?

I've really decided that their are three things that currently concern me with the direction of the Virginia Tech program, however the good news is that all are correctable without one of the coaches getting the ax at the end of the year.

1. Offensive Line Woes Continue

Do you all remember the talk heading into this season that the offensive line should finally be able to take a step forward?  Ok, do you remember the same talk before last years season?  You remember that to.  Ok, do you remember the excitement that surrounded the fanbase when Coach Newsome was hired after molding JMU's front five into the best in Division 1-AA?

If you remember all of that then your probably asking yourself why is Virginia Tech still ranked 97th in sacks allowed this year?  If you think that's bad, take a look at this... the Hokies are ranked 116th in passing attempts per game with just 146 passes this season.  The only teams that have thrown the ball less than the Hokies, the four teams that run the triple-option offense (Navy, Army, Georgia Tech, and Air Force).

So we throw the ball less than 17 times per game but we still give up about three sacks a game, which is about 1.5 more sacks on average than teams like Houston that throw the ball 50 times per game.  That folks, is where the problem lies on offense.

Stinespring was the offensive line coach before switching over to tight end coach when Newsome was hired in 2006.  After the 2004 season, the offensive line was slowly going down hill and with Stiney taking over as offensive coordinator, it was clear that the Hokies needed somebody who devote all of their attention to coaching the players on the line. 

But since the Hokies hired Newsome, the offensive line has never been able to play at that high level most Hokie fans were expecting with Newsome being hired.  This year and that 97th ranking in sacks allowed, is the highest the offensive line has risen in that category since 2005 when Tech was ranked a mediocre 80th with just over 2.5 sacks given up per game.

So is it coaching, is it player effort, or is it talent?

Up until last season, I probably would have said it was a lack of talent.  But, with the Hokies bringing in some better overall recruiting classes lately, it's pretty clear that Virginia Tech has the talent up front capable of better results.

Sergio Render is currently listed as one of the top three guards in the country by most NFL scouts.  Ed Wang is also considered a player that should be drafted by many scouts, especially the New Orleans Saints.  Add those two along with Warren, Brooks, and DeChristopher and there is plenty of talent there.

Also, when I went back and watched a few of the games this year, the guys on the offensive line were playing their hearts out but they seemed a little lost in certain situations.  The sack on Tyrod Taylor in the 2nd quarter that I broke down in my previous article, was a perfect example of the kids playing hard but completely missing an assignment (aka not knowing what to do). 

Boone stayed in to be an extra blocker but completely missed the UNC defensive end, allowing him to come free.  Dechristopher sold the run to the left where as Boone ended up blocking the outside linebacker.  It's mistakes like that, that keep this offense from reaching it's full potential.

So, I guess Im saying that our problem on the offensive line is coaching.  We have the talent, the effort is there, but our kids still seem to be confused by our zone-blocking scheme that we've implemented.  Either we need to simplify things a bit and just go with what we know or start shopping for a new offensive line coach.

2.  Lack of Recruiting Success

Two and Three go together but I decided to break them up for a couple of reasons.  I went back and looked at our 2005 recruiting classes up through our current 2010 recruiting class and there have been some alarming similarities between every one of those classes. 

Coach Beamer prides himself on trying to win a national championship with Virginia players.  I, and the rest of the fanbase, have no problem with that because if you follow high school football here in Virginia, you know that the state produces a lot of quality talent year in and year out.  The problem with Beamer's plan here is that the Hokies have failed to lock down the state in recent years.  While Tech has done a good job at grabbing around 30 percent of the top 20 in-state on the average each year, those misses at the top of the class can really change the future of your program.  Just imagine if Michael Vick went elsewhere instead of coming to Virginia Tech.

So, from my research here is what I found

2005 class:

This was the one class that breaks up my argument.  The Hokies grabbed four of the top five in-state (missing out only on current UVA DB, QB, WR, RB, KR, PR, Kick Holder, defensive coordinator, and head coach Vic Hall).  

Tech also grabbed nine of the top 15 in the state of Virginia, four of the remaining six went to UVA, and the remaining two went out of state.  However, those great recruits the Hokies got, just about all of them never panned out.  Macho Harris was the lone five star in this class and lived up to the hype, becoming a great cornerback. 

Deveon Simmons, Elan Lewis, and Todd Nolen were the Hokies other big time recruits in this class and only one of those three ever made it to campus (Lewis tore his ACL and was never the same after that).  The rest of this in-state haul has been pretty marginal to say the least.  Ed Wang has turned out ok (10th in-state), Greg Boone (12th in-state), and Cordarrow Thompson (26th in-state) have done ok, but the trend that really started with this class was that the Hokies missed on some pretty good players in this class.

Daryl Gresham (8th in-state) went to Florida and has had a pretty good career.  Vic Hall has turned out be a good player for UVA although he plays just about every position for them.  Pat Sheil (6th in-state) turned out to be a good offensive lineman for Boston College.  Quite possibly the biggest loss for the Hokies was losing out of Jeffrey Fitzgereld who turned out to be a quality defensive end at UVA.

2006 class:

The 2006 Virginia class was about as national of a class as you could get.  The bad news was that the Hokies failed to land a single player in the top 10 this year.  They let Percy Harvin (No. 1), Vidal Hazelton (No. 2), Damon McDaniel (No. 3... and VT's biggest loss in this class, he tried to transfer back to VT two years later), Brent Vinson (No. 7), Dedrick Epps (No. 8), and Brandon Minor (No. 10) all go elsewhere.  If we added Harvin, McDaniel, and Minor to this offense, maybe the Sean Glennon years wouldn't have been so bad.  Could you imagine Eddie Royal and Percy Harvin lined up for us at wide receiver, it would be like buttering a bread, a simple recipe that not even Stinespring could screw up.

Sadly the losses in the 2006 class didn't just stop in the top 10.  Tech missed out on Brandon Caleb who is now a starting WR for Oklahoma, Evan Royster a three year starter for Penn State, and Ras-I Dowling who has turned into a future NFL'er at UVA.  The Hokies only had about three recruiting successes in-state in this class and they were Kam Chanceller, Beau Warren, and John Graves.

Also, if you wanted to expand this debate to the out of state prospects to pursued, we did miss out on both Knowhon Moreno and LeSean McCoy.  We led for both players up until the very end... ohh what could have been.

2007 class:

The Hokies did a good job of landing the top player in-state in Tyrod Taylor but the rest of this class turned out to be a wash.  Tech grabbed only one of the top five, three of the top 10, and just nine of the top 30 in the state of Virginia.  Cris Hill and Blake Dechristopher (both four stars) have turned out to be ok but neither one has lived up to the hype they had coming in.  Quillie Odom, Will Alvarez, and Davon Morgan had some success but Avarez is now gone and Morgan has battled through some injuries recently while backing up Dorian Porch at Rover.  Odom was a promising recruit that came in a year late but has yet to really materialize into anything on the field. 

The good news was that the Hokies didn't really miss a whole lot in this class. Four star Andrew Nuss who went to Notre Dame and four star defensive end Jamar Jackson who went to FSU might have been a nice addition but neither have had much success yet in their careers.

2008 class:

I built this class up as possibly the best group the Hokies have brought in and currently, they really haven't let me down.  Tech did a good job of raiding their pipelines in-state and did a decent job at getting some kids further down on the list.  The Hokies finished with just two of the top five, four of the top 10, and 17 of the top 30 in the state of Virginia.  Overall, this is what every Virginia Tech recruiting class should look like.

However, the Hokies did miss out on getting Mike Glennon (NC State), Quinton Couples (UNC... took Leon Mackey, former VT commit with him),  Marcus Dowtin (UGA), Deion Walker (Notre Dame), and Kerry Boykins (Maryland).  Every one of those kids have at least made some impact on their current teams.

Overall this was probably the Hokies best recruiting effort, especially since they were able to out recruit some schools for Ryan Williams, Tech's starting running back.

2009 class:

The 2009 class had mixed results but it seems like the Hokies had a lot more misses then they did hits.  The Hokies landed just two of the top 10 (No. 1 David Wilson and No. 4 Logan Thomas) but missed out on three quarterbacks in Bryn Renner (UNC), Kevin Newsome (Penn State), and Tajh Boyd (Clemson). 

To go along with that the Hokies also missed out on Jared Askew who has all the intangibles to be a three year starter at Tennessee.  Add two four star running backs and a four star wide receiver to that list and you have a lot of misses at the top of this class.  Tech did pretty well from 11-30 by landing nine of those 20 recruits but the failure to bring in a quarterback when they needed one will haunt Virginia Tech.

Everything you do in college football one way or another can be traced back to recruiting.  The Hokies have failed to lock down the state of Virginia even when their only real in-state competition is struggling. 

If Beamer wants to continue recruiting Virginia and trying to win a national championship with Virginia kids, then he might want to try to improve his recruiting budget and actually go after some of these guys.  Sure some of them might just want to head out of state but its the players like Newsome, like Brandon Minor, like Tajh Boyd who have really no reason to head out of state other than to not play in our offensive system.

Thanks to the Internet, these kids aren't as clueless as they were 15 and 20 years ago where you could sell them on just about anything.  I'm sure both Kevin Newsome and Tajh Boyd knew exactly how bad our offense was and even when our coaches sold them the chance of playing early after Tyrod leaves, they didn't want to play in the 60th ranked offense in the nation.  They wanted to play in an offense that could produce big plays and play in big games and they just didn't see that in the Virginia Tech offense.

Ok, rant over let's move on to number three.

3. Lack of National Championship Level Talent

Every year, every fanbase debates the possibility of their favorite college making it to the national championship game.  The Hokies did it this year, many of those on Techsideline and Rivals were predicting an 11-1 or a 12-0 season.  But, after watching the Hokies closely over the past six years, it's pretty clear that Tech doesn't have the talent to come out and win 12 games in one season.

This past weekend I decided to watch the first half of the Texas vs Oklahoma State game and if you really want to see how good a team can be when a bunch of four and five star kids put in 100 percent effort, go back and watch that game.  Texas is in a school of their own when it comes to recruiting and talent.  Texas puts out over 200 kids each year to Division one colleges, that's enough to field two and a half teams.  Texas normally wraps up it's recruiting class by April of the previous year.  Don't believe me, stroll on on over to Texas's site here in a couple months and look at the amount of commits they'll have for their 2011 class. 

Virginia Tech hasn't even gotten close to that level where we can select who we want and who we don't want.  That is what's amazing about how we've been able to hang with USC and Texas over the past half decade in wins.  Part of that is hard work from our players and our coaches and part of that has been because we play in a weaker conference than they do.  But, still impressive nonetheless.

But, if we were to play Texas or USC we would lose to them seven or eight times out of 10.  It wouldn't because our coaches would be getting out coached or our players getting out played, it would be because they are simply better athletes than what we have at Virginia Tech.

This is why I said that two and three fit together.  Tech needs to recruit at a higher level and we need to recruit more nationally as apposed to just VA, NC, and Maryland.  There are enough kids in this area to field a really good football team but if we have a chance to land a kid that's going to develop into a huge playmaker for us, we should recruit that kid instead of a two star kid that has a chance to contribute in three or four years.

Maybe your opinion varies and if it does let me know, but after doing some soul searching this is what I came up with.  If we can raise our level of recruiting, I think all of our current problems go away but that's just me.


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