Talking turkey (HA!) with The Key Play, a Virginia Tech blog of some renown.
It looks like VT's vaunted special teams are mediocre or worse this year. What's with the net punting under 34 yards? Blocks, fumbles, a bad punter? Has VT made its usual complement of the gamechanging special teams plays that might not show up in the conventional numbers?
The starting punter going into the season, Scott Demler, had a lower back injury from his freshman year in 2008 that compromised his leg strength. Beamer went with him early, but it became clear he could not do the job. Beamer turned to true freshman Michael Branthover who has tremendous leg strength, but is woefully inconsistent with his drop due to inexperience with two-step punting. When he became so erratic that it threatened to cost them games, Beamer turned to receiver Danny Coale, who has kicked much better, but it has limited his touches in the passing game.
The Hokies were blessed with an outstanding return game the last two seasons. Beamer decided to benefit from Hosley and Wilson as returners, and taking field position, rather than blocking kicks. This season, the Hokies have been poor with their blocking on kickoff returns, and teams have kicked away from Wilson to Tony Gregory, who is in replacing an injured Dyrell Roberts.
On the punt return, every team has rugby and directionally punted away from Hosley. It has neutralized any attempt to block kicks (although the Hokies got a hand on punt versus Clemson that the ACC officials said never happened), but the Hokies have often benefited from a short field.
David Wilson: scary dude. What are his strengths and weaknesses? If you had to compare him to a back familiar to Big Ten fans who would that be?
Wilson has Michael Bennett-like speed, he set all sorts of Tech records in the weight room, and is a very tough runner. At times, he looks to make the big play rather than the smart play. If you need three and he has a small hole, he will still look to bounce, causing a large number of plays that would result in first downs to go backwards. He doesn't have Ryan Williams's field vision, and he looks for lanes going towards the sideline, rather than finding the cutback lane. That running style has caused the Hokies to abandon much of their one-back zone plays. At the same time, the kid runs really hard, and can make chicken salad out of garbage.
How did Clemson hold Wilson to 36 yards on 11 carries in the championship game?
Simple. The Hokies could not run up the middle because the inside of the o-line was dominated, so much so that Clemson moved both of their safeties up like 3-4 outside linebackers. Aside from Logan Thomas on designed runs, the Hokies have found their success running outside. If you take that away, they have been hesitant to even try up the middle.
QB Logan Thomas is a 6'6" athletic tank in the Tebow/Pryor/Newton mold but is only gaining about 32 yards a game. Is he a dangerous runner or just a guy to keep defenses honest playing Wilson?
Thomas is not as natural of a runner as Newton, nor as quick. However, they have similar builds and Thomas is a much better thrower at this point in his career. When asked to, Logan is essentially the Hokies' power back. On third and short, he is getting the ball. I think the 32 yards per game is misleading. He was not used as much against weaker teams, and he has taken a bunch of sacks in close games. He has delivered a highlight-reel-worthy steamroll on at least one guy every game this year. (Here is much more on Thomas.)
How is the passing game? Who are the dangerous guys?
If Michigan plays cover 3 or soft man, they are screwed. The Hokies have struggled against effective press coverage. They run a ton of deep combo routes, and bubble screens. Other than the bubble screens, most of their patterns involve all the receivers going deep, so they take time to develop.
Chris Drager has been effective on short curl routes from the tight end spot. Jarrett Boykin tends to be effective on double move posts and deep curls, but even with humongous hands he is good for one drop a game. Danny Coale is an outstanding blocker, and has a knack for always getting open, but Logan Thomas can miss him while looking deep. Marcus Davis has the speed and jumping ability to be a tremendous deep threat, but he is a poor blocker and terrible route runner. DJ Coles is physical, outstanding at blocking and catching the ball on screens, and he probably is the best Hokie receiver running after the catch. His route running could be sharper. He was the Hokies' best player against Clemson in the ACC Championship.
Virginia Tech's had a weird season, blowing out a pretty decent Virginia team 38-0 and putting around that much on Miami and GT but struggling against some of the worst teams on the schedule in a 17-10 win against ECU and a 14-10 win against Duke. What's the deal with the offense? Is it really that schizophrenic?
I think the offense was erratic due to matchups. If the Hokies could not run outside the tackles, or if the opposing team took away short throws and could rush the passer, the Hokies struggled.
On defense, I'm sure we're going to see a lot of eight man fronts. How has VT done against spread option teams this year?
The defensive ends will crash on the dive, leaving Robinson one-on-one with either Kyle Fuller (right, #17) or Tariq Edwards. [ED: Edwards is a linebacker, Fuller a S/LB hybrid actually listed as a CB on the VT roster because he is basically a corner. Fuller may be the only corner to ever rack up 14.5 TFLs. VT's defense is weird and aggressive.]
The Hokies defense dominated the four offenses that played the same style as Michigan (Appy State, ECU, Marshall, and Arkansas State), but none have Michigan's talent.
Do you think VT will blitz Robinson or lay back for him to make a mistake? (I think I know the answer to this one, but...)
They will blitz him.
Who should Michigan look out for on defense? Who is your insane undersized pass rusher du jour?
Kyle Fuller is one of the best open field tacklers I have seen in college football. He started the season at corner opposite Jayron Hosley, but moved to Whip linebacker after starter Jeron Gouveia-Winslow was lost for the year and his backup Alonzo Tweedy suffered a high-ankle sprain/didn't play well. Senior corner Cris Hill comes off the bench to replace Fuller at corner. Expect a lot of "nickel personnel" out of our 4-3 looks and scheme. The Hokies will use robber coverage and show man to bait Robinson, then jump routes from zones.
Once the Hokies got into the meat of the ACC schedule, aside from UVa, they could not generate pass rush from just the front-four. Sophomore James Gayle was the guy most of us thought would be the next big time defensive end at Tech. He's an athletic freak and won the Excalibur Award, the highest honor in the Hokies' strength and conditioning program. He has 7 sacks in 12 games, but has been hobbled by a sprained left ankle since Miami.
What makes you nervous about the game? What gives you confidence?
A possible lack of focus makes me nervous, and if we were in the Orange Bowl, again, I'd be even more anxious. More often than not bowl games are won by the team who wants it more. Being that it's Michigan's first BCS game since the 2007 Rose Bowl, and they're coached by a new staff looking to make their mark, I have to believe they're going to be super focused. At least more than the team who has only missed out on the BCS once in the last five seasons.
What gives me a little confidence is that I'm wrong a lot. After getting crushed by Clemson, the Hokies thought they'd finish out the season against an irrelevant SEC team in the Peach Bowl. Ho-hum. Then the Sugar Bowl came along and raised them up. (I went there.) The players and coaches are extremely excited for the game and matchup. They have a real second chance, an opportunity to end the season on a big stage with a win against a ten win team.
I'll take the Hokies in a close game.
Does VT actually jingle keys? If so, can we start a movement to redirect the scorn Michigan gets for that activity to its proper place? Michigan used to but hasn't in five or so years.
"The Key Play.com" /coughs
I don't think I've ever heard any opposing fan in Lane, on the road, or in a bar hate on us for that. I guess they never get tired of saying, "go win a national championship." [ED: Why do we get so much guff for it, then?]