Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Louisville Cardinals: the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Things

The Only Sounds Heard from this One Were Groans

Before I cop to an error in judgement (as in putting hope and heart above my brain) I do have to say that there is one good thing about Saturday’s football fiasco for the Hokies. It’s over and there are three games against peer teams left before the season wraps. The bad news in that is that two of them are on the road, and the Hokies haven’t won on the road in quite a while.

On a practical level, as an overall observation, it’s obvious that this team is still in an inconsistent state of capabilities. That makes it nearly impossible to reliably face better teams and present real challenges on the field.

Let’s go through the pile and see what needs to be done to sort out the final three games of the 2023 season. No, there won’t be any talk of bowls, booger, or not. The Hokies just aren’t consistent (some will say ‘good’) enough to do that. The upcoming game with BC isn’t going to be easy, and Tech is rolling into Chestnut Hill with a tiny advantage in the odds that doing better against Louisville would have pushed up a bit.

But that’s for the Preview. Let’s stroll through the final wrap of the weekend disaster. We need to, but really don’t feel great about it, we shouldn’t be here at this point in the season.

Was There Any Good?

Aside from the reality that the game is now over, and in the books, the stark thought is, frankly, a loud ‘NO’. This might be the first loss where there just weren’t enough good things going on to even mention some marginally good items. John Love nailed his single scoring opportunity, and Bhayshul Tuten actually gaining some positive yardage, were something good, but so small in the grander breakdown that they just got overwhelmed… sort of like the offensive line.

Maybe the only ‘good’ that comes out of the Louisville game is: “Well, let’s not do that, again.

The Catalog of Bad

The Hokies lost this one at the coin toss. (Tech continues to defy the 50/50 odds of a coin flip and lose them in stultifying numbers.) Given the defense’s reaction to Jeff Brohm’s offensive scheme, winning it and deferring might not have worked out well, either.

An Offensive Roadmap in Crayon

The Hokie Offense was not prepared, at all, for Louisville’s defensive approach. On the first play Kyron Drones missed an obvious blitz and so did the entire left side of the offensive line. There was no protection adjustment and Drones ended up pasted deep in the backfield before he could even make the first read or plant his feet. It looked like a deep shot pattern set that might have had a bubble outlet. But Louisville did to Drones what the Hokies needed to do to Plummer. Louisville spent the entire game in the box, sending the student body after Tech’s backfield. Louisville routinely had a single safety over, and nearly every player in the box or within a few yards of the box. They blitzed nearly all the time, and keyed any player in the backfield who could run. The pass rush just blew through blocks or got off them so quickly that Drones didn’t have a chance to go anywhere meaningful with the ball. After the first drive failure the entire offensive game plan needed to be dumped in the trash, and it wasn’t.

This was where the OC needed to make major in quarter adjustments, get Drones out of the pocket, go to intermediate fast routes behind the vacated zones at 8-12 yards, and string out the overly aggressive Cardinal rush. No such luck. Drones was repeatedly dropped back into a collapsing pocket with not enough first read or hot routes to hit on 3-second play executions. If you can’t do that, you can’t beat the kind of defense that Louisville put up.

Wrinkles That Were Not Ironed Out

The Hokie Defense was completely flummoxed by Brohm’s mix of Modern Shotgun and old-fashioned Power ‘I’ combination. The defensive line was getting moved around because there was no slow developing running or passing play to adjust and beat blocks. Louisville was drive-blocking runs that were coming past the first level faster than the defensive line could close down the gaps. This also meant that a defensive mid-field was out of position to stop the run. There was a near total breakdown in the run fits for the linebackers, and Nasir Peoples was making entirely too many tackles. When your Safety is making the majority of the run tackles, you have a serious run contain in the box problem.

No one could get off of blocks in the box, and no one within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage was even near the ball to make a play.

Tech was beaten on the ground. It wasn’t even necessary for Brohm and company to pass all that much. Louisville challenged the Tech defense to stop the run, and Tech never adjusted to try and stop it. When they did pinch into the box to try, they didn’t stick with the adjustment. The defense made a couple of stops but it was always a ‘too little too late’ sort of affair.

And the final “bad” was the total collapse of the team from the first failed three and out. The team just didn’t seem with it on both sides of the line of scrimmage, after the first series, and Louisville’s opening ground assault. It was like all of the air came out, and instead of getting their backs up, and getting angry at something, the Hokies just sort of faded into resignation. Because Louisville was running, their scoring was way behind a normal collegiate pace, and Tech wasn’t really completely out of the game until the 2nd half opening drive. But no one seemed to want to take advantage of the fact that Louisville was often playing “caveman” 1970’s style football.

Stuff That Just Got Ugly

The total blocking failure of the first series was accompanied by even more perplexing non-adjustments. The OC seemed determined to stick his mobile quarterback in a bag that was rapidly collapsing. When passes were called for, they were often far short of any rational line to gain, or so wildly low percentage that Louisville was basically leaving its lone safety back to cover the situation, and all coverage was basically man-to-man. There are pretty standard formulations of plays that are designed to deal with the defense that Louisville was putting up, but from the look of things from the TV and replays, there was precious little systemic being done to implement those options. That might be blamed on talent levels and being overwhelmed on the field. That excuse is rapidly evaporating, though. It’s getting ugly at this level.

The Offense that IS vs. the One the OC WANTS

The next offense against effectiveness is, again, on the OC. He’s just not putting together any sort of evidence that he’s capable of calling an effective play series inside of the 15-yard line, and in particular inside the 10. The reality of this season is that Virginia Tech at 1st and goal, anywhere between the 10 and 2 is doomed to a -4 at least half of the time. That’s just leaving too many points on the field in a marginal situation where 8-12 points can determine whether or not the team wins a game. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, but Tech’s single chance to drive and get the ball across the goal line evaporated with narrow minded play calling, and mistakes. At the risk of “going there”, IF (And I am beginning to hate IF conditions because we routinely make it to ELSE.) the OC cannot figure out how to call plays that score touchdowns near the goal line, the team will be home for the holidays.

The Gaping Hole in the D

The linebackers took a massive step back in this one. They were unable to adjust to the speed and force of a Power ‘I’ run scheme in short yardage situations. Overall, their run fits at the boundaries between the 1st and 2nd levels rarely happened before the runner was deep into the 2nd level. They always seemed to be a beat behind in their reads, and the Safeties were too often need to stop runs before they got well beyond the 3rd level and that failed too many times. This was not anywhere near a passing game, or passing offense, Tech never adjusted to change the emphasis to loading the box, run-dogging, and collapsing the holes at the line of scrimmage. The defensive line was just getting pushed around by a bigger offensive line. While Louisville’s pass offense never really developed, it never really needed to.

Hokies are Still Off-Kilter on the Road

The final ugly… The Hokies are looking like they can’t manage a win on the road. It’s bad enough losing a winnable game at home in terrible conditions against Purdue, but the Hokies have been gaining some home field momentum back. That’s not enough for getting past the .500 mark in the schedule, however. The road Hokies do not look or feel like the home Hokies. That’s on both the coaches for preparation and routine, and on the players for not stepping up and figuring out for themselves enough to come up with at least a split of some type. This is where our gripes regarding “routine”, operational organization, and tempo come in. When you are in a hostile environment with strange food, water, and facilities, it is critical that the team have structured routines that help them focus on the field and not the stands. The offensive play calling is bad enough, but no rhythm or pace to the process makes it difficult to execute in front of a hostile crowd. If the Hokies want to win, they need to get off the “everybody does it” railroad and chart a course that challenges opponents and invigorates the players. Tech has not seemed “up” for any of its road games this season with slow starts, leaden play calling, and poor execution on the field. Pry has to figure out how to break that cycle and what he’s doing now, isn’t working.

Finding Another Gear

Somebody better find the clutch and change gears, or the Hokies are going to finish the season out of the holiday bowl picture, again. AND given the improvement up in Hooville, the Commonwealth Cup might migrate north. That’s never very good.

Okay enough of the memories of embarrassment and pain. Time to switch off to the Boston College game and some hope for a road turn-around.


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