Hokies Look to Develop Depth
by Tom Stecher, 10/22/03
With the recent squeezing of the Syracuse Orangemen, Virginia Tech has now opened up five consecutive seasons by going 6-0. 1999 and 2000 were seasons that all Hokies will never forget: runner-up national champions, Gator Bowl champions, and final rankings in the top 6. However the last two years, Tech faltered down the stretch. Will this year’s edition head for the promised land of another New Year’s Day bowl game, or will another meltdown occur, dooming Tech to holiday destinations of lower tier bowls in Phoenix, Charlotte, or San Francisco?
On the offensive side of the ball, the Hokies have made terrific strides over the past three years. Instead of runs to the left, right, middle and wide receiver screens, the offense is as diverse an offense that Tech may have ever fielded over the last 10 years. However, the Hokies have made their mark over the years with tough, hard-nosed, and aggressive defense. The losses over the last two years, especially last year, perhaps can be attributed to defensive lapses due to injuries and inexperienced players. This article will focus on the lack of defensive depth at certain positions that may have caused Tech’s recent declines.
Of the 18 games Tech has won the last 3 years, only 2 were close, final score wise: 13-3 over Texas A&M and 28-23 over Boston College. That leaves 16 games where depth could be developed and improved. In hokiesports - the newspaper, one of my favorite sections is the depth chart page that lists the number of snaps that each player plays. For years, Virginia Tech has done a great job of rotating the defensive line. But in 2001 and 2002, during these early games, depth at several key positions was never achieved, which may have led to the losses.
Below are charts of the various positions by year in question with the first and second team player, the number of plays, and the % played.
Looking at the above key positions, check out how many plays and percentages that the first string player played. Remember, this was during the early games that were mostly lopsided wins. By playing these guys so much, did Tech wear them out for the later battles? And because Tech did not use the back-ups much during games where invaluable experience is gained and mistakes can be corrected, were they even ready to step in and provide quality relief? I can recall Nebraska bringing in scores of players against the Hokies in the Orange Bowl, while Tech stayed with the starters. If Virginia Tech is truly a Top 10-15 program, shouldn’t the Hokies do the same thing and wear down the opponents? And finally, were NCAA defensive ratings more important than developing depth before injuries forced the depth on Tech?
Perhaps the answers to these questions can be found in this year’s snap counts. First, the cornerbacks now have a solid 4-man rotation of Hall, Wilds, Fuller, and Green, who essentially play the same number of plays. This may in fact be the deepest cornerback depth Tech has ever had. The other positions that were previously noted, the stats are below.
It is obvious that a significant change has occurred this year. At every defensive position, depth has improved. Yes, the NCAA stats are not as gaudy as in years past. But, Tech’s goal is more than NCAA stats. Winning football games is. Injuries are a given in football. By playing more players, if a starter gets injured, although certainly a blow to the team, capable replacements have been developed. Layered depth-wise (ha-ha), this may be the Hokies' best ever team.
So, on to the question every Hokie fan wants answered. Is the bowl destination in Phoenix, Charlotte, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Miami, or …….New Orleans!?! Virginia Tech is halfway to the answer. This could be a very memorable 6 weeks!