Miami Game Analysis: Outgunned
by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 11/6/00
Here's your analysis: the Hokies got whipped.
In all seriousness, this wasn't a game that had a lot of subtlety to it, and figuring out what happened here isn't rocket science. If Michael Vick and Andre Davis had been healthy, the game probably would have been closer, but would the Hokies have won? Hard to say. You can argue that Tech had bigger problems defensively than they did offensively.
Going in, most people agreed that Tech could win this game, but there were certain things that needed to happen in order for that to come about. And the problem was, those things that were necessary for victory didn't happen.
Tech didn't stop the big play defensively, they didn't make the big play in special teams, and they didn't have any success in the passing game. Miami didn't help at all, playing and coaching a good game that was nearly mistake-free.
What really happened here is that the misfortune continued to pile up for the Hokies and they finally collapsed, like a Jenga tower that has had one too many pieces of wood pulled out of it. The injuries, the inexperience, a strong opponent, a road game ... they all added up to a Hokie loss.
It is remarkable that Virginia Tech had made it this far without a loss, and it is a credit to the coaching staff, players, and fans. Tech now stands at 8-1 with a legitimate shot at a 10-1 regular season, and that's phenomenal.
Here are some more or less random thoughts on the game. I give them to you in an attempt to shed some light on what went wrong in this blowout, although it's really not hard to figure out. I'm sure you've already come to many of these same conclusions yourself, but maybe some of this will shed new light on things for you.
I was disappointed that the coaching staff pulled Dave Meyer so quickly, after just three offensive series. And when I saw how gimpy, ineffective, and frustrated Michael Vick was, I was really disappointed that Meyer hadn't been left in. And when I saw Dave settle down and have a good second half, eventually throwing for 225 yards, I was ... well, you know.
I'm curious what the Tech coaches saw in Meyer, and what they saw in Vick, that made them decide to pull Meyer so quickly. Dave had thrown a couple of bad incompletions on third downs, and he had gotten swallowed up running the option, but I think he should have gotten more time. As is normal for Dave, he took it well and was positive in his post-game comments, but I felt bad for him. He has put a lot of time and effort into this program, and I thought he deserved more of a chance.
At the time he was yanked, Tech was only down 14-0, and that was nothing to panic over. As I pointed out in my preview, Miami had taken two-score leads in this game in 1997, 1998, and 1999. I also said that a key to the game was "don't get rattled," and I think the Hokie coaching staff got a little rattled. At a time when their injury-riddled team needed the coaching staff to show poise, leadership, and confidence, Frank Beamer and company wavered.
Yeah, I know, hindsight is 20-20, and I shouldn't be critical of guys who know more about football than I could learn in 10 years of studying, but criticism is not my intent. I'm just curious. Again, I'd like to know what they saw in Dave Meyer -- and in Michael Vick -- that led them to that decision. As it worked out, the offense wound up floundering for over a quarter with Vick at the helm, with Vick himself turning the ball over twice, and by the time Meyer was put back in, the Hokies had fallen behind by another score, and the game was getting out of reach.
Defensively, there wasn't much Tech could do to stop a Miami team that has talent at all skill positions, a solid offensive line, and a quarterback who is doing a great job running the show. Miami simply had too much going for them against a Tech defense that can't generate a pass rush and has too many injuries at the cornerback position.
The Hokies did a fairly good job slowing down the Miami rushing game, with the notable exception of the 50-yard TD run by fullback Najeh Davenport. Take away that run, and Miami only has 133 yards rushing on 38 carries (3.5 yards per carry) -- and that's without the benefit of any sacks taking away from Miami's rushing totals.
Where Tech ran into trouble was against the Hurricanes' passing game. This was no surprise -- trouble has been brewing here all year, and the Pittsburgh game was a clear indicator that a good passing team could have its way with the Hokies. Miami did just that, getting 12.3 yards per passing attempt and 25.7 yards per completion. When a team does that to you, you're taking a beating in the passing game.
Miami saw the mismatch -- preseason Heisman candidate Santana Moss matched up against true freshman Eric Green -- and went after it. Moss had 154 yards receiving on just 4 catches, a sterling 38.5 yards per catch.
The problem was exacerbated by Tech's lack of a pass rush. Again, this is nothing new. After 9 games, the Hokies only have 20 sacks, just barely over 2 sacks per game. Compare that stat with these:
You can see that even when compared to 1997, which was generally considered a poor pass rushing year for Tech, this year's team falls far below any recent Tech team in the sack department.
When you isolate your corners in man-to-man coverage as Tech does, a pass rush, particularly from the defensive ends, is essential. And Tech hasn't been getting that. After years of being spoiled by defensive ends Cornell Brown, John Engelberger, and Corey Moore, the Hokies are struggling with Nathaniel Adibi, Jim Davis, Lamar Cobb, and Cols Colas. That very young Tech quartet of defensive ends (all are freshmen or redshirt freshmen, except for redshirt sophomore Cobb) has generated just 6.5 sacks in 9 games this year.
For even more perspective, John Engelberger alone had at least 6 sacks in every season he played, including his redshirt freshman season of 1996. If I can remember, I'll revisit this statistic (sacks by the defensive ends) at the end of the season and will present numbers from previous seasons and this season for comparison.
In this game, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey had all day to throw, and he had one big mismatch (Moss-Green) to work with. The end result was fully expected, and as a matter of fact, it's almost surprising that he only passed for 283 yards.
Tech's defensive youth and inexperience showed in this game, and not just in the fact that Eric Green was worked over by Moss and Tech generated no pass rush. The Hokies also miscommunicated on defense and took the wrong attack angle on some plays.
Kevin McCadam, who hasn't played much at this level, took a slightly wrong angle on a couple of plays and wound up missing the tackle. Willie Pile had a good shot at Davenport on the 50-yard run and missed him. Green and the safety (can't remember if it was Pile or McCadam) didn't communicate properly on Moss's first touchdown, leaving the Miami receiver wide open for an easy 42-yard TD -- Green, apparently expecting help from the safety, backed up almost all the way into the end zone without ever engaging Moss, who slanted across the middle and went in untouched.
And on and on it went. Tech's linebackers played pretty well, and Ronyell Whitaker had a good game. Whitaker's refusal to retaliate when a Miami receiver (Santana Moss?) pushed him stands out as a heady play for the volatile cornerback. The Miami player was whistled for a dead-ball personal foul, and that penalty killed a Miami drive at a time when the Canes had a 14-0 lead.
That's when the trash-talking that Whitaker regularly engages in is a good thing: when it makes his opponent lose his cool, but Whitaker keeps his. Admittedly, Ronyell had his hands up high on the Miami player's chest, almost up under his face mask, and that probably made the guy snap and commit the penalty, but it might not have happened without Whitaker's constant yapping.
Defensive stalwarts David Pugh and Chad Beasley had 4 of Tech's 6 tackles for loss but were only able to put together 5 tackles total between the two of them (hey, at least they made them count). I haven't watched my tape to see if they were double-teamed, but I imagine they were.
Back on the subject of those defensive ends: Cobb, Adibi, Colas and Davis had 3 tackles total.
One big question after the game was, "Why didn't Tech blitz more, instead of giving Dorsey all day to throw?" That's a good question for Bud Foster, not me. I do know that in 1997, when the Hokie defensive line was young and wasn't generating much of a pass rush, Foster blitzed a lot early in the year. Tech opponents started figuring that out and burned the Hokies with the short passing game, and Foster called off the dogs. When he did that, the defense really started getting abused, much like they did against Miami Saturday.
Blitzing against Miami is a risky proposition, because they use the tailbacks, fullbacks, and tight ends so well as outlets in the passing game. If your linebackers aren't home when Miami goes to that short passing game, you're in deep trouble, so Foster played it close to the vest.
In short, Tech was dealing from a deck that was stacked against them. Give the Hurricanes the nod in talent and experience, if nothing else. I have a feeling that no matter what the Hokies did, Miami was destined to score at least 28 points, probably more.
Hidden in the blowout was the little-noticed fact that Miami wasn't necessarily sharp in this one. True, the Canes did not turn the ball over like they have in recent games against Tech. After giving up 11 turnovers in the 1998 and 1999 games, the Canes had just one turnover in this game, and that came very, very late in the game, long after the outcome had been decided.
But there were other mistakes by Miami. Dorsey did well with the long passing game, throwing some very accurate balls to Moss in particular, but he was pretty pitiful in the short passing game. He repeatedly threw bad short passes to his running backs, most notably fullback D.J. Williams. If some pressure had been applied to Dorsey, he may have caved and had a bad day. As it was, he simply had a mediocre day in what amounted to a no-pressure passing drill for him.
And as always, the penalties were there for the Canes. Miami had 7 penalties for 68 yards, compared to just 3 for 26 yards for Tech. By my count, Miami killed four drives with penalties (meaning that they committed penalties in an offensive series that did not result in a first down), and they had another penalty that backed them up after a TD and led to a missed extra point.
But Tech squandered the opportunities by getting killed in the field position game and by not executing well in the passing game. Dave Meyer, though rarely pressured, missed some passes badly. The Tech receivers, most notably Emmett Johnson, dropped passes (and Johnson's failure to aggressively go to the ball on Vick's interception left Ed Reed all alone to pick the ball off). On a beautiful screen play call early in the second half, Meyer underthrew Browning Wynn, who fell down when he caught it.
Bobby Peaslee punted poorly early in the game, averaging 27 yards a punt on his first 5 punts before settling down to average 39 yards a punt on his last 3 kicks. For the game, Miami averaged 43.1 yards per punt, and the Hokies just 31.5. The good news is that the Hokies averaged nearly 11 yards per punt return, but Miami averaged less than 3.
Virginia Tech must regroup for a night game against Central Florida, and then take a week off before closing with Virginia.
The Hokies are at a crossroads here. The similarities between this season and the ill-fated 1997 season are strong and undeniable.
In 1997, the Hokies had a gimpy starting quarterback (Al Clark), and their only deep threat receiver (Shawn Scales) was hurt, leaving the passing game in total disarray. The defense was young and couldn't generate a rush from the defensive line. Tech opponents got their passing games working against the Hokie defense, and once the weaknesses in Tech's team were exposed in the Miami (OH) and WVU games, subsequent opponents feasted on Tech (Pittsburgh, UVa, and UNC).
The Tech coaching staff wasn't much help during that difficult time. Without a pass rush (and with this year's injuries at cornerback), there isn't much Bud Foster can do to get his defense going. As for Rickey Bustle, I've learned over the years that he doesn't respond well when his players get injured. Calling option plays with Vick barely able to walk, as Bustle did in this game, is unfathomable. And in 1997, with Clark injured and Scales out, his play-calling was atrocious. Marcus Parker, a true stud when catching passes out of the backfield, was barely used, and instead, Bustle had Clark, an inaccurate deep passer, heaving bombs to 5-9 wideout Ken Handy.
The next two games are super-critical for Tech. The Hokies have to play hard, get some leadership from some players and the coaches, and get back to winning. Michael Vick has to recover from his injury. Unfortunately, I don't think Andre Davis will be healthy again this year. Bursitis lingers and lingers, and I'm afraid we won't see him full speed for the rest of the year, and maybe not even for the bowl game.
Look for the Hokies to go conservative in the Central Florida game, with the emphasis on Lee Suggs running the ball. I'm not sure how good of a passing game Central Florida has, but if they're good at it, the Hokie defense could be in trouble again. If Vick is not a hundred percent, I advocate putting Dave Meyer in as the quarterback and standing behind him. He did pretty well in the Miami game and did not turn the ball over (his only interception was tipped first by tight end Derek Carter, and Meyer did not fumble).
Looking further down the road to the UVa season-ender, the injury to Davis and the defensive struggles will equalize that game, which I was looking at just a month ago as a sure Tech win. Fortunately, former UVa offensive coordinator Sparky Woods, who knew better than any coach in the country how to dissect the Tech defense, is no longer there. But UVa QB Dan Ellis is having a decent season and might have a breakout day against Tech. We shall see.
At this point in the season, 10-1 is the goal for Tech, and let the bowl chips fall where they may. I'm not really concerned at this point about whether or not the Hokies are going to go to a BCS bowl, though the money is sorely needed for a new playing surface in Lane Stadium. I'm more concerned about just getting through the next two games with a team that has suffered key injuries, is young on defense, and may be losing confidence.