2002 Spring Game Analysis
April 22, 2002
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
There was a story making the rounds after Virginia Tech's 2001 Spring Game, a game that Bryan Randall, then a senior at Bruton High and a recent Virginia Tech signee, viewed from the sidelines.
In Tech's spring game last year, Randall watched rising junior Grant Noel and rising redshirt freshman Jason Davis struggle at times and generally look unimpressive. After the game, someone asked Randall what he thought about what he had just seen.
"I see opportunity," Randall said with a small smile.
This past Saturday, Bryan Randall had exactly that: opportunity. With starter Grant Noel and third-stringer Will Hunt out with injuries, and Chris Clifton moved to wide receiver, Randall got to pilot both the Maroon and White squads in the shortened (26 minutes total) 2002 Spring Game.
It was a chance for Randall to atone for a poor season last fall, a season in which he saw just a little mop-up duty and generally looked bad, often awful. It was his chance to show a sizable Hokie crowd (pegged at 26,000 by the Virginia Tech Sports Information Department) that he has improved by leaps and bounds since last fall.
Mission accomplished. He made some mistakes, but Randall also made some great plays, serving notice to Noel that if Noel is able to recover from his knee injury, he'll be in for a battle for the starting quarterback job this fall.
Also acquitting themselves nicely after a terrible spring were Tech's wide receivers. As a group, they were the subject of much chatter this spring, as report after report after report surfaced that said they were dropping passes left and right (and to be fair, the tight ends and tailbacks were also taking heat for dropping passes).
There was no such evidence of those problems in the Spring Game. Not only did the receivers catch nearly everything that hit them in the hands, but they made some nice catches and got some yards after the catch, as well.
We'll talk about all that and more in this analysis.
Randall's Performance Put in Historical Perspective
Randall was 21-38 for 211 yards, no TD's, and one interception. That's a pretty good performance, and it would have been even better, perhaps much better, had he not missed some open receivers. His most painful miss was an overthrown pass to a wide-open Shawn Witten in the third quarter, a play that would have been a 72-yard TD had Randall not chucked the ball way over Witten's head.
(Imagine that: had Randall completed that pass, he would have been 22-38 for 283 yards on the day, and the Hokie Nation would be buzzing even more about his performance.)
How do Randall's respectable numbers compare to previous spring game performances? Very favorably, that's how.
Quarterbacks in spring games used to have pretty decent passing numbers. In the 1996 game, for instance, Jim Druckenmiller had arguably the best performance from a QB since Frank Beamer took over as Tech's coach, going 14-24 for 143 yards, 3 TD's, and no interceptions.
But in the past, it was also true that Beamer would run the #1 offense intact against the #2 defense. This produced much better offensive numbers, because the first-string offensive unit would be going against a less experienced and less talented second-string defense.
In that 1996 example, the Hokies first-string offense featured not just Druckenmiller, but an outstanding offensive line, a great fullback in Brian Edmonds, a rising star running back in Ken Oxendine, and a solid receiving corps led by Shawn Scales, Cornelius White, and Michael Stuewe (Scales caught two TD passes in that '96 game, and Stuewe caught the other).
The second-string defense, on the other hand, was green. Tech had a talented, deep defense in 1995, but that team lost a lot of talent on the D-line and at linebacker heading into the spring. So Druckenmiller got to lead an experienced #1 offense against an inexperienced #2 defense, and it paid off in his statistics (plus, he was a great college QB).
In recent years, though, Coach Beamer has taken the approach of splitting up the starting offensive and defensive units to make the game more competitive. This results in starters being grouped with second- and third-stringers, many of whom are walk-ons. The quality of play, particularly on offense, becomes spotty as a result.
Knowing all that, how does Randall's performance compare with other spring game performances? Let's take a look (note that spring game statistics for games prior to the last couple of years are difficult to find, but the following stats were pieced together from combing media guides):
The per-game average -- 12-28 (42.8%), 143 yards, less than one TD, and 1 INT -- is what you need to look at. That's the average passing stats for the entire game, including all quarterbacks from both teams. Those are the numbers you should compare to Randall's numbers from Saturday: 21-38 (55.3%), 211 yards, 0 TD's, and 1 INT.
Randall's aggregate performance is one of the strongest spring game performances in the last seven years. And he did it with an offense comprised of both starters and backups, not all starters.
He was helped, I think, by the fact that he got more reps, because he quarterbacked both teams. So he was able to get into a groove and stay there, which isn't easy in a spring game.
It also helped that he was "live," without a yellow jersey. Vick often complained about the yellow jersey and the one-handed touch-sacks throwing off his rhythm and style of play, and I think there's a lot of credence to that. Randall didn't have to deal with being handcuffed by a yellow jersey, and it allowed him to make some plays that he might not have had the opportunity to make otherwise.
Summation of Randall's Day
That's a numbers-based analysis, but from a aesthetics standpoint, if you want to call it that, here were my impressions of Randall:
1.) His arm is plenty strong enough. He showed some zip on the ball and threw the sideline patterns well. He's not Druckenmiller or Vick, but his arm strength shouldn't be a concern.
2.) He's erratic. He made some great throws, but he made some terrible ones, too. His best throw was a 23-yard deep slant to Terrell Parham late in the game. Parham was closely guarded, and when he cut inside the cornerback and turned, Randall hit him right in the chest.
Randall's worst pass was his overthrow of Shawn Witten, the one time that Witten was wide open deep. He had some other bad throws, most notably gunning it over Chris Clifton's head a couple of times when Clifton was standing open just 15 yards away, but the one to Witten was inexcusable.
What Randall needs to work on, as many young quarterbacks do, is throwing on the run and throwing under pressure. He often threw the ball too hard or overthrew it when he was under pressure. He needs to learn to settle down and put some touch on the ball when he is avoiding or evading the rush.
3.) He's in control. Randall looked confident and didn't get down on himself, even when he misfired. He ran the option well, didn't turn the wrong way on any plays, and didn't fumble. He and Witten miscommunicated on one read that almost resulted in an interception, but other than that, he was pretty heady.
4.) He's got good feet. Anyone who watched the game can see that. His cut up the middle on the quarterback-keeper 8-yard TD was quick and to the hole. He's got good pocket vision and escaped the rush very well numerous times.
Randall gave himself a "C" for the afternoon, and I would say that's accurate, but I would break it down a little. In running the offense and taking command of the position, I would give him a higher grade, perhaps a B or B+. In execution, he was either a C or C-. He made some nice plays, but he also missed enough open receivers that you can't slap him on the back and tell him that he played a perfect football game.
So the good news is, despite his encouraging afternoon, he's got a lot of room for improvement.
Will He Challenge for the Starting Job? Stay Tuned.
Everyone wants to know what Noel's knee injury and Randall's solid performance means in the race for the starting quarterback job. It doesn't appear to mean much. The following appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch's recap of the game:
So Randall has not taken the starting quarterback job from Noel. That doesn't mean it won't happen after practice opens this fall, but it certainly hasn't happened yet. Randall has shown the type of improvement you would expect from a QB going through his first spring with the team, but for now, things are status quo.
Having droned on that long about Randall, and having forced you to slog through some numbers, it's necessary to cut the rest of this article a little short. Here are some thoughts from the game.
The TechSideline.com Spring Game Awards
Most Exciting Play: The blocked field goal late in the 2nd quarter. There was a bad snap and hold, and Warley's delayed kick for the White team was easily blocked. The Maroon team picked up the ball and proceeded to run around and lateral it several times. Defensive tackle Jason Murphy got to run the ball for a little bit before giving it up to Eric Green, who was tackled. Honorable mention: Wilford's 30-yard catch and run, and a short scramble by Randall, who was flushed from the pocket and juked multiple defenders before being tackled for a short gain.
Best Run (by a running back): Cedric Humes' off-tackle 15-yard run in the 2nd quarter. Humes went off tackle, was met by cornerback Garnell Wilds (see the pic at right), and simply cut outside and accelerated past him. Humes turned a 3-yarder into a 15-yarder on the play. Honorable mention: Keith Burnell's 10-yard jaunt in Lee Suggs' #22 jersey.
Best Pass: The deep slant to Parham for 23 yards late in the game.
Best Catch: Hamilton catching the ball thrown behind him on a short crossing route.
The Takes-A-Licking-And-Keeps-On-Ticking Award: to Eric Green, for taking a nasty stiff-arm from Wilford and still managing to tackle him. Honorable mention to Garnell Wilds for tackling Humes on the 15-yard run mentioned above, even though Humes blew by him.
Biggest Pleasant Surprise: The play of the receivers.
Biggest Unpleasant Surprise: the poor play of the snapper and holder on field goals and extra points.
The So-Much-For-That-Experiment Award: to Kevin Jones, who was given a shot at returning punts and looked … uh … uncomfortable doing it.
Best Defender: Cols Colas and Blake Warren (tie). Warren had better stats, but Colas was a disruptive force in the backfield all game long.
Best Offensive Player: Bryan Randall and Justin Hamilton (tie). Randall was impressive, and Hamilton had two great plays in just four touches.