Monday, September 23, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech

By Justin Cates

After hours of slogging through the rain-soaked mess Saturday in Lane Stadium, the Hokies were finally able to complete their Sisyphean task and edge out a very solid Marshall squad 29-21 in three overtimes.

Missed field goals were the order of the day for the second straight week, but this time with a different kicker.

After no indications of trouble during the week, Frank Beamer suspended Cody Journell Saturday morning for a violation of team rules. The coach wouldn't elaborate further only later saying his starting kicker would be back on Thursday for the Georgia Tech game.

As I pointed out last week, Journell has been very reliable on the field but this is hardly the first time he's run afoul of team rules.

Journell has essentially become part II of the Marcus Vick Story. It's the tale of a talented but troubled athlete given countless opportunities by a kindly old football coach. One would think Beamer had learned the hard way you only get so many second chances.

In this case, it put Ethan Keyserling in a really tough position.

Playing in his first college game, the backup kicker missed all three of his field goals in the tough conditions but it's hard to blame him entirely.

The snap on the first kick was poor and it threw the timing off resulting in the 36-yard attempt hitting the left upright. Another try was from 50 yards and was partially blocked at the line.

The snaps are a major issue going back to East Carolina. It needs to be cleaned up immediately or a change needs to be made at long snapper.

The best thing to come out of this game was some real old fashioned Beamerball.

The Hokies blocked a punt early and returned it for a touchdown then blocked a field goal that would have won the game for Marshall. The defense was on its heels early, but locked down in the second half.

That's the classic Hokie formula for success. Defense + special teams + ugly offense = win.

As for that ugly offense, well, I've coined the term "Power Slop" to describe it.

Quarterback Logan Thomas is once again taking the bulk of criticism this season, but he once again has the offense squarely on his massive shoulders.

He had two interceptions and struggled passing in miserable conditions. That's in stark contrast to Marshall QB Rakeem Cato who played brilliantly for most of the game despite the weather.

Still, Thomas scored two rushing touchdowns and ran in a two-point conversion in the third overtime. He once again gutted out a win in less than ideal circumstances. He's a frustrating player, but no one can questions his heart or toughness.

"I've always loved playing with Logan," said wide receiver Willie Byrn.

"He's going to put all 260 pounds on the line every single play. He's the ultimate competitor. If he has a bad pass or a bad throw, he doesn't know any better than to go out and work his hardest and do whatever he can to win."

Willie Byrn snags a game-tying touchdown catch off a tipped pass. There was much rejoicing. 

Frankly, that's all Virginia Tech can hope for right now. Give it your best and try to stay positive regardless of the results.

The road only gets tougher for the Hokies with the non-conference slate behind them.  

It's a short week with a Thursday night trip to Atlanta to take on the challenging option attack of Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets are led by dynamic quarterback Vad Lee.

Vad Lee has the Yellow Jacket offense firing on all cylinders this season.

Lee is the best passer the Jackets have had under coach Paul Johnson and it adds a new variable to a tricky offense.

They still don't pass much, but when they do Lee is incredibly efficient. On the season he's completed 22-of-39 passes for 418 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception.

Of course, Georgia Tech still runs the ball extremely well. So far on the season they've totaled 1,036 yards and 10 touchdowns as a team.

David Sims, Robert Godhigh and Zach Laskey are the primary runners with Dennis Andrews and Broderick Snoddy in reserve. The depth in the backfield is impressive.

In addition to the potent offense, Georgia Tech is presently 11th in total defense.

This is the best team Paul Johnson has had and with a win on Thursday they'll likely be ranked in the top 25.

Virginia Tech has a number of injuries from Saturday to watch for given the short week. Free Safety Kyshoen Jarrett and leading rusher Trey Edmunds are both nursing leg injuries sustained late in the game against Marshall.

Edmunds returned to the game for a carry but had to leave again and Jarrett also came back but was clearly still limping around. Both are crucial cogs in the Tech machine.  

Let's be honest, the Hokies are not a good football team. Maybe they will be by the end of the year, but right now they're nowhere close. A win in Atlanta is certainly possible, it just isn't likely.

The only bright spots I can find are that the Hokies are 8-1 with only five days to prepare for an opponent since Bud Foster has been the defensive coordinator. His unit is currently 5th in total defense so they stand a good chance of slowing the Jackets offense.

The best thing I can say about the Hokie offense is that Thursday nights in Atlanta have been a coming out party for Tech QBs in the past.

Sean Glennon's jersey was stolen from the Hokie locker room, so he stole the game.

Bryan Randall led a furious comeback in 2004 and Sean Glennon played the best game of his career in 2007—in a Georgia Tech jersey no less.

If he's going to step up and salvage both his draft stock and his senior season, this is a perfect opportunity on national television for Logan Thomas to assert himself.

The offense and the season depend on it. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Marshall

By Justin Cates

Call me a broken record if you like, bu Marshall will be another tough test for the Hokies.

That's not even coach speak. Frank Beamer has made a habit over the years of making even the most average teams seem like world-beaters, but in this case he's entirely correct.

East Carolina proved to be just as difficult as I expected. Tech's 15-10 win in Greenville was in doubt most of the day but it could have been a lot easier with some made field goals—more on that later.

The biggest thing to come out of that game is that the Hokie defense is real, and they're spectacular.

Currently ranked the number two overall defense in the nation, Tech gave talnted Pirate quarterback Shane Carden all kinds of trouble. Carden was sacked seven times and intercepted on three passes, two from true freshman corner Brandon Facyson.

As good as the secondary is, the line is playing outstanding football too.

Defensive tackle J.R. Collins is playing at a very high level. Saturday he had five tackles including two sacks and a QB hurry.

Fellow lineman defensive end James Gayle (pictured up top) also had an interesting day.

Early in the game, his left shoulder popped out and the trainers popped it back in. He kept playing and finished the day with two sacks—one of which stripped the ball in the endzone and forced a safety—and two more quarterback hurries en route to being named the ACC's defensive lineman of the week.

That's some extreme toughness, something the entire team seems to have in abundance this season likely thanks to a very tough summer camp. It's a stark contrast to last year's campaign already in that department.

Freshman Brandon Facyson is proving to be a terror in the defensive backfield.

The Hokie offense struggled but took some steps forward. ECU stacked the line and sold out all day to stop the run with great success allowing just 53 yards on 34 carries.

That's what teams will do the rest of the season until Logan Thomas shows he can beat teams through the air, and there were positive signs there.

Logan still missed a couple of easy passes but made much better reads throwing the football and was very good on third downs. The receivers are also starting to step up.

Demtri Knowles had a big day with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Willie Byrn—nicknamed 'The Paperboy' by Scot Loeffler because he always delivers and looks like the coordinators paperboy—is becoming a reliable target after seven catches for 67 yards and a lot of nice yards after the catch.

D.J. Coles caught a touchdown for the second straight game but his snaps will be limited going forward due to the health of his knee.

For the second game in a row, the Tech defense will be tested by a strong passing attack.

Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato was the leading passer in the FBS last year and is off to a fast start this season. Through three games so far, Cato is 68-of-108 for 849 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Thundering Herd passing offense currently ranks 21st in the nation and they're 12th in scoring with the 5th ranked total defense. Those numbers are certainly inflated based on competition, but the offense played well against a good Ohio team, nearly leading the comeback.

Rakeem Cato and the Herd hope to pull an upset in Blacksburg.

 The defense just needs to keep doing what it's doing and the offense needs continue taking steps forward. Running the ball won't get any easier as J.C. Coleman has once again been ruled out against Marshall.

The good news is that Chris Mangus has shown some nice things as the backup to Trey Edmunds. Tech will need to find some creative ways to run the ball facing another defense that will likely load the box with eight guys almost every play.

I'd like to see a couple of reverses and some outside runs that utilize Edmunds' speed.

As for the Hokie kicker Cody Journell, well he had a miserable day in Greenville.

He missed an extra point, then overcompensated and missed a field goal and then another field goal. He missed one more but it was negated by a roughing the kicker penalty.

Kicking is a bizarre mental game as much as it is the physical striking of the ball. The last thing you want a kicker doing is thinking. Hopefully, Tech can get him a field goal attempt early and he can make it and put everything behind him.

Over his career, Journell has proven to be very reliable—on the field at least—and there's no reason to start doubting him now. I felt much better after hearing he received a phone call from Shayne Graham after the game. I'm sure the Hokies' greatest kicker had some good advice for a reeling protégé.

For fun, here's the biggest kick in school history. Few things make me happier than seeing ery very sad West Virginia Mountaineers.

So as the air turns crisp and the Hokies don yet another "interesting" uniform for military appreciation day, Tech sits at 2-1 and in good position for a home victory. It will be tough, but there won't be a single easy game the rest of the way.

The Hokies take on Marshall Saturday at NOON on ESPNU.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Look Ahead: Notre Dame vs. Purdue

By Justin Cates

For whatever reason (Blogger sucks) my ND-Michigan preview didn't post last week despite me making an extensive effort to do so in a timely fashion.

Today, I'll reuse bits of that preview and tie it in to what should be a cakewalk for the Irish against Purdue.

The Boilermakers are one of the worst teams on college football. They got absolutely blasted in their opener 42-7 by Cincinnati and barely edged out lower division foe Indiana State 20-14 last week in West Lafayette.

For reference, Indiana State allowed 73 points to Indiana in their first game.

Basically, Purdue can't stop anyone (79th in points allowed) and they can't score themselves (116th in points scored).

This should be an easy win for the Irish, which gives them an opportunity to address some concerns.

Before Michigan, I attempted to say this:

"Touchdown" "Interception" Tommy Rees played almost perfectly in the opener completing 16-of-23 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Against the Wolverines, he and the rest of his offense have to let things come to them and not force the issue.

When I've watched Rees play in the past there seemed to be a tendency to press too much. Now that he isn't battling for a starting job, that may well be a thing of the past.

This proved to be fairly accurate with Tommy reverting to forcing things. Rees played well for the most part but threw two interceptions and was very close to a third. The biggest mistake came on a pass picked off in the endzone. I'm fairly certain it was on first and goal making it a rookie mistake. That ball needs to be in the stands.

Another area I had concerns about was the running game.

One thing I'd like to see from the Irish is one of the running backs stepping up and seizing the bulk of the carries....Even though this can clearly be a pass-heavy offense with Rees at the helm, it's nice to have a go-to-guy at tailback in your back pocket. 

Clearly, the Irish are pass-happy and quite good at it. The problem is the offense is one dimensional.

Notre Dame's leading rusher Amir Carlisle has just 19 carries through two games and right behind him is George Atkinson III with 13 carries. The two have combined for just one rushing touchdown.

That's not sustainable if you want to keep defenses honest.

The good news is Carlisle is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and Atkinson is sitting at 5.5. The Irish need to use this game as an opportunity to establish the run and ideally find a reliable go-to tailback.

I think it's Carlisle based on his more aggressive running, but he needs to grab the job by the throat and make a statement.

The defense struggled against Michigan, but that's perfectly understandable.

All quarterbacks should wear outrageous numbers like Devin Gardner's new 98.

Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner is an impressive talent—even if he did throw the dumbest pass in the history of organized football—and the Irish defense won't have to worry about stopping anyone quite as dynamic the rest of the season.

Based on that variable, I tend to think this performance was an outlier. The defense can go a long way to putting any fears to rest by dominating a very poor Purdue offense.

There are clearly flaws with Notre Dame, but it's still very early in the season and we've seen nothing that can't be fixed.

No one likes losing, but I'm sure Brian Kelly enjoys being able to so easily get his team's attention regarding their flaws. Now it's time to fix them.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina

By Justin Cates

Editor's Note: J.C. Coleman will not travel with the team after tweaking his ankle against Western Carolina. 

People will think I'm nuts, but East Carolina's offense will test the Hokies more than Alabama's did.

The Crimson Tide were breaking in new starters on the offensive line and Tech largely dominated. 'Bama also runs the ball most of the time, waiting to burn you with play-action passes later on.

East Carolina passes, a lot.

Quarterback Shane Carden is off to an absolutely amazing start. In two games, the junior has completed 63-of-79 passes for 638 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

You read that correctly, he's completing 80 percent of his passes (technically 79.7).

They run a very high-tempo offense and throw the ball around to everyone. The Pirates will spread the defense and hope to get Tech on it's heels in the Hokies' first true road game of the season.

Shane Carden hopes to continue his hot start against the Hokies.

It's similar to what Oregon and now the Philadelphia Eagles try to do. They get one-on-one match ups in space and force the defense to make difficult open field tackles.

ECU won't run things quite as fast, but they'll push the tempo as much as they can.

"To be honest, I don't like to go down there to play them, just because it's so hot and is so high-tempo," defensive end James Gayle said this week.

The weather will be milder than normal this week, but it's clear the memories of Tech's narrow 17-10 victory on the last trip to Greenville persist.

ECU almost always gives Tech trouble and this time will be no different.

The Hokie offense has to keep getting better. Against Western Carolina, there were spurts of great execution but then the same inconsistencies would crop up.

Things are still a work in progress, but the young receivers are starting to step up, particularly in the form of Joshua Stanford.

True freshman Kalvin Cline had four catches for 46 yards against the Catamounts, but he did drop a fairly routine touchdown.

Cline is extremely raw, but he's vaulted to the top of the tight end rotation due to his pass catching ability.

Yes, Kalvin Cline knows the thing about his name.

It gives Logan Thomas another option and hopefully gives offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler the ability to use some of his tight end plays that were largely scrapped when Ryan Malleck was lost for the season. 

Tech needs to keep making progress in the passing game against the Pirates and keep running the football effectively.

Shane Beamer and Loeffler will look to begin establishing the specific roles of each running back now that the top four are likely available.

J.C. Coleman's status is still unclear after getting banged up in his first action against Western Carolina. I'll update after we see how he's listed on Thursday's injury report. 

This game will likely be very close unless the Hokie offense takes a giant leap forward. More likely, expect a positive step in the right direction with occasional moments of sloppiness.

Or, exactly what you would expect at this point with a brand new offensive system.

The defense will be challenged in the air but will look to stop the run as they've done twice this season.

Look for a fun and surprisingly interesting game NOON Saturday in Tech's first game on Fox Sports 1.

“To be honest, I don’t like going down there to play them, just because it’s hot and is so high-tempo,” - See more at:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Reflections On Beers and Bills Fans

 By Justin Cates

I spent this past Sunday embedded at a bar in upstate New York watching professional football with a particular focus on the Patriots-Bills game.

I've not witnessed Buffalo fans truly in their element, that is to say drunk in a bar convinced against all odds of a victory.

To be fair, for most of the afternoon they looked like they were onto something. Much to my surprise rookie E.J. Manuel performed quite well and the Bills—as they often do in September—looked like a team with promise.

And this is why every fall just as sure as the turning leaves, Bills fans flock to their local watering holes to load up on Labatt products and chicken wings in the hopes that these timeless fuels will propel their boys to victory (Ed. note: I legitimately counted at least thirty gallons of Frank's RedHot in the kitchen of the particular bar I was sitting in. I would assume there was an additional oil drum somewhere in the back in accordance with New York state law).

It's admirable and depressing that a group of such passionate fans continue to subject themselves to the same kind of torture every season.

We all make mistakes, but...damn that's a poor choice.

'It's a new era,' they tell themselves. Indeed, there's a new coach and a new quarterback and maybe this time will be different. Right? I mean, it can't happen every time can it?

I do like E.J. quite a bit. I remember laughing at the remarks of the fans on the other end of the irrationality spectrum last year when he beat the Hokies in Blacksburg.

A group of very pleasant Florida State fans sat behind one of my lawyers and I, and we had lot's of good discussion throughout the game. The weird part was, they couldn't stand their quarterback or their head coach Jimbo Fisher because they weren't always perfect.

I kept thinking to myself that I would love to have either man leading my team (Ed. Note: No disrespect to Frank Beamer or Logan Thomas, I just think Manuel and Fisher and both very good) and that these fans were crazy.

And that's what I'm driving at here. Fans are supposed to be crazy. As you've likely heard many times between binge drinking sessions, the root word of fan is fanatic.  

Fans are people so fundamentally committed to their causes that they are in no way governed by logic or reason. They can't be persuaded or cajoled to believe they are even remotely wrong and this is fine.

It's why I excused the comment by a lonely Raiders fan consoling a group of Bills backers when he said, "You guys are alright, C.J. Spiller is the best running back in football."

It's also why I found nothing out of the ordinary when grown men were screaming at the TV wondering aloud in complete seriousness, "How does Brady always do this? He SUCKS!"

Fandom rots your heart from the inside out and turns your brain to jelly. Accountants paint their chests and go shirtless in December winds while the innocent little octogenarian down the street turns into a subhuman beast when her hate-filled eyes spot a Wes Welker jersey at the mall.

While I might prefer a little less vitriol, I must also embrace it. It's part of what makes being a fan so much fun.

There's nothing quite like being showered with insults as you walk into an opposing stadium only to emerge three hours later having witnessed your team win by seven touchdowns.

So here's to the diehards! Fans of the Bills and Browns and Rams and Jaguars. These hearty souls deserve all the support they can get.

But really, they probably need a beer.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Western Carolina

By Justin Cates

Virginia Tech dropped its opener 35-10 to No. 1 Alabama which surprised no one, but most were taken aback by how that score came about.

The Tech defense largely overwhelmed the Crimson Tide, holding the offense to just 14 points. Quarterback A.J. McCarron was limited to 110 yards passing and the Tide managed just 206 total yards.

Everyone paying attention knew Tech would have a stout defense, but even I was surprised at just how dominant the line was and how good freshman corners Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller played.

The Hokies also managed to run the ball with 18-year-old redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds. He broke off a 77-yard touchdown for Tech's only real offensive highlight and finished with 132 yards on 20 carries.

Critics will point out the bulk of his yards came on that one carry so it's not as impressive as it looks, but that's like saying if you take away two special teams touchdowns and a pick six, the Tide only won by four.

So what does Virginia Tech need to accomplish against an outmatched Catamounts squad Saturday in Lane Stadium?

While the offensive line and running back situation are far more solid than anyone expected, the wide receivers have a long way to go.

They managed to squeeze just five passes against 'Bama and dropped between six and nine balls depending on how you classify a few borderline plays.

The receivers have to improve and simply make the plays they're capable of making this week. That's why first year receivers coach Aaron Moorehead has his guys working after practice with the JUGS machine, a device that launches footballs—in this case at 40 MPH.

This guy will play a big role the rest of the season.

I'd like to see the running backs get a bit more involved in the passing game as they continue to get more comfortable. It will help getting J.C. Coleman (ankle) back healthy and that may happen this week.

The tight ends need to step up as well. They did a good job in protection against Alabama but failed to catch any passes. It's clear that the loss of Ryan Malleck for the season will be a tough injury to overcome.

As for the quarterback, Logan Thomas needs to just keep doing what he's doing. I know, I know, he completed just 5 of 26 passes but factoring in the drops, the five throwaways under pressure and the fact he only took one sack when he missed a check-down near the end of the game it's very difficult to fault him for his play.

The Hokie receivers will look to improve against Western Carolina.

As offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler pointed out on the Tech call-in show Monday night, "There's times when the outside world's criticizing you, 'You didn't have this type of game,' when in actuality, I graded you out in a very positive manner." 

"There's times where he goes 18-for-21 and everyone is going to tell him he did a great job and I'm going to come in and say, 'You didn't play well at all.' ...There are things that are in your control and out of your control at the position."

Special teams will receive a personnel overhaul during practice this week to shore up the obvious deficiencies that were on display in the Georgia Dome.

Several veterans went to Frank Beamer during the week and volunteered to play on more units, among them Kyle Fuller and James Gayle. The kicking game looked good in the opener and hopefully more seasoned players on the coverage teams leads to a stronger unit. 

So the keys this week are to keep plugging along and get better. Not revolutionary, but that's all you can do. Staying healthy would be nice but unfortunately it's out of the team's control.

The best news is, you've already played the best there is. It won't get any tougher than the opener.

“There’s times when the outside world’s criticizing you, ‘You didn’t have this type of game,’ when in actuality, I graded you out in a very positive manner,” - See more at:
“There’s times when the outside world’s criticizing you, ‘You didn’t have this type of game,’ when in actuality, I graded you out in a very positive manner,” - See more at:


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