I have to admit, I’ve been conflicted all day thinking about last night’s Virginia Tech game.
I mean, I love what I’ve seen of Brent Pry so far. He seems like the right guy for the job and he has consistently hit the right notes in interviews and conversations with the players, fan base and administration.
But there was one concern I had when he was hired, and that was that he had been a career assistant. In talking with several people I know and trust over the years that have been in that situation, they freely admit that becoming the head guy quickly teaches you about all the things you didn’t know you didn’t know, and it can overwhelm you at first.
I became a company president years ago after decades as a sales and marketing executive, and I thought I was ready. But it soon became apparent that while in previous jobs I was only responsible for sales and product, I was now responsible for EVERYTHING. And you soon learned that no matter what you knew about one area of the business, the success of the overall entirely depends on your ability to hold people accountable for the smaller parts.
That was kind of my impression of the Hokies and Pry last night. The defense – Pry’s specialty – was impressive at times. There was a renewed vigor when it came to attacking gaps and – as Frank Beamer used to say – getting after people. The spirit of Virginia Tech defenses past seemed to be out on the field in Norfolk.
But there were also problems with some of the other parts of the team, with penalties heading up the list. Virginia Tech committed 15 penalties for 106 yards, which means the Hokies committed more penalties than Old Dominion completed passes. A large number of penalties has always been thought of among coaches as a sign of sloppiness, lack of mental preparation, you choose the description, but it isn’t good. There will always be more than an average number of penalties in an opener, but not 15.
The offense had its moments, as Keshawn King showed great speed in gaining 112 yards, and was a beast when it came to picking up the blitzing linebacker or safety. Nick Gallo was a strong and reliable receiver in the offense with 7 catches for 49 yards and may already be quarterback Grant Wells’ favorite target.
But the offensive line at times looked slow and lethargic, the quarterback and wide receivers seemed on different pages (one of Wells’ interception came on what looked like where the receiver ran the wrong route), and then there of course, were special teams, where a high snap gave ODU what ended up to be the winning points.
Even the defense, for all its good play, wiffed on a key play of the final drive. On a 4th and short, Virginia Tech had the ODU runner in the backfield, but somehow let him fight out of an arm tackle and make the first down. If the tackle is made, the game is over.
All of this is fixable, but Pry is probably not going to get the lengthy honeymoon with the fans like Beamer did long ago. Social media last night treated every mistake with torrents of complaints, such as the team has no talent, or that because the previous regime wasn’t fired sooner, we no longer have a winning culture. Some treated Justin Fuente like a former spouse (or politician) they just can’t get over, blaming him over and over again.
Patience doesn't seem to be a virtue these days in Hokie Nation. At one point I even had to remind someone Fuente wasn’t here any more.
As for talent, yeah, this isn’t a huge Virginia Tech strength, and it’s going to take years to get back to the level of teams in the early 2000s. But there was enough talent on the field last night to win the game. Take 3 situations – the high snap, the missed tackle on 4th and short, or the 15 penalties – and if you remove only one, the Hokies win.
I’d extrapolate from that it wasn’t the talent level, but maybe preparation, execution, or some facet that can be fixed sooner than later.
All of which makes the Boston College game this week even more crucial. No longer is Pry in a situation of not knowing what he doesn’t know being the head whistle. He saw the game, will study the tapes, and make adjustments going forward. If there’s steady improvement, people will calm down, the ODU game will be looked at as a mulligan, and a win over BC makes them 1-0 and in first place in the ACC.
As I said before, I really like Pry and I think he’s the right man for the job who will be the head coach at Virginia Tech long after I’m gone. But to prove it to others these days, you have to be more than likeable. You have to take care of the little things. You have to compete against teams in your state in lesser classifications. You have to make sure someone is nailing down the details.
You have to win games.
The sooner the better.