It’s now the Tuesday after Labor Day. Everybody’s back at work. The first full weekend of college football is over. So it’s time to empty the notebook about things seen this weekend before moving on to week 2.
Which Version Of Braxton Are We Going To See Saturday?
Oh, I know his name will be Braxton Burmeister, but Friday night we really saw two different players. First-half Braxton was smooth and cool, completed 7 of 8 passes with the only incompletion a dropped pass by Tre Turner in the end zone, and his team ate up huge chunks of time in running to a 14-0 halftime lead.
Second-half Braxton wasn’t quite so cool. He only completed 5 of 11 passes for 43 yards, threw an interception, and missed some wide-open people on what should have been easy throws. Some of that was caused by the plays being called, as Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen went very conservative in protecting that 14-0 lead.
But while seeing a lot of good things Friday night, it was the consistent lack of the Hokie offense taking deep shots again UNC that bothered me. You don’t have to be the Oakland, er, Los Angeles, er, Las Vegas Raiders and go deep all the time. But if you look at most successful teams over the last two decades, it has been the threat of a deep ball that keeps defensive backs from creeping up close to the line, and thus opens up the running game.
Of course, if you pass all the time, the running backs and offensive line never get in a rhythm and the running game doesn’t realize its potential, so finding that optimum mix is something coaches experiment with all season long. I didn’t think the Hokies really tried to find such a mix Friday, and you’ll notice in the second half that as the passing game stumbled, so too did the running game.
An optimist would think the lack of a passing game in the second half was planned due to conservative play calling. A pessimist might ask “is Braxton capable of consistently throwing the long ball successfully?”
So I looked up his career yards per attempt and compared it to other Hokie quarterbacks of the past. Braxton’s is 7.6, which is in the range of where most other Virginia Tech QBs for their career ended up. What’s interesting, however, is when you compare that number to when the Hokies had great seasons. Mike Vick, for example, had a yards per attempt number of 11.3 in the 1999 season that led to the National Championship game, then fell back to 7.7 in 2000 (which was still a great season).
Tyrod Taylor’s career average was 8.1, but in 2009 when the team went 10-3, it was 9.5. Even in Jerod Evans’ lone season (and Fuente’s best season) with the Hokies, his was 8.4. So the data would suggest in Virginia Tech’s best years, the offense connected on longer passes.
The wheel routes out of the backfield are nice. But I’d rather see more 25-yarders to wide receivers on a consistent basis.
During the rough patches of the Fuente era, one thing that was extremely frustrating to watch was a lack of discipline at times that translated into penalties. Offsides calls, holding on the offensive line and personal fouls on defense seemed to be frequent visitors to the Virginia Tech stat sheet, and they tended to show up at some of the more inopportune times.
But Friday night, the Hokies looked disciplined and poised. In a hard-fought emotional game, Virginia Tech was only called for two penalties. One was a holding call on Brock Hoffman, the other was a defensive pass interference call on Tae Daley. No offsides calls, no personal fouls.
I mentioned in my story Friday that you could see some subtle things that might indicate Fuente and his staff have done some soul searching in the offseason and rolled up their sleeves and started addressing problem areas. Unnecessary penalties might have been one of them, as Friday’s game seemed to be one of the cleanest games from that standpoint I’ve seen the Hokies play in quite a while.
Who’s In First?
When it comes to a college football playoff, it seems media folks want everybody to have a chance despite the fact most fans only want to see the brand names. But then you have a weekend like this one in the ACC where all the brand names lose, and now those same media people say what a disaster it is for the league.
If you weren’t keeping score at home, the league’s teams went 7-7. The winners were mostly non-brands like Boston College, NC State, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Pitt. The losers were Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech and Louisville, and just about all the league’s major brands are in that list.
But you know what this means? Everybody has a chance. This could be the most wide-open battle for just winning your division the ACC has ever seen. Virginia Tech was picked to finish 3rd in the Coastal, but the two picked ahead – UNC and Miami – lost. Almost everybody during the summer assumed the battle for the league crown was already claimed by Clemson, and the rest were playing for second.
But Clemson isn’t the Clemson of old. Miami isn’t back (and won’t be with Manny Diaz as the coach). Louisville’s quarterback and offense seem to have regressed. Florida State had a great comeback Sunday night, but they’re not back to being the FSU of old. UNC is, well, UNC. Great talent, somewhat questionable in-game coaching.
It just all means for a change that the league has parity, and on any given Saturday anything can happen. Which could be a lot of fun to watch this season.
While a Hokie win is great for fans, I couldn’t help but notice a statistic that made it a happy weekend for media folks too.
While it seemed like Virginia Tech fans were hungry for a big win over anybody this weekend, it also seems as if they were hungry to read about it after the game. Our little site did as much or more traffic on three stories related to the game over the weekend as it did in the month of June. I’m willing to bet other sites devoted to Virginia Tech athletics (like Techsideline.com, for example) probably experienced a surge on their bulletin boards and stories, as well as newspapers like The Roanoke Times, who focus a lot of their sports coverage on the Hokies.
At a time when some media outlets are struggling through the digital age and a prolonged pandemic, it’s nice to see. When teams don’t do well, people don’t want to read about it or talk about it. But when they beat a top-10 team….