Virginia Tech 34, Pittsburgh 17
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
Between returning from the honeymoon and moving the wife into the house, I didnít get a chance to watch my tape of the Pitt/Tech game, and I havenít even had a chance to sit down and analyze the stats from the game, so Iím kind of winging it on this one. Hope you guys (and gals) like the report and find it informative anyway....
One of my regular readers sent me an email saying that he had met a Pitt fan who told him this past weekend's game was the best the Panthers had played all year. That and a few glaring mistakes on the part of the Hokies just about sums up why the game didn't pan out like the 31-point line favoring Tech said it would. I was impressed by some of the things Pitt did, in particular the way they rolled their quarterback out for some nice gains. They knew that the Hokies had a tendency to stuff the middle of the line, and they did a nice job taking advantage of it by bootlegging around the end.
On defense, Pitt didn't do a whole lot right, but they didn't get destroyed either. They came into the game with one of the worst defenses in the country, statistically, prompting me to write that they "couldn't stop a dead gnat in a driving rainstorm." It turns out that Pitt played like a team who could tackle a good-size grasshopper in a medium rainshower.
Overall, this game was kind of a wash, I thought. I saw some things I liked and some things I definitely didnít like, but overall, itís just another week in the life of the Hokies. The inconsistent play of Techís football team continued this week, as they followed up a great game against Temple with a hum-drum, 34-17 victory over Pitt. This week, my analysis format is going to be offense/defense/special teams. Letís get straight to it and break things down a bit.
Never mind the drops by the receivers. Never mind the sterling play of Parker and Oxendine. Never mind the game played by Druck, which was excellent, and the offensive line, which controlled the line of scrimmage. Thereís something else Iíve got to get off my chest first:
THE FACT THAT WEíRE NOT THROWING THE BALL MORE TO BRYAN JENNINGS IS DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!!!
Pittís tight end, John Jones, number 86, is a solid tight end. Pitt went to him early and often. He caught 5 passes for 70 yards and had several more balls thrown his way which either fell incomplete or he dropped.
Techís Bryan Jennings is a former high school Parade All-American and a future NFL player. He caught 1 pass for 8 yards. Unless I missed something, no other passes were even thrown his way.
Whatís wrong with this picture?
I give up. I absolutely give up on hoping that Ricky Bustle will ever use Jennings effectively. And Iím not just talking about one game, Iím talking about consistently, game after game, like Rutgers used to utilize Marco Battaglia (or however you spell his name). Bustle obviously doesnít get it. The tight end is a blocker in his scheme, and nothing more. Some NFL team is going to be very lucky next year, because theyíre going to get a prototypical receiving tight end who has been taught how to block in college. Whoopee for whoever that lucky team is.
I watched Bryan Jennings all game long. I watched him run delay patterns down the middle with one on one coverage time and again. I watched him get ignored over and over, often rolling his head and throwing his hands up in disgust at the end of yet another incomplete pass to Scales, White, or Stuewe. I give up.
Now, on to the rest of the offense...
Druck was superb. He was 10 of 20 with 191 yards, two TDís, and no INTís. The stats included, by one report I read, six dropped passes. Except for one or two plays, I thought Druck made the right reads and threw the ball well all day long (although more passes to you-know-who would be really cool). Later on, against the defenses of ECU, Miami, WVU, and UVa, weíre going to need intelligent quarterbacking like that, because each mistake is magnified. I canít complain a bit about Druckís performance.
At running back, Parker and Oxendine continue to duel it out in a rushing attack that has seen the two of them pile up something like 448 yards in the last two games. The Hokie running backs, Brian Edmonds included, are gearing up nicely for future battles with ECU, Miami, WVU, and UVa, when they'll be sorely needed against those good defenses.
Oxendine, who is aptly nicknamed "The Diesel," won't blow you away with his quickness, but he's a strong runner who is at his best whether he's in the teeth of the defense or running downfield in the open. Parker, on the other hand, hits the hole like a stick of dynamite and displays a larger arsenal of weapons, including pass-catching and blocking. If you asked me to pick one back or the other as my favorite, I'd have to decline making that decision. Parker is more multi-talented, but Oxendine, highly recruited out of high school, is an excellent runner who has been a class act the last two years as he patiently waited his turn.
What limited the offense the most on Saturday, in my opinion, were some drops by the wide receivers, some timely plays by Pitt, and some curious play-calling. Every time the Hokies really needed a score, they shoved it down Pitt's throat on the ground, but at other times, they almost looked as if they were working on their weak spots in preparation for later games. The most bizarre sequence came on Tech's second possession of the game, when the Hokies threw three straight short crossing-pattern passes across the middle, only to have all three of them be dropped, by Corney White, Shawn Scales, and (gasp!) Michael Stuewe. It was as if Ricky Bustle was determined to prove that the Hokies could complete the pass, whether it was the right play to call or not.
One last note: Shawn Scales has quietly become Tech's big play receiver. Against Temple, he turned a flanker screen into a 60-plus yard TD. Against Pitt, he caught a 71-yard bomb and a short TD. Those were all the kind of plays Bryan Still used to make, and if Scales can now just do it consistently, we'll be happy Hokies.
Not only that, but I've been impressed with Scales' demeanor. He's not a big show-boater, and after the game, when confronted with questions about the drops, he said simply and honestly, "You can't blame them on the weather. It's just a lack of concentration. We're Division I receivers. We should make those catches." Those kind of quotes are what you call leadership, folks.
Steve Tate is rapidly turning into a good linebacker. Due to the injury and the latest suspension of Tony Morrison (he missed curfew on Thursday night and got to ride the bench against Pitt), Tate has seen plenty of playing time this year, and he's quickly getting better. On Saturday, he led the team with 11 tackles.
Beamer must agree. Before the game, he said that Morrison's suspension was going to be one game, but after the game, he said that it would be "indefinite." I'm guessing that he liked what he saw from Tate and redshirt freshman Jamel Smith, who was forced into the starting lineup and also had a few great plays.
Those two can replace Tony Morrison, but they can't replace Myron Newsome, who was dearly missed. I'm guessing that if Matt Lytle, the Pitt QB who racked up nearly 60 yards rushing, had tried some of those roll-outs and runs against Myron Newsome, he might have gotten killed (as it was, Tate and Smith got to him good a couple of times). Pitt did some nice things offensively, but they would have had a lot less fun with Myron Awesome in the game.
The responsibility of carrying the defense fell onto the shoulders of the defensive backs, the only healthy group, and they responded nicely. Torrian Gray had 11 tackles, Antonio Banks and Loren Johnson picked off passes, and Johson was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week.
Johnson infuriates some Tech fans (those that sit around me, anyway) with his constant arm-waving and cheerleading prior to most plays, mostly because a lot of passes get completed in front of him because he lays so far off the receivers. But late Saturday, he had some big plays. He nailed a Pitt player who was getting ready to heave a flea-flicker a good ten yards behind the line of scrimmage, and he made another flying tackle behind the line on a sweep. Later, he picked off a wounded duck of a pass and returned it 57 yards, deep into Pitt territory. His big plays came late in a tight game, and hence the Big East honor. Congratulations to Loren.
All in all, not a bad day for the defense, which should see the return of Cornell and Myron next week. As for Tony Morrison...who knows?
The problem at punter has been fixed. Jimmy Kibble isn't crushing the ball (38 yard average on Saturday), but he gets the kicks off with no drama, and with John Thomas suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation, Kibble may not have any competition soon.
The problem at punt returner, however, did not go away with Walter Ford. Angelo Harrison fielded one punt inside the 5 yard line, a definite no-no. Later, he bobbled a punt, ran after it, and made the mistake of trying to pick it up instead of falling on it. Pitt mauled him and recovered the ball at the Tech 15, taking it in a few plays later for a gimme score.
Hear me now and believe me later: if this keeps up, Tech will lose at least one game because of it. The punt returning has GOT to improve. Just ask WVU what a mistake in the kicking game can cost you.
At placekicker, Shayne Graham missed an attempt of about 40-45 yards. Graham appears to be doing all right, with field goal stats of 5-for-8 so far this year, but he would admit that two of the misses were very makeable. He's a freshman, and he's got plenty of leg. Look for him to grow more consistent over the years.
Southwest Louisiana visits Tech in the Hokies last tune-up before the stretch drive. Expect a crowd of about 12 for this one, since it's sandwiched in between so many home games. The fans from far reaches won't make the trip for this one.
The natives are getting restless. The fans and players are ready for a challenge. Hopefully, the players will emerge from this one healthy and rested, ready for a string of games that will lead them back into the rankings (the AP poll, anyway, where Tech is still absent) and on to a Big East championship.