2000 Spring Football Game Analysis
by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 5/1/00

Recaps and Stats
HokieCentral.com Game Recap
HokieSportsInfo.com Game Recap
HokieSportsInfo.com Game Statistics

Depth Charts from "Vip in Danville"
Maroon Team Depth Chart
White Team Depth Chart

This is the fifth straight Spring Game I've attended and covered for HokieCentral, and after five years, I'm finally starting to get a grip on these things -- sort of. It's nearly impossible to write any sort of game report or rational wrapup of a game that mixes starters and backups, and which also features more player movement than you can shake your game program at.  As detailed in the linked game recaps, this one was won by the White team, 10-7, in a contest that featured very little offense and some struggling quarterbacks.

The Spring Game is for the players and coaches, not the fans. By the time spring practice wraps up, most of the important stuff has already happened in the daily practices. Players have shown their ability and their work ethics time after time in the practices leading up to the game, and starting positions have mostly been won or lost by the time game day actually rolls around. The Spring Game is, among other things, a way to congratulate the players for all their hard work by giving them a chance to play in a game-like situation.

If you want one tip about the Spring Game, it's this: pay attention to the half time awards, because they tell you way more about spring football than the actual Spring Game does. For the record, Top Newcomers were Jake Grove and Nathaniel Adibi, Most Improved were Anthony Davis and Willie Pile, Top Hustlers were Browing Wynn and Larry Austin, and MVP's were Ben Taylor and Matt Lehr. For this individual game, MVP's were Lee Suggs and Cory Bird.

But the Spring Game, despite being a wild and woolly rag-tag affair, does serve one important purpose. It allows the coaches to closely simulate game conditions and see how players are likely to perform "under the lights." Many players are All-Americans in practice but turn into second-stringers in game conditions, and vice versa. I thought the most interesting thing about this year's game was that many of the guys who had been highlighted all spring by the coaches and media stepped it up in the Spring Game, as well.

As those of you who have been visiting HokieCentral for years know, I had previously grown to greatly dislike reporting on Spring Games. But then I realized a simple truth: it's not a "real game," so "real analysis" is not required. And to analyze the flow of the game or try to interpret it overall is silly and pointless. What should be reported on and emphasized, as most message board posters seem to know, are the individual players and how they looked.

Great. The only problem is, the game was only 32 minutes long, and there are a LOT of substitutions, so there's not as much opportunity to observe all of the individual players as I would like. Like everyone else, I've got my favorites that I want to watch, and by the time I'm done observing them, the game is over.

Enough babbling. Without further ado, here are some random thoughts and impressions that I took away from the game.

The Offense

Quarterbacks: Vick, Noel, and Meyer were all pretty bad when it came to throwing the football. No offense to those guys, because it's hard to play good football when you're lining up with ten different guys from play to play, and a lot of the guys you're playing with may not play a single down the whole season. But statistics don't lie (do they?), and between the three of them, they went a combined 6 of 29 with 2 INT's and 0 TD's.

They ended up with those statistics because of poor execution, often-sloppy routes by inexperienced receivers, and good coverage by the DB's. The fact that a large percentage of the passes were deep routes also adversely affected the completion percentage. And in Vick's case, wearing the yellow jersey took him out of his game.

If you could have averaged the throws of Vick and Grant Noel together, you probably would have seen more completions, because Vick overthrew his receivers a lot, whereas Noel underthrew them a lot. Based on Saturday's performance, if Grant Noel is pressed into service next season, the long passing game is going to be much less effective, because he simply didn't display the arm strength required to get the ball downfield the way offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle likes to. He missed some very open receivers by badly underthrowing the ball.

The two prettiest passes of the day were Noel's 29-yard completion to Emmett Johnson and Meyer's 50-yard completion to Andrae Harrison.

Running Backs: without a doubt, one of the best units in the overall scrimmage. No one had a breakaway run or a crowd-pleasing gallop, but Lee Suggs and Wayne Ward were solid and consistent. The most telling stat of the game is that none of Lee Suggs' carries were for negative yardage. Suggs got 72 yards on 12 carries.

Although Wayne Ward only totaled 12 yards on 10 carries, he was impressive. His yardage total included 13 yards to the negative, and some or all of that may have come when he recovered a fumble. But the statistics in this case do lie, because Ward, a player that coaches say defenders "hate to tackle," carried the ball well and ran hard. He also had a great catch on a poorly thrown pass in the flat.

The biggest disappointment from the running backs came when fullback Starvin' Marvin Urquhart dropped a wide open screen pass. I wasn't so much disappointed by the drop as I was by the fact that I didn't get to see that 5-11, 266-pound monster get up to speed and flatten a defensive back. What an opportunity missed!

Receivers: not a good day for the receivers. There were only three passes completed to wide receivers all day (the 29-yarder to Johnson and the 50-yarder to Harrison mentioned earlier, plus a 6-yarder to flanker Josh Tesser).

A lot of the passes were uncatchable, which took the receivers out of their game. But they need to take some responsibility for the fact that many balls weren't "catchable," because the receivers often ran sloppy routes or read the defense differently than the quarterbacks and turned the wrong way.

Harrison in particular didn't run sharp routes for most of the game. His 50-yard catch was a nice lob play from Dave Meyer, and for the remainder of that drive, Meyer went in Harrison's direction a lot. That seemed to get his head into the game, and his routes tightened up a little after that.

Tight Ends: these guys didn't get much action. Bob Slowikowski had a 14-yard catch, but other than that, the passes were either very short or very long, and the tight ends were not very involved.

Offensive Line: I’m not much of an O-line watcher, but I think they did pretty well. They run-blocked well, although not overpowering, and for the most part, the basic pass-blocking was solid. They missed a lot of safety blitzes right up the gut though, which allowed Willie Pile and Billy Hardee to wreak havoc in the backfield up the middle.

I watched the Anthony Davis/Nathaniel Adibi matchup for a couple of plays, and the plays I saw, Davis manhandled Adibi.

Placekickers: Carter Warley has separated himself from Jon Mollerup and appears to have won the starting field goal kicking job. Warley got more work and made more field goals in the spring scrimmages, and in this game, he looked solid, crushing his 35-yard field goal. Mollerup line-drived his field goal attempt of 45 yards, which was strong enough but wide.

The Defense

Defensive Line: this spring, Nathaniel Adibi, Kevin Lewis, and Mark Costen were all highlighted. Adibi drew compliments on the message board for his play, but I thought he was fairly quiet in this game. Anthony Davis had a lot to do with that. Adibi's one standout play, where he ran Grant Noel down from the backside and forced a fumble, came when he lined up on the opposite side of the field from Davis. Adibi was solid with four tackles, but he's a long way away from bringing constant heat off the corner like his predecessor did. But that's okay, because he's just a freshman.

Kevin Lewis was everything he was advertised to be. He didn't dominate, but he was definitely very active in the middle and didn't get pushed backwards.

The main man, and remember I said this, is (and will be) defensive tackle David Pugh. Pugh was a monster in the middle in this game, and the coaches admitted at a Greg Roberts function Friday night that last year, Pugh was actually more productive than Carl Bradley in his time on the field. Pugh is ready to explode next fall, barring injury.

Linebackers: I must admit that I barely watched the linebackers at all. Ben Taylor had five tackles, and Jake Houseright had four. Nick Sorensen drew some nice comments on the message board, but again, as a group, I didn't watch these guys very closely. I was surprised to see that Chris Buie (who looks like a major stud) had six tackles. The fact that I didn't mentally note most of them reiterates how inattentive I was to this group.

Defensive Backs: Willie Pile easily won Most Improved honors on defense this spring, and he played well in this game, too. His highlight was a safetly blitz for a sack, plus, he positioned himself very well on the field and was in on a number of plays. No interceptions, though, which is a shame, because Willie is a pleasure to watch with the ball in his hands. He's smooth.

Billy Hardee lived up to the hype with an active day, including four tackles and an interception. He played more like a veteran than a walk-on and was stuck to the receivers like glue most of the day. Hardee is good enough that the coaches moved him from the safety spot, where he was supposed to compete with Pile, to the cornerback spot. Pile stepped up strong to win the safety spot this spring, and the coaches, seeing that, figured they had to get Hardee onto the field somehow. He is now in the two-deep at cornerback, and he deserves it.

Larry Austin played well but dropped his one good shot at an interception. Friday night, the coaches reiterated something that Jimmy Robertson of the Hokie Huddler said earlier this spring: "Larry Austin had the best spring of any defensive player."

The coaches are also saying that not only will there be no dropoff from the Charlton/Midget duo to this year's Whitaker/Austin duo, but they think Whitaker and Austin are better. Right now? I don't know, but the coaches definitely think that long term, they will be.

Speaking of Ronyell Whitaker, he had one semi-electrifying punt return. It didn't go for much yardage, and he probably shouldn’t have caught it on his own 5 yard line in the first place, but he made some snazzy jukes that had the crowd oohing and aahing. I can't wait to watch him return punts, assuming he wins the job. That's a big assumption, given Andre Davis' 84-yard return in this game.

And Cory Bird? Wow, 9 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery, and Defensive MVP honors. What more do you want to know?

Punters: very inconsistent. The Maroon team's Bobby Peaslee had a good first half, averaging 43 yards a kick on 3 punts, but he shanked one badly in the third quarter to bring his average for the game down to 37.3 on 4 kicks.

For the White team, Michael Davis and Matt Felber averaged 40.5 yards on 6 kicks, but they struggled with shanks and generally had short hang time. Actually, there only about two true booming punts all day, so there's a lot of work to be done here.

On the Lighter Side

Second Funniest Line Heard at Greg Roberts Sports Club Friday Night: Linebackers Coach Jim Cavanaugh, when asked if Tech is less aggressive and less physical when playing on Astroturf: "West Virginia -- that's just a tough place to play. It's got nothing to do with Astroturf. The Astroturf isn't out there throwing beer bottles at you."

Funniest Line Heard at Greg Roberts Sports Club Friday Night: Defensive Line Coach Charley Wiles, discussing Tech linebacker Brian Welch: "He's just like George Del Ricco, only Brian won't head butt you at midnight on Saturday after 12 Budweisers."

(For the record, Coach Wiles was implying that Brian won't drink a 12-pack on Saturday night, not that he'll drink the 12-pack and do something else.)

Speaking of Greg Roberts Sports Club, I've been to a number of the various round-ups and rallies that Greg has had there over the years, and I've decided that the best speaker, hands down, is Coach Cavanaugh. I like all the guys who appear there -- I've seen Brian Stinespring a number of times, plus John Ballein, Lorenzo "Whammy" Ward, Bud Foster, Billy Hite, and Charley Wiles, but Coach Cavanaugh is the best.

Unlike most Tech speakers, who say, "I don't want to see this on the Internet" and then hold back while they talk, Coach Cavanaugh says "I don't want to see this on the Internet" and then just unloads. At 50+ years of age, he's the elder statesmen of the Virginia Tech assistant coaches, and you know what? He's too old to mess around. So when Cav opens his mouth, what comes out his the real deal, and it's always enlightening and often hilarious. Picture Homer Simpson laughing at Coach Cav and saying, "It's funny because it's true!" and that's how you'll feel after hearing Coach Cav speak. You'll also feel well-informed. And the fact that I can call him "Coach Cav" without even thinking about our neighbors to the northeast tells you how much I like the guy.

I don't often blatantly suck up to the Tech coaches in print (except for Beamer and Henrickson, of course), but there it is. You da man, coach.

Thanks to everyone who came to the HC tailgate, particularly Hokie Jeff, who foiled some pranksters who were trying to steal the www.HokieCentral.com. banner from the HC tent after the game had ended. Except for that, I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and I wish I could have talked to each and every one of you longer. For those of you whose conversations with me got cut short for various reasons, I apologize.

So … See You in Four Months?

So now we bid each other adieu, at least on the subject of football, for the next four months, to reconvene here on August 27th when the Hokies play Georgia Tech in the Battle of the Techs. Actually, we'll be talking football from late July onwards, when fall practice starts.

And actually, once the preview magazines start to come out, we'll be talking football again. And, come to think of it, in between, there's recruiting and any other features we can generate here at HC.

So, never mind that "see you in four months" bit. Let's just keep the party going.

James Arthur contributed thoughts and analysis to this column.


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