Right, it's Virginia Tech week, isn't it. You'll have to bear with me this week, as I'm spending the bulk of my time moving out of my apartment, which sucks as much as it always does. (Pro tip: never room with someone who owns a stolen fire hydrant. I swear that thing weighs more than my car.) Back to a more regular schedule next week. Fortunately, I have had time to exchange some questions with furrer4heisman from Gobbler Country. His answers are below. Mine are here.
Now that the Hokies are a couple of weeks removed from the...unpleasantness...how's your outlook? Are they beginning to look like the team you expected to see this year?
The defense is starting to. We knew with the number or starters we lost at key positions, plus the injury to middle linebacker Barquell Rivers, there would be some growing pains early in the season. For the first 10 quarters, we looked pretty bad on defense with a lot of missed tackles and missed assignments. That improved starting with the second half of the ECU game.
A great example is Bruce Taylor, who's filling in for the injured Rivers. He looked awful in coverage and missed some key tackles early on, but it really looks like he's adjusted to game speed and has played very well the last two weeks. Another big improvement is the pass rush, where for the first time all year we were able to get pressure while rushing just four guys. Our ends, Chris Drager and Steven Friday, played very well against BC.
The offense is still a work in progress due to the offensive line. Right now we just aren't very consistent up front, especially on first down.
Maybe it's because Virginia Tech doesn't throw the ball very often, or maybe folks can't shake the image of Tyrod Taylor as a struggling underclassman. Whatever the case, it seems like he deserves more credit than he gets for his passing. He led the conference in yards per attempt by a wide margin in 2009, and he's at the top again this season.
Last year I thought Taylor had an excellent year. He was in rhythm with his receivers and we were able to take shots down field against teams. This year, the deep ball just hasn't been there, due in part to the offensive line now allowing plays to develop and in part to his own decision-making. His numbers against BC look good, but he was too indecisive at times whether to run or throw, which led to a lot of negative plays.
After the James Madison game, Ryan Williams said the offensive line wasn't creating holes the way it did in 2009. How much of a concern has line play been this year? Is the situation improving?
[Editor's note: Hmm. That looks bad.]
Williams is practicing this week but his status is up in the air; if he can't go, does that change anything for Virginia Tech? Both Darren Evans and David Wilson have impressive numbers in limited reps.
You won't see anything different from the offense, regardless of who's in the backfield. Right now I think Wilson is our best back because with his speed, he's able to get to the line before the holes close up. Williams has only averaged 3.0 carries this year and has just one 20+ yard carry in 46 attempts so far. Last year he had one every 15 times he carried the ball. The explosiveness just hasn't been there and the line has had a lot to do with it.
Wilson, when he hasn't been dancing in the backfield, has been our most effective runner. Against NC State's attacking defense and with the way our line has been blocking of late he might be our best option this weekend.
What concerns do you have about the Hokies' defense? Is there a particular area you expect NC State to try to exploit?
I expect they'll try to do the things they normally do and try to get the passing game in rhythm. We've used a lot of nickel defense this year and I expect you'll see it a lot this weekend. Usually we play a 4-3 with a whip linebacker, who's job is to rush the passer or cover slot receivers. You remember last year's whip, Cody Grimm, who forced three fumbles in your first four offensive plays last year.
Well, unfortunately he's gone and he's been replaced by Jeron Gouveia-Winslow who been somewhat of a whipping boy for Tech fans with the struggles the defense had early. He's been really bad in pass coverage and is part of the reason we started playing more nickel coverage because it gets him off the field. He did have an interception last week, but I wonder how much of that was his improvement and how much of that was Dave Shinskie.
The important thing for Virginia Tech is to get a good outside pass rush that contains Russell Wilson and forces the ball out of his hands quickly. I have a lot of respect for your receivers, but I still think the less time Wilson has the ball in his hands the better. I'd rather take my chances with the receivers.