Pittsburgh Q&A with @CzarOfPgh

You can follow Zach on twitter @CzarOfPgh

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

I’m basically like the guy from Momento; I should be carrying around polaroids of the past 30 years of Pitt football to remind myself in the offseason to never, ever be optimistic. The schedule seemed to be shaping up for an 8-4 type year: open 5-1 against Delaware, BC, FIU, Iowa, Akron, and UVA and then manage 3-3 in the chaotic Coastal. I remember thinking 4-2 to open the season would be a worst-case scenario. We’re 3-3.

So my thoughts are mostly not positive. From halftime of the Iowa game until halftime of the UVA game, the team has appeared alternatingly confused, listless, overpowered, and uninterested. I’m not smart enough to know if the issue is players, schemes, or coaching, but the current players in the current scheme aren’t getting it done for the current coaches. Something has to change before the season slips away.

What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?

After that burst of negativity, let me be positive here. In the Paul Chryst era, Pitt has followed disastrous back-to-back losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati with a win over a 13th ranked Virginia Tech. Later that year, a bad loss to UConn was followed with a win at a ranked Rutgers. Last year, terrible losses to Navy and Georgia Tech were followed with a win over a ranked Notre Dame. In short, when it really comes time to nut up or shut up, Chryst’s teams have always chosen the former.

So here we are – a disappointing 3-3 looking into the cavity-laden teeth of the ACC Coastal. There are 6 winnable games here and 6 losable games. When it seemed like the season was slipping away in years past, Chryst’s teams have been able to rally and salvage bowl eligibility. I can only hope they still have that kind of fight still in them [pulls out polaroid pictures and frowns].

At this point, how do you see the Coastal Division shaking out? Which team do you think will end up winning the division?

Forget everyone finishing 4-4, I think somehow everyone manages to finish 3-5.

More seriously, it’s clear (as it was before the season) that there’s no elite team here. In the absence of a team that has an elite offense and defense, someone who has one of those things is going to win it. If that’s the criterion, then it basically eliminates Pitt and UNC from the start. Things always seem to be on the precipice of falling apart at Miami, and Duke does a lot of things very well but none of them really elite. That leaves Georgia Tech’s offense and the elite defenses in the commonwealth of Virginia. UVA still has to play FSU and GT still has Clemson, so I am taking the Hokies, injuries and all, to end up on top.

What is your prediction for the game?

If Pitt has any chance of winning, they have to take advantage of the injury concerns the Hokies have at running back and the questionable choices Michael Brewer often makes. VT isn’t a team that’s going to put up a lot of points, so that is encouraging, because Pitt’s defense is adequate at best.

Unfortunately, Pitt hasn’t been able to put up points at all, really, over the past month.  The offensive line wasn’t able to get much of a push against Akron, of all teams. If James Conner can’t run and set up second- and third-and-shorts, then it’s trouble. Chad Voytik has spent way too much time looking uncomfortable, unable to go through his progressions, unable to see over the line, and unable to use proper mechanics. That’s a bad recipe against a VT defense that is ranked 4th in the country by the latest F/+ statistics.

I predict VT 21-Pitt 13 with a lot Twitter jokes about both offenses from the national tv audience.

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

Let’s examine the Hokies last three visits to Pittsburgh:

2012: #13 Virginia Tech 17, Pittsburgh 35
2003: #5 Virginia Tech 28, #25 Pittsburgh 31
2001: #12 Virginia Tech 7, Pittsburgh 38

That’s three times that a highly ranked Virginia Tech team has waltzed into Heinz Field and left with a lost. If the Hokies want to avoid it happening for a fourth consecutive time, they need to come prepared to play.

Virginia Tech’s front seven is small and fast. This works well against a lot of teams but Pitt has a very big offensive line and 6’2″, 250 pound running back. I don’t like how that matchup looks on paper especially with Luther Maddy out for the game.

You might say, is Chad Voytik going to beat us? Well, I didn’t think Tino Sunseri, Rod Rutherford and David Priestly would beat us either. His numbers this year aren’t terrible – 58.7%, 8 TDs, 5 INTs. If the Hokies want to take advantage of the matchup of the Hokies secondary vs Voytik – they need to jump out to an early lead and make him have to throw more than the Pitt coaches might feel comfortable with. That’s the formula for beating this Pitt team.

Statistically, the Pitt defense is very good. They rank 4th in total defense, 37th in rushing defense and 6th in passing defense. The Hokies haven’t been able to run on anyone this season, so don’t expect that to start this week with their top 3 running backs out for the game. That also means that once again, the success of the offense will reside squarely on Michael Brewer’s shoulders. If he takes care of the ball, more than likely the Hokies will win. If he reverts back to bad Michael Brewer, it will be difficult for the Hokies to win.  It’s really as simple as that. Let’s hope we see more of the Ohio State/UNC Michael Brewer than the ECU/GT Michael Brewer.

On paper this matchup looks pretty even all things considered. But given the Hokies bad mojo at Heinz Field, it’s hard to pick them. This game is going to look a lot like the UNC game – lots of penalties and just plain ugly football. I’m just not feeling good about the Hokies chances of going into Heinz Field in an even matchup and stealing a win. It didn’t work for those highly-ranked VT squads and I don’t think it’s going to work for the 2014 Hokies either.

Pittsburgh 27, Virginia Tech 24

Midseason Awards

We’re halfway through the season and we’ll take some time to examine who has stood out on the 2014 Hokies.

Offensive MVP

Finalists:

Michael Brewer – 10 TDs, 61.8% comp %, 234.8 ypg
Bucky Hodges – 234 yds, 4 TDs
Isaiah Ford – 366 yds, 4 TDs
Marshawn Williams – 362 yds, 3 TDs, 4.0 ypc

brewer_michaelWinner: Michael Brewer. He’s the straw that stirs the drink. Does he turn the ball over too much? Yes. But he also moves the offense better than it has since David Wilson, Danny Coale and Jarred Boykin were here. Virginia Tech’s current total offensive ranking is 71st. The Hokies were ranked 101st in total offense last year. There has been a significant improvement and lot of that can be attributed to better QB play (sorry, Logan).

Defensive MVP

Finalists:

Kendall Fuller – 1 INT, 1 TD, 2 Sacks, 13 passes defended
Ken Ekanem – 5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 12 QBHs, 1 FF
Chase Williams – 23 solo tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 8.5 TFL, 14 QBHs, 1 FF

fuller_kendallWinner: Kendall Fuller. Seriously, who else could it be? When you throw at Kendall Fuller, you do it at your own peril. He has locked down every receiver he has faced this year. He basically shuts down one side of the field for the opposing offense. I’d rather not imagine what the Hokies’ defense would look like this year without him. Few teams in the country have a weapon in the secondary like Kendall Fuller.

Best position coach

Finalists:

Aaron Moorehead
Charley Wiles
Bryan Stinespring

moorehead_aaronWinner: Aaron Moorehead. It helps when you recruit two players like Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips. Last year, he squeezed as much production as possible from a receiving corps that Rece Davis referred to as “hot garbage” after the Alabama game. This year with Ford, Phillips and Byrn you’re starting to see a lot of production from that position group. It is not easy to get true freshmen to perform at the high level that Ford and Phillips are and that’s a testament to the good work of Aaron Moorehead.

Most surprising player

Finalists:

Bucky Hodges – 234 yds, 4 TDs
Shai McKenzie – 279 yds, 3 TDs, 5.1 ypc
Cam Phillips – 249 yds, 1 TD

hodges_buckyWinner: Bucky Hodges. The word out of spring and fall practice was that Bucky Hodges looked really good and would contribute this year at TE. No one said he would be the next Jimmy Graham (maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration). He looks very similar to TEs that have been drafted to the NFL in recent years (Ebron, Ertz, Reed). Enjoy him while we have him because he might be gone sooner rather than later. He’s that good.

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

Two questions going into this game: How bad is UNC’s defense and how bad is VT’s offense? The real answer is that no one really knows. What is clear is that both groups can do better than they have been. Which team is going to step up and get themselves back into the Coastal division race? Since both teams are facing an 0-2 hole in conference play, I think it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out affair.

The Hokies should be able to run and pass effectively in this game. UNC’s defensive stats are not particularly impressive. In this game, it is important that they do not get away from the run game. They need to help Michael Brewer by taking some of the pressure off of him by running Marshawn Williams and Trey Edmunds. The more Brewer is forced to throw, the more nervous I get about the outcome. The Hokies need him to be more game-manager than gunslinger.

On defense, THE HOKIES HAVE TO LIMIT THE BIG PLAYS! How many times do we have to say that this year? Statistically, this defense looks pretty good even with all the big plays they’ve given up, which means they’ve been dominant when they aren’t giving up plays of 20+ yards. Carolina has plenty of talented receivers that can make the Hokies pay down field. They cannot afford another East Carolina-like performance. Chuck Clark and Donovan Riley are going to have bring their A-game to this one.

This is a strange game to predict. Neither team has been particularly consistent on either side of the ball. Given that the loser of this game will be in trouble as far as the Coastal division is concerned, I expect both teams to bring their best effort. I think it’s going to be a close one. There are definitely reasons to feel hopeful but I just don’t see the Hokies pulling this one out on the road.

Prediction: North Carolina 31, Virginia Tech 28

North Carolina Q&A with Zach Evans

You can follow Zach on twitter @ztevans

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

The good news is that UNC’s offense has gotten better each week. Clemson has one of the best defenses in the ACC, and the Heels rebounded from a slow start to put up 35 points against them. The bad news, of course, is that UNC’s defense probably qualifies for FEMA assistance at this point. Scoring 35 points isn’t good enough when you’re giving up 50 … or 70 in the case of the East Carolina game.

What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?

The game will be decided when Virginia Tech has the ball. As I said on this week’s ACC Weekly podcast, which also featured the royal steed of stationary running machines, it will be the stoppable force of Virginia Tech’s pedestrian offense under Michael Brewer against the movable object that has been UNC’s porous defense. If Brewer can complete enough passes to the right team and force UNC to make tackles, Virginia Tech will win. If not, UNC will win.

At this point, how do you see the Coastal Division shaking out?

I’d love to have some expert analysis of the Coastal, but I am utterly confused and perplexed by the division at this point. I liked Virginia Tech, then they lost to ECU and Georgia Tech. I liked Duke, they lost to Miami. I guess the teams I like most now are Virginia and Miami, which guarantees they will lose to Pitt and Georgia Tech this week. Really, I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.

What is your prediction for the game?

I predict #goacc. Lots and lots of #goacc. What else would we expect from the 12:30 ACC Network Game of the Week? I’m biased enough to think that UNC will generate enough turnovers to squeak out a win in front of the home crowd. But more importantly, I predict #goacc

Grading the Unis – Western Michigan Edition

Helmet: B+

The Hokies have finally joined the shiny/chrome fad in college football. In this case, it was well-executed with a subtle touch in the VT logo as opposed to the Christmas ornaments we’ve seen teams across the country wear in recent years. Looked good.

Jersey: B

I like the orange jerseys in spite of our W-L history wearing them. Pulling these out for the orange effect game seems appropriate. They should only to wear them when the Hokies are at least 3 TD favorites. Otherwise, things can get dicey.

Pants: A

The pants looked great with the orange jerseys! Flawless execution.

Overall: B+

This combo is similar to the one I like to use when I play as the Hokies in NCAA 14. I think it’s a good look and it’s the best possible execution of the orange jerseys without looking like a bunch of pumpkins or like Syracuse. I’m not sure who is coming up with the uni combos this year but they’re doing a great job. No major stumbles thus far. Keep up the good work!

Western Michigan Preview and Prediction

Before I dive into Western Michigan, I’d like to start by talking about how Virginia Tech losses come in twos. I remember thinking right after the ECU game, uh oh, I hope this loss doesn’t get us twice. Let me delve into the recent history of Virginia Tech’s losses coming in twos over past few years and how the Hokies bounced back from those games.

2013

Duke 13-10 L
Boston College 34-27 L
Next Game: Miami 24-42 W

2012

Cincinnati 27-24 L
North Carolina 48-34 L
Next Game: Duke 20-41 W

2010

Boise State 33-30 L
James Madison 21-16 L
Next Game: ECU 27-49 W

I could go on, but I really don’t want to relive the painful memories of other two game losing streaks (2009, 2008 & 2006). Either way, this coaching staff has a strong track record of bouncing back from these two game losing streaks and getting things right. And just like teams of the past, it’s not like this team is void of talent or haven’t shown flashes in the games they lost. The mistakes are correctable. Which brings me to Western Michigan. I think this is the week they circle the wagons and Beamer and Co get things back on track.

What do we know about Western Michigan? They have a very good offense led by RB Jarvion Franklin. Franklin might be one of the best RBs the Hokies face all season and is on his way to putting together a 1,500+ yard season. They’ve played Purdue close and blown out Idaho and Murray State. Defensively though, they have struggled. They rank 55th in total defense and size-wise our offense line should be able to push them off the ball. The Hokies haven’t played many games recently where there has been a significant size and talent disparity between themselves and the opposition, but this is a game where that is definitely the case. This will not be another shellacking like the Hokies used to put on the Broncos in the early 2000’s but the Hokies should be able to win comfortably. However, the Broncos will finally get on the board after being shutout in the three previous meetings with the Hokies. I think Vegas has this line right about where it needs to be (-21).

Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Western Michigan 14

Western Michigan Q&A with David Drew of the Kalamazoo Gazette

You can follow David on twitter @Drew_On_WMU or read his latest stories at mlive.com/broncos.

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

The Broncos have really surprised me offensively. WMU scored 17 points per game last year, which was one of the worst averages in the country. Right now, WMU is scoring 41 per game through its first three games. I don’t expect that high output to continue, but the Broncos have additional weapons in freshman running back Jarvion Franklin, who is on a record-breaking pace so far, and sophomore Daniel Braverman, who is a quick shifty player that can make people miss in the open field. WMU’s offense looks much different than it did last year and is no longer one-dimensional.

Defensively, WMU is still very much a work in progress, especially in the front seven. Western Michigan recorded seven sacks last season and was the only team in the country to fail to reach double digits in that category. The Broncos recorded four sacks at Idaho and put up a good rush against Murray State. WMU’s secondary was billed as a strength of the team coming into the season and it’s been okay so far, though I think it’s fair to say it’s almost been a bit of a disappointment.

Overall, WMU is a work in progress. I predicted WMU would win three games this season. Maybe the Broncos get to four or five, but this isn’t a bowl team or one that will contend for a conference championship. Coach P.J. Fleck is stockpiling the talent in recruiting, but it’s going to take time for the young guys to gain experience.

What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?

WMU’s fan base is very excited right now as the Broncos are on a two-game winning streak for the first time since 2011. There are some who feel WMU can take down a reeling Va. Tech team, but I’m not one of them. The Hokies won 63-0 the last time WMU came to Blacksburg in 2004. I don’t think it will be that lopsided, but I don’t see this one being in the single digits either. If this one starts getting out of hand it’s important WMU take out its key players, take their check from Va. Tech and get home healthy and ready for MAC play, where anything can happen.

How do Western Michigan fans view Virginia Tech’s program?

I think WMU fans know and admire/respect what kind of tradition and success VT has had over the years. As I said, there are some that think an upset can happen, but I think most know this one will be tough and it’s important that their team not get too beat up. WMU coach P.J. Fleck talked at Sunday’s practice about how much respect he has for Frank Beamer and what he’s done at Va. Tech. WMU will go into this one confident, but not cocky and I think the same goes for its fan base.

What is your prediction for the game?

I think WMU gets a touchdown in the first quarter, but I don’t see this one staying close for long. Oddsmakers have the Hokies favored by 27.5 points. I think that’s a little high, but not out of the question. My final score: Virginia Tech 41, Western Michigan 17.

Taking the pulse of the program

This innocuous tweet from @Beamer_Ball (Frank Beamer’s personal website) set of a firestorm of reaction from the Hokie faithful:

Pretty safe to say that Hokie fans are not too happy with the results of the last two games.

They are who we thought they were…


… and we let ’em off the hook! Ohio State is a good team. ECU is a good team (they just hung 70 on UNC). GT not so much. They’re a decent team and they’ll probably go bowling this year. But they are not the type of team the Hokies should be losing to. They have a decent offense paired with a woeful defense. However, the Hokies did just enough to give the Jackets the game.

Going into this season I was concerned that Michael Brewer may be a bit too much of a gunslinger. When I say gunslinger, I mean like a Brett Favre-type who completes a lot of passes but also throws a lot of interceptions. In the first two games, it looked like he walked the line just right. He threw a couple of passes into tight windows and lived to tell about it. In this game, his fortunes changed dramatically and it cost the Hokies the game. Here’s hoping that he can reign-in his gunslinger mentality a bit and learn to make better decisions.

Michael Brewer took a lot of grief from Hokie fans during and after the game. One thing everyone needs to remember is that he is a first-year starter and will make mistakes. Overall, I think he moves this offense as well as anyone has since Tyrod was behind center. I think we’re just going to have to deal with the bumps in the road until his decision making improves and gets more comfortable playing at this level.

Looking back on the game, the defense played excellent. The Hokies gave up 2 TDs and 2 FGs. One of their TDs came by way of a pick-six. That’s par for the course as far as how Hokies normally play against the Jackets. But that pick six was a killer. Giving up 20 points should be enough to win the game and would’ve been on Saturday if not for the mistake from the QB.

The two aspects of the game that I think lost the game for the Hokies were not being able to run the ball consistently and Michael Brewer’s stat line. As I said in my preview, GT was giving up 216 ypg and 5.9 ypc. The Hokies only finished with 127 yards rushing (3.8 ypc). The Hokies had a great opportunity to establish the run game in this game. GT wasn’t able to stop the run against the likes of Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern. Not exactly a murderers row of opponents. This game makes me think the Hokies will struggle to run the ball all year unless the offensive line makes some huge strides in the coming weeks.

This post is not meant to bash Michael Brewer. I like the kid’s moxie and I think he will end up being an excellent QB and leave us with a lot of great memories in 2014 and 2015. But for this game, his stat line ended up being 28 for 39 (good!), 297 yards (good!), 0 TDs, 3 INTs (very, very bad!). I would love to see the Hokies be able to establish the run and take some of the pressure off of Brewer’s shoulders but like I said in the last paragraph, I don’t see that happening. I think what we saw from the offense is what we’re going to have to get used to for the rest of the season. Some days, Brewer is going to be great! Some days he’s not going to be so good.

I predicted before the season that the Hokies will end up going 8-4 during the regular season. I’m sticking to that. I still think they are going to lose two more in ACC play but I think overall, they end up with a pretty good record and challenge for that division title. I think it’ll end up being one of those years where the division winner goes 5-3 in conference and goes to the ACCCG by way of a tiebreaker. Luckily, I don’t think that tiebreaker will be against GT so take care of business against Pitt and UNC and I think we’ll be in good shape.

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