Florida State football first look: Virginia Tech's defense is still there

Geoff Burke

Here are some notes I have after watching Virginia Tech play.

Offensive inconsistency

Virginia Tech's offense is really hard to watch. We sometimes talk about a lack of focus or execution by Florida State's offense. But with Tech, the problems are on a completely different level. FSU's offensive plans almost always make sense. Tech's? Not as often.

And even when it does, Tech is constantly shooting itself in the foot and doing dumb things. Against Miami's defense, the Hokies were only 1-12 on third down actually, they were 9-20 on third down. I regret the error. That stat did seem funny considering Tech moved the ball a good bit.

They drop passes like nobody's business (focus issue), don't seem to be in the right spots, and Logan Thomas combines bad decision making with bad throws. The interception he threw on first down against Miami from the Canes' 20 was awful. The overthrow against Clemson was even worse. Some of the stuff they do with the zone read doesn't make a lot of sense, either.

Tech does not do a good job of sustaining drives because Thomas and the inexperienced parts around him do not do a good job of maintaining focus and repeatedly executing over a stretch of 8-10 plays.

They do, however, hit big plays. A lot of them. For instance, FSU, an offense that has a lot of big plays, has hit 15 plays of 40+ yards. The Hokies? Also 15. Another way to look at this is that the Hokies are 46th in explosiveness but only 92nd in methodical drives.

It doesn't make sense to be aggressive against Virginia Tech's offense because the Hokies have yet to prove they can move the ball in a sustained fashion, and doing so would increase the chance of giving up a big play.

Logan Thomas definitely still has the arm and the physical talent, which is always somewhat scary (see LSU's Zach Mettenberger, of similar physical talent to Thomas, who had been awful so far on the year but managed to put together a great game Saturday against Alabama's defense.)

That said, this offense has not faced a defense the caliber of Florida State's and is almost certainly incapable of putting together multiple sustained drives. Thus, the name of the game is to not give VT the ball deep in FSU territory via turnovers. Playing field position here may not give FSU the best chance to blow out VT (as compared to a riskier approach), but it probably offers the highest chance of victory.

Turnover luck

This is one of the more concerning aspects of this game. We can discuss the idea of forcing turnovers, but the truth is that turnovers, while largely luck, are usually more under the control of the offense. Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas has been really sloppy at times (11 interceptions in Virginia Tech's five losses). And Virginia Tech has lost its fair share of fumbles. In its wins, the Hokies have turned it over only 3 times.

I'll also add, and I'm not sure if I should call this frustrating or interesting or what, but many of Logan Thomas' interceptions are not forced by the defense. At all. Thomas just seems to make huge mistakes without any pressure on him.

And that's the frustrating thing. FSU fans would be much more confident if teams had been physically whipping Virginia Tech, or if the Hokies didn't have talent. They do have talent. They just make a lot of mistakes (many more than the ones by FSU on which we harp). Self inflicted wounds are not guaranteed to happen in every game, and the Seminoles cannot with 100% confidence expect Va Tech to shoot itself in the foot repeatedly. It can expect some, though.

This is a good list of major mistakes made by VT against Miami.

Defense is there if you look closely

Ignore the points allowed, and look at the play of the defense.

I should note that while Virginia Tech's offense has been struggling, it's defense has been much better over the last three games (Duke, Clemson, Miami). This may be hard to see, however, due to the number of points surrendered by Tech in those three games (20, 38, 30).

Much of that wasn't on the defense. Virginia Tech's offense and special teams put the defense in horrible spots in many of those games via turnovers. Against Miami, the Hokies had to defend drives started at their own 16 and 19 (resulting in 14 points). Against Clemson, the Hokies' offense and special teams made the defense defend drives starting from their own 26, 43, 47, 47 and 41. Five Clemson drives starting in VT's territory. Crazy. Oh, and that doesn't include the pick-six, which counts for seven points on the scoreboard, but which certainly has nothing to do with Tech's defense.

They actually held Clemson to 4.47 yards/play, in Clemson, which is much better than the 5.57 yards/play FSU held the Tigers to in Doak Campbell. Of course, they also allowed a lot more yards/play to Miami than FSU did.

The point here is that VT's defense is

  1. Pretty good;
  2. Considerably better than any defense FSU has faced so far (particularly when playing in Lane Stadium); and
  3. Much improved over the last three weeks, however difficult to see.
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