Virginia Tech Football Notes: Lunch Pail, Bye Week, Takeaways

Virginia Tech has an opportunity to look in the mirror after a tough seven weeks. (Jon Fleming)

It’s Virginia Tech football’s open week. The media observed practice on Wednesday evening and spoke with head coach Brent Pry and defensive coordinator Chris Marve, along with a few players.

Here are some notes on the Hokies (2-5, 1-3 ACC) as they get their feet back under them ahead of a tough clash with No. 23 NC State next Thursday.

Pulling Back the Pail

On Tech Talk Live on Oct. 14 ahead of the Miami game, Pry said the staff decided to put the iconic Lunch Pail on the shelf. After giving up 320 yards on the ground to Israel Abanikanda, the coaches didn’t feel like the players really earned it. So they took it away as a motivating tool.

Pry said the defense showed some good things in the second half of the Miami game that might call for bringing the Lunch Pail back, so conversations are ongoing.

“Motivation is not the thing,” Marve said on Wednesday. “I think we need to focus on our inner locus of control. We want it to be personal. We want it to be something we take a lot of pride in, that we, on a daily basis, go out and earn.

“It’s not a motivational tactic; it’s reality for us. What are we going to do to make sure we represent the standard and uphold the standard and legacy?”

Back in August, the Hokies revived Bud Foster’s Lunch Pail. Pry said it was one of the first things he wanted to do when he got the job. The standard, however, remains the same, and the current staff didn’t feel like the players earned it for the time being.

Hokies Take a Look in the Mirror

One of the most important things during a bye week is the opportunity for self-reflection. Virginia Tech did just that on Monday, breaking down the first seven weeks.

The Hokies have had opportunities this season, but the ball hasn’t always rolled their way. (Jon Fleming)

“The data, the film, defensively [we] broke down every single explosive play against us and why it happened,” Pry said. “Run play, pass play, was it a missed tackle, we didn’t edge the defense, execution error, good play by the offense? Broke down every one of them.”

However, it’s not a normal bye week. Instead of playing the following Saturday, the Hokies have NC State on Thursday, Oct. 27. As a result, they spent less time reviewing previous games than normally.

“What we did with a limited time is we studied where we were inefficient,” Pry said. “Where weren’t we good enough? Offensively, we looked at how do we maximize our strengths? Our best personnel and the things we do the best. And where can we create a few more challenges?”

Pry said there wasn’t anything too surprising to him that he discovered on Monday. Marve said the defensive staff had suspicions of certain players and situations or specific run or pass plays that teams attacked the Hokies with in particular areas.

During the season, Tech reviews the most recent game each Sunday and Monday, along with the previous ones. The open week was an opportunity to dive a bit deeper.

“Some suspicions were confirmed, and we found out a few things we didn’t know about that I think are ultimately going to help us down this stretch,” Marve said.

Generating Turnovers

Through seven weeks, Virginia Tech is tied for 114th in the country in turnover margin. With the exception of Alabama, Kentucky, Washington State and South Carolina, most of the teams between 100 and 131 are sub-.500.

That’s the case in Blacksburg where the Hokies have a -5 turnover margin this season. They’ve picked off opponents twice and recovered three fumbles, but they have 10 turnovers themselves.

Tech only has two interceptions this year – vs. Boston College and at Pitt. (Jon Fleming)

There seems to be a bit of randomness where a turnover margin, like the Crimson Tide’s -4, doesn’t necessary correlate to a team’s record. But that area has been a point of emphasis in the open week for Virginia Tech.

“First of all, you’ve got to teach it, right? You get what you emphasize as a coach,” Marve said. “If we deem it as positive and show it to them and continue to emphasize it, they want to replicate that behavior, so it’s about talking about it in unit meetings, it’s talking about it in position meetings, it’s focusing on it in practice, it’s tracking it in practice.

“Ultimately, when game day comes, it’s about getting to the football. Attacking the ball when it’s in the air, swarming the football as a defense, all 11 getting to the rock, and then attacking the ball carrier if you’re the second man in after the ball’s been secured.”

Elijah Howard Changes Positions

A 5-11, 176-pounder from Knoxville, Tenn., redshirt freshman Elijah Howard has transitioned to running back from cornerback.

He was repping with Stu Holt’s room during Wednesday’s open practice. Pry said it’s to give him an opportunity to see the field.

“He had a nice career in high school as a back,” Pry said. “In this developmental stuff, you want to move guys around a little bit and see what they can do. He hasn’t really worked out in the secondary. He’s not earning any time there. So give him a shot, based on his high school film. So we’ll do that for a couple weeks and see where we get with it.”

Howard has appeared in ten games across two seasons, including all seven in 2022. According to PFF, he’s played 90 snaps this season; 77 have come on special teams. He has two tackles in that span.

Howard ran for 800 yards, had 110 receiving yards and scored seven touchdowns in a shortened senior season in high school. As a junior, he totaled 1,422 rushing yards and 22 scores. Composite rankings from 247Sports listed Howard as the No. 18 prospect in The Volunteer State.

Pry said he “looked out of place” with the cornerbacks and “pretty natural” running the ball, so the Hokies decided to give him a shot there.

Mansoor Delane and the young cornerbacks are learning, one of the reasons Elijah Howard changed positions. (Jon Fleming)

True Freshman Corners Continue To Develop

One of the contributing factors to Howard’s move is the growth of Tech’s young cornerbacks. Mansoor Delane, Cam Johnson and Devin Alves have all burst on the scene.

Delane’s played in four games while Johnson’s seen action in two. Alves does not have an appearance on the season. However, their development gives Pry confidence in the future of the cornerback room.

“Obviously what Mansoor did, the development that we have with Cam and Devin has me excited,” Pry said. “And I’m excited about the class we have in the secondary. So there’s some good, young prospects in the program and coming into the program.”

Delane, a 6-1, 177-pound freshman from Silver Spring, Md., has 10 tackles in four games. In addition, he has 1.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups, both of which came for Virginia Tech against Miami on Saturday. He’s played 132 snaps, 119 on defense, and showed his ability to tackle in the open field over the past few weeks.

“Mansoor is a very mature young player,” Marve said. “He’s very confident. He prepares the right way, no panic in him. To be so young… you don’t really always expect that from somebody who hasn’t seen as many snaps in real live game action.

“Playing in practice against your teammates is one thing, but actually being on the field in front of fans, on national television and having a cool about you, it’s been really impressive to watch, and it just goes back to preparation.”

18 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. We have substantial talent issues, but these are amplified by the colossal mistake to bring on a rookie head coach and allow him to bring on rookie coordinators on both sides of the ball. Then we add even more uncertainty by having three cooks in the offensive kitchen, with our OC lacking any OC experience whatsoever, aside from one season as a co-OC. Our DC was a GA just 6 short years ago, and has only 6 total years coaching experience prior to being handed the keys to our Defense. Zero DC experience. Zero co-DC experience. Only 6 years total coaching experience, all of which as a positional LB coach. Pry picked his friends and those he knew — not the best OC or DC candidates in my opinion. Whit should have stepped in and pointed out the risk to Pry — that rarely do teams achieve success with rookie head coaches paired with rookie coordinators. Especially for teams trying to rebuild and retool. But Whit is an Olympic Sports AD, not a Football AD, so this is what we get.

    Normally successful rookie head coaches bring on seasoned coordinators that allow the head coach to learn their new position while being able to rely on experienced coordinators. We have none of that. We have inexperience compounded by more experience trying to make sense of below average talent. The money was there to hire an experienced OC and DC, but instead Whit allowed Pry to overpay for inexperienced coordinators. We pay our DC more than FSU pays theirs and almost as much as Michigan pays theirs ($825K vs $916K) and we pay Bowen the same as FSU pays their OC, and almost as much as Clemson pays their OC ($925K vs $850K). We are overpaying relative to the experience they bring to the table. Streeter at Clemson has never been OC either prior to this year but he has substantially more coaching experience that Bowen (9 yrs vs 20 yrs) and isn’t also facing the additional complexities of talent shortage and a rebuild. But Dabo, unlike Pry, isn’t a rookie HC, and experienced head coaches can afford to bring on assistants with less experience at their new position — it’s much, much riskier for rookie head coaches to pull that off.

    I suppose I have no issue with the hire of Pry himself but head coaches live or die largely on the caliber of their assistant coaches and the OC and DC he chose decrease, not increase, the chances of Pry’s ability to be successful as our head coach. I hope I’m wrong and Pry is the exception, but history is generally not at all kind to rookie HCs paired with rookie coordinators.

    1. Interesting. These are good comparisons and you make some good points here. I feel sure there will be some changes if we don’t see improvement over the remaining games. In my opinion these coaching salaries for Power 5 programs are just over the top. Out of hand. But if you want to win, as you point out, you need great coaching.

      1. I hope you are right. More than anything, we need a very good set of coaches on offense. I am wondering if Pry set expectations during their interviews.

    2. There are 10 NFL head coaches 42 and under including 5 still in their 30’s. McVay was hired by the Rams at *30*.
      It’s boom or bust in both college and the pros largely.
      The above has some good points but it wasn’t that long ago that plenty of people here were complaining that we were going to lose coaches b/c we didn’t pay enough. I mean .. anyone can find just about anything to complain about. So our youngins aren’t proving to be wunderkinds yet. That’s where we are right now. But no one knows where things will be next year at this time.
      You know who’s team has a record 17 penalties last week? Alabama. So Saban is suddenly no longer the task mastering disciplinarian he’s been for 15+ years now? Of course not. It’s a moment in time but there are plenty of TSL numbskulls who’d be calling for Sabans head. Pry *has* to back his coaches and we should too – as in giving them some leash – because how bad will it look to recruits if Pry shuffles the deck after season 1? That would be even more disastrous.

    3. I appreciate your opinion and truth be told, there is no way to dispute the facts that you posted. My opinion is that position is short sighted and myopic. It will be curious to have a conversation about this same subject in 36 months. If half a season is all you need to decide the futures of a staff that has never coached together before, with players that they neither recruited, nor coached prior to this year, then give me your solution to the current VT issue, with specifics please. Who exactly would you hire, when and how much are you willing to compensate them. Also, please post what guarantee you have of your proposed new staff’s success in the current situation? How do you guarantee that a new year under a new staff with some of the same players will significantly improve the outcome over what a year of experience with the current staff.
      I am not saying that everything CBP has done has been a perfect solution, I just think that a bit or reality needs to injected into the collective thinking. I can’t help but wonder if the same standard of performance would apply to all walks of life……
      It is possible to teach almost anything, you cannot teach experience.

  2. “Marve said the defensive staff had suspicions …” How come he doesn’t know? I thought coaches like him are supposed to know things like this?

    1. The phrase “staff had suspicions” certainly caught my eye. I don’t expect them to be all knowing, However some things are obvious, even among the blind.

      Seems like everyone but the staff knew Delaine should be starting over Murry. Yet against Miami, there was Murray starting. By the time Delaine was on the field, the damage had been done.

      And on offense, late in the game, after VT had clawed its way back, on a key third down attempt, who is in the game at RB? Holston. Why? Why not Thomas? He’s the best RB we have, and he can catch the ball out of the back field. King would have been the 2nd choice, but I understand he was nicked up.

      If TSL’s Coleman and Patterson can see this, along with many fans, why are they just “suspicions” to this professional staff?

  3. Did they learn anything about the ineffectiveness of the offense during the review of first seven games? Or did our defensive minded head coach only critique the defense for improvement?

    1. Assume you are being facetious.

      Defense is not good.

      Offense is deplorable

      Worst I remember seeing in 60 years as a fan.

      And all of it is not due to a lack of talent. Unfortunately we have some coaching issues.

      Pry needs to pick up the pace and get his coaches better prepared

        1. I would rather get shut out one game and lose the string, if I then saw significant improvement in the offense due to changes made. I’m not concerned with a single game outcome relative to some record. I’m interested in the overall trend. Right now, that trend is flat when it should be positive.

  4. #25 should be shelved except for exemplary play on STs. i presume that’s how it’s managed.

  5. Loved watching Mansoor playing corner in the Miami game. He was with his man and had great awareness of where the ball was. Tremendous improvement over Brion. Other freshmen DBs seemed to play well too

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