Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sugar Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech Specialists

Guest poster Ryan provides his fifth and final Virginia Tech Hokies position group review.  Previously: offensive backfield, receiving corps, offensive line, defensive front seven and defensive secondary.

Virginia Tech Specialists 
Virginia Tech’s nationally recognized brand of football, known as “Beamerball,” prides itself on a strong, physical running attack that controls time of possession while playing good defense and pinning the opponent deep in its own territory with effective special teams play. Over the course of the 2011 season the last third of that equation has been less than ideal, which is an unusual sight in Blacksburg. The recent dismissal of starting placekicker Cody Journell certainly does not help the Hokies’ cause.

In the ACC, the Hokies rank fourth in kickoff coverage and punt return yards, next-to-last in kickoff return yards, and last in punting. They also have been unable to block kicks at their traditional high rate, with their sole block of the year coming against Appalachian St. in the season opener.

Kicker – Tyler Weiss #5; Justin Myer #48

Replacing Journell is redshirt senior Tyler Weiss. Since transferring from Murray St. in 2008, Weiss has spent his career kicking during practice but not dressing on game day. That changed this season when he dressed for the Boston College game and handled the short field goal and PAT duties against Duke in relief of the then-injured Journell. Weiss missed his only field goal attempt, a 29-yarder, wide extremely right from the left hashmark, but made both of his PAT attempts. If anything, Weiss is just ice cold since he has not been the primary kicker since his freshman year at Murray St. in 2007. In that season, Weiss was 7-10 on his field goal tries with a long of 48 yards. It will be a tall order for Weiss to be a reliable placekicker, especially in pressure situations, since he has been removed from game action for so long in his collegiate career.

Senior Justin Myer is the Hokies’ kickoff specialist and possesses an extremely strong but equally inaccurate leg. Myer has only been used in field goal attempts of 50+ yards and he missed his two field goal tries from 57 and 53 yards – both kicks were not even close to the uprights. What Myer does do extremely well is put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs. Over the past two seasons, 37% of Myer’s kickoffs have been touchbacks and Myer leads the ACC this season in touchbacks with 31. Given that he will be kicking in a dome, there likely will not be very many opportunities for Martavious Odoms or Vincent Smith to return kicks for the Wolverines.

[Ed. MGoShoe: According to this Kyle Meinke piece in, "Beamer said senior Tyler Weiss will handle extra-point tries and field goals of less than 22 yards against Michigan, and senior Justin Myer will attempt longer kicks." So it looks like Ryan read the tea leaves correctly on this one.]

Punter – Danny Coale #19

You read right, the Hokies star wide receiver also handles the team’s punting duties. Frank Beamer experimented with using Coale as a punter during summer practices, but opted to use redshirt junior Scott Demler to start off the season. After six weeks of ineffective punting, Beamer handed the duties over to true freshman Michael Branthover against Miami. Beamer knows Branthover possesses a great leg, but the coach has stated that he has been inconsistent during practice and had yet to grasp the other aspects of punting. Those problems revealed themselves over the next six weeks and for the regular season finale versus UVA, Coale took over the punting duties. Combined, the three punters averaged 33.6 net yards per punt, but Coale has averaged 45 net yards per punt in his two games with a long of 61. Coale’s production at wide receiver has dropped in those two games, however, only hauling in a combined four receptions for 26 yards, so there are questions about if this added responsibility is affecting his play at wide receiver. Whether there is really something there or not, he is clearly the Hokies’ best option for the Sugar Bowl. 

Kick Returner – David Wilson #4; Tony Gregory #22

Senior Dyrell Roberts started off the season as the Hokies’ primary kick returner, but his season ended when he suffered a broken arm against Arkansas State in week three. As a result, David Wilson has taken over the primary duties. In three seasons of returning kickoffs, the junior has averaged 21.8 yards per return on 59 career returns with two touchdowns. Both scores came last season including the go-ahead return that vaulted the Hokies over Georgia Tech. In 2011, Wilson has averaged 18.8 yards per return on 20 attempts with a long of 31.

Tony Gregory has averaged 19.5 yards per kickoff return on 16 attempts with a long of 28 in his first season at the position. Though he is less dangerous than Wilson in the return game, he can still break a big return if he finds enough space.

Punt Returner – Jayron Hosley #20

When Hosley is not recording interceptions, he is returning punts for the Hokies. In three seasons handling the duties, Hosley has averaged 11.8 yards per return on 67 touches. He also has two career touchdowns that are split between the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Like Wilson and Gregory, Hosley is a threat to take it to the house if given a lane, but he is susceptible like many punt returners to trusting too much in his agility and dance instead of just step forward. For the season, Hosley has averaged 12 yards on 17 returns with a long return of 55 yards.

That does it for my breakdowns of Virginia Tech’s position groups. I'll see you in The Big Easy on Tuesday.

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