A Few Charts Illustrating the Hokies Recent Woes
I have never lived a year of life on a Planet Earth without the Virginia Tech Hokies playing in a college football bowl game. The team went from a small time program who hired some coach from Southwest Virginia in the 1980s to a significant national force. But since Tyrod Taylor went to the NFL and beloved coach Frank Beamer retired, we haven’t really felt all that relevant nationally. Last year we were in real danger of losing our longest-in-the-nation active post-season streak. Towards the end of the season I downloaded 18 years worth of game data from Sports-Reference.com to try figure out why the program has struggled in recent years - and the answer lies in our defense.
Win Percentage Over Time
First, it’s worth nothing that things are on an upswing from a local minimum preceding Frank Beamer’s retirement. The Hokies have not finished a season below .500 in 25 years, but the team did perform meaningfully worse in the few years before Beamer’s departure. This season may very well be an outlier instead of a symptom of more larger problems in the program. But there are areas of the game where we’ve gotten better and areas where we’ve gotten worse - most notably on defense.
Offensive production does not appear to have been the problem. Most of the offensive stats that seem like they should be high are at or above the levels they were when Fuente took over the team in 2015. The stats we’d hope would be low are lower.
Pass percentage is higher than Fuente’s first season and generally even better than the Beamer years. Total rushing yards per game has dropped precipitously over the last few years, but yards per rush is generally higher than the end of the Beamer years and is in line with the more successful Fuente years. Touchdowns and first downs per game are up, offensive yards per game is up, and interceptions per game is way down from the time Fuente took over.
One area for concern is offensive penalties, which are higher than any time since Fuente took over. But generally offensive production isn’t that big of a problem for the Hokies.
Defensively, the Hokies are experiencing a rapid decline. Opponents have completed about 5% more of their passes this season than last. Opponents are rushing less, but getting more yardage when they do. We give up 1.7 more touchdowns per game than we did last year. There are also longer term trends in the defense’s decline.
We’ve seen long term declines in the number of turnovers we force per game since the early 2000s and opponents scoring more and more points per game. The Hokies give up more first downs than we used to. Even the bright spot of the defense - a pretty low rate of defensive penalties per game - is hard to celebrate because the penalties we do get are giving up more penalty first downs. We’re extending drives for our oppoents and letting them outpace our otherwise strong offense.
The Virginia Tech Hokies’ storied football program has had a few rough years since hiring Justin Fuente to replace legendary coach Frank Beamer. Fuente was, in part, hired for his offensive prowess while Bud Foster - the similarly legendary Defensive Coordinator - was retained to provide the program with continuity and, well, the legendary defenses he’s built up over the years. The data presented here points to defense as a weak point the Hokies will need to shore up in 2019.