A fit at Tennessee and a Hokies-Pokes bowl game.
By Bill Roth
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TENNESSEE: This is about Fit. What makes a coach or athletics director fit a particular school? It varies, of course, but had former University of Tennessee Athletics Director John Currie initially settled on Jeremy Pruitt as the Vols new football coach instead of Greg Schiano, would there have been such a public outcry? We will never know.
But, Tennessee constituents seem fine with hiring the Alabama defensive coordinator (Pruitt), who’d never been a head coach but were not cool (huge understatement) with the Ohio State defensive coordinator (Schiano) who actually has head coaching experience. And he’s coached at both the college and NFL levels. Perhaps Tennessee fans didn’t appreciate what Schiano did at Rutgers or value his NFL experience. Perhaps they didn’t trust Currie. Regardless, they did trust Phillip Fulmer, beloved former Tennessee player and National Championship winning head coach-turned-retiree-turned-special assistant to the president-turned AD who lured Pruitt to Knoxville.
Tennessee fans are at the very least very comfortable with Fulmer, and perhaps more enthused with hiring another former Nick Saban assistant. Kirby Smart (Georgia), Will Muschamp (South Carolina), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), and Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) are part of the impressive Saban Coaching Tree, and Pruitt appears to be a home run hire in many ways.
But more than the Saban factor is this: Pruitt fits.
The son of a legendary southern high school football coach, Pruitt grew up in Rainesville, Alabama, played for Boots Donnelly at MTSU and then Gene Stallings at Alabama. He won a National Title as defensive coordinator with Fisher at FSU and two more under Saban at Alabama. He’s a southerner. He’s an SEC guy. He’s a sweet-tea lovin,’ defense-first, deep south football guy who just oozes SEC.
He sat in hundreds of meetings with Gene Stallings. (NOTE: Ever hear Coach Stallings talk? In the history of the SEC, not one man has sounded more like an SEC football coach particularly the coach of the God lovin’ University of Alabama Crimson Tide, than coach Stallings. He was a great coach, and even more impressive is his work with special needs kids, including his own. Take the time to see the video to right.)
Anyway, Pruitt played for Stallings and coached under Saban. If you’re a Tennessee fan, that just sounds like a good resume, doesn’t it? It’s like ordering the hickory smoked ribs at Calhouns. In both cases, Tennessee fans know they’re about to get something pretty good.
This unprecedented, crazy coaching search at Tennessee looked more like a reality TV show than modern day athletics. But as signing day approaches, the Vols seem to have hired a terrific coach who appears to be a good fit in Knoxville.
VIRGINIA TECH-OKLAHOMA STATE: We will be hearing a lot about how Virginia Tech’s defense faces its biggest challenge of the season (maybe its biggest in years?) when it faces high-scoring Oklahoma State in the 2017 Camping World Bowl in Orlando. Statistically, the Cowboys put up video game-like numbers. They’re third in the nation in scoring (46.3 points per game) and second in total offense (575.7 yards per game.) Those numbers alone are enough to make any defensive coordinator gulp, even a legendary defensive guy like the Hokies’ Bud Foster. But when you study the video, the Cowboys are even more impressive thanks to quarterback Mason Rudolph who has thrown for 4,553 yards this season.
Oklahoma State was held under 40 points just twice all season, in a 44-31 loss to TCU and a 13-10 win at Texas. It’s the Texas game that becomes the must-watch tape now because on that day in Austin, Tom Herman’s Longhorns were able to disrupt Rudolph thanks to some great linebacker play, and by turning the game into a clunky, junky, ugly, punt fest. Oklahoma State was just 5-of-18 on third downs in the game. Its worst offensive performance of the season. Watch the tape. In that game, Texas looks like… well that 2005 Texas defense that won the National Championship. It also helped that OSU dropped a sure touchdown pass in the first half and missed a short field goal in the second.
As for this season’s Virginia Tech team, the Hokies held opponents 14.72 points below their per-game scoring average. In fact, Tech’s 11 Division I FBS opponents averaged 48-percent fewer points against the Hokies than in their other games. (See chart on right.)
So based on the averages, Oklahoma State will likely score between 24 and 31 points in Orlando?
“Your numbers are skewed,” one Virginia Tech sports analytics guru told me. Oh no. “The numbers flatten-out at the top of the graph,” he said. “The better offensive teams still scored closer to their average against the Hokies in 2017.”
So what to expect? Listen, everyone knows Oklahoma State can score. OSU scored 49 points and had 516 yards at Pitt. And that was at halftime.
They’ll score some points in Orlando. But the Cowboys only faced two top-50 defenses all season long: TCU and Texas. Keep that in mind. If Virginia Tech can make it a clunky, junky type of games where the Tech offense can score enough, it can be a terrific game. If it turns into an offensive shootout like the 2003 Insight Bowl (Cal 52, Virginia Tech 49), the Hokies simply don’t have the weapons to keep pace.
So in the end, it’s Virginia Tech’s offense that’s the key. Can the Hokies score enough points in this game to win, even if Tech's defense plays its best game of the season? The best road map for Tech supporters: Hope Virginia Tech’s burnt orange follows the lead of that burnt orange crew from Austin, Texas.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY EVENT: Not sports-related, but I was honored to host the annual Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Awards dinner last night. A crowd of 400-plus celebrated this region's tremendous economic growth and numerous individual honors were awarded.
The take-a-ways from the event:
How new technology companies like Automation Creations, Inc, GameTracker, Park & Diamond, Pervida, Uncork-It, Inc, and Studio 2.0 thrive when placed in the same community as a world class university. What these tech companies are doing regionally and globally is truly amazing.
Secondly, companies here, both big and small, give back to this community whether through scholarships, helping to fund non-profits, or striving to be environmentally responsible. There were, in fact, 13 "Green Business" nominees spotlighted.
And finally, the business climate here is incredibly healthy. Both political and business leaders here are working together along with Virginia Tech to create some really amazing companies and improve the quality of life and economy in this region of Virginia.
Congrats to all the nominees and winners.