Virginia Tech progress reports: wide receivers
Since it's a bye week and there aren't any Virginia Tech football players or coaches to talk to until Saturday, I figured it was as good a time as any to step back and take a substantive look at what the Hokies have accomplished through eight games.
They started 0-2, but now they're 6-2. Why did Virginia Tech start so slow and who's responsible for the turnaround since? Hopefully those answers will come to the surface this week, as I'll go position-by-position and give out some grades based on how each group has performed thus far. Today, we start with the wide receivers.
As a whole, the receivers have performed well, and are a big reason why quarterback Tyrod Taylor is having a career year passing the ball. The Hokies have 116 catches through eight games, 15 touchdowns receiving and average more than 14 yards per catch. Virginia Tech ranks 15th in the country averaging 8.8 yards per pass attempt as well. Let's break it down by player, though.
The junior from Matthews, N.C., has become Taylor's favorite target, especially when throwing downfield. Boykin leads the team with 11 plays that have resulted in 15 or more yards. Boykin also had five touchdowns this year, including that memorable 39-yard run-and-catch that ultimately gave the Hokies a come from behind victory over North Carolina State.
But for a 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver who isn't the fastest runner but can jump and catch with the best of them thanks to his huge hands, his third-down and red zone production is surprisingly sparse. He has just two catches on third down thus far, and one of those was a measly three-yard gain. Two of his touchdowns have come on red zone throws, but he has just four catches inside the 20-yard line right now. Not to mention more than a third (11) of his catches this year have come with Virginia Tech leading by 15 or more points.
On a game-by-game basis, though, when Boykin has been targeted, for the most part he's been successful. He was tremendous in the Boise State loss, finishing with six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. His one truly disappointing performance came in the loss to James Madison, catching just one ball for nine yards. He also was unable to avoid an incompletion on that crucial fourth-down play near the goal line that would have helped the Hokies avoid a massive upset. He has fewer than three catches in wins over Boston College, North Carolina State and this past week against Duke. But to me, that's more about Virginia Tech's offense than Boykin.
Right now he's got 31 catches for 517 yards and five touchdowns. That puts him on pace to finish with 50 catches, 840 yards receiving and eight touchdowns, even if the Hokies don't make the ACC championship game. Not only would that be Boykin's best season as a Hokies, that would rank as either the third or fourth best year by a receiver in school history -- depending on whether you think Andre Davis's 35-catch, 962-yard, nine-touchdown season in 1999 is better. And as I've detailed before, Boykin is already well on his way to breaking most of Virginia Tech's all-time receiving records.
Boykin's Grade: A-
It's been an uneven year for the junior from Lexington, Va. He's had more drops than any other receiver this season and has four games in which he's finished with zero or one catch. Coale is also also on pace for 24 catches and 518 yards thus far, which would be a regression from his sophomore campaign (30 catches, 614 yards). Perhaps most alarming is the fact that two of his four games with less than two catches came against Boise State and North Carolina State, arguably the two toughest opponents on the Hokies' schedule thus far.
But there has been some good for Coale this year. Thirteen of his 15 receptions have been for first downs. He's also shown a penchant for the big play when the Hokies are backed up in their own territory, as five of his seven receptions of more than 25 yards came with Virginia Tech snapping the ball inside its 40-yard line. Maybe the most important thing, though, is how relieved Coale looked after his best showing of the year, a five-catch performance against Wake Forest.
"I was frustrated and used that as motivation," Coale said. "What receiver wants to drop the ball, I mean really? And in situations that could have helped your team? In one situation we were in a third and it's pretty long [third and 22 vs. North Carolina State] and it would have been a first down. That would have helped to move the chains. In this offense, you're not going to have a ton of pass opportunities so when you get your share you really have to make the most of them."
Coale's Grade: B-
Roberts, a junior, was a big-time running back recruit out of Smithfield, Va., but until this year's Wake Forest game most of his exploits wearing the maroon and orange came as a kick returner. But against the Demon Deacons, Roberts had a career day, finishing with six catches for 134 yards. One of those was a leaping grab along the sideline that ranks up there as one of the most athletic catches I've seen from a Virginia Tech receiver all season.
"On that play I actually challenged him on his route because it could have been run a little bit better," wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman said. "But he put himself in position and understood where he had to be. Then he went up and made a play. I think he continues to get better each week. You're talking about a guy who played the running back position in high school and he's still learning the position. He's gotten a lot better playing in space and he's stepping up and making plays.
Afterward, Roberts credited his ability to read film more easily now that he's gotten more comfortable at wide receiver. It's showing, too. Roberts is on pace for career highs in both catches (34) and receiving yards (492). Playing mainly in the slot, Roberts has eight catches so far that have resulted in gains of 15 or more yards, and 13 catches for first downs. One disclaimer, though, is that nearly half of his receptions (nine) have come with the Hokies leading by more than 15 points.
Roberts's Grade: B
Davis, a sophomore from Ocean Lakes HS in Virginia Beach, was the player many on the offense predicted would have a breakout 2010. It hadn't quite materialized that way until this past weekend against Duke when he finished with a career high six catches for 64 yards. Davis currently has 11 catches for 115 yards, but it's been surprising how little the 6-foot-4, 229-pounder has been targeted in the red zone thus far.
"I just think Marcus, his time is gonna come," Sherman said. "You go back and watch last season, it was the second half of the season. That's when you started to notice Marcus Davis. The more reps he gets, the better I think he's gonna get. ... We want him to be better as a perimeter blocker, and with a guy his size, he ought to be dominant out there on the perimeter."
Davis's Grade: C
Like Davis, Coles has some impressive measurables (6-3, 225 pounds) but saw little action on the offensive side of the ball until Virginia Tech's win over North Carolina State. I thought he was impressive in that contest, finishing with two catches and some strong blocks in the run game. He followed that up with more playing time against Central Michigan. At that point, it appeared as if Coles had turned a corner, and maybe even supplanted Davis as the Hokies fourth receiver. But he hasn't played the past two games due to a knee injury that will likely keep him out until bowl season.
"When he's going full steam, he's hard to stop. In one-on-one battles he's good," Sherman said. But we've got find a way to transfer that to the big picture and the offensive scheme and make plays on a consistent basis. The knee injury is unfortunate. I think he's down a little bit, but I think he understands he's doing what he has to do to get back."
Coles Grade: Incomplete
| October 26, 2010; 10:17 AM ET
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