TSLX Supplement to the Syracuse Game Analysis
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 11/12/02

The Importance of Play-Action

If you're a newbie to football terminology, you may not know what a play-action pass is. Simply put, a play-action pass is when the quarterback fakes a handoff first and then throws the pass. The purpose of a play-action pass is to fool the defense with a split-second of indecision. This causes them to slow down their rush, delays linebackers and safeties from going into pass coverage, and generally buys the offense a little time and puts the defense on their heels.

A running team like Virginia Tech should use play-action heavily, but in the Pittsburgh game, I didn't see a single instance of it. In this game, though, Bryan Stinespring unleashed it early and often, and used it to great advantage.

One instance of play-action and how it affects the defense was demonstrated on VT's second touchdown, a 75-yard TD pass to Ernest Wilford. On the play, Randall executed one of his best play-action fakes of the day, faking a handoff to Suggs, who hit the hole behind Doug Easlick. Until Randall set up to throw, the play looked for all intents and purposes like a rushing play.

It was a first and ten, and Syracuse lined up with four down linemen and a linebacker at the line of scrimmage. In watching the tape, the ball is snapped, and when Randall fakes the handoff, you can see two Syracuse linebackers shoot towards the line of scrimmage. Middle linebacker Clifton Smith plows into the line in run support, and right linebacker Jameel Dumas actually goes over and hits Suggs with the full intent of tackling him. Left side linebacker Rich Scanlon, who lined up over the tackle, hits the line and locks up on the tackle.

Free safety Maurice McClain and an unidentified cornerback sell out into run support, then realize that the play is a pass, and they freeze.

At this point, Syracuse has nine defensive players committed to the run. Tech has man-on-man coverage on Wilford and Terrell Parham, and Randall, standing tall and unpressured in the pocket (the defensive line has been momentarily stalled, too), delivers a strike to Wilford for a TD.

When you combine the play-action and its effects with the fact that it was called on first down from the I-formation, Syracuse never had a chance. They expected the run, they saw run, and they defended the run. And they were burned for a TD by the pass.

A Dozen Plays That Changed the Game

As with all close games, there are a number of plays that swung the game one way or another. Twists of fate, turnovers, referee's calls, they all make up the intricate tapestry of a close game. Here are a dozen plays that changed this game. Yes, there are others, but these are the ones I flagged.

Period

Score

The Play and How it Changed the Game

1st

SU 3, VT 0

On third and 7, Tech QB Bryan Randall is flushed from the pocket for a 2-yard gain, ending the drive. But Syracuse is flagged for defensive holding, keeping the drive alive, and the Hokies later score to go up 7-3.

1st

VT 7, SU 3

After Syracuse recovers a Richard Johnson fumble at the VT 47, the Orangemen try a flea-flicker on the next play. Tech's Lamar Cobb pressures Nunes into throwing a wounded-duck interception, ending the threat.

2nd

VT 14, SU 6

Syracuse blocks a VT punt and recovers it on the Tech 2. On the punt block, Tech's Keith Willis faces two rushers and brushes off the inside rusher, David Tyree. It is the wrong decision, and Tyree blocks the punt. Syracuse scores to make it 14-12.

2nd

VT 14, SU 12

After a Tech turnover, Syracuse fakes a field goal. The Hokies are not fooled, and they stifle it, keeping the lead intact.

2nd

VT 14, SU 12

Pressured by Tech's Billy Hardee, SU QB Troy Nunes makes a bad option pitch, and Syracuse fumbles it. Tech recovers at the Syracuse 32. On the play, Hardee, who recovered the fumble, is called for a very questionable personal foul for "helmet contact on the quarterback [Nunes]." VT is denied a prime opportunity to score. SU's Collin Barber misses a 32-yard field goal for SU later in the drive.

3rd

VT 14, SU 12

Nathaniel Adibi rushes Nunes, tracks him down from behind, and forces a fumble, which the Hokies can't recover. Syracuse recovers it and goes on to kick a field goal and take a 15-14 lead.

4th

SU 28, VT 21

On fourth and 3, Bryan Randall, in the grasp of defenders, pitches the ball to Lee Suggs, who races for a first down at the Syracuse 35. As he hits the ground, the ball comes loose, and Syracuse recovers it. Tech running back coach Billy Hite later watches the film and says that it was not a fumble.

4th

VT 35, SU 35

With 3:30 to go, on third and 4 from the VT 26, Randall hits a racing Richard Johnson in stride with perhaps Randall's best pass of the game. Johnson drops the sure touchdown, and the Hokies are forced to punt.

4th

VT 35, SU 35

With 16 seconds to go, Carter Warley leaves a 46-yard field goal attempt short. The attempt was set up by an incredible juggling interception by Garnell Wilds with 1:07 to go on the SU 38. Two good VT plays -- a handoff out of the shotgun on first down and a hot read of a blitz by Randall on third down -- fail to pick up the first down by inches, forcing the long field goal attempt.

1st OT

VT 35, SU 35

Warley misses a 36-yard field goal for the win.

2nd OT

VT 42, SU 35

On fourth and 3 from the Tech 6-yard line, James Anderson fails to pick up Syracuse fullback Joe Donnelly, who catches a 6-yard TD pass to tie the game and send it into the third overtime.

3rd OT

SU 50, VT 42

On Tech's first play, Randall forces a pass into double-coverage. Syracuse picks it off, and the game is over.


A Look at Ernest Wilford's Day

Ernest Wilford set a Big East record for yards receiving in a single game with 279, shattering the mark of 225 held by Dietrich Jells of Pittsburgh (5 catches for 225 yards versus WVU, 10/15/94). Wilford tied the Big East record for touchdown receptions in a game (4), held also by Billy Davis of Pittsburgh and Chris Brantley of Rutgers (ironically set against Virginia Tech in 1992).

Both of Wilford's marks were also Tech records. He broke the record of 213 receiving yards held by Ricky Scales (vs. Wake Forest in 1972) and 3 TD's, held by Scales (vs. Ohio, 1972) and Antonio Freeman (Temple, 1993).

Wilford now has 33 catches for 716 yards (21.7 ypc) this season, for 6 TD's. With three games to go, he needs 247 yards to set the VT record for yards receiving in a season (current record: 962, Andre Davis, 1999) and 4 TD's to break the VT record for TD catches in a season (current record: 9, held by Davis in 1999 and Freeman in 1993).

Wilford had 8 catches on the day, and Bryan Randall threw to him 14 times in all. Here's how Wilford's record setting day went.

Period

Time

Down

Spot

Play

1

8:47

1-10

VT 40

26 yard gain; Wilford makes a spinning, leaping grab.

1

7:42

2-7

SU 32

Incomplete at the 5-yard line; ball thrown behind Wilford, defender leaps and knocks it down.

1

3:40

1-10

VT 25

75 yard TD; Randall hits Wilford in stride off of play-action

2

13:23

1-10

VT 41

Intercepted; Randall, flushed from the pocket, overthrows Wilford deep and is picked off.

2

3:09

3-13

VT 46

Incomplete; facing a blitz, Randall fires behind Wilford, who gets his hands on it but can't reel it in.

3

8:30

1-10

VT 10

21 yard gain; another great spinning grab by Wilford.

3

8:01

1-10

SU 34

34 yard TD; Randall hits Wilford down the right sideline.

3

4:39

1-10

VT 17

23 yard gain; Wilford makes a leaping grab over the defender.

3

2:15

2-11

SU 47

7 yard gain; Randall reads a blitz and fires short to EW.

4

10:49

3-3

SU 34

Incomplete; Randall rolls right and throws to Wilford, who is interfered with and drops it, but there's no call.

4

7:52

1-10

VT 13

87 yard TD; Randall hits Wilford, who breaks between two defenders and races to the end zone.

4

4:45

2-G

SU 6

6 yard TD; fade route in the corner of the end zone.

4

4:23

1-10

VT 20

Incomplete; underthrown, and the ball is knocked out.

3OT

NA

1-10

SU 25

Intercepted; Randall throws into double coverage to end the game.

Worth noting is that on first down, Wilford had 6 catches for 266 yards and 3 TD's. He had two catches for 13 yards and a TD on second down, and no catches on third down.

Viewed by quarter, it looks like this.

Quarter

Catches

Yards

TD's

1

2

101

1

2

0

0

0

3

4

85

1

4

2

93

2

Total

8

279

4

 

 

TSLX Home

Copyright © 2002 Maroon Pride, LLC