TSL Pass Supplement to the Diamond Walnut Bowl Game Analysis
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 1/7/03

Third-Down Conversions

Out in the free portion of my game analysis, I talked about how Air Force was more effective at converting third and fourth downs in this game than Tech was, and how that kept the game closer than it otherwise might have been. I wanted to take some time here in the TechSideline Pass supplement and talk about that a little more.

First of all, you almost never see two stats like this from the same game:

  • Virginia Tech was 3-for-11 (27%) on third-down conversions.
  • Virginia Tech's quarterback was 18-of-23 passing.

I mean, passing percentage and third-down conversion percentage usually go pretty much hand-in-hand, right? When you're completing passes, you're converting third downs. Right?

Not in this case, and that begs for a closer look. Let's break down VT's third-down conversion attempts, and then I'll summarize it afterwards.

First Quarter Third Downs

3rd and 4, Air Force 24-yard line: Bryan Randall scrambles, throws to the 3-yard line, where Terrell Parham drops it. 0-for-1.

Second Quarter Third Downs

3rd and 1, Air Force 34-yard line: Kevin Jones rushes up the middle for 7 yards and a first down. 1-for-2.

3rd and 12, Air Force 36-yard line: Randall throws a short swing pass to Terrell Parham, who runs for just 6 yards. 1-for-3.

3rd and 4, Air Force 37-yard line: Air Force linebacker Anthony Schlegel blitzes untouched and sacks Randall for a 3-yard loss. 1-for-4.

3rd and 5, Air Force 25-yard line: Randall throws a swing pass to Kevin Jones, who picks up 6 yards and a first down. 2-for-5.

3rd and goal, Air Force 5-yard line: Randall throws incomplete to Wilford in the end zone (this is the play after the fade route Wilford caught that was called incomplete). 2-for-6.

Third Quarter Third Downs

3rd and 3, VT 32-yard line: Schlegel jumps offsides, giving Tech five yards and the first down. Not counted in conversion statistic.

3rd and 7, 50-yard line: VT calls a QB draw from the 4-wide formation. In an awkward-looking play, Jake Grove backs up into the pocket without making contact with the nose guard. Randall runs the draw, and the nose guard, unblocked, tackles him for a 3-yard loss. 2-for-7.

3rd and 10, VT 21-yard line: again, a QB draw, and again, Randall is tackled by the nose guard, this time for a 2-yard loss. 2-for-8.

Fourth Quarter Third Downs

3rd and 10, Air Force 40-yard line: Air Force blitzes, Randall dumps it off to Parham, who picks up 6 yards (VT picks up the first down on 4th and 4). 2-for-9.

3rd and 3, Air Force 20-yard line: Suggs rushes off-tackle left and powers his way to the first down. 3-for-10.

3rd and 5, Air Force 11-yard line: VT has a well-designed play call, faking the handoff off right-tackle, pulling the right guard, and rolling Randall to the left. Air Force blows it up by blitzing, and sacks Randall for a 9-yard loss. 3-for-11.

Summary

VT failed to convert eight third downs. Here's how the failures break down:

  • 2 incomplete passes (one dropped, one poorly thrown).
  • 2 short passes completed for six yards on 3rd and 12 and 3rd and 10.
  • 2 sacks on blitzes (Air Force's only two sacks, by the way).
  • 2 tackles for loss, both by the noseguard, on QB draws.

VT converted three first downs. Here's how the successes break down:

  • 2 runs for first down on 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 3.
  • 1 swing pass for 6 yards on 3rd and 5.

Comments

It's interesting to note that VT only went for the long ball once on third down, when Randall scrambled and threw a 21-yarder to Parham that was dropped. Other than that, the Hokies threw swing passes and dumpoffs, or handed the ball off, or tried the QB draw.

I've never been a big fan of throwing a third-down pass that is caught short of the first-down marker. I imagine that the game plan was to isolate VT's superior athletes in the flat on Air Force's supposedly inferior athletes, but with a sloppy, slippery field, the gap in athleticism was narrowed.

Bryan Randall averaged just under ten yards a completion, with a long of 20 yards, so that tells you that VT didn't try to stretch the field much in the passing game and instead stuck with the short stuff.

And give credit to Air Force for cashing in their two sacks at the best time: third down.

Stinespring and OJT (On the Job Training)

On a related note, as the season ends, here's my take on VT offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring: Stinespring has obviously been learning as the season goes on, trying to break out of the run-first mold and use the passing game more.

He has shown much more on offense than the Hokies showed earlier in the year. There's more play-action, more rollouts, and more distribution of the football, except for the tight end, who is still invisible -- just 10 catches in a 14-game season.

We saw a pretty solid game plan against Miami, one that featured the QB running with the football and picking up big chunks of yardage. If you didn't watch the national championship game, you missed the obvious fact that Ohio State had watched the Miami/VT game film and picked up on Tech's tactic of rushing the QB. OSU burned Miami with it the same way that VT had.

But where Stinespring still falls short, in my opinion, is in figuring out how all those different plays fit together, and getting a "rhythm" or a "feel" for each individual game. That's not an easy thing to do. Former VT OC Rickey Bustle found that rhythm sometimes, and could carve teams up. Other times, he floundered, and nothing worked.

Only time will help Stinespring get better in that regard. As he learns more and breaks down more film, he'll gradually pick up the nuances of running an offense, versus just calling individual plays. I don't pretend to be any sort of authority on the subject, but you've got to think that Stinespring will evolve along those lines, hopefully in the near future.

The Marcus Vick Interview

How weird was that sideline interview with Marcus Vick during the game? That's something you donít see every day, a reporter grabbing an NCAA player during a game for an interview. Imagine a reporter sidling up to the end of the bench during a Duke basketball game and interviewing a player on the bench -- that's the kind of thing we're talking about.

The reporter was Rob Stone, and Rob isn't the sharpest tool in the box. If you saw him work the sideline during Sunday's Army High-School All-Star Game, you saw him hold up a copy of the Roanoke Times Top 25 high school players in the state of Virginia, with nearly every player highlighted in yellow, and exclaim, "Frank Beamer gave this to me out at the Diamond Walnut Bowl in San Francisco. It's a list of the top players in the state of Virginia, with all of the Virginia Tech commitments highlighted."

Uh, no Rob, that was every player considering VT, not committed to VT. There was a lot of yellow highlighting on that page.

Anyway, Stone conducted a somewhat awkward interview with redshirt QB Marcus Vick during the bowl game. Here's how it went.

Rob Stone: "Pam [Ward, up in the booth], the Vick franchise continuing at Virginia Tech. Michael's brother Marcus, a redshirt freshman. [Turning to Marcus] You've been on every road trip. Has it been difficult, kind of Ö waiting to follow in your brother's footsteps?"

Marcus Vick: "Yeah, it's been very difficult, sitting and watching, trying to learn. But I think I've been doing all right, trying to learn and get smarter, stay focused on the upcoming spring."

RS: "Tech coaches tell us you're very involved, practicing with the first team, attending all the meetings, you're on all the road trips, as well. What have they told you is their preliminary plan as for your future here in Blacksburg?"

MV: "I really donít know. I mean, they brought me in here to be a QB, and that's what I'm going to be. Their plans, I donít know what their plans are. They haven't let me know that."

RS: "Your brother Michael has a fairly important game this weekend. Has he talked to you about his first playoff competition?"

MV: "Nah, I ain't talked to him about that. He talked to me about how the NFL was, he said it's a fast game, very different from college." (Inaudible comment after that).

That interview didn't put Marcus or VT in a positive light. Marcus seemed uncomfortable (it took Michael years to be comfortable in front of a microphone), and the answer "they brought me in here to be a QB," coupled with, "I donít know what their plans are," didn't present the truth -- that Marcus will be a QB at Tech, and that he heads into the spring in competition with Bryan Randall, just like Randall competed with Grant Noel last spring.

In Closing

Most seasons seem short, but this one, to me, seemed very long, and not just because of the fact that it spanned 14 games. Because of the way VT's season went south after the eighth game -- the Hokies went 8-0 and then went 2-4 -- it's almost as if this season was two separate seasons, not just one.

Cast your mind back to the Arkansas State game, or the LSU game, or even the Marshall game. Don't they all seem like ages ago? They do to me, in much the same way, in the waning hours after the 1999 national championship game, the "Vick Flip" to open the 1999 season against JMU seemed like ancient history.

From the beginning of a season to the end of a season, the team grows and changes, and players we knew almost nothing about before, like Jonathan Lewis, Jason Lallis, and Vegas Robinson, suddenly are very familiar to us.

At the same time, we say goodbye to some very familiar faces, names, and numbers: Lee Suggs, Ronyell Whitaker, Lamar Cobb, Willie Pile, and Shawn Witten are all players we have grown very used to seeing, who will never suit up in the maroon and orange again. Grant Noel, around whom the football program once revolved, quietly makes his exit, having hardly played this year.

We'll move on as we always do, looking to the future, and those players, and their senior counterparts that I didn't mention, will become a part of the intricate tapestry of Hokie football history.

As will this season -- this long, record-setting, roller-coaster ride of a season.

We'll be back in the coming days and weeks with more analysis of this season and the future of Hokie football, plus, of course, recruiting coverage. Stay tuned, and always have your TechSideline Pass login info handy.

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