Revisiting the Keys: Georgia Tech
by Raleigh Hokie, 11/1/04

Walking out of Bobby Dodd Stadium on Thursday night, I was replaying the last few minutes in my mind trying to figure out how the Hokies had pulled out a victory. Iím still not sure how they did it, given how everything had been going against them for most of the game. It was an instant classic for Hokies everywhere and, for me, the sudden, surprising, come-from-behind victory just added to an otherwise fun trip to the great city of Atlanta.

How did the Hokies pull it out? Iím sure Will is going to have the most fun heís had in awhile doing his game analysis on this beauty. In the meantime, letís see how the Hokies did with the keys to the game:


Virginia Tech Defense vs Georgia Tech Offense

We knew this was going to be a field position game and it played out that way for 3 Ĺ quarters. The Hokies defense gave up two touchdowns Ė both in short-field situations after turnovers. They were back on their heels a little bit during that stretch and the Georgia Tech offense did a nice job taking advantage of those opportunities with their big three of Reggie Ball, Calvin Johnson, and P.J. Daniels figuring in on their touchdowns.

After the two early touchdowns, the defense regrouped, made a couple of adjustments and kept the Georgia Tech offense out of the end zone for the rest of the game. Overall, this was another solid effort by the Hokies defense. They were tougher, deeper, and more physical than the Georgia Tech offense and it showed, particularly in the second half.

Bud Foster and the rest of the coaches have to feel good about the performance. One area that needs some attention is containment of mobile, athletic quarterbacks. Reggie Ball had success getting outside the containment, particularly with bootlegs. His success has to be a concern for the coaches as they look down the road at Darian Durant of UNC and Marques Hagans of UVa, but you know theyíre glad to have Xavier Adibi as an option to counter mobile QBs.

Key #1: Stuff the run; force Ball to win the game.

The Hokies defense didnít show a lot of 8-man fronts early and Georgia Tech had success with the ground game behind Daniels and Ball. As expected, Daniels had good success cutting back behind the slants of the offensive line. Georgia Techís WRís did a good job blocking the backside defense and Daniels did a nice job breaking through first contact. We will never know what would have happened had Daniels not been injured early in the second half, but I think itís safe to say that his loss had a big impact on the Georgia Tech offense, both in confidence as well as performance.

Ballís bootlegs were effective early, particularly to the boundary. Play action bootlegs with a run/pass option were good plays for the Jackets and Ball did a nice job early with execution and decision making. The Hokies LBs were getting caught inside by the play action and they didnít have the speed to recover against a fast player like Ball. Later, those plays werenít nearly as effective, primarily because of the presence of Xavier Adibi. More on that later.

Georgia Tech also had success running Ball to the wide side of the field from 2-TE formations. Again, Ballís speed surprised the defense early as he was able to outrun the outside containment of James Anderson and Aaron Rouse. The defensive adjustment was to use a few more 8-man fronts as the game developed and that seemed to confuse Ball. The defense also mixed the coverages outside, which allowed Eric Green to come up in run support when Ball ran to the wide side of the field.

I thought the defensive line played a good, but not great game against Georgia Tech. The line didnít control the proper gaps on a few plays and the Jackets got some big runs from that. I think the depth made a difference as the game wore on and by the fourth quarter, the defensive line was more dominant in the trenches. For freshmen, I thought both Carlton Powell and Chris Ellis played well. I think they are getting better each week and their development reinforces the fact that, heading down the stretch, the Hokies have great depth along the defensive line.

Key #2: Red Zone against Calvin Johnson

Although Georgia Tech got a red zone TD pass to Johnson, the Hokies defense did a great job containing him for most of the game. He is a big time receiver that puts a lot of pressure on a defensive secondary. He got some big catches early, but the Hokies made some nice adjustments with their coverages that confused both Johnson and Ball.

Johnsonís youth and inexperience showed up on a few plays in the second half where he misread the coverage and ran the wrong route. Ball was just as confused as he became more hesitant in the passing game. The defense effectively took Johnson out of the game in the second half and the Jackets were unable to go back to him with any success late when they found themselves behind on the scoreboard.

Key #3: Pressure and Containment

The defense battled this issue for much of the game. Daniels' success inside early and Ballís success in breaking outside containment forced the Hokies to be less aggressive with pressure. Although the Hokies played a good mix of man and zone coverages, I didnít see a lot of zone pressures. The defense tried some LB blitzes early but Ball was able to escape and get a positive play for their offense.

While the blitz pressures were not that successful, the mixed coverages downfield were very effective. As the game developed, the defensive coaches knew they had the receivers under control and they knew the Jackets' best running back was out of the game. So, they turned their attention to containing Ball and trying to force him into mistakes. The defensive line was getting just enough pressure to keep Ball on the run and once Bud Foster went to a spy defense with Xavier Adibi, the chess match was over and the Jackets offense was basically done for the night.

Key #4: Remember practice

I was surprised that Georgia Tech didnít try a little more option against the Hokies defensive fronts. The option is a play that generally goes with the flow and Georgia Tech was having a lot of success with misdirection using bootlegs, cutbacks and backside rollouts, so that may have been the reason for the lack of option looks. The Hokies speed on defense may have been the other factor, particularly when the game plan was developed earlier in the week. Instead of using option to test the Hokies speed, they went with bootlegs and backside rollouts to use the Hokies speed and pursuit against them. I think it was a good game plan and the Hokies defense should expect to see it again next week in Chapel Hill.

Key #5: Linebacker rotation

Ballís bootlegís were troublesome, especially to the boundary. Early on, the Hokies tried to contain Ball on the boundary using a defensive end and the sideline. Bud Foster made a nice adjustment in the second half by using Xavier Adibi to spy on Ball and he was particularly effective in shutting down Ballís bootlegs and scrambles out of the pocket.

Actually, Adibi was pretty effective shutting down everything to both sides of the field. Everyone will remember his big sack of Ball in the red zone on third down that limited Georgia Tech to a third quarter field goal. But Iíll remember a couple of other plays late in the game when the Jackets were trying to rally. f you still have a tape of the game, watch the first two plays of Georgia Techís drive with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter. On first down, Georgia Tech gets one of their fastest players, RB Chris Woods, isolated on a LB to the wide side of the field. Ball hits Woods in stride and he gets eight yards with the catch, but it would have gone for much more had that LB not been a missile wearing #11. Woods on that LB wasnít the mismatch Georgia Tech thought it was. On the next play, Ball breaks from the pocket and starts to run into what looks like an open field to the boundary, but Adibiís speed is no match for Ball and he gets dropped for a sack. Minorís interception for a TD came a few plays later and the game was over. Most of the attention turned to the controversy surrounding that play and the celebration antics that followed, but my thoughts were still on Adibi and the difference he made in the second half.

After such a long layoff, I donít think any of the coaches were expecting Adibi to play as much or as well as he did. He was all over the field in the fourth quarter and the Jackets had no answer to counter his speed in pursuit. Needless to say, such a memorable return bodes well for the Hokies defense as they head into next weeks encounter against the Tar Heels and Darian Durant.


Virginia Tech Offense vs Georgia Tech Defense

The Hokies defense played well, but the story of this game was the performance by the offense in the last five minutes. Bryan Randall cleared some big hurdles with his execution down the stretch and the freshmen wide receivers stepped up with him. Randall showed an ability to see the field, read coverages, run through progressions and make tough passes like never before. If he and the rest of the offense can build on what they accomplished in those last five minutes, then this offense would have found an identity for itself and this team may be headed for a better-than-expected finish.

Key #1: Protections

Needless to say, the protections were much improved over the N.C. State game a few weeks ago. As expected, the game plan was to attack with the quick game early, hitting the wide receivers on short passes from three step drops. The next step was to attack the Georgia Tech safeties with the TEís over the middle, then take some shots deep against the Jackets two deep coverages.

Georgia Techís zone pressure looks confused Randall in the first half, but he showed great poise and composure, even as the scoreboard showed a 14 point deficit. He read the zone blitz nicely on a big pass play to TE Jared Mazzetta. Randall correctly read the blitz by the Georgia Tech LBís and the drop out by the left defensive end. This resulted in soft zone coverage up the seam and he and Mazzetta were able to take advantage on that particular play.

On the downside, safety James Butler jumped another TE seam route for a big interception, but that play turned out to be big for both sides. The Hokies came back to that look in the fourth quarter on Eddie Royalís TD. On that play, Randall read the coverage correctly and his first read was the TE. In the past, Randall may have ignored the safety and tried to force it to the TE or, seeing his first read covered, he may have pulled it down and taken off on a scramble. However, on this play, he read the Cover-2 correctly, noticed the safety had followed his eyes to the TE route, and then went through his progressions to his second read Ė Eddie Royal breaking deep against the Cover-2 zone. He stayed in the pocket and delivered a strong and accurate pass to Royal. Eddieís speed and playmaking ability took it from there and the Hokies were back in the game with a quick strike, 80-yard touchdown.

The Georgia Tech defense wrote that one off as a blown coverage, but in my opinion, that play was set up by the earlier interception and the Jackets defense knowing that Randall had been a ďone read and runĒ QB. The last thing they expected to see was Randall standing strong in the pocket, looking off the safety and going through his progressions to the second receiver. That was a big, big step forward for the Hokies quarterback and its importance cannot be overstated.

Key #2: Running against zone pressures

Slowly but surely, the Hokies running attack is getting better. Mike Imoh has established himself as an every down back, the fullbacks are getting better, and offensive line is getting better with their power blocks.

While the running attack is making strides, there is still a lot of room for improvement. In this game, the Hokies had good and bad plays from their favored 2-TE run formations. Jeff King had an ineffective night, missing key blocks on a couple of potential big plays. He also got a motion penalty and a key holding penalty that negated a nice run off the edge by Imoh. The Hokies like to run behind his blocks, so his miscues were particularly painful in this game.

The Hokies used their fullbacks more in this game, which is a sign that both John Kinzer and Jesse Allen are improving each week. Allen was banged up and nearly didnít make the trip, but he played his best game so far, picking up key blocks on two big running plays in the second half.

Execution in short yardage situations and in the red zone remains a big concern. Imoh lost 20+ yards on two pitches wide in short yardage situations. The execution was poor, but the play calls were also poor against the defensive set. Perhaps Randall should have checked out of those plays, but I was surprised the second one was called given how badly it went the first time.

Overall, I look for the running game to continue to improve. The offensive line needs to stay healthy and the wide receivers have to continue to get better in run blocking. The other elements are coming together one little step at a time. Expecting the run game to dominate in any of the remaining games may be too much to ask, but I think there is reason for cautious optimism that the rushing attack can be a bigger factor down the stretch.

Key #3: Timing, recognition, and execution

It started out slowly and they struggled in the first half, but did anyone else notice that the offensive tempo improved as the game went along? In the second half, the operation was quicker, smoother, and more precise. There were fewer motion penalties and formation errors. In my opinion, itís not a coincidence that Bryan Randall and the rest of the offense had more success in the second half. The communication was crisp, the huddles were efficient and the players were in synch were each other.

Recognition of defensive sets, including pressures and coverages, has been an issue for Randall and the offense in general. One of the keys we talked about was the need for Randall and the receivers to read the blitzes correctly and to sight adjust accordingly. We saw a great example of perfect execution of a proper sight adjustment in this game. On Josh Morganís TD, he and Randall correctly read the corner blitz, knowing that safety James Butler would have to slide down on Morgan. The Hokies had been using short passes on quick outs and curl routes throughout the game against Georgia Techís man blitzes. On this play, Butler bit down hard, expecting Morgan to sit down on a hot route. Randall and Morgan saw it, sight adjusted correctly, and Morgan broke past Butler for the easy pitch and catch for a touchdown.

Another example of Randallís growth as a QB came on the 2-point conversion. Originally, I had thought the pass across the field was the old Syracuse play, but in reality this was about a QB recognizing that the defense had shut off the primary play by having one too many defenders in coverage to that side of the field. His instincts told him that Johnson would be uncovered across the field and, under pressure, delivered one of the better passes of his career. Obviously, it was a huge play because it tied the game, but the significance of the play, in my opinion, was how Bryan Randall correctly recognized that the defense had overloaded its coverage against his primary reads.

The come-from-behind victory was big, for sure. Randall putting the offense on his back and coming up with three huge plays in those last five minutes was big too. But to me, the fact that the game slowed down suddenly for Bryan Randall in those last five minutes really gives the Hokies offense a chance of being a real threat down the stretch against UNC, Md, UVa, and Miami.

Key #4: Success on first down

The offense had decent success of first downs throughout much of the game and rarely found themselves behind the chains. This kept the Georgia Tech defense from blitzing at will. I thought the short passes on first down early were particularly effective, not only in getting the offense in positive down/distance situations, but in forcing the Jackets defense to play a little more straight up in coverage.

Success on first downs will be vital in every game for the rest of the season. The offense has made big strides in many areas, but they are not the type of unit that can overcome long yardage situations on a consistent basis.

Key #5: Play the field position game

Until those last five minutes, the story of this game was field position and how Georgia Tech had taken advantage of their opportunities while the Hokies had not. I think Hokies and Jackets everywhere are still trying to figure out what happened to turn it around for the Hokies because the game really changed its personality at the end.

Looking ahead, the Hokies offense has to take better advantage of their field position opportunities and that starts with better execution in the red zone. It is the one big negative for the offense coming out of the Georgia Tech game.

Conclusions

This was a game where the Hokies showed great character and the heart to rally at the end on the road against a very good team. After struggling again for much of the game, the offense (and especially the QB) took a major leap forward and they have to be confident going into practice this week. The defense continues to play consistently well and they should keep the Hokies in every game down the stretch.

Play of the offense early in games, red zone execution on both sides of the ball, and eliminating the personal foul penalties are the biggest areas of concern. The penalties have been a problem for most of the year, but they have to be addressed carefully. The trick is to eliminate the penalties without impacting the aggressive and enthusiastic play. Thatís a tough challenge for the coaches as they look to address those issues.

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