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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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.