Revisiting the Keys: WVU
by Raleigh Hokie, 10/4/04

Seeking redemption for an embarrassing showing a year ago in Morgantown, the Hokies earned a tough, hard fought victory over sixth-ranked West Virginia primarily by winning the battles in the trenches.  In doing so, the Hokies regained a measure of respect from the college football world, while sending the Mountaineers off to face a flurry of questions from an ever-increasing collection of doubters.   

Leaving the field on Saturday, at least two things were clear for the Hokies: 1) the offense continues to be a work in progress and 2) the defense, missing in action for the better part of two years, is back in full force.  The team is starting to create an identity for itself and it's a familiar one. The defense is going to keep the Hokies competitive in most every game while the offense, borrowing the words of Frank Beamer, is going to have to scratch and claw for everything it gets. 

So what were the primary factors that led the Hokies to victory over the Mountaineers?  In a nutshell, victory was secured because the Hokies won at the line of scrimmage.  As it is with most games, the play up front was the primary key to this game and the Hokies came out on top in the majority of those battles.  The offensive line did not dominate, but they went toe-to-toe with a very physical Mountaineer defensive front to the tune of 192 rushing yards and only one QB sack.  The Tech defensive line, with the exception of a handful of snaps, dictated play against the West Virginia offensive line, totally reversing the results from the past two years.  

What other factors led to a Tech victory?  Let's review our keys to the game to see how the Hokies fared:

VT Defense vs. WVU Offense

Key #1. Handling WVU's zone blocking schemes

Problematic the last two years, the defensive tackles and inside linebackers had to come to play.  And did they ever.  Jonathan Lewis, Jim Davis, Vince Hall, and Mikal Baaqee all had big games.  They put up an inside barrier against WVU's power run game that hadn't been seen in the previous two games.  WVU ran many of the same zone plays that had been so successful against the Hokies in the past, but the penetration of the defensive front swallowed up the WVU tailbacks and kept their QB, Rasheed Marshall, bottled up for most of the game. 

Key #2. The defensive ends must play fast and disciplined

Darryl Tapp's motor was in overdrive in this game, but unlike some games in the past, he maintained discipline within his assignments.  He really has emerged as a force and is one of the main reasons the defense is playing at a high level again.  WVU tried to run some misdirection at him early without any success.  He created major problems for WVU's offensive line for most of the game.  After two so-so games against Duke and NC State, Noland Burchette played a solid game against WVU.  Chris Ellis didn't play his best game and he was one of the key players victimized by Rasheed Marshall on his long TD run.  Ellis took an attack angle too far inside, giving up his primary gap responsibility.  Aaron Rouse went too far upfield to take on the block of the back and Marshall hit the opening quickly.  His great speed did the rest. 

Key #3. Play of the weak side (Whip) linebacker

WVU had attacked the weak side of the Hokie defense with great success the last two years.  They ran a lot of spread, unbalanced formations, forcing the Hokies out of their comfortable 8-man fronts.  The adjustments to the Whip and Rover alignments took away some of the things WVU could do with those unbalanced formations.  Those adjustments paid off handsomely, particularly in shutting down the Mountaineer running game.  The Hokies showed a lot of 4-3, two deep safety looks which forced WVU's offense to play more straight up.  James Anderson was a factor, particularly against the run.  WVU did not have a lot of success blocking him with a WR and getting to him with the zone plays were not effective either.  WVU looked to go after Aaron Rouse when he was in the game and they had mixed results.  He wasn't quite as effective as Anderson in run support and they got him on a couple of pass plays where he got caught too far inside with play action.  He was also one of the primary victims on Marshall's TD run. 

Key #4. Containing Rasheed Marshall

With the exception of the TD run, the Hokies did a good job containing WVU's very quick, very fast QB.  They schemed against him very well, forcing him to take his planned runs to the inside where Vince Hall and Mikal Baaqee were waiting.  Both inside LB's won their battles against the WVU blocking schemes.  Vince Hall is getting better in every game and he showed up big again in this game.  It looked like James Griffin was used as a spy from his Rover spot against Marshall in certain formations.  Griffin continues to get noticed with his physical play against the run, as he was able to deliver a few shots on Marshall, as well as the WVU tailbacks.  All in all, the Tech defense did a good job against Marshall's feet, but the big play TD showed that they are still vulnerable against mobile QB's. 

Key #5. Discipline in the secondary

The Tech defense showed a lot of two deep looks and they did a good job flashing a safety up to an 8-man front late in the snap count.  The two deep safeties forced Marshall into limited checks and very few realtime audibles were available when he looked over to the sideline just prior to the snap.  The Tech defense took away the long ball options by dropping into 3-deep coverages quite often, forcing Marshall to look for shorter passes to the sidelines.  Chris Henry was nearly a non-factor and looked disinterested for much of the game. Vinnie Fuller was my player of the game, not only because of the big plays, but also for the way he controlled the defensive adjustments.

VT Offense vs. WVU Defense

Key #1. Response by Bryan Randall

Coming off a mixed performance against NC State, the Tech QB went up against the team that has given him nightmares the last two years.  Once again, Bryan Randall struggled against the Mountaineer defense, throwing two picks and missing several opportunities for big plays in the passing game.  He hasn't mastered control of some new found arm strength and the consistency on deeper throws isn't there.  Several longer passes were underthrown while others were overthrown.

The difference for Randall this time against WVU is that he didn't let poor play impact his confidence.  After making one of the worst decisions in his career on the pick for a TD, Randall kept his poise and moved the offense just enough to melt most of the time off the 4th quarter clock.  In the face of adversity, he continues to show great leadership and character. Going forward, unless he is facing the speed of an NC State, his ability to break tackles and scramble for big yardage will force defenses to play honest and not just load up the box with man coverage outside.  Accuracy and consistency in the passing game are not his strengths, and defenses will continue to challenge his arm.  He continues to struggle with his progressions when the first option isn't available. Big play opportunities are there and it is critical to start taking advantage of them.  Hitting one or two big plays will not only take some pressure off the Hokie defense, but it will give teams something to worry about when they game plan from film study.

Key #2 : Establishing a ground game with Mike Imoh

Mission accomplished. The offensive line did a solid job getting into the next level and the Tech ground game was back. There were no big plays, but the push at the line of scrimmage was there throughout the game.  Mike Imoh racked up tough run after tough run, confirming that he can be a workhorse back, with the ability to break tackles and run physical up inside.  His importance to the offense cannot be overstated.  His speed and quickness will force defenses to game plan for containment and that will open up some space inside where he can be effective as well.  His versatility coupled with Bryan Randall's mobility and the emergence of Eddie Royal outside gives the offense a chance to develop a nice inside/outside balance.  There is a long ways to go to get there, but the pieces are falling into place.  I'm not expecting to see a breakout game by the offense anytime soon, but rather a gradual improvement from week to week. 

Key #3 : Attacking WVU's 3-3-5 defense

As expected, the Hokies attacked WVU's unique defensive set with inside running, option and reverse action.  It was no surprise that the Tech offense attacked primarily from the 2-TE, single back formations.  That forced WVU to balance out their 3-3-5 looks and exposed where the safeties were going to be on most plays.  Bryan Randall had little difficulty reading coverages in this game and he and the WR's did a good job with their sight adjusts.  The execution wasn't there on many plays, but the offense showed an effective plan of attack with good balance.

Key #4 : WVU's defensive game plan

Again as expected, WVU did what they had shown on film with their defensive game plan.  Even with the NC State game film fresh in their minds, the WVU defense did not blitz that much.  They did not have close to the speed that NC State ran out on defense last week, so that was a big factor in their approach.  When they did bring pressure, the protection was there and the Tech offense had several opportunities for big plays.  The WVU defense was physical and they played solid, but not great.  The Tech offense was getting a consistent push up front the entire game, which forced WVU to commit an extra guy or two to the line of scrimmage.  They gave up big play opportunities down the field, and had Tech's offense executed at all on the deep ball, the game could have been a 20+ point blowout.  I look for WVU's defense to get challenged again in their next game against UConn.  That will be an interesting matchup to watch a week from Wednesday.

Playing tough and physical football has been the trademark for Tech football under Frank Beamer, but they had been beaten at their own game the last two years against WVU.  On Saturday, the Hokies were victorious because they stood up to the bully and beat him down this time.  Going forward, look for the Tech offense to matchup well against tough, physical defenses.  Defenses with speed and the desire to bring pressure will be more difficult to handle, as NC State showed a week ago.

The Hokies have to eliminate the penalties, particularly on offense.  This offense isn't capable of overcoming 1st and 20, 2nd and 15 very often, so they have to play smarter and with more concentration.  The false start penalties are of particular concern.  An issue already during this stretch of home games, how many more will we see on the road?  The defense is playing consistently at a high level right now and that certainly bodes well as the Hokies hit the road for the first time.  Wake Forest, once considered on the same level as Duke in football, is no longer the pushover they once were.  They are an outstanding team and they will bring another serious challenge to the Hokies.  I'll be back on Friday with the keys for a Tech victory against a very good and well-coached Deamon Deacon squad.

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