One of the biggest question marks surrounding Virginia Tech's football team entering this season was the Hokie ground game. Long a staple of the program, production ground to a halt last season due to a combination of poor offensive line play and a lack of dominant tailbacks.
That no longer appears to be the case.
In Tech's opening win over William & Mary, the Hokies ran 42 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns. That's 5.3 yards per carry as a team. Last season the Hokies gained just 3.2 yards per carry and 119.8 yards per game.
Certainly the improvement has to be taken with a grain of salt as it's only one game against an FCS opponent, but there's no question the talent at tailback has improved significantly. True freshmen Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams combined for 147 yards in Tech's opener with McKenzie gaining 106 yards on just nine carries.
The two have now supplanted opening game starter J.C. Coleman and have been named co-starters at tailback for the Ohio State game. The question is, can the encouraging results from the opener translate to playing in the Horseshoe?
The Buckeye defensive line returns all four starters from a year ago in Michael Bennett, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa. They finished last season ranked ninth in the nation in run defense allowing 109.4 yards per game.
Michael Bennett certainly is confident in the line's mission.
Those four guys up front average just over 278 pounds per man. They're big, athletic and a considerable force. But the Hokies have faced dominant lines from Alabama and Florida State in recent seasons without a complete implosion.
In the Buckeyes' opener against Navy, the Midshipmen moved the ball at will on the vaunted OSU defense. Navy ran the ball 63 times for a whopping 370 yards and two touchdowns.
Of course the Midshipmen run the triple option so do those numbers translate to what the Hokies want to accomplish?
Yes, I think they do.
The triple option is effective because despite often running the same play several times in a row, complete with the same motion, the defense still isn't sure which player will run the ball.
Tech did some interesting things in the opener with regards to motion. They ran a number of wide receiver reverses early which made the defense stay honest with a receiver in motion. The Hokies used lots of the pistol formation which coupled with receiver motion turned several plays into a kind of double-read option.
If the defense stays at home, Michael Brewer can hand it to the receiver. If the linebackers follow the motion Brewer can give it to the tailback up the middle. That also loosens things up for play-action passes out of the same set like the play below at the 1:36 mark.
If Scot Loeffler can dial up a gameplan similar to the one Tech used against William & Mary I like the Hokies' chances of moving the ball. Quick passes can loosen up the defense to set the table for misdirection utilizing the speed of Tech's receivers and tailbacks in the run game.
It won't be easy and this is a major step up in competition, but there will be lots of new blood on offense for Tech. Hopefully they'll be immune to the struggles of the recent past.