There is a plethora of words that have been used to describe Saturday’s game against Boston College. Beatdown, throttling, absolute destruction, embarrassment – the list is endless. All of those words are true. Obviously, when your opponents’ third string quarterback enters the game, it is never a good situation. The rushing yardage disparity (223 – 44) is enough to prove the monumental difference in effort, intensity, coaching, and talent that was on display by the Hokies.
Funnily enough, on the TV broadcast, they discussed Steve Addazio’s philosophy, which is essentially how to win football games in his mind. That philosophy is based on these five premises:
1. Play great defense
2. Run the football
3. Win the turnover battle
4. Score in the Red Zone
5. Be great on special teams
Hate to break it to you Steve, but on Saturday you went 0-for-5. And it really wasn’t all that close. It was like going 0-for-5 on free throws, but airballing them all at the same time. It was not a pretty showing by the Eagles in all three phases of the game.
Unlike the previous two weeks, the Hokies were the tone setters and were able to play with that intensity for all four quarters. As incomplete of a performance it was for Scotty Loeffler’s new squad, it was that much more complete of a showing for the Hokies. After the Battle at Bristol slopfest, this was the performance Fuente wanted to see – and more importantly, it was the performance the players needed to see – to show how good Virginia Tech can be if they come out focused, energized, and simply don’t turn the football over every other possession.
Although Boston College forced the Hokies to punt on their opening drive, the defense was up to the task. The Eagles had just converted a long third down on a bang-8 (skinny post), and looked to have picked up momentum. Then Bud Foster received a favor from his good buddy Loeffler, who ran the same jet sweep fans have been accustomed to seeing (and sometimes hating) over the past few years in Blacksburg.
The reason the Hokies’ run defense was suffocating was due to their discipline and technique which was lacking against Tennessee. On this jet sweep, the Hokies play the perfect line between being aggressive and smart. Mook Reynolds showcases his quickness and gets in the backfield while still maintaining control. Notice how he tries to funnel the WR back inside to set the edge, because that’s where his help defenders are.
However, because Reynolds is held, the WR breaks contain and heads to the outside. Chuck Clark is the next guy up, and his experience at his safety spot helps him diagnose the play and attack his run fit quickly. He closes quickly and performs a perfect wrap up tackle. After the myriad of tackling blunders the Hokies showed in Bristol, it was good to see the improvement in form. Bud Foster surely emphasized it all week – you cannot allow offensive players to get extra yards off of missed tackles, especially if it is a correctable technique issue. Clark is rewarded with a forced fumble, and Motuapuaka, who has a knack for being around the football when it is on the ground, is right there to pick it up. I love how there are multiple Hokies around the football when it is up for grabs. It greatly increases the chance that a turnover will occur. Great defenses swarm to the football and that is exactly what the second ranked defense in the country does here.
Football is a game of hitting at its core. Sometimes all it takes is a nice pop to fire up and energize the entire team. This moment had an avalanche effect – the Hokies took the lead on the subsequent offensive possession and never looked back.
The first score of the game was a play design used by every spread offense which has Air Raid roots. I actually covered this exact play in my second breakdown of Fuente’s offense over the summer. The play is commonly known as Y-Cross, where the over route by the backside Y receiver is the primary read. In this case, the Y receiver is Chris Cunningham, but McMillian ends up scoring the touchdown.
This play has a high-low concept read built into it with the back coming underneath as the low read. Usually, the QB will read the depth of the linebackers’ drops and determine whether he should dump it off or attack the middle of the field with the over route. In his first three games in Blacksburg and his career at Memphis, Fuente has shown a strong tendency to have the back leak into the opposite flat after the play fake. This is how Sam Rogers was so wide open on his touchdown in Bristol. Since the linebacker bites down hard on the play-action fake, Evans makes the smart decision (which I might add has impressed me through his first three starts) and quickly dumps it off to Travon in space. Who wouldn’t take McMillian in space with a single defender standing between him and the end zone?
On a different day, McMillian might try to dance his way past the defender. However, the Hokies were a physical team on Saturday, and McMillian displays that with a no-nonsense cut upfield and drags a defender into the end zone on his back.
These were the two plays that sprung the Hokies into turning in one of the most dominant performances by any team in the FBS this season.
We also were reminded of Isaiah Ford’s greatness – twice. He and Evans have built up a solid rapport in their short time together, and it has shown during games. Ford’s first touchdown of the game was a simple fade route, but the timing of the route and the throw were clinical.
Hodges and Ford have extremely close splits, which is unorthodox for the Y and Z receivers. This actually gives Ford a huge advantage. He runs his fade on the field side, so he already has plenty of space to get open. The closeness of the split gives Evans an extra five yards to drop the ball into Ford’s bucket. The quarterback does an excellent job of lofting it so Ford can run underneath it without having to come down with a contested catch. Evans’ touch has been outstanding and he displays it here.
However, Ford’s second touchdown was simply an outstanding effort on the part of the stud receiver.
The defense actually wins on this play, but the fact that Ford comes down with the grab just shows how talented he is. To this point, the Hokies had been getting good field position, but had not found a way to capitalize. Greg Stroman returned a punt for 29 yards to set the Hokies up at the +30-yard line. After a great special teams play, Fuente decided to go for broke and take a shot at the end zone.
Boston College plays with a single high safety (#9 – John Johnson) who is not worried about anyone else other than Ford. Isaiah takes an inside release, which is the goal of the defense. The cornerback wants to funnel Ford to his inside help. Evans should have recognized this and gone somewhere else – the two receivers at the top of the screen were both left in single coverage. He alluded to this fact in his post game press conference.
“After I threw it, I said, ‘No, that ball should not have been thrown.’”, said the JUCO transfer, who sports a 10:1 TD/INT ratio through three games. “Luckily, I threw a great ball for Isaiah to do a great catch.”
A great catch it was indeed. It seems every game we are treated to Ford’s fantastic ability to haul in acrobatic catches he has no business making. This is a perfect example of his jump ball abilities.
This was probably Evans’ toughest throw of the day. It was also the only one which required him to throw into coverage. The best part of his five touchdown performance was the fact that it is repeatable. He may not necessarily have the impressive numbers in his next performances, but on Saturday he was throwing to wide open targets most of the time. Take Cunningham’s and Rogers’ touchdowns for example:
Fuente actually calls the exact same play twice and they both work perfectly. The two receivers on the strong side clear out towards the middle of the field leaving the flat vacant for the motion man to run into. Evans simply has to dump the ball off to the open receiver. If Fuente can keep designing plays like these, expect to see more great statistical performances by Evans, even though much of the burden will be taken off of the QB.
Another key takeaway from the game, as well as the film, was the reemergence of Marshawn Williams. A fan favorite during his freshman season, which included a great performance at the Horseshoe, has become an afterthought since his knee injury sidelined him for the entire 2015 season, not to mention academic issues as a result of his rehab. When McMillian exited the game with a first-half injury, Fuente inserted Juice into the lineup to take Travon’s place. Williams rewarded his coach with multiple solid runs, many of which went over 10 yards. In the fourth quarter, he looked like 2014 Marshawn, with back-to-back runs of 19 and 16 yards.
On his first run, Marshawn shows impressive burst. I don’t know if it has just been that long or he improved his quickness, but when he plants his foot to get north-south Williams gets upfield in a hurry. Then we see his superb lower body strength. Defenders cannot try and tackle him low otherwise they just bounce off of him. In tight games, you want your RBs to run through arm tackles and Williams might be the best back on the roster in doing so. On his second run, Juice shows light feet to hurdle the defender as he tries to round the corner and burst to actually turn the corner and accelerate. The coaching staff was also (rightly) pleased with Williams’ performance.
“I liked him out there today,” said Fuente after demolishing BC. “I like his demeanor in the game. He is serious but relaxed. I have enjoyed him in practice and was excited about him. He is a big, physical and intelligent kid.”
With McClease’s season ending surgery, the fact that the Hokies remain so deep at tailback will be useful as we approach the colder months of football season. Running the ball will be more important, and having multiple backs that can run between the tackles effectively will lessen the burden on the passing game should it falter, and it will also help the OL if the backs can create yards by themselves. The Hokies went with McMillian early to beat the Eagles with speed, then wore them down at the end of the game with Williams. We will probably see a similar strategy in more games this season, especially if the Hokies have the lead.