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Virginia Tech Hokies: The Problem is Scoring

Virginia Tech is managing to move the ball quite well this season. The football is advancing smartly between the Tech 20 and the opponent’s 30/25. Then the Hokie Corvette turns into a stock 1975 Civic (better than a ‘70 Pinto, but still).

Hey Diddle Diddle Right Up the Middle
John Schneider - SB Nation

The 2018 season has been seriously odd, that’s for sure. The FSU season opening swoon, the Florence (which will forever be known for ECU inexcusableness), “That Game in Norfolk”, and the Notre Dame Game score loss.

The last one is where we’ll pick this one up; we’ve jawed about the other stuff so much it is boring. But the secret main problem with the Notre Dame contest last Saturday just will not go away. It even visited the Brad Cornelsen press conference in regard to the -4 that we put up after getting the ball all the way to Notre Dame’s 2 foot line. First, a note about that play series. Objectively, the play calling was poor. At this point the homers will drop in with “you aren’t the OC”, “you don’t know”, and other deferrals/appeals to authority. I’ll just have to call them on it and they can argue their points in the comments section.

The halfback ISO into a jumbo configured line seems like it’s an appealing call so close in. It’s so easy just to get a yard or two O-Line push and wriggle into the middle to nudge things across the line. Obviously, that didn’t work, so let’s try putting the QB under center (we all heard the complaints about the shotgun trick) and running a fullback dive/gut play. Well, that didn’t work, either, so much so that it lost a few feet. What goes up next? Something tight, with the QB under center, and what looked like it was supposed to be some sort of option dive and QB roll to the right. Oops, that got the offensive line pushed a yard back into the backfield and pushed the quarterback into the running back which netted three or four lost and a 4th down.

Sometimes you run a play to set up a better play. We’ve seen that with the jet sweeps where the same formation and motion was used to distract from the neatly executed tight end screen pass. That was a 67 yard pass play for a TD. I guess it is the only way that the offense has to beat its red zone torpor; don’t get stuck there.

Josh dug up an analytics review from Geoff Schwartz at SB Nation, and what it found was really interesting. It’s better to spread out the line and run standard short pass and edge run packages to score when inside the 10, than to try to bull through the pile of humanity on the line.

There is a “no duh” magic about that statistic that few people recognize. Let us set up a goal line situation. You have the ball on the 1 yard line on the left hash mark. It’s first down and goal to go. The urge is to put every fat guy that you have on the line, bunch the QB up under center, and hand the ball off to the running back who will power into the line that has pushed the defense back 2 yards thus netting 6. At least that’s the opening bid impulse for many OC’s and Head Coaches. I suppose the logic is “if we can’t get a yard we don’t deserve to win”. Well, that lead headed proposition has ended many games after the attempts to do that with the wrong personnel repeatedly failed. It’s not that the play shouldn’t go away, it’s just that it’s run too much, and run to often on 1st down. That pumps up the defense, demoralizes the offense, and more importantly wastes a down.

A better play would have been a straight sprint pitch to the right aiming for the far side flag after lining up in a jumbo formation and performing a play action fake into the line. With the sprint out to the right the QB has several potential RPO options to either flip the ball into the end zone or hoof it to the flag. With the scrum at the goal line few people would see a WR leak into the back of the end zone, or a slot receiver run a parallel drag route to the right across the back and under the zone (or perhaps behind it if the safeties have collapsed on the fake). Either way there are three or four options for getting the ball one yard that forces the opponent to defend 400 or so square yards of field instead of 1. Of course if it doesn’t work, the QB throws the ball away. The same formation could be used to go left, straight ahead... whatever. There is just a better chance than tanking plays into the line for pride’s sake. Look, it’s true that there isn’t one more point scored for passing the ball into the end zone, but there isn’t a single point less, either. A touchdown is a touchdown.

This season Tech is demonstrably less effective at getting the ball across the goal line when we get into the Red Zone. We are moving the ball all over the field between the 20’s, but once we get to the opponents’ 25 we are bogging down like we are operating in a swamp. I get the feeling that it’s because our Quarterback Situation is not what the Fuente/Cornelsen impulse is familiar with. None of our QB’s is Paxton Lynch. That means there is no read/option up close. There is no key to crash on and pull the ball for a keeper. The entire defense is going to collapse into the ‘A’ and ‘B’ Gaps to stop that sort of thing. Ryan Willis can throw to his left and to his right equally well. The result is that if we don’t bunch up in the middle the opposing defense has to guard the entire 40 yard goal line and 400 square yard end zone. We have three huge tight ends, and four huge wide receivers all of whom can go up for the ball. This isn’t 1960, anymore. It’s time to do something else.

Let’s go 1-0 vs. the Tar Heels!!!