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What do you do for a “Bye”? The Virginia Tech Hokie Offense

The Bye Week is an opportunity to take stock, rest up, rethink, reload, or it can break critical momentum. What does Virginia Tech need to address on Offense while we wait until next Thursday?

The Spring Game play of Ryan Willis was critical, after all.
John Schneider - SB Nation

The college football season isn’t very long. It’s roughly 14 weeks for the regular season, and most teams play 12 games. If they win that number stretches a bit. A conference championship adds a 13th game to the regular season for 2 teams. Unless something completely whacky happens, both the winner and loser of the conference championship game will get a bowl game, as will a large number (usually all of the teams holding .500 records). Of course the four golden teams of the season will get their crack at the national “championship trophy” with up to one additional “championship game”. That’s just two teams with a total of, at most, 15 games. Except Alabama, who barring the retirement of the “Nicktator”, will always be guaranteed a “playoff spot” even if they don’t even play in their conference championship series. (At least last season’s, move in favor of money over results on the field, decision has revealed.) But that’s pretty much it, 3 and ½ months and an average of 13 games is a season.

Somewhere in the mix of things someone came up with the concept of a “Bye” weekend. There are two kinds of “Byes”; the full two week layoff, and the weekend before a Thursday night game sort of deal. Virginia Tech received no benefits from the Hurricane generated full bye week when ECU cancelled the game in Blacksburg to head to Florida. The hit on the schedule put a serious dent in the momentum being built up in a very inexperienced program that could ill afford an interruption in routine and opponent difficulty. It is entirely reasonable to lay the blame for the ODU debacle at the feet of the cancelled home game against ECU. So, “byes” aren’t necessarily good things.

This time Tech might benefit a bit. There is little doubt that the last three games, and 2-1 record from them has resulted in a squad in need of a bit of a breather. The offense is in need of a bit of attention. Ryan Willis has provided a definite step up in quarterback play. The comments coming out of the ACC conference call seem to reveal that the coaches have been pleasantly surprised and that Willis is more capable than they thought. That’s really good, nice, and thrilling for Ryan Willis, but there are some issues on both sides of the clipboard. The “bye” needs to solve two offensive issues because beating Georgia Tech must be done with the Offense keeping the ball out of Georgia Tech’s hands.

Brad Cornelsen’s play calling has been frustrating and inscrutable to Stiney and Lefty levels. There have been flashes like the 98-yard miracle at UNC; but for the most part the “routine” sort of play calling is just not there. We see dead head openings to play series. Run the ball up the middle for 2 yards, followed by run the ball off the middle for 4 yards… followed by something completely panicked and high risk. That was a repeated theme at Carolina when the run was the point. Sometimes pure athleticism pulled the fat out of the fire. Mostly it just resulted in an incompletion to a covered route package and a punt. If there was the cutesy “throw on first down to surprise them” the pass was often way too deep and too low a percentage to be effective which resulted in 2nd and 10, which might as well have been 1st and 20 after a holding call or 1st and 15 after some illegal procedure penalty. Either way the team ended up behind the sticks with nothing to show for all of the running and bumping. Cornelsen seems to have a bias toward either assigning patterns too short or too long. Intermediate routes just don’t occur with any frequency. All of the defenses that the Hokies face for the remainder of the season are “average” to “above average”. Miami might be the only one that lists out as “excellent”. All are beatable if we can get that intermediate passing game established to loosen the box and allow the running plays to work. Steady success in one area opens the opportunities up in others.

We have four big bodied wide receivers, all of whom can go up for the ball. We have two really good shifty slot receivers, three big fast sticky fingered Tight Ends, and several running backs that run solid routes and catch well. The area under the zone from sideline to sideline between +5 and +15 yards looks to be a Cornelsen blind spot. He should be attacking it with vigor, not avoiding it like a black hole.

The second item to fix on the offense is what looks like an issue with the fact that Ryan Willis is not Josh Jackson. For the last three games, there has been the whiff of a “plug in” sort of functional evaluation of Willis’s capability level. I said this before, the Offensive staff operates very much like it’s been completely surprised by Willis’s game chops. He can actually run, and he’s not slow. Even the analysts want to say that he can’t or isn’t good at it, sort of like they scratched out the name Jackson and penciled in Willis. From what we have seen that is a serious miscalculation. Willis has long speed with long legs and a big stride. He’s decisive with the ball and is reading keys better with each game. The Read/Option merge depends heavily on the Quarterback being “crisp” and decisive. I call that “selling the Cheeto.” JJ was not good at it, and he was never a threat to pick a crease and go. Willis is a threat to do it every time that he touches the ball.

Willis’s biggest vice is his perceived target lock on his roommate Damon Hazelton. When the ball is spread around, though, the entire offense opens up. That’s something that a few days of work can definitely fix. The perception if leveraged can be an effective weapon. Kumah, Patterson, Savoy, Keene, Cunningham, and Grimsley are all waiting for that fix.

Maybe if Cornelsen goes back to his long closed Memphis/Paxton Lynch playbook and game plan Chapter, he could get a grip on some solid schedule oriented play calling that keeps the team in front of the sticks, instead of behind them. Ryan Willis isn’t Lynch, but he’s sure closer than JJ ever was. Some of those R/Os and RPOs are back in play. Cornelsen and Fuente need to take a leap of faith and trust their Quarterback.

The thought is that the “bye” is almost an invitation for the Offensive coaching staff to take a break and rethink what capabilities they actually have. It is going to be critical on Thursday the 25th of October. The Virginia Tech Offense must stay on the field as long as possible and score as many touchdowns as possible against Georgia Tech. It’s the best way to beat Paul Johnson’s “flexbone”.

Time to rest, reset, and reload to beat Georgia Tech