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Virginia Tech Hokies vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: Five Things to do

It’s time for the Thursday “Five Things” article. Homecoming is Saturday. It’s supposed to be a cold rain, and maybe that’ll slow down Sam Howell, the Heels Freshman QB. We’ll see. GO HOKIES!!!

Travon McMillian with Cam Phillips as lead blocker from 2017
John Schneider - SB Nation

It’s Thursday evening and that means it’s time for the “Five Things” article. Yes, we understand that the absolute one “thing” that everyone in Hokie Nation wants is a W in the books. Folks would take a 1 point W at that. Getting that big win (and it’s a B I G win) after 2 ACC losses, is critical for this football team. The reality is that Carolina is on an upswing, but it’s still inconsistent. Tech isn’t the only team in the league facing “young” problems. The Tar Heel Quarterback, Sam Howell is a true freshman.

Out of the games that he’s played (6) he’s passing at a moderate 63% but that number is accompanied by only 3 interceptions for 15 TDs. He’s 123 of 195 and is averaging 257 or so a game. That’s nearly a mile in the air (1544 yards – what he has not the mile). So, we’ll stipulate that Carolina’s QB is very young but very capable. The Heels are riding a .500 record but with 2 - 2 in ACC play. The Heels also beat Miami, and Georgia Tech. Of course they got ‘throttled’ by Clemson… by a whole point… 21 - 20 and actually came off worse with Wake Forest at 24 – 18. Either way, the Tar Heels look like they have a functioning defense that’s good enough to tie up two really good football teams. Of course the Heels had a total loss flop to Appalachian State 34 – 31 which proves that sometimes their defense isn’t so good, either.

The point is that Virginia Tech is playing a peer team, in a peer season. That is always a serious problem for the Hokies when Carolina comes to town. Let’s get down to the brass tacks of this particular piece. What five things are the Hokies going to need to do to win this football game, short of screaming “EVERYTHING!!!” at the screen?

Ditch the Pedestrian Offense

This season the offense has lived by running useless plays up the middle on 1st and 2nd down then throwing on 3rd and long in some sort of panic. When we do pass it’s either in that ‘panic must grab significant yards to move the sticks’ or ‘heave the ball down the field on a low percentage gamble’. It’s so predictable it’s brutal. The Hokies should be rarely running up the middle. The running plays need to go off tackle, and concentrate on the one cut and go countering efforts that McClease and King are good at running. They are not power backs so don’t use them as power backs. On a more strategic note, the coaching staff needs to concentrate on plays that net at least 6 to 8 yards and take less than 3.5 seconds to execute. The days of the 3 and 5 step drops are over. It’s time to think in time, not process. For now, Cornelsen just needs to trust that Hendon Hooker is ready and that he can run a faster paced offense that eats up more yardage at a quicker pace.

Get Significant Yardage on 1st Down

Lame and low percentage first down plays must go away. This team cannot keep limping in with 1 and 2 yard dive plays on first down. We also can’t burn plays by throwing wildly down the field to end up with a 2nd and 10. As an addition to the get 6 to 8 yards min on first down, the offense needs to make 3rd down a rarity. That means getting 1st downs on 2nd down. If that pattern can be established then those long shots down the field on 2nd and short will be higher percentage throws. Use 3rd down as a buffer instead of a panicked must pass situation.

Scrap the Delayed Jet Sweep

Everyone is on to it. Even people who watch soccer for their primary sport can see it coming. The quick jet that comes from one of the base offensive formations is often pretty special, but the delayed jet sweep (because the line does not drive block) is a guaranteed 2 yard loss. (At least, if you are absolutely compelled beyond rational urge, quit running the danged thing to the short side...) Oh, and while we are at it, remember the old rule that throwing the ball at the line of scrimmage most often attains the line of scrimmage when the whistle blows. This coaching staff needs to think down field in 3 to 3.5 second increments.

Get pressure on the passer UP THE MIDDLE

Carolina’s rookie QB doesn’t look like a tremendous running threat. He does seem to scramble, but he’s also not a true dual threat guy. That means Carolina must set up a pocket for him to move around in. The best way to get to a kid like that is to collapse the ‘A gap’ into his lap and force him to check down because of pressure. The outside rush is getting more difficult to execute these days. With plays coming out in the 3.5 to 4 second range, there is little or no time to get to the passer from outside. What the outside pressure can do is contain the QB – which means not rushing past him. The ‘A Gap’ pressure is necessary to keep the QB from stepping up in to the big gap that forms the pocket, and then cutting you apart under the zone.

The Secondary Will Be Challenged

Run the speed linebacker packages. Start Alan Tisdale at Backer, and swap in Dax Hollifield and Rayshard Ashby at Mike. Tisdale’s Strong Safety speed will help him keep up with coverage responsibilities until Reggie Floyd can come back in for the 2nd half. This defense needs to make quality no-point stops. This game will be won or lost by the defense getting critical stops. So far Howell has proven that he is really careful with the ball. It’s time for him to have a bad game.

Those are the ‘Five Things’ for the weekend matchup. It’s Homecoming. It’s a Maroon Effect.

It’s time for the team to find out if this team wants 2020 to be special.