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Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Furman Paladins: A Short Primer

Furman is a good football program from one of our old conferences. (In the days when Virginia Tech was mostly a 1AA program.) This won’t be a trap game, but Furman needs to be taken seriously. It’s also a great opportunity to get some 3’s and 4’s some playing time.

Blocking Lockup Practice
John Schneider - SB Nation

The Other Guys

Furman is an FCS program with whom Tech as a history both in the far and recent past. The last time the teams met was in 2015, at nearly the same time of the month. It was a welcomed break since the 2015 season was a struggle. It was also a flinch test of sorts.

This weekend, we’ll get another flinch test. Furman is currently sporting a 1-1 record, with its last game being a 42-48 shootout loss to Georgia State. Furman’s starting Quarterback Darren Grainger did not seem to be part of the problem in this adventure. Grainger is a dual threat QB, who went 16 of 25 for 311 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also ran for 53 yards and a score. The running looks more like scrambling than purposeful, but he’s still dangerous doing that because he ripped Georgia State for a 33 yarder. Their first foray, against Charleston Southern was a 46-13 blowout for Furman.

The Hokies do have a chance to turn the tables on the scoring, but it’s not going to be a walk, either. The Paladin defense might not be up to stopping our passing attack, but its offense is certainly potent enough to challenge us.

What the Hokies Need to Do

This one is pretty simple at the top level. Virginia Tech needs to win this one in convincing fashion, without being unsportsmanlike. This is the last game go get ready for the ACC Coastal run, with Duke coming to Lane on the 27th.

While Tech needs to win, and for confidence sake, win big, the Hokies need to win with something that they haven’t played to date; a complete game.

Offense

The offense has been half a squad this season. Well, not just this season, for the past five or six seasons, really. We haven’t had even a below average running game since David Wilson departed for his short tragic pro career with the Giants. Saturday Tech has an opportunity to get something going with the running game. Even though it looks like Keshawn King is a bit on the small side (he’s less than 200 pounds, and that’s a concern for any good coach) this is a prime opportunity to get him some quality touches without putting too much physical pressure on him. Deshawn McClease also needs some confidence building work. He’s been completely ineffective inside (not totally his fault, mind you); but he’s running with his head down and not reading his zone blocking setup. He’s slamming into piles instead of skirting around them. Saturday he could get a chance to get his vision back.

On the passing front, there are two critical priorities that need to be established and asserted. The first is that Cornelsen needs to get into a play calling rhythm that enhances the capabilities of his starting Quarterback. The threat of the hashtag #thirdandpanicsburg should be hovering over the booth this weekend. It seems to be a theme for the team for the past few seasons. Tanking two poorly designed plays into the line, and then setting up third and long is not the way to sustain an offense. Neither is executing a great play for lots of yards early in the series, and then promptly tanking two plays by being timid.

The second priority is that Hendon Hooker needs to both play significant time, AND pass. We, here at GC have talked about it (in the upcoming podcast) and both agree that maybe it would be best to give Ryan Willis limited snaps or even no snaps at all. Maybe this is a good time to play Hooker and Patterson for the entire game. Look, Willis took a vicious head to head hit on that unfortunate fumble play. The coaching staff didn’t really see it on the field, and no one pointed it out to the refs, who were concentrating on the fumble and not on the conditions leading up to the event. That’s the simple truth. The other simple truth is that Willis might benefit from some time with a clipboard, and colleague coaching while the ringing in his ears subsides... All that aside, Hooker needs to actually get a full playbook of both passing and running plays.

The passing game has been impressive and the salvation for the team for nearly a decade. We have had a string of quality receivers who have stepped up, and a succession of Quarterbacks good enough to take enough advantage of the hands to salvage games. The word however is “salvage”.

Right now, we are configured to be a “pass first, run to support” offense; only the coaches are still running it in “run first/balanced mode”. Call this miscalculation “hooking a plow to your Challenger Hellcat”. Offensively it’s been nearly a decade since Tech has fielded anything that can even remotely claim the title “Complete”. Saturday would be a good time to get off the fence and choose.

Defense

Furman is going to challenge us. They have a relatively high powered offense, with a legitimate dual threat Quarterback and receivers who can catch. The defensive line is still shaky. It’s good sometimes and clueless others. It gets relatively good pressure on QB’s for passing but closing the door has been a problem. That means that even when hurried, the opposing Quarterbacks still seem to get the ball off or out.

The old bugbear of running signal callers is still hovering over the heads of the Hokies. This is both a scheme and execution problem. The magic is the timing and decision tree. The Hokie defense gets repeatedly scorched by one read/two read and go quarterbacks. The primary area of weakness is the ‘A-Gap’ and the zone out to the seams. The secondary weakness is the tendency for the Defensive Ends to cut inside on their rushes (the impulse is understandable, it’s the shortest distance to the QB) but it is the wrong physical decision. Once the DE’s are inside the tackles.. a running QB can step up into the emptied A-Gap, make a quick read (the 2nd) and then pull the ball in to head up field with no one to stop him for 8 to 20 yards.

The fix is a full four man lane disciplined rush where the Defensive Ends stay on the end, to collapse the ‘B-Gap’, contain the run, and then contain the Quarterback... Which means not rushing past him either inside, or outside. That’s not an easy thing to teach, or do. The Tackles must get heavy pressure in ‘A-Gap’ not allowing it to open for the QB to have good read or execution lanes. They don’t necessarily need to get sacks, but they need to push the offensive line into the gap and into the quarterback’s lap; forcing him outside into the DE containment.

The final part of it is the Mike and Backer spy combination. Someone has to cover, but in the case of the remaining linebacker, the spy needs to be well inside the line to gain without compromising pursuit and stop angles. This is, again, an experience “thing”.

We’d like to see Dax in the center doing Mike work this time. We’d really like to see the Alan Tisdale, Dylan Rivers, and Keshon Artis get some serious playing time. Rivers still needs to get his head back into the game, and both Tisdale and Artis are the future of the defensive mid-field. They need snaps.

Special Teams Need Some Love, too.

There are some issues with Special Teams that need some exercise. The punt coverage was good, but the last two seasons, the Hokies were able to take advantage of Oscar Bradburn’s ability to place the ball in critical locations where a Hokie could catch it in the air (a Mark) inside the 10. It’d be great to see that, again. Though frankly I’d like to see Oscar holding for Brian Johnson without actually having to punt at all.

Johnson needs a bit of distance work. It’d be nice to see him set up for some longer field goals in pressure situations. No, I don’t want to see offensive stall outs, but if there are legitimate stops in long field goal range there might be some utility in trotting out the field goal unit instead of either going for it, or pooch punting.

The out of bounds kickoff to start the ODU game was really annoying... but things got better as the game went on.

Wrapping It

So, this preview is all about what sorts of things the Hokies need to address for the contest, without succumbing to the dangerous temptation to take the game lightly. The only team that can beat Virginia Tech on Saturday is Virginia Tech (It’s happened, before, in recent memory... so let’s hope that mess gets avoided.)

Let’s look for a really fun day on Saturday with a chance to see some newer players and even some experiments run.

GO HOKIES!!!!