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Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Purdue, Nature, and Inertia: Good, Bad, and Ugly Extra

With few pictures and most of the game on TV because of the storm and 5-hour delay, we churn up a Good, Bad, and Ugly Extra to review the game’s major issues not covered by Bryan’s takeaways. This one wasn’t easy. GO HOKIES!!!!

The downpour got worse and then the delay.
John Schneider - SB Nation

Normally, I don’t write up a Good, Bad, and Ugly piece for home games because I am busy editing pictures for the View from the Sidelines photo essay. Well, this weekend didn’t lend itself to very many pictures, and the weather conditions made the picture quality wildly uneven. I do have short photo group going up tomorrow, but It’s not exciting unless you count watching the storm clouds boiling in over the southwest corner of the stadium. So, this gives me an opportunity to do a Good, Bad, and Ugly piece. Trust me, there is some good to report, but not many folks will listen. The Bad and Ugly just keep emotions and analytics out of the positive emotions category.

Let’s Talk the Good to Start

It’s hard to look past the other stuff, but there are some good things happening and two of them are the Gosnell brothers. Both Benji at Tight End, and Stephen at Wide/Slot Receiver are beginning to make an impact on the field presence of the receiving game. Both get separation, and are also dangerous enough that they are a distraction for the other receivers who are also making positive impacts. Dae’Quan Wright is looking like he’s going to be a seriously good Tight End. We did see some positive receiving work out of the backfield from Tuten, again.

On the defensive side of the ball, as Bryan pointed out, there was some initial confusion, and the linebackers are still figuring things out, but the defense held a very capable Hudson Card led Purdue offense to a single touchdown in three quarters of football. For those folks complaining about Chris Marve and the defense, you are not looking at the details and the adjustments, just the fact that it’s nearly impossible to shut out a peer team for three quarters.

There are still things to work on and we’ll mention the glaring issue in the ‘Bad’ section. The defense is growing and improving. Even if it bends, it’s really hard to break. The receiver corps is solid with good running backs.

Now I Guess We Have to Look at the Bad Stuff

The offensive line took an unfortunate step back in this one. Last week, against ODU, they managed a decent job of pass blocking and there were some positive runs (not many but some) blocked. This past weekend, the good put on the field for Game 1 was nearly gone for Game 2. Grant Wells was hit too many times, and that’s a really bad thing, not only for the passing game as a whole, but also for the fact that Wells does not respond well to getting hit, at all. Coach Crook has to get a handle on the line rotation, and teamwork, or it’s going to be a long unproductive season.

The running game was non-existent, period. That was mostly due to the line having inside blocking issues, but there were some successful outside runs and counters that were happening. I cannot put the blame on either starting running back. Neither Bhayshul Tuten, nor Malachi Thomas had more than a half-second chance at hitting any hole given the play being called (more about that in the “Ugly” world). Now, I must confess, I am not a big proponent of the running game.

Modern football is a passing sport, and it’s principally a “downfield” passing sport. Running serves a purpose for balance and diversion. It builds impulse for play action, and gaining short yardage when necessary. However, running the ball is horribly inefficient and too often depends on defenses making critical mistakes. In the points per minute of possession game that is modern football, runs produce too low a number to be relevant across most opponents. That being said, when you need to run for tactical or strategic purposes, those plays must work, and in the case of the Hokies, after two games, we can see that they most certainly aren’t. No offense, short of one stocked by brilliant 5-star everybodies, can afford to be one-dimensional. In our case, the Hokies are barely that at the moment. That’s truly bad.

The final bad, before getting to the truly brutal uglies, is the injury bug and Hokie luck playing a major game on the team, again. Ali Jennings gets an ankle rolled up on, and then the guy who accidently rolls up his teammate’s foot, Jaylin Lane goes out with some sort of hamstring issue that kept him on the sideline. As we have seen we have some other good receivers, Stephen Gosnell, Tucker Holloway, Da’Wain Lofton, and Da’Quan Felton, but none have the experience of the starting two. How long they (Jennings and Lane) are out will impact the passing offense greatly.

Okay, Now It’s Time for the Ugly Section

The Weather was, Indeed, UGLY

We won’t count the weather in this, because that’s not something that anyone can help all that much – though from reports of fans from the stands, the evacuation and crowd control left much to be desired. I won’t go too far into that, but from first-hand experience on the field, under the stands, and walking back up Chicken Hill in an electrified downpour, I can tell you that there was enough “every man for himself” that we are all very lucky that no one was critically injured, and no panic ensued. Well, back to football.

Negative Inertia

I’m not going to pull any punches here. The offense is not just bad, it’s ugly. Nearly everything is wrong with it, and that’s not a player execution thing. These young men are going out there and leaving it on the field. It’s a coaching issue. The traditional big ego bray about “brilliant theory” meeting leaden talent nonsense usually spouted by coaches, from the pros to middle school, is tiring.

I said it last year, and I see it happening again this season.

This offense DOES NOT WORK! Period. End of story. In the Spring portion of the season Tyler Bowen tipped his hand that he was implementing a “Power Spread” offense. I didn’t say much at the time. I did, what I normally do in that case. I went out to find source materials on the Power Spread and how it works. It’s advertised as an easier to execute Air Raid type offense simplified for high school. (An excellent book on the entire scheme by Stephen Lickert Head Football Coach, Campbell County High School is available from – his site.)

The upshot is that the heart/base play of the Spread is what Fuente called the Cheeto. It’s also called the Blast, the Belly, the Power, and other labels, but essentially what it is, is a sprint draw dive play from the shotgun or pistol with a handoff or pull resulting in a running back ISO or quarterback power through the ‘A’ gap in a zone blocking scheme. The zone blocking calls for the Power Spread are simplified from the Air Raid, and the handoff at the merge is determined by reading the linebacker covering the ‘A’ Gap, or the end crashing from the weakside of the line.

We’ll talk about more specifics in an article about the offense as the first four games completed. I wanted to see how Bowen was executing what is essentially a vanilla – used by most everybody – offense. The ugly in all of this is forcing my hand, and I’ll have something out next week. I want to see if he makes some sort of adjustment for the Rutgers game, but history is showing he’s not particularly good at adjusting his strategy or tactics.

The Power Spread contains quite a few “Reach” category plays, but it’s really heavily dependent on an athletic running quarterback and running back combination. If the QB doesn’t run, the biggest portion of the read/misdirection advantage in the delay created by the draw play, is negated. Whoever is assigned to key on the running back need not be distracted by the QB pulling the ball and running the opposing ISO or Slant. What Bowen seems to be running are primarily Gap schemes (Zone blocking assignments) and the Man schemes (one-on-one man blocking) are not working. In either case the running play is essentially the same thing and that’s the old Dive, or ISO play.


Bowen’s inability (or more probably unwillingness) to internalize the reality that his interior running game is not working at all, is becoming more of a concern to knowledgeable fans. Continually slamming the running back into a failed ISO for 1 to 2 yards ends up turning the offense into a one-dimensional mess with a frustrated runner and a beat-up quarterback. This is an increasingly ugly situation that will eventually put Pry’s kiester in an extremely hot seat. If Bowen is unwilling to loosen the offense, execute reach plays, and 3-second hot/1st read pass plays for 5-12 yards, he is unlikely to “unstick” his basic offensive bread and butter Read/Option exchange. We saw almost no effort on the part of the running game to put the QB under center, run counters, stretches, and sweeps.

The most depressing development was that Bowen seemed to drop the successful 2nd quarter plays into the trash can, and return to the “hey diddle-diddle Johnny up-the-middle” exchanges for the entire remainder of the game, thus generating exactly no offense. That, once again, put the defense on the field for most of the entire half, attempting to pitch a shutout against an explosive QB and offense that scored five touchdowns in a loss last week. That was entirely too much and the defense eventually just broke.

Sometimes “brilliance” is looking in the mirror and figuring out that you need to revamp some things. In that self-evaluation, you make serious changes to how you do things, and what you are doing. There is nothing inherently wrong about the Power Spread as an offensive play book, though it’s primarily aimed at high school. What is wrong is how those plays are being called, when they are being called, and under what circumstances assumptions need to be pitched and changes made.

Seeing is Most of It

The other “ugly” is the quarterback situation, which also falls directly on Bowen’s shoulders. As good in practice as Grant Wells has been, he’s struggling mightily on the field. I am not a sports physician, but I do know what happens to your vision when collisions and hits begin to take place. You get tunnel vision, and that tunnel is also ill focused. There is also a foggy state of mind that happens from mild-shock, and the adrenaline rush of the stress. That’s a personal observation of what happened to me in the old days whether it be football, soccer, or karate. I watched his game 1 reactions, and then again in the 2nd game. In both cases, as the hit counts went up, and the physical pressure increased you could see by his helmet position, his receiver recognition, and timing, that he was not able to read the field. If a receiver was open from the start he could make the pass, but as he was forced to riff, he was also prone to seeing only one possible receiver, or grossly overthrowing. Wells was trying his best, but receiving no help from the booth. (Which is also a problem, Purdue’s OC was on the sideline with his players.)

What’ was ugly about it was putting him in that position to begin with. It might be a good idea to have Wells sit out the Rutgers game and have Drones play a classic one-read and go offense using his speed and ability to actually execute the option. Bowen should also be aware of his blocking scheme breakdowns and start operating plays Gap and Reach plays to stretch out the defense and open the 3-second crossing, seam, and out routes.


Face it, coaches regardless of approachability are ultimately human. We don’t tend listen to anyone who is not in the “inside” and often not to insiders either. I can say this in all seriousness. No amount of “brilliance” on paper explains repeated failure in practice. There are lots of good lessons to be learned from failures. Failing again, the same way, is not demonstrating that you’ve mastered the art of correction. If Bowen keeps up doing what he’s doing, his tenure will be short, and his successes few.

We shall see if something clicked after Saturday beside blaming the players for not executing the brilliant game plan.

Game previews and predictions up after Wednesday odds are finalized. We’ll get a small photo essay up in the meantime.


*Note from the history major: The quote most folks think is from him regarding the French monarchy “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” is slightly miss translated and misattributed but the real quote, properly translated fits perfectly, here. ”Nobody has been corrected; no one has known to forget, nor yet to learn anything.”