Tuesday, December 13, 2011

VT vs. Miami (FL) impressions

All 2012 Sugar Bowl coverage can be found on the Bowl Game page.

The following are various impressions gleaned from the Hokies 38-35 win over Miami (FL) this season. I cherry picked this game because of Jacory Harris' skill set and its similarity to Denard's. As such, this post is heavy on defensive scouting. More thorough breakdowns of blitzes and defensive schemes will come later this week.

Formation. Virginia Tech played from a whole bunch of different formations, from their standard 4-3 to a hybrid 3-3 to a heavy 4-4 look to something approximating Michigan's Okie formation. They were situational formations; the team rarely blitzed directly from the 4-3 front. The look:

4-4 (run stop)

3-3 (blitz)


From the Okie package, the Hokies rarely dropped linemen into coverage, but it was still used as a means to confuse Jacory Harris and the Miami offensive line.

Blitzing. Virginia Tech brought pressure from everywhere, but most of the time, it came from the linebackers. They came both on direct and delayed blitzes and from a number of different formations. The blitzes were usually long developing and Harris had a lot of room/time to dance in the pocket. However, he rarely passed out of it and the blitzers usually found him eventually.

Linebackers. Speaking of linebackers, Virginia Tech's appear to be awful. There's a reason that four of the top five tacklers on the team are in the secondary. The Hokie linebackers are bad at run fills, over pursue the run, and are really susceptible to play action. They secondary plays a lot of man coverage, so this doesn't always open up gaping holes in the middle of the field, but cutbacks and fakes almost always caught the linebackers off guard.

Defensive ends. As expected, those the gaudy sack numbers from the defensive ends are due to an aggressive pass rush. On passing downs, the defensive ends run directly uphill, openly a lot of running lanes for quarterbacks. Harris wasn't able to take advantage of it, but I have no doubt that Denard/Al Borges will.

Contain the rollout. The one thing that the Hokie defensive ends do really well is contain the rollout on play action. If Michigan uses play action from under center, Denard will have a defensive end directly in his face:



This ended up being a handoff, but the VT defense was prepared for the rollout. If they're gameplanning like this for Jacory Harris, they will be gameplanning like this for Denard.

Defensive tackles. Soft. They were put on skates most of the game. Michigan's offensive line should manhandle these guys.

Safeties. These guys are aggressive. On handoffs, they come directly downhill to make tackles. There's no hesitation in their game. They may be susceptible to play action. More importantly, they were really susceptible to trick plays, the likes of which Miami ran against them a few times. Given Vincent Smith's, urm, throwing abilities, that might be something Borges brings back for this game.

Formation. I was wrong yesterday when I said that the teams plays primarily under center. Most of the game, the Hokies were in the shotgun with three and four receivers. They rarely used fullbacks, both in the shotgun and under center. There were occasional H-backs, but for the most part, this was a shotgun, one-back set with three or four wide receivers and/or a tight end.

Power running. The Hokies use a lot of power running schemes, which means pulling linemen. They frequently used the pin and pull (usually from under center) that Michigan deployed with little success this year. They were a little more successful than Michigan was, but not that much more. The offensive line wasn't great at zone or power blocking, and weren't able to create a ton of lanes to run through.

Option running. However, the Hokies used the inverted veer a lot in this game. Lumbering QB Logan Thomas was able to gain a whole ton of yards on the inverted veer. It was, however, the only real option play they ran all game. They used it frequently in the red zone and a few times elsewhere, but rarely if ever did they use any other zone read play. The only other option running play that I can remember distinctly is a speed option that was usually at least moderately successful. I hold my position: Thomas is not much of a running threat. He was used a few different times on fourth and short on quarterback sneaks. Mike Martin and Co. are begging for this.

Ball security. This probably isn't a trend, but Thomas had a lot of trouble with ball security. He bobbled and fumbled one snap and failed to tuck the ball when he was pressured on another play and fumbled it. There was also another poor snap during the game that had to be recovered. I don't know if these are consistent problems, but they certainly were during this game.

Checkdowns. Thomas is a smart passer. When Miami goes into a prevent shell, he frequently found his running back coming out of the backfield. Virginia Tech looked to use their running backs frequently to chip block blitzers/rushers and then head out to the flats for checkdown passes. If Michigan doesn't assign someone to the VT running backs, this could get ugly. I'm worried about Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan in coverage.


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