Many things symbolize Virginia Tech football, including a lunchpail mentality on defense, but the offense is devoid of its own identity. It's overly complex, conservatively predictable, and lacking in execution. Tech's had the same leadership on offense for the past 10 years and it feels as if a different approach is needed in order to consistently win the big games that have eluded the program. The staff have been learning on the job, some for a decade, and they haven't been held accountable for a subpar product. The struggles this year can't be attributed exclusively to just the offensive staff, but this year would be a good time to re-evaluate the philosophy and direction of the offense.
State of the Offense
Tech's offense incorporates a lot of different concepts and ideas from around the country, but execution has been sacrificed for complexity. The result: jack of all schemes, but not the master of one. The college game sets limits to how much time teams can practice. So what might work in the NFL, multiple formations and packages, doesn't in college. The offense usually picks mid-season after it's simplified, but it's bloated and stagnant towards the beginning of the season, and for the bowl game. Additionally, conservative tendencies lead to predictable play calling.
Offensive philosophy seems to be focused on time of possession rather than aggressively attacking and scoring. In the last 4 seasons, Tech has done a good job of ball control, but that hasn't necessarily resulted in greater offensive production, especially in the big games.
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Aggressive, attacking offenses that light up the scoreboard are becoming the norm in college football. Tech has gone halfway with some spread principles, and a concentrated focus on big plays, but it's obvious the current staff isn't able to successfully teach and execute the spread. I feel Tech needs to fully commit to the spread, and Tony Franklin is one of the leading experts in the nation.
The Tony Franklin System
Over the years, Tony Franklin has experienced a lot of success as an offensive coordinator running his spread system. Franklin has ties to the current coaching staff having played at Murray State with Bud Foster. He graduated right before Frank Beamer coached there. Franklin's philosophy would provide a big difference in direction of the offense.
"We spread it to figure out what is going to work in any particular game and then we just do that. [...] I'm not hung up on who gets the ball and how we do it. I just want to score points." - Tony Franklin
Franklin's offense has roots in the same Air Raid offense as WVU's under Dana Holgorsen, but he has his own distinctive and actually patented system. The Tony Franklin System has many principles that work well in the college game, my favorite being the installation of offense in 3 days. Less complexity yields better execution. Smart Football provides a good history and description of the Air Raid offense. Franklin differs from the stereotypical Air Raid as he has been very balanced between the run and the pass especially after his brief tenure at Auburn.
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After Franklin's tenure at Auburn he was at Middle Tennessee State in 2009, and now Louisiana Tech (2010-current). The last 4 years he has shown a commitment to the run in his offense. The first two years at La Tech there were growing pains with personnel, but now the offense is extremely productive.
Franklin runs a hurry up offense mainly out of the shotgun, but his philosophy isn't to lead the country in pass yards or rush yards. It is to run a lot of plays and do what works to score points. Virginia Tech has run 696 plays in 10 games, while La Tech has run 864. Franklin is currently the offensive coordinator for Louisiana Tech which leads the country in total offense. Even though he runs a spread offense, he incorporates power running. This year he used a 3 back Bone formation which was used effectively to run against Texas A&M as Good Bull Hunting points out.
Several plays are ran through this formation such as counter, counter trap, zone read and power-sweep
Alabama rushed for 122 yards against Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech mustered 165.
Fit at Virginia Tech
Franklin has experienced a lot of success, but he was fired from Auburn 6 games into his first full season. He didn't have a complete roster of spread personnel, and more importantly, Auburn never completely bought into his system. Currently, Tech has a roster that could immediately be successful in Franklin's system, and the talent in the region typically fits the spread offense. The lesson learned from Auburn is Franklin's offense won't be successful unless there's total buy in and some autonomy from the head coach. A down season might lead to Beamer stepping back and giving something new a chance.
The popular opinion is that Frank Beamer would never fully commit to a spread offense, but he has currently agreed to go halfway with spread principles. Also, he seemed inspired by Chad Morris' scheme. Last offseason a lot was made of Tech incorporating the pistol formation, as well as trying to run a hurry up offense. The current staff tries to mimic the various spread philosophies seen on visits across the country, but they don't have the knowledge and confidence to successfully implement them. We currently have a mush, rice pudding, pho type spread that is utilized some of the time but never truly committed to.
"Obviously if you can line up and you've got better players than else and play great defense and eat clock and win as many games as you can, that's a great way of playing football, too. The problem is, 95 percent of us don't have that type of talent to do that."
- Tony Franklin in Response to Nick Saban's remarks against spread offenses
Virginia Tech's current approach with its offense doesn't mesh with the goal of a national title. A physical ball control offense has worked for the likes of Alabama, but there are only a few teams that have the players to win consistently against teams with equal or greater talent. Bud Foster has expressed his respect of spread offenses in his preparation for teams such as Clemson and has even said he would prefer an Oregon-type spread offense if he was a head coach.
It's been 20 years since Frank Beamer was given an ultimatum to change his staff and it might be time, especially after this year, that he's given another. The current offensive staff has tried hard to succeed and implement new ideas but has consistently had execution problems. Beamer has given Bryan Stinespring 10 years to lead the offense, but it hasn't produced at a national championship level. Now is the right time to move in a new direction.