Rewinding Scot Loeffler's First Season at Tech

Perhaps the most manic relationship between the staff and the fanbase this season was between new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and those that wear orange and maroon. Loeffler was hired after coordinating a dreadful offense at Auburn. That poor year stands in stark contrast to Gus Malzahn's offensive revival that has Auburn on the verge of a national championship. Based on his season at Auburn, many fans didn't have confidence in Loeffler turning around an offense that sputtered under the combined leadership of Bryan Stinespring and Mike O'Cain. With an offensive unit depleted by injuries, defections, and inexperience at the skill positions that was expected to adopt a complex, multiple scheme, Loeffler faced a major challenge right off the bat. How did he fare in his first season on the job, and is this the true Scot Loeffler offense?

Loeffler's first chess match was against Alabama's vaunted 3-4 scheme. The Tide use a wide variety of blitzes to free up their superior athletes to make plays. After a secretive fall camp, where the only public glimpses of offense were ace formations and zone stretch plays, Loeffler surprised Alabama with a veer principle spread option attack that minimized negative plays and completely took Kirby Smart out of his blitzing game plan. Trey Edmunds was able to break one long touchdown run when Loeffler mixed up the veer look with a tight end trap block. That counter play continued to have success until the clock became Virginia Tech's enemy, and the Hokies were forced to start throwing the football. Virginia Tech held its own against a veteran Alabama front, even though the Hokies had five offensive linemen who were starting their first game at a new position, a tight end rotation that was inexperienced, young, and therefore woeful at blocking, a brand new tailback without an experienced backup, and a receiving corps coming off a shaky fall filled with drops. A glimmer of early success was promising.

Unfortunately for Loeffler, Tech's receivers could not make critical catches to keep drives alive even though the scheme and play calls got them open. In retrospect, it is shocking that the passing attack ended up being the strength of the offense by the end of the season.

Following the Alabama game, the offense went into a strange shell. Instead of using veer and read option like they did against Alabama, Loeffler called many of the plays we saw in fall scrimmage. Most of the running plays came with Logan Thomas under center, and the passing game featured bootlegs off stretch action. Despite a shaky opening week performance, Loeffler found ways to get his receivers in good matchups where they had opportunities to make plays. D.J. Coles found a niche using double moves and skinny posts, especially off play-action or near the goal line. Loeffler started to find ways to match up Byrn on linebackers, complimenting the shallow crossing routes he prefers with a fake crossing route and going back to the flat. As the season progressed, Josh Stanford settled into a comfort zone beating man coverage to the boundary on curls and in routes. And, after attempts at making Demitri Knowles an over-the-top deep threat failed, Loeffler found ways to get Knowles the ball on crossing routes and deep rub routes that he seemed to be more comfortable running.

As the season progressed, Loeffler's passing attack took ACC opponents completely by surprise. The Hokies jumped out to quick leads against Georgia Tech, UNC, and Pitt largely on the back of Loeffler identifying matchups and taking advantage of them early. Logan Thomas occasionally struggled with accuracy, and the Hokies didn't have the deep play threat that Davis, Fuller, and Roberts provided last year, but the Hokies were much more efficient and that is reflected in their time of possession (33:08 per game this season versus 30:07 last season according to Hokiesports.com). Loeffler is outstanding at using misdirection and play-action to assist his receivers. Even in games where the Hokies struggled offensively like against Duke, Loeffler made in-game adjustments to get other routes open (see all the open post routes against the Blue Devils' Inverted Cover 2).

The running game was a major concern in the first half of the season. Loeffler was seemingly seduced by the potential of the inverted veer, especially with the health of his running back group in question. He was overly reliant on Thomas to grind the ball inside, and I believe that the accumulated wear and tear had a role to play in the drop off of Logan's play. But, unlike the former offensive staff, Loeffler adjusted.

Over the last quarter of the season, Loeffler finally started to exhibit some trust in his running backs between the 20's. As Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman got more touches, you could see their comfort level in making the proper cuts increase. Their success was aided by Loeffler's game planning, which forced defenses to address multiple options on each play and defend the whole field. Each week the offense featured seemingly an unlimited number of formations, unbalanced sets and backfield movements followed by read options, influence blocking, trap blocking, or counter-action. While the running game struggled at times, once the Hokie tailbacks became more comfortable finding holes, they ran the ball well against Miami and Virginia.

Unfortunately, with Miami being a notable exception, that success did not translate to the red zone and short yardage situations. That isn't unique to a Scot Loeffler offense, as many spread teams struggle in short yardage without an extremely sharp read option game that features a powerful dive back. The spread struggles in the red zone because it is predicated on spacing the defense out. Goal line running brings more defenders into tight proximity of the line of scrimmage. The blocking techniques used in the spread, especially the stances and pad level of the offensive line and tight ends, isn't as conducive to success in a goal line situation. The lack of success bread a lack of confidence by the players, and it was reinforced by Loeffler abandoning the run in critical short yardage situations.

There are two types of coaches. One is the Woody Hayes/Bear Bryant type that believes in recruiting top talent, teaching them how to play a fundamental brand of football, and then physically dominating the other team. That approach is terrific if you have the talent to succeed and complete buy-in from the players. Those coaches who use this approach, but do not have as distinct a talent advantage, sometimes fail to take advantage of matchups and put their players in the best position to win.

Then, you have the X's and O's coach, the guy who understands how to position and move his players on the field to take advantage of the defense's weaknesses and put his players in the best position to succeed. Bill Walsh, Lavell Edwards, and more recently Chad Morris are coaches who have created innovative systems that have driven their programs to success. However, the disadvantage of a coach who excels at adding nuances to an offense designed to take advantage of matchups is that they can get in the habit of getting too reliant on tricking the opponent. I believe a coordinator must have a core or "bread and butter" group of plays to rely on when spacing, influence blocking, and counter-action does not work. Sometimes it seemed like Loeffler was so interested in tricking the opponent, that the Hokies couldn't have success when the defense overcame those tricks, and he couldn't adjust.

Coach Beamer's mandate this spring was for Virginia Tech to run the football effectively, going so far as to say, "I want this to be the toughest football team we've had here at Virginia Tech". I'm not sure that Coach Loeffler met that mandate. Virginia Tech only broke 100 yards rushing in six games (only three times in ACC play). Those struggles were magnified in the red zone, where the Hokies far too often could not capitalize on the goal line. Based on the film, those struggles are difficult to rationalize. Early in the season, the Hokie tailbacks were impatient and didn't let holes develop. Undependable blocking from the tight end position, which is a critical blocker as a pseudo pulling guard in Loeffler's offense made it even riskier to call plays that tested the edge of the defense. Health played a factor as well, as both Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman were banged up at the start of ACC play. But, the offensive line did a very good job game in and game out. They were capable of winning those battles.

As the ACC schedule kicked off, Loeffler seemed to be overly reliant on inverted veer because it doesn't require perfect blocking to be a successful play as result of the option component and the forward momentum generated by a big, athletic quarterback. However, Logan Thomas never seemed to develop a good comfort level with optioning the unblocked defender, and as result he took a tremendous beating. Then, as soon as it became apparent that defenses were overcommitted to stopping the quarterback on inverted veer, Loeffler seemingly abandoned it entirely, even though it could have still been an effective weapon as a change of pace or in short yardage. Late in the season, the offense had success running stretch plays with an inverted veer backfield action. The quarterback fake froze linebackers and a more mature Edmunds and Coleman exploited terrific holes created on the edge. Once Maryland and UVa started to overcommit to take away the outside, huge holes opened up on the inside. But Thomas continued to hand the ball off, as if those plays were called as handoffs all the way. I wasn't an advocate of beating Thomas half to death, but as a change up option, he was a dangerous weapon. He was underutilized at some critical moments, especially against Maryland.

In those last three games, Loeffler's scheme opened things up for Trey Edmunds. However with few exceptions, Loeffler did not usually line up and run plays where the offensive line was supposed to get a hat on a hat and defeat the defense. Every success, even those plays that benefited from outstanding blocking and terrific running, required some form of misdirection, and when that time and space was taken away in the red zone, the running game (except against Miami) was rendered ineffective.

I think that lack of trust was misplaced. My opinion comes from my film review over the last 12 games. If you compare the run blocking technique, fundamentals, and effort of the offensive line versus the film of the 2011 group that paved the way for a record-setting season for David Wilson, this group is far superior in all three categories. (I will write some film side-by-sides when discussing offensive line play and Coach Jeff Grimes in the offseason.) There were some players that caused some matchup problems, but unlike in the past, the Hokies were bettered by excellent players making great plays rather than busts resulting from taking a step with the wrong foot, missing the snap count, or having their head on the wrong side. Ultimately, those offensive players have to believe that when the time comes, they will get 3 yards on a third-and-two. Coach Loeffler's play calling in the red zone (see those late touchdown passes versus Boston College and Maryland) didn't instill that confidence, even when they worked.

Simply put; while Coach Loeffler wasn't perfect, the system he has put in place and his ability to teach it is significantly more sound than the preceding staff. Even with the turnovers, drops, and red zone problems, this team should have been 11-1. Laugh at me all you want, but based on the film, they should not have lost any of the 3 games they lost in the ACC. They were the better team in each of those games and shot themselves in the foot. So, where does the program go from here? The Hokies are looking at another facelift this season, with five starters from the defensive front-seven and Logan Thomas graduating. As a new quarterback and the new defensive front get accustomed to their roles, many of the same players who were question marks this season will be counted on to carry the load.

The future may be brighter than we give it credit for. Ryan Malleck will return from injury and give Loeffler a weapon to use on stick routes (a prominent play in fall camp that was abandoned after Malleck's injury) and the dependable blocker needed on the edge to run the stretch play from the pistol or under center. Andrew Miller will be missed, but Alston Smith has been banging on the door for playing time and Wyatt Teller just broke scout team records for bench and power clean. An overachieving group of receivers will add two potential game breaking deep threats to their varied skill set if the coaches can lock down Javon Harrison and Cam Phillips. And the running back stable will add workhorse back Marshawn Williams.

Most of the questions will center around the quarterback position. As I often speculated this season, the 2013 offense was a hybrid of what Scot Loeffler wants to do and the plays that Logan Thomas was most comfortable running. Shane Beamer (in an interview with Kyle Bailey on Sports Talk 101.7 in Blacksburg last week) used coach-speak to say that this offense wasn't Loeffler's full system. It is a good thing, because none of the realistic QB options for next season will be anywhere near the threat Logan was on inverted veer.

As I said at the beginning of the season, we won't have a clear idea of how good a hire this is until the end of 2015. Loeffler, Grimes, and Moorehead need to get the talent that fits their system into place before it can be judged fairly. Most of that weight is going to hang on the head on Andrew Ford, who some in the fan base have already anointed the next great Hokie quarterback. Fairly or unfairly, Loeffler's future hinges on the success of Ford if and when he gets the starting job. Hopefully, whoever the quarterback is, he will be complemented by a true power running game, like Loeffler displayed (with the help of Bernard Pierce) at Temple. In the offseason, I will again review some of that Temple style power running game using the same fundamental building blocks that the offense used this season. If the Hokies can get back to being the most physical team in the ACC on both sides of the football, Frank Beamer should get to finish his tenure in style.

Comments

Like I said in another thread.

Lane Stadium 50-yd line seats will be the most exciting place in College Football in 2015-16.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I'm saying you can see VT score best viewpoint, from their backfield at both endzones from there.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I think he's saying he enjoys depth perception and seeing more than butts all game.

Thanks for the voice of reason, French. Looking forward to the film review.

Awesome stuff.

I'd add Kendrick Holland to the WR mix.

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

Overall I am happy with what I saw this year (other then the losses that should not have been) and am looking forward to seeing the direction this team takes in the future. This team, although the win/loss column does not reflect it, looked better than previous years.

6-5, 10-1-1, 2-9, 3-8, 6-4-1, 6-5, 5-6, 2-8-1, 9-3, 8-4, 10-2, 10-2, 7-5, 9-3, 11-1, 11-1, 8-4, 10-4, 8-5, 10-3, 11-2, 10-3, 11-3, 10-4, 10-3, 11-3, 11-3, 7-6, 8-5.......

If the Hokies can get back to being the most physical team in the ACC on both sides of the football, Frank Beamer should get to finish his tenure in style.

Make it so. In Sweet Baby French's name I pray, Amen.

"You know when the Hokies say 'We are Virginia Tech' they're going to mean it."- Lee Corso

Even with the turnovers, drops, and red zone problems, this team should have been 11-1.

This.
I'd even take 10-2 and just accept that BC beat us up.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

I said this to my Penn State friend and he laughed at me. I don't think outsiders realize that if we had a slightly above league average offense we would have easily won most if not all games this year. Defense was elite this year. On a side note I ran into James Gayle in TOTS over the weekend and as I told him "good season" he chugged his rum and coke and shook my hand.

Would that Penn State fan also be die-hard Blue Devil?

It's always a great day to be a Hokie

VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804. Hokies, Keydets, Army Black Knights, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and ATL Braves.

That last paragraph is the whole deal. 3 years is a long job interview. I agree that it will take 3 years to figure out if Loeffler is anything or not because of the talent issues and upcoming QB regime change, but that will be two additional years where the defense is redefining itself. This will also be two of the last years of Frank Beamer's career.

Buckle your seatbelts kids, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Malleck's loss was absolutely huge. TE blocking should look a lot better next year with him back and Cline coming off an offseason in the weightroom and the additional pre-bowl and spring practices.

Can't wait for double TE sets where both TEs are blocking AND receiving threats.

BOOM!

As far as TEs go, look for Bucky Hodges to make the move to TE permanent. He's played the position more than a few times on the scout team and has looked very good. A reasonably fast 6'6" athletic TE could be very dangerous in Loeffler's offense in the Red Zone, and in the open field after catching the ball. He needs to put on some solid muscle-weight during the off-season, but he can be a real mismatch against shorter DBs and LBs.

So, think about this as a TE rotation - Cline, Malleck, Hodges, Redman, and the incoming Xavier Burke, if he doesn't redshirt.

If Bucky moves I would love for some 3 TE sets that take advantage of match ups against LBs.

Maybe we can cash in on Bucky being a basketball player in High School as well for his TE development- kinda like Thomas for the Broncos or Jimmy Graham

"And it is caught, it is caught for a touchdown"

Could you imagine running the ball with 5 linemen and 3 TE's up front blocking for you? Sounds an awful lot like Standford and their scary running attack.

Go Hokies!

It's basically goal line set the entire way down the field with play action thrown in to keep them honest.

Not really! Most TEs are not specifically in the goal line package. Most of the time an extra lineman is thrown in at an eligible position because while TEs are good at body positioning to block they are not good at drive blocking which is what you want in the short yardage situation.

Lest we forget, that last drive against BC.

They had NINE ON THE LINE and Rettig and Williams.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

Malleck will be the tight end on the field in 1 TE sets. Cline will come in as 2 TE as of now. He needs to show that he has the ability to block because Malleck is also a good receiver and a better combo TE. If Cline cannot prove to be a steady blocker Darius Redman might steal a lot of reps.

Redman's blocking really dropped off as the season went on. I was hopeful that Zach McCray would up his level of performance (his blocking was critical on the goal line versus Miami) but he never did "re-endear" himself with the coaching staff.

Viva El Guapo

Until the coaches say otherwise, I wouldn't discount the possibility of Bucky as QB1, either.

It's always a great day to be a Hokie

VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804. Hokies, Keydets, Army Black Knights, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and ATL Braves.

Thank you. I must be the last person to learn that Bucky Hodges is a TE. All this time I thought he was going to be pushing Leal for the starting QB job. Of course, I heard a rumor on ESPN that Logan Thomas played a little TE in high school... :-)

Great job, as always, French. I am with you on being baffled at how we lost the Duke and UMD games. I think that the future is bright though, as Leal or whoever gets the starting job next year should have some pretty good weapons around him.

exit light

It is a good thing, because none of the realistic QB options for next season will be anywhere near the threat Logan was on inverted veer.

We may be underestimating the ability of Leal or Motley as a run threat. I'm not saying either will be the bruiser that Logan is, but if one of them is able to make better reads in the option game (e.g., is better than the 50/50 guess that Logan seemed to be), they could be a real weapon, potentially a more potent one that Logan, so long as they can dependably make the throws in the system as well. I think Motley is the not-so-dark horse here. My best friend (ok, my only friend. Ok, we hate each other, but I owe him money so he has to talk to me), works with his mother, and she says he's been feeling very good about how he's been doing, and is confident for playing time as QB.

Don't get me wrong, I think LT has been a great player and deserving of a shot in the NFL under center; and I think if he had another year under Loeffler and in the film room doing mental reps he might have found himself legitimately in the Heisman talks; but for all he did on the plus side for us this year, there were many plays where he just completely whiffed on his reads.

how much do you owe him?

is it bad that the only thing I took from this is that you owe someone money?

"I like to hit a home run early" ~ Whit "knows how to create a Buzz" Babcock

Actually, that was just a joke. So what's bad is the only thing you took from my post was a lie. I'm such a bad person.

I should stop lying so much.

As of right now, no more lying.

I like Motley. I think he has the juice to be the man next year. Time will tell.

Fortune Favors the Bold

Leal and Motley would be better at the Veer, not the Inverted Veer which requires a power running QB. (Cue in the Logan Thomas and Cam Newton comparison)

Yeah, but I bet you don't know what position he played in high school!

5 running backs in the stable...Edmunds, Coleman, Mangus, Williams, Caleb. Does one of them transfer or move to receiver? I kinda feel like Mangus and Caleb have been shafted this season.

Great write-up. I'm already excited to see Ryan Malleck back out on the field.

In Beamer & Co. We Trust #Livefor32 #DecadeofDominance

You are forgetting DJ Reid and VT is still hoping to get Shai McKenzie. In the spring Edmunds is going to be out and it will be interesting to see the competition develop. JC Coleman hasn't performed to the level I thought he would running and has been a liability at times in pass protection. I'm not sure who good Caleb can be at back or if he's a Justin Hamilton that will end up moving again.

A first-team All-Met selection at defensive back by The Richmond Times-Dispatch Played six different positions

The more I think about it the more I like the idea of Caleb in the secondary

Yep-very interesting story line for the spring.
Williams enrolling in January is huge for the team.
I'm not sure when Reid is expected, but it's a wide open competition for the spring, but at least I see some players on the roster that seem to be pure RB's this time.

I'd say this was a very fair, critical, and balanced look at year number one under Loeffler. Excellent write-up, French! I see good things to come from this offense, as long as the rug isn't pulled out from under the current staff.

It's always a great day to be a Hokie

VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804. Hokies, Keydets, Army Black Knights, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and ATL Braves.

The concerning thing for me is that the offense really hasn't gotten any better as the season has done along. The receivers aren't dropping every other pass but the line's play tailed off. I was hoping to see them improve throughout the year.

My biggest concerns for the offense taking the next step (especially with prospects being shaky for the bowl with Edmunds injured) are:

1) Can the Hokies establish a receiver who can play on the boundary and beat man press coverage?
2) Can the Hokies establish more of a consistent vertical passing attack?
3) Will Ryan Malleck be healthy enough to give a solid blocker at tight end who can also be used in the passing game outside of play action situations?
4) Will Jonathan McLaughlin improve as much between now and next season as he did this past spring? And, will some of the young offensive linemen push supplant current starters to upgrade the athleticism at the position?

5) Who in the blue hell is the quarterback?

Whatever happens on offense, for VT to have a similar record to this season, the offense has to be significantly better in the red zone to offset the losses on defense.

Viva El Guapo

"Whatever happens on offense, for VT to have a similar record to this season, the offense has to be significantly better in the red zone to offset the losses on defense."

Strange that it feels like next season will be a bigger question mark on the Defensive side than on the Offensive, except for the QB. I really expect Leal will go the distance there though, with either Mottley or Hodges as the #2. I also look to see Teller, Smith, Conte, Arkema and Osterloh pushing the current starters for playing time. I could really see the O-line as a strength next season with a year of Grimey training and limited injuries. Add in a bigger, stonger, faster and smarter TE rotation of Malleck, Cline, Redman and maybe Hodges and we could be very solid up front. If I were a VT RB, I would be very optimistic about the next 4 years of running behind the horses that are in the O-line stable.

On Defense, you have to wonder who is going to step up and fill the big shoes left by Edwards and Tyler leaving. The secondary looks stout, but will the new LB's (RVD included) be able to make the lion's share of tackles that Bud's scheme creates for them. Even losing 3 from the D-line, I suspect they will be replaced capably as Baron, Williams, Harley, Nicolas and Ekanem all got significant experience this season, and most looked very capable. Linebackers, that is my big worry for next year. So hoping we land Keihn and Minor, unlike in previous years when we whiffed on lots of highly ranked LB prospects.

VTCC '86 Delta Derelicts, Honduras Hokie

Seeing as how Bud rotates so much on the front, I never worry about the number two guys. I feel like they get a lot of experience. May not be starters but get playing time.

Bud hasn't always rotated those bodies up front when he doesn't have trust in those 2nd team guys.

Viva El Guapo