Aggressive Defense and Conservative Offense, Miami Film Review

Against Miami, the offense did what I expected them to do all season long. An offense that controls the clock and focuses on picking up first downs. An offense that protects the football and puts Foster's defense in favorable positions. An offense that scores in the red zone. An offense that runs the ball. Loeffler trusted his offensive line, and in the second half he leaned on Edmunds and Coleman to get first downs and keep the ball away from the big play Miami offense. This is what I envisioned when Loeffler was hired.

If you haven't read French's review of the run game yet... what the heck is wrong with you? It's a celebration of the first game this season where the rushing offense truly "broke out". I won't try and improve on the run game analysis (it's not possible), but I will say that the ground game's maturation came at the perfect time.

Foster's aggressive and high-risk approach to defense has a long and successful track record. Foster uses his unique scheme to take away an opponent's rushing attack and force them into passing situations, where Torrian Gray's complicated coverages combined with a good pass rush can force turnovers. Rather than conceding an easy four yard gain on first in order to prevent big gains, Foster prefers to force the offense to complete a difficult long pass. Against inferior athletes, this will lead to some dominating performances (see Duke, Pitt, Western Carolina). When playing the top tier CFB teams though, Foster's defense will have games when the other team beats the odds and has some big plays. Saturday night was one of those games, and if not for the Thomas and company's big night, could have led to the end of Tech's ACC hopes.

Secondary Struggles

Gray's secondary has been brilliant all season long. Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, both true freshmen, have looked like All-ACC performers. Before he got hurt, Kyle Fuller was playing as well as any cornerback I've seen at Tech. Unfortunately, after Miami's second play from scrimmage went to the house, it was obvious that Kyle still wasn't feeling 100 percent.

00:01:16–00:01:26

Kyle comes across the field on the screen and is in position to make the tackle but looks indecisive as he slows down. When the WR makes a cut away from Kyle, he lacks the explosiveness to get back up to speed and make the play.

It's a shame, because a healthy Kyle Fuller (the best open field tackler at corner I've ever seen) makes that play 10 out of 10 times. Miami's wide receivers are too explosive to have a gimpy player on the field, and I don't remember Kyle Fuller being back after this play.

Antone Exum got a good amount amount of playing time early in the game and was effective in pass coverage. Here he is coming back and making a nice play on the ball on 3rd down.

00:05:10–00:05:16

Of course, the injury bug continued to hit the deepest cornerback rotation in college football as later on Exum would have to be helped off the field with an ankle injury. This left the two true freshmen corners to play against a very athletic receiving corps and a quarterback armed with a big arm.

The success that Kendall Fuller is having is starting to get ridiculous. I didn't see a single completion against his coverage in the Miami game. The guy may be the best coverage corner in the NCAA. In addition to his coverage skills, Kendall's not afraid to get involved in the run support game.

00:06:09–00:06:14

Miami actually designs this play to run the ball at Kendall. They know that Josh Trimble, playing at the Whip, is going to force everything back inside and Tyrell Wilson will slant to the inside against this front. With a fullback picking off the scraping linebacker, Miami is gambling on their running back being able to win his matchup against the corner coming to fit in the hole. Kendall does his job though, and Miami finds themselves in a third-and-long. Later in the same quarter, Miami tries to win that matchup a second time. Once again, Kendall brings down the runner.

00:07:18–00:07:23

Running into the boundary, Miami gets nothing. Dadi Nicolas is able to slant past the offensive tackle and get in the backfield. Miami's offense does a great job at dealing with this threat, as the tackle and fullback essentially switch assignments. The fullback does a tremendous job at throwing a shoulder at Dadi to seal him inside and the tackle gets to the next level to take the scraping linebacker. Kendall again waits for the RB to cut inside of Trimble's force. When he does, Kendall jumps in to make the ankle tackle. Kendall isn't as physical as his brother Kyle, and he's not as consistent in the open field (to be fair, who is?), but he does have a knack for sneaking his way through a minefield of blockers and finding the runner. Combined with his lockdown coverage, the kid is on the path to greatness.

Facyson the Freshmen

Let's be honest, Brandon Facyson didn't have his best game on Saturday. After Exum got hurt, Facyson was on the field almost every play the rest of the game. Miami targeted him multiple times and had success, with two of their longest plays happening against his coverage.

Facyson has played so well that it's easy to forget he is a freshman. He is bound to make mistakes. In a game where he was asked to cover very talented receivers without much safety support, we shouldn't be surprised that he wasn't perfect. I'm sure that Facyson will learn from the mistakes, and Tech fans are lucky that the valuable lessons they'll provide came on a day when the offense scored 42 points. If it wasn't for the offense's big day, we might be talking about how those two mistakes cost Virginia Tech the game.

The first mistake came when Facyson was in single coverage on the outside. Based off of Jarrett's cushion on the bottom of the screen and the location of Bonner in the middle of the field, it appears that Foster is a Cover-1 man scheme. With Kendall locking down the slot receiver in man coverage and the linebackers covering the TE/RB's, Bonner is left deep to focus on middle-breaking routes by the outside receivers. Bonner is only there to provide deep middle support, and it's up to the outside coverage defenders (Jarrett and Facyson) to prevent any completions down the sidelines.

00:07:44–00:07:51

Jarrett and Facyson must maintain outside leverage to force the routes back towards their safety help. Their footwork is the giveaway of their responsibilities; watch as both Jarrett and Facyson open up out of their backpedal with their back to the sidelines. Facyson simply can not let the receiver beat him to the outside. He's got no help there.

With experience Facyson will realize that if the receiver is able to break his route off in front of him, that's alright. It's 2nd-and-14. Rally to the football, make the tackle, and stop them on third down.

Instead, Brandon made a freshman mistake. The receiver chops his feet as though he's going to run a short route and Facyson bites, losing his leverage. When the Miami player starts back upfield, he is able to get in between Facyson and the sideline. At this point Facyson is out of position to stop a deep fade towards the corner, and when Morris puts the ball on the money Miami is in position to punch it in two plays later.

It's a costly mistake, but one that Facyson will learn from. In fact, Miami isn't the only team that's had the opportunity to burn a VT corner on the outside with a double move. Remember Marshall? Cato had the chance to complete that throw many times, but didn't have the arm strength or accuracy that Morris has. Getting burned will actually help this Tech defense moving forward, as they'll recognize the importance of trusting the scheme and staying true to their secondary rules. Brandon will learn you can't out athlete everyone, even if you are one of the most talented freshmen in the country.

In the third quarter, Facyson got beat deep again.

00:16:13–00:16:24

Unlike the last play, there's not a lot of teaching for Coach Gray to do on this play. Facyson is in the right coverage and he's in position to make the tackle... he just makes a silly mental mistake. I appreciate him trying to make a big play, but given the situation, up 18 points late in the third quarter, keeping his feet, and making the tackle is prudent. I'm sure that in the film room Torrian will simply tell him "Next time, don't do that". There's not much else to say. Facyson did everything right except for his last second choice to try and pick the ball.

I don't want to get too down on the freshmen though. He still made his fair share of plays, including this beauty.

00:14:38–00:14:45

It's easy to fall in love with Facyson's skill set. He looked like a special player the first time I saw him play in the summer scrimmages. With the ball in the air, he has the fastest closing speed I've seen in a while. The last clip is of a perfectly thrown ball to a large and fast receiver, but Facyson (who is in single coverage) hunts him down and breaks it up without having to even turn his head. Crazy.

The Big Boys

Miami fans can claim that the game might have gone differently if they had Duke Johnson available, but I doubt it. The defensive line, specifically the tackles, played brilliantly all night against Miami's run game. Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy have been absolutely dominate this year and that trend continued Saturday night. Time after time they shed blocks and beat their man at the point of attack, either making the play themselves or setting up a teammate in the process. Here's Gayle reaping the benefits of playing with an all-time Hokie great.

00:05:04–00:05:10

Gayle makes the play, but all he had to do was walk the play down from behind. Starting with the first game of the season, the Hokie front line has destroyed teams trying to run zone stretch plays. Here, Al Golden is hoping to get their running back to the edge but look at Hopkins demolish his double team. He ends up almost five yards in the backfield!

Crawford has zero chance of getting to the sideline and cutting up field, so he has to stop his momentum and try to cut back. Foster's patented "free hitter" on this play is Gayle and he cleans up the mess. That's one easy tackle for loss.

Here's Hopkins again, just eating up the offensive line.

00:11:59–00:12:05

Derrick flattens the left guard. The guard is trying to get just enough of Hopkins to slow him down and then get a block on Tyler, but Hopkins is having no part of it. At the snap, Hopkins prevents the guard from cutting across his face by pushing him into the backfield, then continues to keep the guard off of Jack Tyler all while chasing the RB down the line of scrimmage. This creates a huge hole in the middle of the line, so big that Tyler actually overruns the play. Crawford does a good job at fighting through the arm tackles and fighting forward to get into a 2nd-and-short. After an incompletion on second down, Miami tries running it to convert on 3rd, but Hopkins again dismisses that notion.

00:12:11–00:12:15

This time on the zone play, the guard is able to get across Hopkin's face to get to the linebacker. Hopkins doesn't let this stop him though, as he hustles down the line to stop the running back dead in his tracks. It's almost unfair. Hopkins is playing out of his mind right now. He is so good, I don't know what you can do as a running team other than just give up on the zone run. If you run it at him, he's too strong to allow a double team to seal him inside. Hopkins will spill the runner to the backside every time. Run the zone away from him and he's fast enough to chase the play down.

A defensive tackle that plays this well in Foster's scheme will take a defense from very good to elite. Hopkins is asked to do a lot, and when he delivers he makes everyone else around him that much better. Enjoy the last few games people, because what Hopkins is doing is beautiful.

Looking forward, Nigel Williams appears poised to play at a high level as well. He doesn't get many snaps (Hopkins is playing so great that it's tough to take him off the field) but when Williams does he usually impresses. The way that he fights through the downblock by the center and gets into the backfield looks very similar to Hopkins.

00:14:32–00:14:37

The future is bright for the Hokie's defense.

Doubting Thomas

I don't blame those who got frustrated watching Thomas's inconsistent play this year. It's not easy watching a player seemingly make poor decision after poor decision. However, Saturday night's performance should leave little doubt it people's mind that Thomas is the best man for the job. All he needs is a little help from his friends, and there's little that this offense can't accomplish.

After the game, I was struck by how few plays Thomas made. Statistically this was one of the best games of Thomas's career but it didn't feel like he was throwing frozen ropes deep down the field or rumbling for first down after first down. After rewatching the game, I realized the reason that I felt that way was because Thomas didn't have to take too many risks. His accuracy and good decisions when throwing short, combined with Loeffler's persistence in the running game, kept Thomas from having to do too much.

00:03:30–00:03:38

Thomas looks deep down the field on a play-action pass, doesn't see anyone open... so he makes the smart play and drops it off to pick up what he can. He gets six yards out of the completion and keeps the team on schedule.

00:02:53–00:03:00

Thomas on a bootleg. Demitri Knowles is in the slot, and the Hokies run the classic "post and wheel" combination. Knowles has a step on the safety, but Thomas isn't interested. He takes the easy dump off to Coles and lets D.J. pick up yardage. Safe, conservative, smart. Thomas trusting his teammates and the system, instead of trying to beat Miami all on his own.

Miami came into the game with the same exact strategy that most teams have used with success against Tech (although like French I disagree with their tactical decisions, particularly in run defense) . Miami decided to defend against any big plays by keeping everything in front of them, force Tech to have long drives into the red zone, and hope they either stall in the red zone or turn the ball over. On Saturday, Virginia Tech was able to punish the defense for its conservative approach by getting the ball to it's playmakers and watching them make plays. Logan acted like a pass-first point guard, distributing the ball to his scorers and keeping the defense off balance.

Wide Receiver Maturation

When playing against a defense that is playing conservative and laying back, a wide receiver's job isn't to "get open and catch the ball". Everyone should be able to do that. A wide receiver's job is to get open, catch the ball, then make somebody miss. Joshua Stanford is starting to turn into the playmaker that I thought I saw during the summer scrimmages.

00:09:30–00:09:43

Thomas has been converting third-and-longs all season by great low percentage throws. Against a talented Miami secondary, on this third-and-long Thomas decides against attempting something risky and just lays it off to Stanford. Joshua catches the ball and then makes something spectacular happen.

This is the risk of playing an unaggressive defense. Defenders have to make tackles in space. Obviously, a defensive coordinator expects his players to rally to the football and get the ball carrier to the ground, but he also knows that eventually someone on the other team is going to make a play of their own. This Hokie offense has been lacking in big plays coming from their wide receivers, but I think we may finally be turning the corner, especially Stanford. He's not only making plays after the catch but he's turning into a player Thomas can count on to get open and make the play on a ball that isn't thrown perfectly.

00:16:57–00:17:03

This is a ball that Stanford was having problem catching early in the season. Now, he's starting to aggressively rise up and attack the ball with his hands rather than letting it get into his body.

Remember back in 2008 when Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin, and Dyrell Roberts were all starting for Tech as young players? They didn't show up and start making plays from day one, it took a while! Hell, that team only had two wide receiver touchdowns all season. How do I know? I looked it up (http://www.cfbstats.com/2008/team/742/receiving/index.html) Both of those touchdown receptions were by Boykin, but the first one didn't come until November 22! (http://www.cfbstats.com/2008/player/742/1019191/receiving/gamelog.html) My point is, these receivers are improving and are starting to make more and more plays with the ball in their hands. If Logan continues to make those high percentage throws and trust his teammates to do some work, the offense will continue to improve.

Comments

Mason, your point about Facyson is well taken. I think everyone realizes it's time to bench him and put in Leal.

fifthfuller serving up pure GOLD

I'll give Facyson a pass this game. He was white hot before and got put behind Exum. Similar to the bye week destroying our streak. I expect him to get back to form.

Awesome.

10,000 foot view question:
You make the point of Foster's defensive philosophy being take away the short gains, which make the big plays more likely, but only with teams that out-athlete us-ex. Miami's 2 big plays due to their talent.
It seems that in our big-time losses, there have been defensive breakdowns, (and special teams...) but is this in actuality 'living by the sword, dying by the sword:' the top-tiered teams have the talent to expose that chink in Foster's armor?

And if true, can this be countered with upgrade in talent by VT or is it just a systemic issue?

This is a good question that raises another question in my mind. We've always (under Bud Foster) had this philosophy of almost over-aggressiveness to take away the run and force the defense to contend with our ridiculous secondary. And it seems like this USED to be our philosophy on special teams as well, sell out to try and block kicks to get the big momentum changing plays. Yeah, you're going to get burned occasionally, but it's high risk/high reward. Draw a few roughing the kicker penalties or give up the occasional first down on a fake punt but the blocks completely change the game AND put the fear of god into opposing punters, totally messing with their heads and leading to mistakes like taking a knee to catch the snap. I understand that blocking schemes have changed that sort of thwart Beamer's traditional blocking approach, but there's got to be a weakness to exploit (and clearly it's not on the return side since we suck donkey balls on that).

The more talent a team has, the more likely the high pressure scheme will pay off. You can't just blitz your way too a victory against top competition. Although good teams have been able to burn foster in the past, in my mind it's still the best strategy, particularly if you have an offense that needs help to score points.

Top competition probably has a good defense as well. If fosters scheme gets burned a few times, it could still be worth the risk if the defense also sets up the offense with a few turnovers.

Thanks.
I look at the 2011 OB-Stanford DESTROYED us!
That was just embarrassing for our D and a SOPHOMORE QB (named Luck, though) picked us apart, aided by a massive running game. It seemed that our defense was always out of place.
Not to mention freakin' Harbaugh playing with pre-snap motions and pissing off Foster.

But emotions aside, that game stands out in my mind of how a talented, disciplined team will schematically exploit us EVERYTIME.....and wondering if that's just the deal, and could that be fixed with a talent upgrade. (Which we seem to be getting?)

The offense has the advantage over defense. They know what the play will be and the snap count. They have the initiative and know what part of the field the play will occur.

A talented and properly prepped offense should always win, all other things being equal. I don't mean each snap, I mean Vegas type win, the odds are stacked in their favor.

The point is to keep them from winning too much and from winning more often and bigger than your offense.

Danny caught that ball.

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

I have inside info. - Whit

You talk purtier than a two-dollar whore. Got my head all a whirlin'.

But I think you just said that if we score more than them, we win.

I do speak purtier than a $2 whore but, don't call me Shurely.
I was speaking directly to this line here.

But emotions aside, that game stands out in my mind of how a talented, disciplined team will schematically exploit us EVERYTIME.....

Danny caught that ball.

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

I have inside info. - Whit

Great write up.

Here's my thoughts.

I love what Maddy and Hopkins bring to the line - they cannot be denied and nobody how the offense try to scheme against them, they just shed blocks with an attitude and get after quarterbacks or ball carriers in a hurry. Then there's Gayle who is having a solid season, but unspectular, but that's ok because he is doing a tremendous job of tying up the blockers, forcing the offensive line to respect what he brings off the edge. On one play, Gayle destroyed a five-star tackle and sacked Morris, which are highlights of his skill, motor, and attitudes. Defensive coordinators in the NFL got to love that. Will he be an every down ends? I don't know. But, his tenacity is one of his biggest strengths.

Agreed with Facyson's assessments. I appreciated that Facyson was gambling he could snare that deep ball, but he simply mistimed his jump. While I agree he should have just wrapped up, I like what he was trying to do. That's something to respect.

Speaking of Facyson, I am really excited to see the future of the secondary when Jefferson, Fisher, and Reavis arrive in Blacksburg (assuming they all qualify) with Kendall and Facyson locking up their starting roles.

I do expect to see the defensive line and linebacker to take a bit of a step back next fall, but I believe that Foster has made a living off on simply reloading and go at it again. With Nigel, Baron, and Dadi having significant playing experience along with Trimble and Clark (assuming he comes back from suspension or am I having the wrong Clark?) and some other redshirted freshmen, I think the defense will be good. It may be up to the offense next fall to carry the team, depending on who runs the offense from the quarterback spot.

I really like how Loeffler called the plays Saturday and how well Thomas played. That's four games where Thomas was smart, conservative, and took the high percentage completion passes instead of trying to squeeze the ball into tight window.

What else can I add about Joshua Stanford? I have often said since spring and summer how much chemistry Stanford and Thomas had, and it was why I was so perplexed at Thomas' insistence on targeting Knowles and Coles so much early in the season. Stanford was often Thomas' security blanket during camps. It was great that Stanford got that touchdown courtesy of spinning out of tackles, sprung for the touchdown on well-timed blocks from Edmunds and Byrn. HE SIMPLY WOULD NOT BE DENIED HIS TOUCHDOWN!

I cannot give enough praises to Coles and Knowles for jumping on knocked balls because those were huge plays that had significant impacts on the scoreboards and demoralizing Miami.

I support Logan Thomas and make no apologies for it.

"Remember back in 2008 when Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin, and Dyrell Roberts were all starting for Tech as young players? They didn't show up and start making plays from day one, it took a while! Hell, that team only had two wide receiver touchdowns all season." -- YES. I'VE BEEN TELLING PEOPLE THIS ALL SEASON. Thanks for the validation.

All I know is that this Monday felt a LOT better than the last couple. Great game, great review, now it's time to give the Terps a hateful send off to the slowest conference in the nation. Good thing the Fridge is chillin' with cold cut sandwiches in Georgia right now. Fancy Gap won't need to feel guilty for one last beat down.

Twitter: @mdsams

I think the biggest thing I enjoyed watching was just how much more effort our guys put out there than Miami did. Breaking tackles, trailing plays to fall on fumbles, forcing fumbles on long returns. To me, those plays are less about skill, and more about effort. VT may not always be the more skillful team, but I always want to see them be the team with more effort come Saturdays.

#thingsiblamethemvsfor

What liked about the offense was the early-game play-calling. First rushes were Logan Thomas. Miami defense pays attention to Logan only and says here we go same old stale Hokies offense. Then the misdirections, which toasted Miami. Finally, the read options sweeps and then a few intermingled screen passes. The net result: the Miami D got much less aggressive, more tentative, more cautious. You could see it in their play -- fear, not knowing where the play was going. This progression of play calling was masterful and set the tone for the game.

I vote we start calling Josh Stanford "5 Speed". You know - because he wears #5 and he's so freaking clutch.

I'm here for the memes, I just stay for the football.

He says his nickname is Yoshi, something he got in High School and it just stuck.

In Beamer & Co. We Trust #Livefor32 #DecadeofDominance

Fun fact: My brother did the mixing and mastering for that. He plans on dropping a mixtape called oneTWENTYone on January 21st.

In Beamer & Co. We Trust #Livefor32 #DecadeofDominance

I affectionately refer to him as "Blame Canada"

RIP Stick it In

Great effort all around, and a great win over Da U. Crawford was very much a capable HB, and we shut their run down! They had a huge and intimidating O-Line, but that couldn't stop us. Having the pigskin for 20-mins longer really paid dividends.

The U invented Swag, but UVA invented Smug.

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

I can't remember. Was he the one they showed at the beginning of the game with the "Averaging 1 TD per 4 touches"?

Off topic: TKP never stops impressing me with the amount of time, effort, and attention to detail they put into these game reviews/previews, and film study. On top of all that, you provide this to our fan base free of charge. Very much appreciated guys! Thanks! GO HOKIES

"Everyone has the will to win, but not everyone has the will to prepare to win"

Great analysis Mason!

Had to chuckle at this:

If you haven't read French's review of the run game yet... what the heck is wrong with you?

Obviously, you're looking for those who haven't done the required course reading.

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

This year is such a breath of fresh air to see wide receivers and skill players actually blocking. I know some aren't quite up to speed yet, but the effort is at the very least welcoming.

Coach Morehead really has done an outstanding job with the WRs this year. The difference between where his group was against Alabama and where they are now is night & day.

I love watching highlight clips and knowing right away who I'm supposed to be watching by their play. MANBEARPIG is on a different level right now. I hope before this season is over they give in the ball on the goal line and let him score a TD.

"We are better than we think, but not quite what we want to be" - Nikki Giovanni

Quick statistical comparison:

Jarrett Boykin in his freshman year:14g, 8gs, 30 catches, 440 yards, 2 TD's
Danny Coale in his freshman year: 14g, 14gs*, 36 catches, 408 yards, 0 TD's
Joshua Stanford so far: 10g, 9gs, 34 catches, 562 yards, 1 TD

*Danny Coale played in 55 games in his Virginia Tech career, starting 54. Which game did he not start? Oh, only the the Nebraska game.

"Taylor...... looking desperately......throwing it deep.....has a man open......{unbelievable}....caught!....Danny Coale!"

Nice to see that put side by side. Can you add Byrn?

10Gp 6Gs 40rec 529yds (13.2avg) 1TD

In Beamer & Co. We Trust #Livefor32 #DecadeofDominance