Third Scrimmage Observations: Blocking Scheme, O- and D-Line Performance

Not having the opportunity to watch either of the first two spring scrimmages, my biggest focus watching Saturday's scrimmage was how the offensive blocking scheme had changed under Coach Searels. Saturday presented two radically different answers to this question. Before the defense came out of the locker room for warmups, Coach Loeffler ran a 3/4 speed walk-through reviewing the offensive playbook with the scout team O serving as defenders. Gates opened at 10:30 AM, and the offense appeared to already have run through a significant amount of playbook. Once I was settled I saw the first team offense use the pistol formation to execute a power series, a counter series off power action, and a play-action series off power action. One principle thing stood out, every play featured at least one offensive lineman pulling and man blocking at the point of attack. This is a radical departure from the zone blocking scheme used last season by Coach Grimes, who only pulled a guard on inverted veer and quarterback counters.

This is the base power play.

The concept for executing power from the pistol is pretty simple. Instead of zone blocking to the play side and stretching the defense to create seams, the man blocking is designed to create a predetermined alley to run in. Rather than blocking straight ahead, the offense blocks down from play side to the back side in order to blindside the defensive tackle and linebackers that want to get up field. The back side guards pulls around to outnumber the defense at the point of attack.

In this blocking scheme against a base Bud Foster set, the rover is unblocked. This is where the jet sweep motion comes into play. In the plays I saw, Motley never faked a handoff to the jet motion, but if the jet sweep receiver does receive the ball, the rover has contain responsibility on him. If Motley goes play-action, the rover also has coverage responsibility on the jet sweep motion man as the secondary receiving threat to the boundary. If the rover completes his assignment, he is influenced away from the player (the running back) who actually has the ball. If the rover attacks the running back instead, that makes the defense vulnerable to the jet sweep and play-action.

Last season, the Hokies zone blocked off tackle plays from the pistol. While zone blocking requires tremendous athleticism to stay engaged with a defender, it isn't as challenging mentally. You zone step to the play side, and engage the first player who crosses your face (with uncovered blockers chipping the down lineman and then moving to the second level). Man blocking is much more complex mentally. On this play, the left guard is dependent on communication from the right side to identify where the defenders are aligned. The alignment and resulting line call determines where the left guard either kicks out or turns up. The alignment also changes down-blocking assignments for the right guard, right tackle, and tight end. There is a tremendous amount of information to process in a short time and it requires developing experience in recognizing numerous defensive fronts and tremendous trust in your teammates to make the correct call. Saturday's No. 1 offensive line group featured three seniors, but very little game experience outside of Gibson and Farris (who is playing center—a different position from last season. That trust and recognition of fronts will be a work in progress well into fall camp.

Loeffler also incorporated counters to prevent the defense from keying on the power play. First, the offense repped a quarterback counter off the power pistol action.

In the backfield, the jet sweep and the path of the running back is the same. However, instead of the left guard pulling, the right guard delays and then pulls against the flow of the motion back to his left. The left side blocks down, and the right guard kicks out the end. The left tackle then pulls and leads through and the quarterback turns up behind him.

Second, the offense worked on a play-action series built around the pistol power backfield action. The first play-action look featured a seam route by the tight end designed to catch the ball right behind the linebacker, or as we called it in college, a Y-Dump.

The backfield motion is the same as the power play. The play fake draws the backer forward, and the jet sweep motion widens out the rover. The tight end widens out and slips right behind the backer while the rover bails out. If you have that power play going, the tight end will be wide open every time on this play. Later, Loeffler expanded this look by using the same motion, but instead of a tight end, he lined Willie Byrn up to the slot on the play side (no tight end) and ran a skinny post. Again, the rover bites on the sweep fake, and Byrn slips right behind him to make the catch inside of the nickel (who thinks he has help on the inside).

Watching the group move, even at 3/4 speed, I was really excited about their pad level, quick feet, and aggressive approach. Then the scrimmage started and everything changed.

There was a much more subdued offensive scheme utilized by Coach Loeffler. The offense didn't use as much influence through the jet sweep motion, and as result sometimes were outmanned at the point of attack with the rover coming unblocked. The guards pulled less, and the defense clearly played in a higher gear. The comments from Bud Foster about how much further along the offense was over the defense seem laughable now. The coaches poured gasoline on the fire by forcing the losing team (offense) to carry the winning team on their back during the final wind sprints.

The first group was largely stalemated by the second team defensive front (consisting of Nigel Williams, Vince Mihota, Seth Dooley, and Jeremy Haynes). Rather than slanting like I documented last week, both of the defensive tackles were aligning in gaps and working to get straight up field, and it appeared to catch the interior of the Hokie line off guard. The penetration inadvertently drew several double teams, which kept blockers off edge defenders freeing those defenders up to make tackles. On other plays, the stunting front (which included linebackers blitzing) seemed to confuse the offensive line. Instead of aggressively blocking their assignment, you could see several blockers watching the stunt and trying to adjust, and like Coach Foster often says "their brain tied up their feet." It isn't particularly surprising given the added complexity of the blocking scheme and the lack of experience.

A terrific example was a play highlighted during Coach Beamer's post-scrimmage interview on HokieSports.com.

The Hokies ran a similar power from the pistol formation, except they did not incorporate jet sweep motion. The left side of the line along with the tight end blocks down. Right guard Augie Conte initially does an excellent job of getting depth and pulling around the down blocks. But, once he turns up field, he has a choice to make.

  1. He can kick out the safety (No. 24 Anthony Shegog) who is flying forward in run support.
  2. He can turn up inside the safety and instead block the linebacker.

This is where the water is a bit muddied because I'm not in the locker room with the coaches. Normally, the jet sweep motion (which didn't happen on this play) occupies the safety, and in a game situation if the safety is crashing that hard it leaves the jet sweep wide open. On this play, there was no motion, which in my eyes fundamentally damages the play design. The other possibility is that the tight end or tackle (Redman or Shuman) made the wrong line call. The line call is usually a number yelled out by a player on the play side to tell the pulling guard who they need to block. Conte turns up, and Shegog crushes J.C. Coleman in the backfield.

X's and O's isn't the only issue here though. As Conte pulls, he looks hesitant once he turns north south. When he makes contact with linebacker Dahman McKinnon, Conte's feet die. McKinnon sheds the block easily and is in position to support Shegog if he misses the tackle. This is a classic case of an inexperienced player seeing something that happens dissimilar from a practice rep and his body slows down while his brain is computing the adjustment. Conte was far from being alone in this regard Saturday (Teller also froze up a bit on several run blitzes, and the more experienced guys didn't exactly have a banner day).

The first group also had some positives. They pass-protected pretty well against the first group minus one or two plays, and there were several impressive blocks (Teller had a major league reach block on Mihota on a 3rd-and-short that opened a nice hole for J.C. Coleman to convert.) Most impressively, when the defense did not stunt during 1-vs-1 work, Teller and Conte were competitive physically against two of the best defensive tackles in the ACC.

And yes, Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall looked like first team All-ACC defensive tackles on Saturday. Maddy and Marshall both had a sack against the first team offense, and they absolutely decimated the second group. Marshall was a dynamo, using a variety of leverage moves and his quickness to spend most of the the afternoon in the backfield. That freed up Dadi Nicolas to make plays, and Nicolas responded with a 10 tackle performance that he made look easy. Against the second team offensive line (which had Brent Benedict playing left tackle and David Wang at center), the offense had no chance. The unit was dominant, and Foster even threw some wrinkles in with them (including using a 3-3 front for passing downs, with the nickel back replacing Ekanem and Corey Marshall moving out as a stand-up defensive end). I will cover this new look later this week.

Coach Searels will definitely use this week to challenge his offensive line to grow up in a hurry and match the tempo of the defense for the spring game. While it certainly wasn't a postcard day for the offensive line, it is clear that this unit has the ability to be a stronger, more mobile group than last year's unit. With improved running back play I do expect the 2014 running game to be much improved.

Comments

Thanks for the write-up. A small part of my brain is wincing, sounds like last years line. They were decent in pass protection, but having issues in run support.

French, any theories why Loeffler rolled out a different play-set than what they were doing in warm-ups?

That just seems so strange to me, particularly the lack of the jet-sweep on the play in the animated gif.

Edited to add:

Looking at that play specifically, if Shegog had been taken out of the play with the sweep, it seems as though JC had some pretty nice holes either right or left.

Edited Edited to add: And I'm liking Shegog's form tackle there. Instead of trying for a big hit, he breaks down, wraps up, and gets the TFL.

I agree, if there is a jet sweep option there that would occupy shegog and JC would have a decent hop step to the outside and gain some yards.

"I'm high on Juice and ready to stick it in!" Whit Babcock

"It ain't easy bein steezy"

#VanillaVick will lead us to the promise land

The other part that I would have a question about is whether on a play like this where we aren't having a player run a jet sweep across the formation, why wouldn't we either A) have a TE pull across for a crack back that would have eliminated Shegog from the play or B) call out of it into a play-action that would hit the slot receiver (couldn't tell who was there) who looked at least more open at the top of the screen than Coleman did for a run play. Granted, I would hope that our QB could recognize something like this in an actual situation and consider pulling it back to make that throw, but just an observation.

the last part of this is Maroon! I would love to see the QB pull it let shegog hit JC and then the QB is off to the races!

"I'm high on Juice and ready to stick it in!" Whit Babcock

"It ain't easy bein steezy"

#VanillaVick will lead us to the promise land

As I noted in my column, they were working on a play-action series off this action prior to the scrimmage. Perhaps the defensive call just happened to be the right one? I do agree that if this was a read play, Motley didn't make the correct read. But, based on how Motley turns into a throwing stance after the hand-off, this looks like it is a straight power play with the secondary threat being play action.

Viva El Guapo

Do you think it's something that Motley could have or should have recognized prior to the snap and audibled out of if this wasn't a scrimmage where we would probably run that play regardless of whether it looked like it would be defended or not?

Without being in the locker room and knowing the call it is hard to tell. Shegogg was aligned where the rover is almost always aligned... 7 yards deep to the boundary. I am not sure that this is on Motley.

This is PURE SPECULATION on my part, but if I had to guess, I would say that Conte received a bad offensive line call from either Shuman or Bucky. The line call tells Conte who to block. Let me play out a scenario.

The offense comes to the line of scrimmage. If Bucky yells "7! 7!" that tells Conte to turn up on the inside. If Bucky yells "9! 9!" that would tell Conte to kick out the rover. A nine call would also mean that Bucky, Shuman, and Teller would need to make an adjustment in their down blocking to get someone to block McKinnon on the second level (Conte turned up and blocked McKinnon.)

If it was the wrong call, it means that Bucky or Shuman didn't see/read the rover's intent. It happens. Interestingly, Bucky did execute a really good down block on Seth Dooley on the play.

Please note, this is pure speculation. There are a numerous different possibilities as to why Conte turned up on the backer. My conjecture is just one of the possibilities.

Viva El Guapo

Fair enough. The replay gif shows just a second before the snap, so it was hard to tell how far Shegog was from the play initially. Thanks.

Agree with this: X's and O's isn't the only issue here though. As Conte pulls, he looks hesitant once he turns north south. When he makes contact with linebacker Dahman McKinnon, Conte's feet die. McKinnon sheds the block easily and is in position to support Shegog if he misses the tackle.

Now I'm not 6'5", 295 lb, but to me Conte displays some nice mobility. If I were his coach however, I'd kick his arse. He absolutely should have annihilated McKinnon, gotten a little lower and smashed him completely into the ground on this one. Where are those mean and nasty guys in the trench who want to trash defenders in their way, even if they are blocking the wrong guys?

'80 Grad, beer was cheaper then, so was gas.

Reminds me of this quote from OL Russ Grimm's Hall of Fame Induction Speech

He told me that playing offensive line, there's no greater feeling than to be able to move a man from Point A to Point B against his will. I tried it; I liked it; and I was playing offensive line.

I want those sort of lineman.

#thingsiblamethemvsfor

The coaches poured gasoline on the fire by forcing the losing team (offense) to carry the winning team on their back during the final wind sprints.

I like this. I bet those guys will work their tails off to not be the losing team again.

Is this a new thing for this year?

#thingsiblamethemvsfor

It is the first time I have seen it, but I do know they did up-downs for mistakes last year. Also, Coach Searels had the offensive line do extra 50 yard sprints with a handful of bearcrawls mixed in following the sprints.

Viva El Guapo

"Bear crawls" did you say? Go find a defensive back from the 70's named Dale Babione and ask him about bear crawls. I can still hear DC/DB coach Buddy Bennett yelling, "Babione, bear crawl to the fence" (and back). The fence was only about 150 yards away. Watch who you curse in front of was the lesson.

'80 Grad, beer was cheaper then, so was gas.

Was this at VT?

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

Yes, in the middle of the Sharpe years.

'80 Grad, beer was cheaper then, so was gas.

Slightly before my time at Tech...but I remember Sharpe.

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

So has David Wang officially been overtaken for the 1st string spot? At first I was under the impression that someone else was getting the reps because Wang was injured, but now that he's playing with the 2s that doesn't seem the case. Or do you think Wang is likely to earn the spot back once (if) he makes up for lost time due to his injury?

Wang was clearly still hobbled, but they did not give Taraschke or Andrew Williams any work at center when the #1 defense was on the field. Both Wang and Farris had some errant snaps, but Wang snapping to Ford was a debacle. It looked like Ford was pulling out a bit early, which is understandable given the onslaught he was facing.

Viva El Guapo

Wang at center and "Ford was pulling out a bit early"

sometimes it's too easy...

I lost it there too. I think this was French typing:

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

3-3 Front?

Foster even threw some wrinkles in with them (including using a 3-3 front for passing downs, with the nickel back replacing Ekanem and Corey Marshall moving out as a stand-up defensive end).

"

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

a 3-3-5?

Isn't that what Rich Rod tried at WVU? If I remember correctly, that didn't go very well.

"Does it get any better than Thursday Night in Blacksburg?" - Reece Davis

Just because a defensive alignment didn't work elsewhere doesn't mean it won't work for Foster. He knows what he's doing, and it looked to be a very effective way to get lots of speed on the field, along with excellent pass-rushers.

Bud runs it on occasion on long passing downs. The alignment wasn't a huge surprise. The surprise was Marshall moving out to end with Ekanem coming out when Ekanem has been outstanding rushing the passer this spring.

Viva El Guapo

a lot of teams use the 3-3-5 TCU did and was pretty successful off of it. It all depends how you use your personnel, also rich rod used that as his base defense, we're using this as strictly a passing downs package it sounds like. im more than ok with this, you can disguise blitzes with it, it gives you another coverage guy, on obvious passing downs....why not?

Taylor, looking desperately throws it deep..HAS A MAN OPEN DANNY COALE WITH A CATCH ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE FIVE!!!!....hes still open

I thought that went without saying

"Does it get any better than Thursday Night in Blacksburg?" - Reece Davis

Very true, but it can't hurt to say it again, I suppose

#thingsiblamethemvsfor

It will always be a true statement. Even if we happen to go 0-12.

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

It is worth noting, the defense, especially the first team defense, tackled exceptionally well. It is hard to remember a missed tackle except a play where Marshall had Leal sacked and eased up expecting the whistle to blow (because Leal was in a VERY awkward position.) When it didn't, Leal took off and got a long run. In a game, that is a sack every time.

Even the twos tackled really well. Stanford got some YAC, and Marshawn Williams leapfrogged Shegog on his only nice run of the day. But, for the most part, the defense put guys on the ground.

Viva El Guapo

That's really encouraging...as a poorly informed fan (before joining TKP) I felt like our tackling was pretty poor for a few years there...I don't know if that's right or not, but it's nice to hear we're tackling again

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

Our defense is ELITE .....again. Thanks be to Foster. Our offense plays respectable ALREADY - against an ELITE defense.

Guys, I don't know what else to say....but....BOOYA !!!

Fortune Favors the Bold

Ekanem

"That move was slicker than a peeled onion in a bowl of snot." -Mike Burnop

Watching the GIF of the power play in the column... it occurs to me, Nigel Williams may be the best back up DT in the ACC. It tells you how well Corey Marshall is playing when you consider that Nigel Williams is backing up up, because Williams is really damn good.

Mihota also played really well.

Viva El Guapo

I was going to ask who was playing DT (for that play, DT is on the left, and what VT calls a NT is on the right, right?) on that play. And Woody Barron should be in the mix again soon. It's kind of amazing, really, how the perception of our front 7 has changed over the last month or so. Seems like everyone we needed to step is stepping up.

Not the bagman VT deserves, but the bagman VT needs right now.

And just think...Walker and Sobczak are arriving this summer.

Mihota is 250lb ish right now. How much weight do you think he needs to add to be really effective at DT against our schedule? thanks...

He can probably get up to 270 in the Fall by living in the weight room. He'll probably be about 290 for 2015.

If Mihota can play around 275 and keep his current quickness level, that would be his ideal weight. He was just as quick as the starters shooting the gap, but despite a ton of natural strength for a kid his age, he isn't as strong as the older guys. When he has to gap fit, he will need that extra strength.

Given his extra experience, I wouldn't necessarily be shocked if Mihota doesn't get a red shirt. If Woody isn't fully recovered and Walker/Sobczak/Bronson are not ready to contribute, having a kid with tremendous talent who has already been introduced to the scheme is a luxury. Plus, his quickness and size makes him a possible punt coverage/return guy. Hansen may factor in, but Mihota got the call first on Saturday.

Viva El Guapo

Yep. Of course, if Shegog isn't there, Nigel isn't a factor on the play

Viva El Guapo

Great analysis as always. I'm looking forward to watching the spring game this Saturday! Hope to see lots of Hokie fans there.

Touchdown Tech - Bill Roth

French, given that you now seen exactly 1 scrimmage for comparison which OL scheme is a better fit for VT, Grimes of Searels? and, which do you prefer?

was being sarcastic but how about this question. If you were the coach which scheme would you pick for our OL?

It really is a tough question to ask. I do think that (when McLaughlin is healthy) Searels current top group of McLaughlin-Teller-Farris-Conte-Gibson is the biggest, strongest, fastest lineup he can put on the field. Communication and feel is going to be an issue for both of the young guards because frankly, they are inexperienced. Any scheme requires communication, trust in your teammates, and comfort with reading the fronts and executing your assignment and that only comes with experience.

I was heavily focused on Teller in his match ups with Mihota, Hansen, and finally Marshall. In warm ups and team work, he had great pad level, feet, and he was aggressive. When the defense started blitzing and players started moving around, you could tell he was reading the play and trying to adjust on the fly. As you would expect, that causes you to play a little slower. On Saturday, even the experienced guys were playing a little slow, as the defense really amped things up.

Frankly, I am not that worried about our offensive line. Would I have liked them to play better on Saturday? Absolutely! But, remember this is a defense that gives every team problems. It gives teams problems because they play defense the way most teams play offense. The defenders are not just flowing to the football (which is easy for an OL to anticipate.) Rather, they are hitting their assigned gaps. This makes an offensive lineman's life miserable. The biggest advantage that an OL has is knowing where he has to go at the snap. The defender usually has to read the play. That split milli-second gives the OL the extra step needed to get into blocking position. Foster's scheme doesn't give the OL that advantage.

Viva El Guapo

the genius that is Bud Foster

I love it

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

Thanks for taking the question on the spot. But it leads to another question, which you've probably answered many times before: In your opinion, what is the best blocking scheme to play against Foster's D?

Are you coach Mike London in disguise? Trying to find a way to beat tech using French's knowledge?

haha, coincidentally I did post as Mike London on the ACC magazine poll comments while voting for Maddy.

But sadly, no, my job requires me to be competent at what I do and manage my time effectively to deliver punctually. I would happily take the millions for having no phucking clue what I'm doing though.

You mean you'd trade that Shanghai air for C-ville? You must be desperate to "happily" go there, for any amount of cash. ;-) (Answering your questioning from a day or two ago, I'm in Beijing.) I'm not sure I could ever work for UVa, except as Thomas Jefferson's protege.

'80 Grad, beer was cheaper then, so was gas.

Whoa, I never said I would work for LOLUVA. I just said I would happily accept millions for a job to do incompetently. Let's not get crazy... haha

What kind of work you doing in Beijing?

The biggest difference in this scrimmage was that the QBs were live. That meant the D didn't have to let up and could attack as much as possible. The QBs didn't have any safety net so felt real pressure for the first time this spring. Lineman/backs had to worry about missing blocks and having the QB get hit for a change. I think the O just wasn't ready for full speed with no limits while the D was let out of the their cages. I think it will look different in the spring game.

I hope you're right..but if you're not, and the spring game is defense heavy, I don't think it's cause for concern...yet

They still have all summer and fall camp before the season...and we all know that this defense could easily be elite

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

It always seemed dangerous to the defenders to have to pull up for Yellow Jersey'd QB's. Less of that, the better.

I was told in the past that Pete Carroll used to always practice live at USC. I'm not sure if he still does this in the league because the teams are much smaller numbers wise and players are much more valuable to lose to injury; but I remember hearing how much better prepared his teams were as a result.

Minority Report.

Andy Bitter confirmed that the QB's will be live in tonight's mini scrimmage and during the spring game on Saturday.

Viva El Guapo

Dope!! ...I think this will be good for our preparation. Another reason why having multiple options at QB is paramount.

Minority Report.

It's all fun and games until someone puts an eye out. Or gets a concussion.

It's Tuesday... When's Saturday?

What's Important Now?
The Lunchpail. The Hammer. BeamerBall.
Deal some damage boys

You making the trip down brotha?!

Minority Report.

a 3rd-and-short that opened a nice hole for J.C. Coleman to convert

I realize it's a scrimmage and Trey is out right now, but I really hope this isn't a regular occurrence this coming season.