Back to Basics: Solid Execution in the Running Game

In Chris Brown's The Essential Smart Football a chapter is devoted to the guru of the zone blocking scheme, former Broncos and Falcons offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. Beyond the fundamentals of running the inside zone and the zone stretch, Gibbs stressed that the offensive line and the running backs were symbiotic. If the running back did not read the correct cutback, it'd look like the offensive line missed a block. If the offensive line missed an assignment, the running back gets stuffed. Accordingly, in Denver, Gibbs coached the team on the play, not just the offensive lineman. Everyone knew what everyone else was doing. Cohesion and timing are required for the zone scheme to be successful.

Weekly Rewind: Week 2

Welcome to the weekly rewind. In this absurdly long weekly column, I cover the most important things that happened each weekend, from awesome performances to the absurdities that occur in the world of college football.

THE FAB FIVE

(My five favorite storylines from last week)

Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon go HAM against Notre Dame:These two Wolverines will haunt the Irish's dreams more than a British Nick Saban. Four touchdowns for Gardner, eight catches, 184 yards and three scores for Gallon...the two had a great night. Not only that, but Gardner pulled off the uniform of the year, eviscerating Notre Dame while wearing number 98. I loved the move.

"Foe"Rensics: East Carolina

Hello. Welcome to the third installment of "Foe"Rensics. It seems there was a decided preference for incorporating some actual real facts into this, so I'm going to stick with it and see how it goes. As always, there may be places where I've stretched the truth a bit. This week, we're traveling to the pirate infested waters of Greenville1, NC, home of East Carolina.

Where the Passing Attack Is At

Frank Beamer is fond of reminding reporters after his team's first game that the most improvement in a season happens between the first and second games. It's a coaching adage that is common because it is usually pretty true. The first week a coach prepares his game plan based on who he thinks his team is. It's not unusual for a squad to perform like something entirely unimagined. In that case, the changes made from week one to week two will increase productivity as scheme, practice focus, and game plan better match personnel and their pros and cons.

The Alabama game taught the Hokies coaching staff a lot about the current squad. Bud Foster and the defensive coaches saw their defense hold up very well versus one of the best pro-formation offenses in the country. The d-line looked stout against the run and the slanting scheme worked well to take away a powerful zone-rushing offense. Coach Torrian Gray's youngest pupils (Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson, and Donovan Riley) all looked more than capable in pass coverage, and his eldest statesman (Kyle Fuller) appeared to have taken the next step in single man coverage against one of the nation's premiere wide receivers. The defense looked to be pretty special after the first game, and simply needed to see that success continue against the spread-style offense that Western Carolina brought to town.

Bud Foster Gives Me Nightmares

One of the fascinating things about watching college football in real time is the number of misconceptions that turn into conclusions. With the benefit of hindsight from the film review every Sunday, I gain a certain degree of insight about how the Hokie offense and defense performed that I otherwise would not have.

Most fascinating, perhaps, is analyzing Bud Foster's defensive concepts each week. While the basic tenants remain the same, he seems to constantly adjust alignments and concepts to fit the ability of his personnel, especially in the secondary. I expected his game plan to be very vanilla against Western Carolina, which would serve as an opportunity to evaluate personnel and give young players an opportunity to face spread concepts in a live game setting. Foster delivered a vanilla game plan from the standpoint of blitzes, however, his plan to stop the spread incorporated using nickel personnel in 7- and 8-man fronts via the base 4-4 and the 46 alignments. From these alignments, two facts presented themselves. First, Bud Foster has an incredible amount of trust in Kyle Fuller. Fuller played on the boundary in single coverage without any deep safety help on his half of the field for long stretches during the game. Second, and perhaps most importantly, every offensive coordinator has film of four of the top five Hokie defensive backs (Kyle, Kendall, Jarrett, and Bonner) lined up as a nickel slot defender, a cover corner, a deep safety, and as a blitzing outside linebacker.

Gut Reactions: Western Carolina

That was an early afternoon filled with empty calories, beer, bourbon, and blowouts. I walked out of the Georgia Dome last week disappointed, but not upset. "What if we..." The Hokies played the Tide tough, effort wasn't a question, but they were far from polished.

The Hokies showed progress against Western Carolina. The only major snafu on special teams was the normally sure handed Kyshoen Jarrett mishandling a punt (one in which he didn't get bailed out by the officials). Credit Frank Beamer for tightening up Pride and Joy by playing starters like James Gayle, Kyle Fuller, Brandon Facyson, and Dadi Nicolas.

The passing game looked sharper than last week. Yes, there were drops and bad decisions, but eventually Thomas settled into a groove, Josh Stanford and Willie Byrn each made a nice catch, and freshman Kalvin Cline distinguished himself as something other than a fashion icon. Thomas and Knowles tried to connect on the deep ball a couple of times, which given their skill sets is something they should combine to do very well, but didn't hit on. Perhaps it will happen when they really need the points.

"Foe"Rensics: Western Carolina

Editor's Note: Bumped to the front because I couldn't stop laughing. --Joe

Hello. Welcome to the second installment of "Foe"Rensics. Acceding to the demands of my legions of fans (and to the fact that last week we played one of the most famous teams in college football that we've spent the last eight months talking about and this week we're playing a college no one has ever heard of that used to be a high school) I've decided to deepen my research past Wikipedia (and my imagination) in an attempt to include "facts". Please note, there may be places where I've stretched the truth a bit. This week, our journey of discovery takes us to Cullowhee, home of Western Carolina University.

Offensive Potential and Foster's Genius

Alabama's won the last two national championships and are favorites to win again this year. Alabama has a Heisman candidate at quarterback, an NFL-ready running back, and a rock solid defense. Hokie fans knew that the competition on August 31st was going to be stiff, but what we didn't know was how capable our players would look on national television. Coach Frank Beamer and his staff learned a lot about what this football team is about Saturday night, and so did we.

Offensive Lessons

The offensive line is already improving on last season's debacle. As French wrote on Monday, Jeff Grimes' unit more than held their own against a front-7 that will likely be in the discussion as "best in the nation" by the end of the season. The push off the ball the o-line was able to get while run blocking exceeded my expectations. Pass protection wasn't as good, but it showed promise and is normally the part of offensive line play that needs the most work during the beginning of the season anyway. As the season progresses, expect our offensive line to continue to improve and gel together. It appears that the hire of Jeff Grimes is starting to pay dividends already. I'm excited to see what he will accomplish once the kids that he recruits are brought into the program.

Bud Foster's Umbrella Closes on the Tide

Bud Foster's defense held Alabama's offense, an explosive unit (38.71 PPG LY, 12th) with potential post-season award winners at tailback, left tackle, and wide receiver, to 206 total yards of offense, two touchdowns, and didn't allow a 100-yard rusher. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Hokies spent most of the game in the Alabama backfield, finishing with 12.0 tackles for a loss and 4.0 sacks. Tech's defense gave the Hokies every opportunity to win the football game. How did they completely shut down such a talented group?

Throughout the spring and summer, I highlighted the transition from Bud Foster using a base 4-2-5 concept with a Whip linebacker playing to the wide side of the field to a base 4-4 defense with the rover and whip playing on the line of scrimmage, creating an eight man front. Foster complimented the 4-4 with the use of a 46 front (an inside linebacker lined up on the outside edge to the strength of the passing formation with the rover lined up as an inside linebacker and the whip to the weak side), and a nickel concept where the rover drops as a traditional strong safety and a third corner covering the slot.

Pound the Rock, Progress in the Running Game

As I wrote throughout the summer, Alabama presented an opportunity for Virginia Tech to demonstrate a commitment to improved offensive line play and an effective running game. How the Hokies would fare rushing against a traditionally stout Alabama defense was a great mystery all year. The first team offense struggled to run the football during the spring game, and they didn't run it during open public scrimmages in fall camp. However, the mandate from Coach Frank Beamer this offseason was clear: the Hokies must run the football.

Fast forward to 9:30PM on Saturday night. Trey Edmunds became the first Hokie running back to break the 100-yard mark (132) in his debut since Shyrone Stith (119), and despite laments by the Crimson Tide about their performance, Alabama is much better than the 1996 Akron Zips. Tech's o-line demonstrated solid assignment football throughout the game. The unit had significantly improved fundamental footwork, contact/aiming points, and they remained engaged on blocks. The rushing yardage beyond the Edmunds touchdown run wasn't Earth shattering, but Virginia Tech consistently found themselves in much more manageable 3rd-and-4 type situations versus the 3rd-and-11s that plagued the team last year.

Game Preview: Alabama

By French, Mason, and Joe

Virginia Tech Hokies (0-0) against Alabama Crimson Tide (0-0)

Time: 5:30 PM
Date: Saturday, August 31, 2013
Place: Atlanta Georgia
Stadium: Georgia Dome (71,228)
TV: ESPN
Radio: Virginia Tech IMG
Spread: Alabama -20
Weather: Dome

The Skinny

On Saturday the Hokies will try for their second win ever against Alabama. Tech's currently 1-11 against the Tide. Beamer Co. is also looking to knock off a top-ranked team for the first time. Virginia Tech is 0-7 all-time against teams ranked number one in the AP Poll.

Keep an Eye On...

T.J. Yeldon: While Eddie Lacy got a great deal of attention last season, T.J. Yeldon quietly became the first Alabama true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Also, he ran for 12 touchdowns and over 6 yards per carry. Yeldon has elite cutback ability, tremendous power, the ability to catch the football in space, and he can make elite players miss in the open field.

Virginia Tech All-Access

Thanks to Bill anyone who missed the behind the scenes look at the Hokies can rewatch it.

I enjoyed every minute of the program, even though I didn't learn anything about scheme or personnel.

A few thoughts:

Offensive Success Against Alabama

I was disappointed with the offensive showing in the second preseason scrimmage. Tech is opening its season against two-time defending national champion, and preseason number one, Alabama. I desperately want Tech to win that game, I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I know exactly how good the offense will have to be to accomplish that tall task. I'm not as concerned with how the defense will hold up. Foster is the best in the business, and Bama has a rebuilt offensive line. I'm confident the defense will hold it's own, and I trust Foster will find a way to gameplan around the loss of Whip Ronny Vandyke. However, I was quite concerned with what the offense would be able to contribute to the cause, but after I watched this post-scrimmage interview with Shane Beamer, I slept a lot better.

00:04:00–00:04:24 H/T mike4vt

It was never about beating Alabama

#BEATBAMA was never about beating Alabama.

It was about sacking up. It was about running head first through a loss. It was knowing you're too short, but laying out anyways. It was about getting fired up and not backing down. It was about not wanting to hear one more damn word about how much Alabama was going to win by. It was about believing in these new coaches, the players, owning this offseason, and not rolling into a ball. It was about pride and scoffing at Vegas' line. It was about making the dumb choice, hope and faith over logic, that you'd repeat over and over.

A retweet from Spencer Hall, one of my favorite writers:

Am I fool for believing in my team? Am I a fool for loving my school? Am I am fool for just betting every piece of my soul I have on the underdog?

Yes.

Second Public Scrimmage: Mason's Take

The Virginia Tech football staff has 12 days, just 12 days to get their team ready to beat the top football program in the country. Keep in mind, most of Virginia Tech's players were part of a team which had to scratch and claw its way to a 7-6 season in 2012. A team which finished fourth in its division of the ACC, a conference many consider to be just the fifth best in the nation.

The football team last year was not good. The moves that Frank Beamer, a man who publicly admits to hating change, proves that last season was a disappointment. There were a lot of reasons why the Hokies struggled last year (down year in talent, poor offensive scheme, lack of senior leadership), and there's been a lot of talk this offseason about how those issues have been addressed. Loeffler and Grimes have been hired to fix Beamer's annual offensive woes, Edmunds is supposed to be the next-big-thing at tailback, and Logan Thomas claims to be much more involved with maintaining the high standards necessary to win championships. Hokie fans hope that the offense will improve enough to allow their team to beat Alabama's juggernaut. Well, the scrimmage on saturday showed me that the offense has a long way to go in 12 days to be good enough to #BEATBAMA.

Second Public Scrimmage: O-Line, Secondary, and D-Line

Today in Blacksburg, a crisp, fall-like afternoon greeted HokieNation for Virginia Tech's final public scrimmage before their game against Alabama. Questions about the Hokies' depth in the wake of an unfortunate string of injuries, effectiveness of a new offensive system, and play making ability of inexperienced skill position players loom over camp. Meanwhile, Bud Foster's defense is poised for a return to dominance built around a devastating front-seven, while a group of young, but supremely talented, cornerbacks start to establish themselves in the secondary.

What's Going On?

I haven't felt this out of the loop since I lived in Connecticut. For the last few days I've been unplugged. My office has temporarily relocated from my guest bedroom featuring a memory foam cushion office chair and MacBook Pro, to my new domicile which has tobacco stained walls, dust, and weathered windows. On an afternoon paint break I saw this text from French, "TELLER IS MOVING TO TACKLE," and initially thought he was just effing with me. Later on, I had indigestion when I saw this tweet while inhaling my day's timeline for dinner.

Football season is getting interesting, and while I love to watch the story unfold, I hate that it is due to injury. I remember watching Tony Gregory's catch-and-run scamper at the 2010 Spring Game and thinking to myself, "This kid's got good hands and a burst, he'll be a player." Unfortunately, ACL injuries got the better of a promising career. I hate when that happens to any kid, on any team.

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