Fuente's Year One Offense, Film Review: The Quarterback in Virginia Tech's Rushing Attack

The QB evens out the box and is an integral component to the Hokies' run game.

[Mark Umansky]

Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans led the Hokies in rushing yards (846), attempts (204), and scores (12) last season. It should be obvious after Justin Fuente's 14 initial games as Tech's head coach that the QB is not a bystander in his ground attack.

As a refresher, Fuente's offensive strategy is an inherently conservative one. He incorporates a wide variety of blocking schemes in his rushing attack to capitalize on the easy yardage defenses are willing to concede, and to make it difficult for defenses to scheme against the offense and create negative plays. Let's examine how Fuente gets the QB involved in the rushing attack, and how that furthers his conservative strategy.

The Zone Read

Fuente gains a numerical advantage against defenses by employing his quarterback as a ball carrier. The defense has to account for all 11 players on the field when the quarterback is a running threat, a concern defenders don't have against pro-style offenses. The Zone Read is an easy way to take a defender out of the play by having the quarterback read an unblocked player. Rich Rodriguez made his name by exploiting defenses that had aggressive back-side pursuits by developing the Zone Read. With this play, a back-side defender, who the quarterback reads, is left unblocked. If the defender pursues down the line of scrimmage towards the running back, the quarterback pulls the football and keeps, otherwise he gives to the running back.

Prior to the 2016 season, French did an excellent job analyzing how Fuente used the Zone Read while he was at Memphis. Surprisingly, while rewatching last season's games, I didn't see as much pure Zone Read as I expected. Instead, Fuente used a Split Zone approach to slow down back-side pursuit. Split Zone refers to a running play where the offensive line zone blocks in one direction while one player (an H-Back in Tech's offense) comes across the formation and tries to block back-side pursuit.

The H-Back's blocking assignment can change on a Split Zone Read depending on how the defense is defending the Zone Read. Conservative defensive coordinators try to keep two high safeties against the Zone Read by asking their back-side defensive end to slow play the mesh, commonly called a "feather" technique. The other defenders commit to the run straight away, hoping to make a tackle or force the running back to cut back. This gives an athletic defensive end the time to force a handoff and then chase the running back down. This is exactly what Notre Dame tries to do in the play above.

Both Irish linebackers stay home to protect their interior gap responsibilities. Tech's entire offensive line uses an inside zone blocking technique by protecting their play-side gap (gap to its right). Sam Rogers is aligned as the H-Back and cuts back against the grain to kick out defensive end Isaac Rochell (No. 90). Rochell tries to slow play ("feather") the mesh in order to force Evans to hand the ball off to running back Steven Peoples. Peoples would have nowhere to go. Instead, Rogers' kick out block ties up Rochell long enough for Evans to get on the perimeter and find the end zone.

The Split Zone Read is an effective counter for the "feather" technique because it puts the defensive end in no man's land.

If the DE stays at home and forces a hand off, the H-Back's kick out block prevents him from chasing down the line, and it gives the offense a numerical advantage. If the DE attacks the H-Back's block and tries to help tackle the running back, the QB can pull the ball and then the only defender in the vicinity is a safety ten-or-more yards down the field.

The other way defensive coordinators try and defeat the Zone Read is by utilizing a scrape exchange. A scrape exchange is when an unblocked defensive end immediately crashes down the line to tackle the running back. Simultaneously, another back-side defender (either linebacker or safety) "scrapes" over the top towards the back-side to tackle the QB. Ideally, for the defense, the quarterback quickly pulls the ball from his running back only to be meet with a hard charging linebacker in position to make a play. With a slight tweak to the H-Back's responsibilities, the Split Zone Read can be the perfect adjustment to defeat a scrape exchange.

The beginning of this Evans' touchdown run is almost identical to the aforementioned one. The Hokies' offensive line utilizes inside zone blocking while Rogers, again aligned as an H-Back, cuts against the grain and heads towards the back-side. This time however, the defensive end — Pat Bethel, No. 93 — ignores Evans and crashes hard down the line to tackle Marshawn Williams. Things go poorly for Miami when Rogers runs past Bethel and looks for a scraping defender to block on the perimeter. It is unclear if Miami's corner (No. 12) or safety (No. 6) is responsible for scraping and taking on Evans, but eventually the corner arrives to try and make a play. Rogers influences the corner long enough for Evans to fly past him en route to a house call.

The H-Back's involvement in the Split Zone Read provides a numerical advantage that defensive coordinators can't scheme away. Defenses have to get more defenders in the box if they want to prevent the offense from staying ahead of the chains. In order to press this advantage, and to get the most out of his mobile quarterbacks, Fuente relies on more than just the Zone Read and its variations.

Quarterback Power And The Option Game

It is no coincidence that the quarterbacks who do well in Fuente's system have a similar physical build. While the Zone Read and Split Zone Read attack the defense on the perimeter, Fuente likes to use powerful quarterbacks in the interior run game. These larger quarterbacks not only have the ability to move the pile and win in vital short yardage situations, but they also have the physical tools to withstand the consistent pounding a runner takes on the inside.

The clip above is an Inverted Veer. It's a play Fuente is largely credited with devising while offensive coordinator at TCU, and it is one of the hardest plays to stop in modern college football. It's almost impossible to defend without elite athletes on the defensive line because of the threats of outside and inside runs paired with a large number of blockers at the point of attack. The QB reads an unblocked play-side defender, usually a defensive end (unlike the Zone Read which is a back-side read). If the end defends against the jet sweep, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs inside. If the end gets upfield to take away the quarterback run, the quarterback hands the ball off to a speedy back or receiver who can get to the perimeter and try to turn up field.

Also notice how Fuente has moved right tackle Jonathan McLaughlin from the right side of the formation to the left to yield an unbalanced line. This moves Evans' read even further outside, which not only makes the read easier to diagnose, but it also gives him an extra blocker to run behind. The offensive line blocking is most often identical to a typical power play. The play-side down blocks while the back-side guard pulls around to lead into the hole. The overwhelming number of blockers at the point of attack combined with a powerful runner coming directly downhill is why the Inverted Veer is so hard to stop in short yardage situations.

Another solid addition to Fuente's rushing repertoire is the Speed Option because it attacks opponents who structure their defense based on the alignment of the running back. When running backs carry the ball out of shotgun, they usually receive the handoff by crossing the face of the quarterback. A lot of defenses will align themselves to take advantage of this tell. If, for example, a running back aligns to the quarterback's left, a defense may put an extra defender to the quarterback's right. When Fuente sees a defense doing this, he can catch a defense out of position by running a speed option away from the defensive strength.

On this Speed Option, Duke is overcommitted with multiple edge defenders to the right side of the offensive formation. And that's despite there being four eligible receivers aligned to the quarterback's left. A linebacker and a safety are on the outside shoulder of the defensive end aligned to the field. Fuente calls a speed option into the boundary. A speed option has outside zone blocking rules, with one play-side defender (in this case a defensive end) unblocked and read by the quarterback. The defensive end stays wide, Evans cuts up field and gets an easy five-yard carry on first down, which Duke is relieved to concede. This play was poised to gain more yards, and potentially a score touchdown, if the Hokies could have blocked it a little better. Cam Phillips does an excellent job of engaging the slot defender, while left tackle Yosh Nijman gets to the second level and forces the Mike out of the play. If Augie Conte can cut off the back-side defensive tackle (No. 99) and Eric Gallo correctly climbs to the free safety, then Evans is in the clear.

The triple option is a riskier play than the speed option, but one Fuente will use when he sees an opportunity. Having the quarterback read two defenders, instead of one, increases the likelihood of a poor decision and negative play. The triple option is a home run play though, one that has stood the test of time because of the stress it puts on defenses.

The triple option below is grafted onto the structure of the Split Zone Read. You can see the inside zone blocking of the offensive line as well as the H-Back/Rogers looping around the crashing defensive end (No. 33) in order to reach the scraping linebacker (No. 58). Note how the pre-snap movement changes the shape of the defense and gets Ford in position to receive a pitch.

Watch the free safety and corner switch responsibilities as Ford goes into motion. Instead of having the corner follow Ford, Miami has their safety crash down to protect the perimeter to the field while the boundary corner drops to protect against a deep pass. When Ford stops his motion at the snap and Tech runs the play back to the area Ford had vacated, neither the free safety nor the boundary corner has the time to get in position to attack. Evans reads the crashing defensive end (No. 33) and pulls the ball, while Rogers blocks the scraping linebacker (No. 58). When the corner (No. 29) takes Ford, the pitch man, Evans cuts up field and gains 20 yards before the free safety (No. 6) finally chases him down.

The Ideal Quarterback

Fuente makes it difficult for defenses to use a "bend don't break" strategy. His offense is built to exploit any tactical weakness of a conservative defense. He simply has too many schematic tools at his disposal for a defense to cover all of its bases. However, Fuente's true gift as an offensive coach isn't just a thick playbook, it's the sly way he can bring any of concepts to bear at any moment.

If Fuente is going to push for the national championship he claims Virginia Tech can compete for, he will need to to find the right quarterback for the job. Fuente will need a quarterback who has a diverse toolset because he will ask them to accomplish a wide variety of tasks. Fuente will need a quarterback who makes the right decisions and protects the football. He needs someone who has the arm talent to hit the open receiver running a curl route against a Cover-3, and the arm strength to hit a receiver breaking free of press coverage down the field. Fuente's quarterback will need to be sturdy enough to pick up tough yardage in third-down-and-goal-to-go situations, while having the moves to make a defender miss in space, and the speed to pull away from pursuit.

I have no doubt Fuente has the scheme to win the Hokies a national championship. The only question is if he can recruit the right quarterback to get Virginia Tech there.

Publisher's Note: This is the second part of a summer series. Other editions will be exclusively available to members of The Key Players Club. Click to join to help TKP continue to publish its first-rate content, stay online, and maintain top-flight server speeds. Thank you for your support and enjoy!


Great info Mason! My dream O&M day would be to listen to Bud and Fu go back and forth on how they would attack/defend each other, with you or French (or both) to interpret for me! It's been said before, but you can just tell in his body language how invigorated Bud is to have an equally clever and innovative staff on the other side of the ball.

My dream O&M day would be to listen to Bud and Fu go back and forth on how they would attack/defend each other, with you or French (or both) to interpret for me!

Thank you, that's my dream too!

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Run to Win. Pass To Score

Never have I seen this gif more perfectly used.

Yet another excellent in depth analysis, made my morning work coffee so much more enjoyable! Great write up Mason, keep em coming!


As much as I love to float around in the pool and drink beer, I am ready to stumble around parking lots and drink beer. Come on football season.

One of my favorite quotes of all time. I will repeat this many times.

Let's Go!


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Thanks for the in-depth analysis Mason! Fu and Corn have a specific type of QB they want, and you laid out the special talent we need to bring home the big trophy.

You laid out the special talent we need to bring home the big trophy.

After watching the Spring Game, Hendon Hooker could be that talented if he can pick up the offense and put on enough weight to take the same beating that Jerod Evans took last year.

So if Hooker is the perfect fit, do we see FuCorn just treading water this year until he's ready for primetime or do we see an effective adjustment to the skill set of Bush or Jackson? I mean, I expect FuCorn to adjust, but I'm wondering if we can be as potent with a different approach.

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More and more I've been talking myself into Hendon Hooker starting in the fall, or at least rotating in, but if I'm being honest it's more likely that Josh Jackson starts. If Jackson does start, then I would expect we'd see less inverted veer and more traditional zone read to get Jackson on the edge and try and protect him from injuries. I'd also think that we'd see a heavier focus on the short passing game and try to pick up more YAC this year, especially with the change in athlete we are seeing at wide receiver.

If Hooker starts we'd probably see more designed quarterback runs.

Great article. It's always fun to re-watch successful plays from last year, but it (almost) time to move on. The excitement level is high with the talent we have, I just hope we don't play a multi -QB rotation. That seem to fail more than not.

If the O-line is solid, all our QB options will shine!

I echo your thoughts Mason, Hooker with some added weight while keeping his explosive running ability could be the perfect fit for the offense. Jackson is a talent in his own right but don't know if he has the explosiveness for Fu and Corn to utilize him like they did with Evans. Will be interesting to see how it plays out but its pretty hard not to be giddy watching a combo of Hendon's HS and Spring Game tape.

I think JJ was the right guy for Loeffler's passing attack. In what little I've seen of him, he makes good reads, and has great touch on the ball. Not being able to get the ball into the open receiver's hands cost us a ton of points, and wins, during Logan's last year.

For his sake, I hope he wins the QB battle. Another great team player. But I know that whoever wins it, we won't be lamenting a lack of talent behind center forcing us into the "least worst" option.

I think the wildcard is Bush. Mason says perhaps we see Hooker getting limited snaps if JJ takes starting duties, but I can't help but think Bush might be the perfect short yardage guy.

Hooker will definitely add some weight in the summer through our conditioning program but not sure if it will be enough....I'm sure his focus is more on QB play. But let's see, waiting for August to roll around

Hokies, Local Soccer, AFC Ajax, Ravens

You forget that Andy Dolton lead a Fuente offense to undefeated glory at TCU. Fuente will play to whoever QB he chooses strengths.


I thought the same thing about Hooker after the Spring Game. Once he bulks up a bit, he would fit most of the qualifications for an ideal QB in Fuente's system.

Thanks so much for posting these analyses. They help me understand
the team better.

Great article. An old question though: How much of this schematically do you attribute to Fuente and how much of this do you attribute to Cornelson?

Well Chris Brown of Smart Football credits Fuente with "inventing" the inverted veer. Most of the other schemes have been around for a while.

As offensive coordinator, I'm sure Cornelson does the heavy lifting in terms of game planning, coaching, calling plays, etc. Justin Fuente is an offensive guy though and I'd imagine he spends the majority of his "football" time quality controlling the offense.

yes...yes...yes....We will Beat West Virginia

Hokies, Local Soccer, AFC Ajax, Ravens

Fuente will need a quarterback who makes the right decisions and protects the football. He needs someone who has the arm talent to hit the open receiver running a curl route against a Cover-3, and the arm strength to hit a receiver breaking free of press coverage down the field. Fuente's quarterback will need to be sturdy enough to pick up tough yardage in third-down-and-goal-to-go situations, while having the moves to make a defender miss in space, and the speed to pull away from pursuit.

Everyone is looking for a Cam Newton.

Michael Vick *Sigh*

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, 7-6, 7-6, 10-4, 9-4..........

OT: nice to see double digit wins in your signature again.

“I turned down 12 other opportunities. You know what I mean?” - Fuente

Great clips and analysis Mason. Two things stand out in these clips,

Yosh is a BEAST!!! This guy can move and when he gets to you, duck and cover.

This offense is really adept at moving defenders out of position. Moving the offensive line in one direction (1st U clip), or the hitch motion by Ford on the last clip. You get defenders taking two or three steps in the wrong direction and they are toast.

But the best deception was the great fake on the zone read by the tailback Peoples in the ND clip. It freezes at least three players and the poor free safety #23 is still moving the wrong way after the rest of the defense has figured it out. If you watch Peoples you can see him turn is shoulders to the far sideline (show them your numbers) this hides the ball carrier's (fake) ball hand. And then he does something really nifty, he raises his left fore arm into the defender and that really sells the fake. It's much easier to scamper 20+ yards when half the defense is looking the other way.

Thanks Mason, this really made my morning coffee break much more enjoyable!!!

Edit: Spelling

"Don't go to, go through"

You get defenders taking two or three steps in the wrong direction and they are toast.

The last Evans TD against Miami was the perfect example of this. That corner just took himself right out of Evans' path and if he had tried to stay inside, the initial motion already got himself in a position to be sealed by Rogers. Play was over and that corner was toast at the snap.

The thing I love about that play is Cam Phillips block on #4 (a safety?) on the Miami defense. That little cut block required #4 to start chasing Evans from a standstill and as a result Evans scored before he could get close enough to even attempt a tackle.

There were some great blocks by Hodges in some of these clips too. I hope Kumah, Farley and company bring that same passion for springing their teammates for big gains.

The Ideal Quarterback: Logan Thomas

You said "Quarterback" did you mean "Tight End?"

Outspoken team cake advocate. Hates terrapins. Resident Macho Man Gif Poster. Distant cousin to Dork Magic. Frequently misspells words.

I'm convinced Logan Thomas would have been a Heisman contender if he had played under Fuente.

I'm going to respectfully disagree. I love LT3, but...

Logan made a lot of bad reads, and kept the ball far too often when the give was the right choice. This wasn't something that improved over time, IMO.

He wasn't the type of QB Lefty needed. He's exactly the type of QB that Fuente wants.

That being said, He wouldn't have been a Heisman contender.

Loeffler at the time: "He's the hero Gotham Hokie Nation deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt completely misuse him. Because he can take it."

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Yes because having to learn two different schemes is really easy to pick up and only have two route options on passing then run like hell is great! I will point to the Miami game when everything clicked for him.

If he had a consistent chance to learn a system and been coached the right way there's no doubt he would have be a lot better.

"Welcome to the Terror Dome." -- Corey Moore

I'm always a littler perplexed that no one has as high an opinion on Logan Thomas as I do. To me, he is clearly a better quarterback than Jerod Evans (even though I loved Evans) but most people I talk to easily favor Evans or even Michael Brewer.

Logan Thomas's performance didn't improve over time because he had much less talent to work with over time and never had an offensive system to utilize his immense talents. Rewatching those games is like watching Vick get under center and run a pro-style offense. Just a waste.

Logan Thomas's junior and senior year had the least amount of offensive talent surrounding him as I've ever seen at Tech. Wasn't he the only offensive player to get drafted from those two years? His sophomore year he had much more talent and lead the Hokies to a Sugar Bowl victory. Then everyone left, Stinespring instituted a new game plan that ultimately cost him his job, and Thomas's production fell of a cliff. Imagine that. Then Loeffler shows up, has a game plan that consists of Bubble Screens and Five Read Passing Progressions and Thomas ok but not great. Imagine that.

Logan made a lot of bad reads

That's my point, Fuente's offense is designed to be as simple as possible for his quarterbacks to free up their athletic ability. Thomas would have ran all over defenses and the talent around him last season would have been more than he had during his junior and senior years combined.

Been defending LT for years

You're not alone, I believe LT would have been better than Evans last year in Fuente's system, while simultaneously believing Evans would have been worse than LT during 2011-2013 if he had to play during his time in that system, with that talent.

That said, I understand where people are coming from, we've had so many seasons of below average production from our QB's it was tantalizing looking at Evans numbers on the stat sheet for a lot of people. I think they are dead wrong, just like when people also suggested Evans was better than Tyrod, but I understand where they are coming from. The inflated stats of spread QB's can be deceiving.

Sugar Bowl victory

I see what you did there. And I like it.

VT '13, Georgia Native in Alexandria, VA

Round 6 Detroit Lions Corey Fuller WR Virginia Tech
Round 6 Denver Broncos Vinston Painter OT Virginia Tech

2014 NFL Draft
Round 4 Arizona Cardinals Logan Thomas QB Virginia Tech

2015 NFL Draft
Round 7 Dallas Cowboys Laurence Gibson OT Virginia Tech

but most people I talk to easily favor Evans or even Michael Brewer

unrelated to the conversation, but I was at the cabin this weekend and the old DVR had some good games on it. Saturday night we were drinking growlers of BP Sculpin IPA and watching Brewer kick anOSU butt at the horseshoe. Brewer was a tough cookie.

I was also reminded that that was sort of Sam Rogers breakout game, he had multiple big plays and scored his first touchdown.


I never met a project that couldn't justify a new tool.

Sam effing Rogers MAN!!!! He should be our recruiting pitch to all potential preferred walk-ons. Come here, earn your spot, earn your scholarship, and play your way into an NFL contract.

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LT3 would have been a beast in this offense. A one read and take off offense is exactly what he needed. Looks not there run over 7 guys on the way to a TD.


LT3 was also a woefully inaccurate passer with very inconsistent mechanics. I think a lot of that could have been corrected with good QB coaching, but I don't know how much of the bad reads habit could have been corrected. A great deal of that comes down to a QB just having that natural instinct. He was an absolute physical specimen and a perfect fit for Fu's offense in that regard, but could Fuente have helped him along in the mental aspects of the game? That we will never know.

Woefully inaccurate

We're just going to have to agree to disagree here. I think Thomas show time and again if given time he was more than capable of having an open receiver. Check out his Miami game his sophomore year I believe.

Comes down to natural instinct

Again, agree to disagree. I think most people underestimate the importance of a simple passing structure, coherent coaching, and A strong ground game when talking about a quarterbacks ability to make a reads.

Just my opinion.

"Welcome to the Terror Dome." -- Corey Moore

All fair points. I have no doubt he would have faired MUCH better in Fu's system, but I'm just not as certain on what his ceiling could have truly been. He wasn't an explosive runner, so I don't know if he would have been effective on true zone reads trying to get to the edge. But he would have been a bulldozer in this offense running the interior.

Logan is one of my favorites because, considering the absurd lack of talent around him those last two seasons, the heart he showed and sheer physical ability to lead us to tough, gritty wins helped salvage what could have been abysmal years without him. It really is a lot of fun to imagine him running this new offense, though.

the heart he showed and sheer physical ability to lead us to tough, gritty wins helped salvage what could have been abysmal years without him

No doubt. Regardless of what his ceiling could have been in a different system, he showed up to play every Saturday and gave it his all.

I think all of our best QB's this century would have done better in Fu's system. MV7, MV5, LT3, TT, Brewer, and even most if not all of our others. The floor would have been higher for the worst of them, and the ceiling higher for the best.

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

Logged out to see if this was TKPC content. Noticed that there were TKPC ads that disappeared when I logged back in. It's little things like that I really appreciate about this site. Fantastic job, Joe.

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Other than sponsored content that pays TKP directly (e.g. First Down), I disable all ads for TKPC members.

I was starting to worry that those mature Asian women had lost interest in me!

What? With your hair...and a Doctor to boot? Not to worry.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Great read- thanks for your time and insight!

Jesus why couldn't Evans just stay!!! What he could have done this year with this scheme. Now I'm really sad, he leaves early, his decision support it, but now he isn't on an NFL roster and he could have been the one under CornFu.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

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-squints really hard- No, none of those are sentences.

Typing on my phone gets this attitude about grammar or spelling.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

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Haha. Don't get me wrong, I HATE "that guy" that uses incorrect punctuation or spelling in the middle of a debate to undermine a point thats being made. Or the guy that corrects punctuation/spelling/grammar in texts or online. I just thought it was funny how hard my brain was working trying to change your sentences. It actually made me lol and I had to share the joy your statement brought me with you and the lovely community here.

So are my eyes deceiving me or in one of those clips does Bucky have his hand in the dirt playing tight on the line? Is that the only play he did that this past season.

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How we feel reading Mason's and French's breakdowns:

Let's Go


You have a man crush on Leonardo?

After reading Mason and French reviews, I always feel like I better understand the game plan.

Over- qualified for the PAC12.

Sometimes we live no particular way but our own

One cannot accurately determine this until one sees the eyeglasses prescription for the glasses he chose not to wear.

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

I love the content but question all the credit for making the calls based on what he sees in game going to Fuente. It's his offense no doubt, but Corn is the one pulling the all these strings in-game. That Miami game was a clinic.

You are absolutely, 100% correct. I need to put more thought into how I can more accurately apply credit to the offense's accomplishments. My initial reaction is to give Fuente credit for everything the same way I'd give credit to Paul Johnson for what his offense does, even if he has an offensive coordinator on staff. Tech's current offense looks and feels similar to Fuente's TCU and Memphis systems (though there are some changes, mostly in tendencies).

That being said, Brad Cornelson has to be responsible for a lot of the game planning for the opposing defenses as well as the in-game adjustements. Simply put, he deserves a lot more credit than I've given him.

Not sure if Evans is a perfect fit for Fuente's offense...

or just have Coaches perfect at adjusting the offense to the QB's strengths...

This season's QB play might help answer that question.

Well, not much to say here except...


Rich Rod sounds pretty innovative. I'm surprised no one has suggested hiring him whenever Coach Fuente moves on.

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Wet stuff on the red stuff.

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