With a primetime ACC Championship Game rematch against Clemson, and possible GameDay appearance looming on the horizon, Old Dominion had the making of a trap game. While ODU was able to keep the score close in the first half, Virginia Tech's talent was too great to prevent the inevitable 38-0 beating. The Hokies were in control of the game from the start, largely due to Bud Foster's relentless defensive pressure. Foster's unit dominated, holding ODU to just 149 yards on its way to securing a second consecutive shutout at Lane Stadium. Brad Cornelsen's offense didn't have the same gaudy success it did last week against East Carolina, but Josh Jackson did lead a balanced Hokies attack to 582 yards.
Bringing The Heat
The Monarchs started seventeen-year-old Steven Williams Jr. at quarterback, and in an effort to rattle him, Foster blitzed the young quarterback early and often.
"Yeah, we did bring a lot of pressure, a lot of edge pressure, and a lot of pressure up the pipe as well, and it altered his throws and made him throw while moving," said Foster after the game. "As we watched a little film, if he could step up in the pocket, he had accuracy and the time to do things. If you started making him move, his accuracy was not quite as good."
Williams never looked or played scared, and I think he'll be a productive player for Old Dominion moving forward. Williams made some good throws and was quick enough to break contain a few times, but ultimately ODU was completely overmatched on offense. Foster asked his secondary to play tight, aggressive man coverage all game long and they did. ODU's receivers were unable to break free from the suffocating coverage and Williams never had a chance to make Foster pay for his ruthless game plan.
Part of the success Tech's defense enjoyed in pass coverage was due to a personnel change I noticed on passing downs. Reggie Floyd, who has played exceptionally against the run so far this season, lined up at Rover on regular downs while Terrell Edmunds played his normal free safety position. When ODU got behind schedule and faced passing downs (second-and-long, third-and-long, etc...), Foster would bring on Divine Deablo. Deablo played against ECU and helped stop their early passing success, played free safety while Terrell slid into Rover. This micromanagement of personnel keeps the best run defenders in when Foster anticipates run and the best pass defenders in when Foster anticipates pass. After Deablo's injury on his interception, Mook Reynolds took over the free safety position with Deon Newsome in at Nickel-Whip. If Deablo can't play next week against Clemson, it will be interesting to see if Foster continues to try and maximize his defense's potential by using a similar rotation, or if he'll ask Floyd to take on more pass coverage responsibilities.
It was obvious early that Foster wasn't going to take the same conservative approach that he employed against West Virginia to start the season. Seemingly every time Old Dominion tried to spread the field, Foster brought pressure.
On this third-and-three, Foster matches ODU's five-wide set with tight man coverage across the board. Tech's linebackers are walked up to the line of scrimmage, signaling Foster's intention to blitz. Foster wants to overwhelm the offensive line by bringing one more defender than they can block to guarantee the Hokies get to the young quarterback quickly. Motuapuaka comes from the right side, goes unblocked, and enjoys a free run at Williams. Williams manages to get rid of the football quickly, but Motuapuaka's pressure forces him to change his throwing motion. The end result of Foster's called pressure is an inaccurate throw and subsequent punt. Foster would utilize this blitz throughout the game and ODU never found a solution to the DB vs. WR mismatch Tech enjoyed.
Virginia Tech was somehow more dominant against the run than the pass, limiting ODU to just 2.7 yards per carry. The Hokies' defensive line played on ODU's side of the line of scrimmage all game long, even after Trevon Hill left the game with an injury. Defensive tackles Tim Settle and Ricky Walker clogged up everything on the interior while the defensive ends did a good job of funnelling any perimeter runs towards the free hitter.
The play above is a great example of how Foster uses his defensive line to get the best out of Tremaine Edmunds and his rare athletic abilities. Tech's corners are in press coverage on the perimeter and Terrell Edmunds, playing Rover on this passing down, is covering the slot receiver to the boundary. When the slot receiver motions, Terrell rotates back to the middle of the field while Deablo comes down towards the line of scrimmage to help against a potential jet sweep to the field-side. ODU runs an outside zone away from the motion and the defensive line does a great job of spilling the play to Tremaine Edmunds. Walker and Settle both hold firm on the interior while Vinny Mihota attacks the inside shoulder of the play-side tackle. ODU running back Jeremy Cox (No. 35) is reading Mihota's block, so when Mihota goes to the inside of the tackle, Cox must bounce outside. At this point, ODU is hoping that Edmunds has followed the fake sweep, been blocked by the center, or that Settle has been pushed up field far enough to block Edmunds' path to the ball carrier. Unfortunately for the Monarchs, Foster coaches the linebackers himself and Edmunds stays disciplined and ignores the motion. Edmunds is also too quick for the center to reach him and Settle is too powerful to get pushed backwards into his path. The defensive line built a wall and forced the back around the edge where Edmunds was waiting for him.
Offensive Production, Not Perfection
Despite the Hokies' 38 points and 582 yards, Brad Cornelsen's unit didn't look particularly explosive. The offensive line kept Josh Jackson relatively free from pressure and held the upper hand in the run game, but I would have liked to see more consistent yardage when Jackson handed the ball off on RPOs. Cam Phillips looked as electric as ever with the ball in his hands, although he didn't have the downfield success this week like he had against ECU. The Monarchs were able to keep Tech's receivers in front of them for most of the game, generally only giving up long plays through the air when Phillips got the ball in space and made defenders miss.
This incompletion is a simple play-action pass designed to get Eric Kumah open off of a double move.
Corner Joe Joe Headen (No. 24) was anticipating a short throw off of the sweep motion, and Kumah's hesitation combined with Jackon's pump fake left him flat footed. Kumah accelerated past him and was wide open as Jackson releases the ball. Jackson under throws the ball slightly and Kumah mistimes his jump, squandering the opportunity to hit a big play down the field. Jackson is a young quarterback who needs the playmakers around him to bail him out at times. Kumah is a promising player who has the ability to get open down the field, but if the Hokies are going to get to the top of the mountain, they need young receivers like Kumah to start going up and making these types of plays.
This is another example of a missed downfield opportunity.
Phillips gets separation via a double move off a fake sweep play-action pass. From the press box, I heard the crowd roar in anticipation before Jackson even released the football. That's how open he was. Unfortunately, Jackson sees Phillips late and the ball arrives a step late. The ball should also have been thrown to a better spot, further to the outside and the corner of the end zone. An earlier throw or a better throw would have resulted in six points.
Jackson may have struggled pushing the ball down the field, but he was once again smart with the football. He did finally throw his first interception, but he also had three touchdowns and was just two yards shy of 300. Jackson didn't put up Heisman numbers — 20 of 30 (66.6%), 298 yards passing, 3 TDs, 1 INT – but he did what was required to win the football game. However, more precise play from Tech's young quarterback is necessary to beat Clemson.
My Favorite Play
There might have been more tactically interesting designs, but this play highlights what Tech will have to do well for the remainder of the season in order to compete for an ACC title. On this third-and-11, ODU sits back in a soft shell, daring Tech to try and complete a pass down the field. After the Hokies lined up and Cornelsen got a chance to look at ODU's alignment, he sent this screen play in to Jackson. The Hokies fake a run. Afterwich, Jackson stares at the left side of the field and draws attention away from the developing screen back right. By the time Jackson works his way back to Phillips, Dalton Keene and Kyle Chung are in position and ready to pave the way. Jackson puts the ball in front of Cam which allows him to catch the ball with his momentum heading up the field. Keene easily seals nickel Denzel Williams (No. 25), the first DB to the outside, while Chung hustles to catch just enough of FS Christian Byrum (No. 3). By the time Phillips has to make a move, he's already past the first down marker.
It's this type of stellar execution against conservative defensive calls that the Hokies are going to need down the stretch. This Hokies' offense doesn't yet have a receiver who has shown he'll get vertical and challenge an ACC caliber corner or safety for a ball in the air. Gone are the days where Tech can lob a ball up to Ford or Hodges and expect a completion or interference call to pick up a cheap first down. It's going to be harder than that this year. In order for Virginia Tech to get explosive plays, they'll need Cornelsen to make the right play call at the right time and then they'll need everyone to execute their assignments perfectly. I'm not saying the Hokies are devoid of offensive weapons, just that those weapons require precision to bring to bear. If Fuente and Cornelsen can get their offense to execute on every play as they executed the above screen, there isn't a team in the country the Hokies can't beat.