French on the Bench

Cincinnati Offensive Film Review: Close Only Counts

I stated my emotional reaction to the Cincinnati game in Joe's epic "All I Have To Say" column on Saturday night. The offensive identity issue has presented itself as a long term issue, and, barring a complete cultural change in the program, it is an issue that will continue to self-correct in sputters and gaps. While I may not be a fan of the spread/pistol system, I want to be 100% clear that I think any offensive system can succeed with outstanding execution, 100% player buy-in, and a play caller who understands how to use the system. And, regardless of the system, be it from the shotgun or lining up in the straight T, any offense is better when the offensive line kicks ass.

I tried to go into the film review with an open mind. Watching the film, I came up with the following conclusions. Some may surprise you, others may not.

Defensive Aggression: Bowling Green Film Review II

While watching the film, the first thing that jumped out at me was the play of the Hokie front four. Rather than slanting and stunting heavily, as discussed in the French on the Bench Defense 101 series, the d-line played a more traditional style of getting upfield and attempting to make plays. Perhaps it was a function of the Bowling Green scheme, or Bud Foster realized that teams were using his slant tendencies against the defense (as discussed last week in my Pitt film review). I thought James Gayle and Tyrel Wilson played magnificent games, but both Luther Maddy and Derrick Hopkins didn't create much disruption in the middle, and J.R. Collins sometimes became over aggressive and lost contain on cut back runs.

A great example comes on the second Bowling Green offensive play.

1:06–1:13

The Pistol and Live Ammo: Bowling Green Film Review

That sound you heard coming from Blacksburg Saturday was a collective sigh of relief as the Hokies notched a 37-0 shutout and finally exhibited some explosiveness in the running game. There were many positives to point out, including dynamic rushing by the much-maligned running back corps and a bounce-back performance by the secondary, especially veteran Antone Exum. At the same time, my film review will raise many of the concerns we have seen throughout this young season, which leaves doubt in my mind about how the Hokies address these problems when they reach the meat of the ACC schedule.

I will start with the offensive identity and Logan Thomas, and I won't sugar coat it. The entire week, we heard the offense was focused on getting the running game on track. The easiest way to get it going would be to turn the dogs loose on the offensive line by playing up to their size, strength and athleticism. Instead, we saw more of the same early in the game, slow developing runs focused on counter action and trickery rather than physical dominance.

Pitt Film Review: Unravelling What Went Wrong

If you're not getting better, then you are getting worse.

The Hokies were not able to use the Austin Peay game to build depth and rest some beat up players, and I think that three football games in 13 days really caught up to the Tech, especially the rough nature of the Georgia Tech game.

At the same time, this was a beat down of the worst kind. Clemson, Stanford, LSU, and Alabama had terrific football teams. I can't recall feeling this frustrated over a loss since Boston College on Thursday night a few years ago. Every concern raised here over the past two weeks was exposed in a drastic fashion. We knew the offense was not explosive. In order to be successful their execution had to be outstanding to sustain long drives. Yet on every critical play, one mistake—either blocking, reading a block, flub on a route, or horrid decision making/mechanics by the quarterback—derailed the play. Defensively, we knew that the secondary was one bruised shoulder away from being a disaster, and we saw that scenario play out in macabre fashion.

AP Film Review: Hokies win Scrimmage

Well, I am sure there are some frustrated Hokies out there who are stopping by looking for answers as to why Virginia Tech looked so pedestrian against a bad, but game, Austin Peay team on Saturday. I think before we dive deep into analysis of the performance, we must understand what this game meant to the Hokie coaching staff.

A long review of the film told me that the coaching staff treated this game like a scrimmage. The Hokies ran a very vanilla offensive set with limited offensive line movement, counter-motion, and almost no read option plays. The defense played long stretches of man to man coverage, with very basic slants and linebacker fills up front. If I were a betting man, the staff goals were:

GT Film Review: Hokies Unveil their New Offense

Editor's Note: We're going to try to bring you the very best reviews of the games this season found anywhere online. The embedded YouTube video is the complete game, condensed with all commercials removed courtesy of Dozer. It has been coded to start and stop at the times being referenced. If that doesn't work, the time referenced in the play is listed below. --Joe

Welcome to our first film review of the 2012 season. The Hokies came into their opener against Georgia Tech preaching a new attitude on offense after prominently featuring the no huddle, spread, and pistol in preseason scrimmages. Georgia Tech, with Al Groh's 3-4 defense missing several key cogs and lacking depth, seemed like the perfect opponent for a breakout offensive performance after years of struggling in nationally televised openers. By the third quarter, it seemed as if those lofty aspirations had gone up in smoke as the Hokie offense repeatedly stalled against the Yellow Jacket defense.

Stopping the Triple Option

It almost seems surreal that, given Virginia Tech's long standing rivalries with Miami and UVA, that over the last 5 years the ACC game which has caused many Hokies the greatest worry has been the Ramblin Wreck of Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson has successfully been able to implement a true flexbone offense in a BCS Conference, and despite a clear drop in his offensive recruiting talent, Johnson has been able to adapt his lesser athletes into a system that works.

A moment of full disclosure, I am a football purist. I believe in the fundamentals, and the premise that repetition and technique can make up for a lack of athleticism. This matchup features a Virginia Tech defense that uses a slanting, gap control model which compensates for lesser athletic ability against a Georgia Tech offense which harkens back to the days of Darryl Royal, where the offensive line veer blocks, coming off low and fast the way many of us were taught in high school.

Counter Option from the Pistol

While the veer option is the bread and butter play of every option based pistol offense, adding effective counters provide big play potential and force the defense to consider additional options when defending the base play.

In both fall scrimmages, the Hokies first team offense has had great success running a counter option, as both Martin Scales and Logan Thomas had long runs on the play. The play pressures the defense at four different points which causes the defenders to sit back, read the play rather than aggressively attack, and be pulled out of position. Let's watch the play on video first.

Now, let's break down the play.

Pre-Snap

The Hokies line up with a tight end right, a flanker (who could be a receiver or J.C. Coleman) about 7 yards wide, and a split end left. In the backfield, Logan Thomas is in the pistol, with Michael Holmes behind him and Joey Phillips to his right. It looks almost like a power I, but without a quarterback.

Upon Logan's signal, Phillips will flex from his fullback position to an H back position, one yard behind the tight end, with the inside foot even with the tight end's outside foot. When Phillips gets set, the flanker will then rocket motion with an aiming point of one yard behind the tailback. The snap should come as the flanker gets even with the fullback.

Preseason Practice: Second (Final) Public Scrimmage

The best way to describe today's scrimmage was uneven. Offense dominated early (even with the second team offense scoring twice on the first team defense), then the defense dominated late.

Offense ran much more out of the I, two tight end one back, and the regular shotgun, but featured several new wrinkles out of each formation. It seams as if the offense is much more focused on running on the interior, with a variety of interior power plays and traps. There were only 3-4 plays of no huddle and pistol, and we saw two veer plays run (as described in yesterday's French on the Bench).

Logan Thomas didn't have an impressive day. He had several nice throws early, but as the scrimmage went on, he seemed to be staring down receivers and not going through his reads. After going 3-and-out on the last goal line series (and having nobody open) Logan threw his helmet on the sidelines.

Corey Fuller continues to be his favorite target, but Fuller was a non factor against the number one D. Marcus Davis had one catch, and got beat by Exum on a jump/fade on the goal line. Dyrell Roberts dropped a punt. Demitri Knowles and Kevin Asante both had several catches with the 1's against the 2's, but Asante missed a block on a screen, getting Roberts killed.

Pistol Stretch Power

Not only can the Hokies use the pistol to run veer, option, and play action, but they can also use the set to run their more traditional one back plays. The pistol allows for a quicker handoff, balanced backfield, and less movement for the quarterback.

On Saturday, we saw Michael Holmes carry the ball on a version of Tech's stretch play from the pistol formation. The same play Darren Evans and Brandon Ore excelled at from the one back set. The play is similar to the old Green Bay power sweep, and requires option blocking, which is determined based on the defensive alignment and is called out by the center before the play. Also, the Hokies can run it with a crack block by the flanker (a down block, often blindsided, on a scraping linebacker by a wide receiver) with the lead pulling lineman taking out the playside corner; or with the wide receiver blocking the corner and the lineman turning up on a safety or back inside on a linebacker. The goal of the play is to create, in the words of Vince Lombardi, "a seal here (on the pursuit) and a seal here (on the outside) and run the play in the alley."

Note: Again, we have used a basic 4-3 instead of a Georgia Tech 3-4, just in case Al Groh get's his game prep from reading blogs instead of watching film.

Pre-Snap

The Hokies Pistol Veer

Many of you have asked how the Hokie version of the pistol works. Here is a breakdown of one of their basic plays, the Trap Veer.

Pre-Snap

Tight end lines up on the line of scrimmage, and flexes back to the wing back. When the tight end sets, the flanker (right side) flexes up to a set position. Once the flanker is set, the Z back (slot receiver) rocket motion (curved motion with the aiming point being 2 yards behind where the tailback lines up. The quarterback gets the snap when the Z hits the hash mark in his motion.

Post-Snap

SE: Option Stalk/Go Route
Z: Rocket Sweep Fake/Flat-Go
FL: Option Stalk/Backside Post Route
TE "Y": Pulls playside. If the option man goes inside, he goes outside and attempts to hook with playside linebacker. If the option man (playside defensive end) goes upfield, the Y turns inside him and kicks out the weakside backer.

LT: Combo with left guard on playside DT, roll off to middle backer
LG: Combo with left tackle on playside DT. Get head to the play side (most important block on the play).
C: Depending on line call, can pull and lead up inside the DE to the playside, or scoop the backside linebacker.
RG: Scoop the backside defensive tackle.
RT: Scoop the backside defensive end.

French on the Bench: Defensive Prognosis

Unlike the Hokie offense, the identity of the defense is clear. Attack, control gaps, funnel the ball carrier to where you want him to go, get after the quarterback, and use that pressure and disguised robber coverage to turn the ball over. With 9 returning starters and numerous experienced backups back, Tech fans anticipate that the Virginia Tech defense in 2012 could be one of the best on record. Will the Hokies have a dominant defense? Let's examine how we can expect the Hokies to perform this season.

Defensive Line

The strength of the Hokie defense coming into fall camp is the defensive line. The Hokies return 7 experienced players, except for Zack McCray, all have had some starting experience. James Gayle, JR Collins, Derrick and Antoine Hopkins, and Luther Maddy have all proven themselves as dependable starters. Backup Corey Marshall demonstrated explosive pass rush ability on the inside, while Tyrel Wilson and Zack McCray both stayed in regular rotation with more reps down the stretch of the regular season.

French on the Bench: Bud Foster's Gap Defense Part III

French on The Bench continues. Today, a look at some of the pass rush and blitz packages utilized in Bud Foster's Gap Defense

As discussed in "A Look Back at the Hokie Wide Tackle Six Defense" , Virginia Tech rose to defensive dominance running an 8-man front which allowed the Hokies to blitz from multiple angles. A trademark of those pre-2004 defenses was a speedy defensive end lined up significantly wide, outside the shoulder of the last man on the line of scrimmage (tackle or tight end), at a 45 degree angle pointed towards the quarterback. The whip or rover lined up inside to protect the gap. This look allowed the Hokies to use all the linebackers as blitzers, yet they could get significant pressure from the speed rush of elite ends, like Cornell Brown and Corey Moore, while dropping back linebackers. The result was never-ending tackles in the backfield, sacks, and when things were not going so well, forced deep passes.

Perhaps nothing exhibits this attacking 8-man front better than Corey Moore's legendary "Welcome to the Terror-Dome" performance against Clemson.

1:36–1:47

French on the Bench: Bud Foster's Gap Defense Part II

The Gap Defense: When Gaps Go Wrong.

Thanks everyone for the great comments and questions on my first edition of "French on the Bench". Many of you asked what causes the defense to be ineffective against different teams, and it is very difficult to address all the reasons because of the different styles of offense. So, I will take a moment to look at the new Clemson offense and try to explain why the Hokies struggled against it last year.

Clemson runs the Urban Meyer spread, a version of the old Single Wing. The Single Wing is predicated on motion, misdirection, play-action, and forcing a defense to commit, and then going somewhere else with the football. It uses a very small number of plays, but each play serves as a direct counter to the others.

Clemson's base bread and butter play for their offense is the buck sweep. It looks similar to an old power sweep, but it is meant to be a kick out play that creates a seam off the tackle. The quarterback bootlegs off the hand-off, which serves as a counter action that must be accounted for (as Tech defended it with the stud end).

1:36:52–1:37:16

French on the Bench: Bud Foster's Gap Defense Part I

French on the Bench is a new series of posts that will take a closer look at the theory, fundamentals, and scheme of Tech's offense and defense. It kicks off by detailing the inner workings of the Bud Foster Gap Defense that has baffled most of the ACC over the last 8 years. My most recent columns can now be found on the right sidebar. -- French

The Hokie Gap defense rose from the ashes of the famed "Hokie Attack" 8 man front of the 1990's. When Foster developed the concept for the Gap Defense, he looked to solve two problems. First, how do they maintain the aggressive variability of the Wide Tackle Six, but second, he wanted to stop the growing use of one back multiple receiver offenses from the West Coast to the Spread. Foster used a simple solution. He retained the terminology and many of the blitz schemes of the Attack Defense, and then moved the rover position back to that of a traditional strong safety. To the uneducated eye, the defense features two ends, two tackles, three linebackers, two safeties, and two corners just like a traditional NFL style 4-3, but Foster turns the 4-3 concept on its ear.

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