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.

In the first quarter, I reached a point where I flat-out thought the coaching staff did not know how to teach the Pistol formation, or call plays for the Pistol in the flow of the game. In the first quarter, the Pistol meant the play was invariably a counter, a sweep, or a counter read with a rocket sweep option. Everything looked slow, sloppy, and east-west. When you watch film of the innovators of the Pistol, the Nevada Wolfpack, the bread and butter play that makes those type of plays work is the quick hitting inside and outside veer dive. And, everything they run looks fast and sharp.

Interestingly, Logan Thomas is much more comfortable taking the snap, keeping his eyes down field, and moving towards the line of scrimmage, and all of the tailbacks are better running straight ahead rather than east-west. It seems almost too easy to say that the Pistol should be a perfect fit for the talent that the Hokies have available, but the talent was completely misused in three-and-a-quarter games. With the east-west approach, any success the offense had was the result of the players making great plays and winning individual matchups.

Then, despite another less than stellar performance by Logan Thomas and Marcus Davis, and an abysmal game from both guard positions, the Pistol started to click. The read option started attacking the line of scrimmage, and the pressure it put on the Bowling Green defense finally broke the dam in the second quarter. Even without dominant blocking, the Pistol worked when Logan Thomas made the right reads and the backs attacked downhill.

Logan Thomas is the key cog, and despite being more effective in the running game he was erratic. Early in the game, Logan's poor mechanics, errors reading the read option, and failure to recognize changes in coverage and blitzes during his pre-snap read (all of which I have discussed in previous weeks) really sandbagged the offense.

Here we have Logan running the read play on the first drive.

00:19–00:25

On the play, Gregory is set up to look like a veer dive, but actually will counter back between Nick Becton and Matt Arkema. I am not sure who Logan is reading, but if he is reading the defensive tackle that Arkema fails to block or the left defensive end, he makes the wrong choice. Both guys converge on Logan, and Gregory scampers through a large hole.

The closest thing we saw to effective scheme and cohesion from the Pistol took place on the Dyrell Roberts touchdown drive.

10:03–10:43

The Hokies ran four straight variations of the read play, with one keep, one dive, and two play actions. Each one, the back or the QB aggressively attacked the offensive line, forcing the defense to react. That opened other options, ultimately forcing Bowling Green to go man-to-man. Hokies call play-action. Roberts gets separation, and Logan hits him for the touchdown. It almost looked like the staff was starting to get a rhythm and the offensive skill guys were developing feel. I give credit to the coaching staff for learning from their mistakes while sticking with this approach even after the disaster in Pittsburgh.

Everything came together on this third quarter play.

15:40–15:49

The Hokies run the veer read option with Coleman as the dive man. The offensive line gets movement. Logan's fake freezes the pursuit, and Coleman attacks the line aggressively and explodes into the second level.

There was improvement, but at the same time the offense has work to do. Defenses are still shifting coverage and blitzes on Logan when he looks at his center, and the interior of the offensive line struggled mightily, especially against very basic stunts in pass pro.

The pre-snap read issue showed up on film again and again. Let's take a look at the first play of the second quarter.

07:11–07:19

Logan audibles to a smash play off-tackle left from the Pistol. After he makes his read, he looks at the center to take the snap. As soon as he looks at the center, the right outside linebacker darts to the line of scrimmage and crosses right at the snap. The outside linebacker beats Joey Phillips block (who I think is in danger of losing his job to Riley Biero) and tackles Gregory for no gain.

Later in the second quarter, Logan fails to read and audible the Hokies out of a bad play. Tech had just scored on a great four play series, all from the gun and Pistol, and had momentum. O'Cain calls a straight ahead zone run.

11:56–12:04

Prior to the snap, Bowling Green has eight men in the box, with two middle linebackers moving into a blitz as Logan looks at the center. Things are made worse by Andrew Miller being driven 5 yards in the backfield. The play could have worked, but an NFL caliber QB (who has the freedom to change the play) recognizes that the blockers are badly out-manned, and audibles (perhaps to a bubble screen to the twins side).

I think most disappointing was the performance of the interior of the o-line. Matt Arkema had a rough debut as a starter. Both Michael Via and Brent Benedict were excellent run blocking, but had cringe-worthy moments in pass protection. Andrew Miller struggled with his shotgun snaps and continues to spend more time in his own backfield than he spends driving nose tackles into the secondary.It looks like Caleb Farris is a legitimate threat to Miller's starting job.

Let's start with perhaps the biggest play of the game.

07:43–07:52

Early in the second quarter, the offense was stuck in neutral, and slipping backwards. Tech had a third-and-ten. The Hokies line up in their single wing shotgun look. Bowling Green runs a soft zone, and only uses a four man rush, but the defensive tackles X stunt.

On an X stunt, one defensive tackle crashes hard inside, hoping that the guard he lined up on crashes inside with him creating a lane for the opposite defensive tackle to stunt behind the first one and come unblocked through the vacated space. Here, Matt Arkema follows the head up defensive tackle inside, and the opposite tackle comes through his gap and rocks Logan Thomas, who had almost no time to throw.

Fortunately for the Hokies, Tony Gregory made a terrific effort play to burst upfield before the defense could react. The first down was critical, and the Hokies scored on four of their next five drives.

Ultimately, I don't think that Arkema can be successful right now as the starter at left guard. While both Benedict and Via have struggled some in pass protection, if the Hokies don't move Laurence Gibson to left guard you have to play Via at left and Benedict at right, and perhaps look to keep the running back in more to help on interior blitzes. Against Bowling Green, Logan Thomas faced way too much pressure, and it came almost exclusively from the inside. Both Nick Becton and Vinston Painter were outstanding. The guards are a weakness, and the coaching staff must be willing to get their best five linemen on the field with Wang out.

Given some work challenges, I had limited bandwidth this weekend, but will answer any questions about the defense in the comments. I will be at the Cincinnati game, likely eating over with the rest of The Key Play staff. I welcome your comments on the column, the team, and the future. The Bearcat's speed presents challenges, but if the Hokies continue to run downhill from the Pistol, I think that Cincinnati will struggled to deal with the Hokies hawgbodies up front.

Comments

Arkema

"...Arkema fails to block..." is everything you need to say. I hope he comes around and improves QUICKLY, but right now the kid is doing his best impression of a human turn-style. His hand work is nonexistent, his feet are slow, and I can't even begin to gauge his flexibility because he's spent the last two games watching DTs and LBs run right by him.

All I can say is this, having a banged up Wang on the sidelines is doing us no good. I mean, and injured Wang is probably the worst thing for this team right now because without our Wang in there it's simply impossible to penetrate.

Alright, I'll stop with the Wang jokes.

As always, fantastic analysis French!

"You know when the Hokies say 'We are Virginia Tech' they're going to mean it."- Lee Corso

Re: Wang jokes

I saw David out in public about a year and half ago and exclaimed "What Up Big Wang!" He looked at me like he wanted to cave my face in.

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

Short, stout, and ineffective. Not adjectives for Wangs.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

The question of the week seems to be....

RB personnel. We saw live auditions on Saturday, did you see anything worth commenting on?

Second question is about the DLine creating pressure. I believe we all expected it to be a focal component of our defense this year, maybe the most important factor (Secondary reorg? Who cares, you won't be able to block our Front 4! LB injuries and whip uncertainty? Who cares, our Front 4 will make every tackle! Mwaahhaaaha!)

How is the Front Four progressing?

RBs

I agree, can't wait to see who they use in the backfield.
I really hope they start to narrow it down some, I believe we saw 5 RBs last Saturday...that's just absurd. I hope they use Gregory and Coleman primarily this week personally. But then again maybe we haven't seen enough yet?

RE: OL depth

I certainly hope that RDA (Revolving Door Arkema) sits more and Via plays more until Lil'Wang makes it back. Obviously, Farris and Miller are working into an ongoing position battle due to Farris' improved play (and Miller's not improving). Can either of them play guard, too? Not sure I'd want to move Miller to guard, given his performance, but as an emergency depth move? Let's hope that's not an issue. Is Gibson solid enough to count on? I haven't seen him enough to know. Interior line play could be our undoing this year if staff doesn't get this figured out. LT3 is a beast, but continual hits eventually take their toll, even if it's after a pass is thrown.

Thanks for the analysis, French! You're the best!

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

Quick thoughts: 1) Coleman

Quick thoughts:

1) Coleman would be my number 1 back. Holmes would be my 2 for Cincy. Gregory played terrific, but I don't think he is solid enough in tight space or in pass blocking to be the go to guy.

2) Gibson is fine. The coaches have convinced themselves that he will be the starting right tackle next year, and don't want to move him. My opinion, he should be on the field somewhere. Farris played utility guard and center in the spring, but center looks like the best fit. He certainly has gotten more push than Miller, but isn't as quick pulling to get out in front on outside running plays.

3) Defense is coming. I promise.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

I'm with you

I think Coleman looks the most instinctual out of them all. It seems that Gregory and Holmes almost expect to be tackled when they hit the hole, but at the same time its definitely good for all their confidence that they all experienced some success this past weekend.

As always great work!

UVA: Jefferson's biggest mistake

@pbowman6

Speaking of defense....

the 9/24 depth chart showed RVD tied with JGW @ the top @ Whip. Is that the first time we have seen that?

It also had Wang as #1 at his guard spot.

That's a really good catch.

I'm waiting for HokieSports.com to release the snap counts, because I want to say RVD played as much, or more than G-W Saturday. Hopefully they're bringing him along to play major snaps agains the spread teams where we will need his skills in coverage.

RVD had a LOT more plays

VanDyke had 24 snaps, JGW had 9.

Bitter's Notes on RVD

"Ronny Vandyke got plenty of looks against Bowling Green and had an active game. In 24 snaps, he had two tackles, an assist, two quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. "He does some good things but he also had a couple mistakes," Foster said. "But the only way he’s going to be better is to see himself on film. And he plays fast and makes some plays in space, and that’s what that position demands."

Looking forward to seeing more of RVD. He has enough speed to make up for some of his mistakes.

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

Cincy should be the RVD Show

This is the perfect game for him to actually start, and get likr 50+ snaps. Cincy is a fast, spread team, and that fits his skillset much more than JGW's imo

Miller last yr. vs. this yr.

Was Miller's play elevated last year because of the level of play of those around him, or did he play better last year and has (for some reason) taken a step backwards?

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

Brooks Abbott

Any reason why Abbott was our kickoff guy instead of Branthover? Did it have something to do with the wind?

I believe Beamer said it was because Abbott got more hang time and was more accurate with his placement than Branthover

Long time listener...first time poster

looks like

we are setting up for more forced returns rather than kicking through the endzone.

Wiley, Brown, Russell, Drakeford, Gray, Banks, Prioleau, Charleton, Midget, Bird, McCadam, Pile, Hall, Green, Fuller, Williams, Hamilton, Rouse, Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Hosley, Fuller, Exum, Jarrett

Honestly, that's what I expected to happen when they announced the new rule before the season began. (When the opposing team doesn't have a major threat at returner)

Achievement unlocked: All of the Fullers

"Sam Rogers is a college football icon" SB Nation

Thanks Frank!

Any concern about the uncharacteristic lack of discipline with five false start penalties? Or do you think that was just having Arkema and Benedict with their first start jitters?

And it looks like you're going to get your wish, French. The Collegiate Times is saying RVD will start at whip against Cincy.

"I liked you guys a lot better when everybody told you you were terrible." -Justin Fuente

The false start penalties were not just on the line. Most of them result from motion and not getting reset, or wide receivers jumping. Dyrell Roberts took a brutal false start penalty in the 2nd quarter that almost killed the drive. Other than that, he was great BUT those kind of mistakes need to be quelled against good teams.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Four of the five were on O linemen. Painter, Arkema, Becton, and Benedict. The whole line seemed jumpy to me, but maybe jumpy in a good way. Lots of aggressiveness on display against BG.

"I liked you guys a lot better when everybody told you you were terrible." -Justin Fuente

"The Hokies run the veer read option with Coleman as the dive man. The offensive line gets movement. Logan's fake freezes the pursuit, and Coleman attacks the line aggressively and explodes into the second level."

I think you meant Holmes, you have to give him credit on this run hit the hole fast and broke it for a big gain.

Don't ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure. - Joe Maddon

I think that is the wrong video

That's not a veer read with JCC, that's an I-formation dive with Holmes. Nice play and all, but I think he was referencing one of those good runs by JCC.

I think I screwed up and embedded the wrong play for French. My apologies, we were both working under the gun this weekend.

Blame me, it's wedding season. Was out of town so I wasn't able to cut up the game film until Monday night. My jaw hit the floor when I saw they had this up Tuesday morning!

Hyping up Hokie Nation one video at a time.

Bill, French and Joe all rock!! I've been super impressed with all the hard work you guys do. That is all

Long time listener...first time poster

Haha, sorry Bill, when I said we were under the gun, I didn't mean because of you! We both had work related issues.

Bill cut the video up in like 8 hours after flying back from a wedding which is an amazing feat in itself.

I think the play meant to reference was 12:22

on the video. It's the JCC shirt-tale run. That was the most "explosive to the 2nd level" run JCC had all day, although its in the 2nd QTR not the 3rd. I didn't see any JCC runs in the 3rd....sadly!

Or @ 23:07

a 4th QTR 17 yard run by JCC (It's hard to keep straight all of JCC's 17 yard runs!) where the OL push is much better (tired BGSU?).

Damn JCC reminds me of Dion Lewis. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HxvSzpKl48

It has been a rough 48 hours in the French household. I think I was pointing to the Coleman run in the 4th quarter that set up the Scales touchdown. I should have reviewed for typos a little better.

If you would like to see the play, it is on the last touchdown drive, 2 plays before the Scales touchdown.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

WIDE RECEIEVERS

Take a look at the 16:00 minute mark of this video - the 4th hokie TD of the day on a toss to Michael Holmes.

Now watch Marcus Davis, and be disgusted.

On this play, Marcus is supposed to crack back on the OLB. When you're 6'4" and 225 lbs, you should salivate at the prospect of this. You're on the goalline. Blood is in the water. Make a play. Take care of the little things.

Instead, Marcus makes almost no attempt to hit anybody and completely whiffs on his assignment. To make matters worse, the weak side LB is hustling to the ball, pursuing the play from the backside. Again, Marcus has him lined up to deliver what should be a punishing block. This time, Marcus actually GETS OUT OF THE WAY OF THE DEFENDER. He almost looks like a bull fighter, who spins out of the way at the last minute. Except he's not a bullfigher, he's a football player. WTF. HIT SOMEBODY.

That play is a microcosm of what I think has been a terrible effort from our receivers all season. As a Hokie fan, I hate to be overly critical of Hokies, but I would bench Marcus Davis for a long, long time. It's particularly frustrating, because he should be an NFL talent but he plays like a creampuff. And oh yeah, he should know how to catch by now.

Everyone has criticized LT3 for regressing this year - fair enough. But his WRs have been atrocious. No effort. Running wrong routes. Can't catch. The end.

I thought Davis dropped 4 catchable balls, although he got bailed out by two pass interference calls. The two screens were inexcusable. This offense also requires good blocking from the WR's (or at least being plausible when faking a pass route on a running play.) Dyrell was more engaged in the passing game this week, but he still seems allergic to contact. For all the praise heaped on Corey Fuller, he still isn't a good blocker. That is a big reason the screen game isn't as effective so far.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Oh how I miss this.

Agreed

TOTALLY agree on this point.

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