Cohesive Effort by Virginia Tech's Offensive Line Against Cincinnati in the Military Bowl

The Hokies were in harmony in the trenches against the Bearcats.

[Mark Umansky]

Two satisfying benefits of a bowl game are: 1) It gives a coaching staff an extra handful of practices to evaluate the players that will be counted upon to play a more important role the following season, and 2) Perhaps more importantly, a bowl win gives the seniors that have sacrificed their bodies for our enjoyment an opportunity to go out in style. For senior offensive linemen Caleb Farris, Laurence Gibson and David Wang, the Military Bowl represented an opportunity to finish their career with a good performance after being part of a personnel group that came under harsh criticism from the fan base through their time in Blacksburg. For Coach Searels and returners like Wyatt Teller, Augie Conte and Wade Hansen, the Military Bowl provided more experience and repetitions to continue to develop critical cohesion up front.

As a former offensive linemen who has bristled at the criticism many of these kids have received, even while often being critical of their performances myself), I was pleased as punch with the performance of the Virginia Tech offensive line against Cincinnati. The seniors all delivered excellent performances and the collective offensive line group finally showed cohesion and dominance against the Bearcats front.

Cohesion in Zone Blocking

Mason did a masterful job highlighting how Scot Loeffler used the pistol formation to disguise run calls against the Bearcats. J.C. Coleman ran with conviction, and coupled with Loeffler's adjustment, the Bearcats couldn't outnumber the Hokies at the point of attack.

As you should know, all the X's and O's in the world don't mean anything if the players can't execute the design. Watching the film (including many of the plays that Mason highlighted), I was oblivious to the design, and far more enraptured at how cohesively the Hokies blockers executed their assignments and physically dominated.

Let's start with this third quarter run by J.C. Coleman. Loeffler uses a two tight, pistol formation and runs an off tackle zone play.

As an old offensive line guy, this play gets me all kinds of hyped. It starts with a kid that I know I had serious doubts about from a blocking perspective, Bucky Hodges. Every opponent that game-planned against Loeffler's offense this season knew that Ryan Malleck was by far the best blocking tight end on the Hokies roster. Hence, most defensive coaches would expect a run play from a two tight formation to follow Malleck on the right side, and unsurprisingly the Bearcats have numbers to that side. Loeffler shows confidence in his neophyte tight end and instead runs behind Hodges to the left.

Let's break the run down by freezing the video after the hand-off has taken place. This is where you can see the beauty of the play. At the moment that Coleman has to read his cut, every single defender that can impact the play is accounted for. It all starts with Hodges.

  1. Hodges has effectively sealed defensive end Jerrell Jordan (No. 99) to the outside without any double team assistance. Hodges blocking has improved significantly and allows him to stay in the game when Loeffler selects to use run blocking personnel groupings. His presence also makes play-action far more dangerous than if he was replaced with a plodding blocking tight end. Hodges blocking, which was a worrisome subject in the off-season last year, was vastly superior to the secondary tight ends that the Hokies utilized down the stretch in 2013. More on this in a moment.
  2. Isaiah Ford gets inside leverage on the Bearcat corners. All he needs to do is keep his body in between Coleman and the corner.
  3. Teller and Farris combination-reach block the defensive tackle and pancake him. The block is so effective that Teller gets tangled up and loses his feet. If Teller could stay upright, he could go to the next level and perhaps Coleman would have a long touchdown run.
  4. Augie Conte cut blocks the backside defensive tackle. As I have noted in past film reviews on zone blocking, the back side defensive tackle often is the most disruptive player on a zone stretch. Conte has eliminated him. Ryan Malleck also has cut the defensive end, which is not pursuing well because of the threat of Brewer on the bootleg.
  5. Here is where you can see the most improvement. Early in the season, the Hokie offensive line AS not getting push on the front four, and as result the linebackers and safeties were not effectively being blocked. As you can see here, Laurence Gibson has enveloped one inside linebacker, while
  6. Wade Hansen has gotten just enough of the other inside linebacker's legs to slow down back side pursuit.
  7. Michael Brewer's bootleg fake helps slow Hansen's linebacker and briefly ties up a safety.

Timing is critical on zone blocking. Those linemen that are releasing to the second level have to make sure that the first level is accounted for. Early in the season (East Carolina stands out as an example) those zone blocks saw double teams where the second blocker released too early and the defensive linemen defeated the second man trying to scoop him, or they held on to the double team too long, which freed up the linebackers and safeties to make tackles without being blocked.

Here is another example of beautiful execution. Loeffler spreads out his tight ends and uses Sam Rogers as a true fullback on an inside zone. This time, the Hokies have to account for the six Bearcats defenders with the five offensive linemen and Rogers.

Laurence Gibson cuts off the back side defensive end and turns him to the outside. David Wang chips on the defensive tackle and then gets to the linebacker at the second level. With Wang's help, Farris turns the defensive tackle outside. Note that Wang doesn't release his block until Farris has the defensive tackle under control, but still gets squared up to the linebacker. Rogers leads on the other linebacker, while Conte drives the defensive end to the sideline.

The most physically impressive block is delivered by Wyatt Teller. Teller has thrown numerous pancake blocks, but for Teller to be great, it requires perfect fundamental execution to go with his explosive physical ability. Teller has to get his body between the defensive tackle and the running lane. Ideally, Teller would get his head inside of the tackle, but instead his head contacts on the right side of the defensive tackle's neck. But Teller is so strong and his feet are so good that he punches through the defensive tackle's left shoulder and moves his feet around. His feet are stellar right here. He turns the defensive tackle, and coupled with Wang and Farris's blocks there is a terrific running lane for J.C. Coleman to scamper through.

Get a Damn Mean-On and Put Them On the Ground

I am a complex individual who enjoys the nuance of a bucket step, timing, aiming point and hand position on a block, but as a former coach of mine once said, all of that doesn't do any good if you don't "have enough lead in your pencil." Football may be strategic and have very specific techniques that can help improve chances of success, but football will always be a game where the object is to assert physical dominance over your opponent.

Against the Bearcats, the Hokie offensive line whipped their tails play after play up front. I saw the convergence of technique, cohesion, and violence to create huge running lanes for J.C. Coleman.

Are you ready for big time analysis?

Bucky Hodges drives the defensive end into the sideline (despite being hit in the throat/illegal hands to the face.) Laurence Gibson has a defensive back on roller skates.

Caleb Farris has his man on the ground. Wyatt Teller has escorted his man seven yards away from the football; where he has chosen to play a rousing game of patty cake instead of pursue the ball carrier. Conte's man has to retreat nearly seven yards to get off Conte's block (if Conte can keep his feet, this is a touchdown). This is caveman football, pure and simple.

Additionally, unlike some past Hokie efforts, the dominance was sustained in short yardage situations. Controlling the line of scrimmage meant sustaining drives, and by sustaining drives the Hokie offense kept Bud Foster's defense off the field as the Bearcats surged a little late in the football game. It also meant scoring touchdowns in the red zone, which was one of the major areas where improvement was needed last season.

On short yardage, it is impossible to account for all defenders. In order to be successful an offense must dominate at the point of attack, and then cut off the most dangerous back side pursuit threat. When that happens on quick hitters, unblocked players that must pursue can't get to the back in time.

On this play, cohesion and dominance come together perfectly for the Hokie offensive line. The Hokies run what Vince Lombardi would have called a "wedge" play. Everyone drives hard through their inside gap, and the back must hit the bubble created between the last blocker and the edge defender. Play side, Augie Conte and Wade Hansen double team the defensive end and cave him inside. Bucky Hodges (again demonstrating that he can be a very solid blocker even on short yardage,) drives the outside linebacker to the inside. Hodges is MASHING here. Coleman doesn't hesitate, and slips through the bubble created by Hodges. That is all it takes, a seam and the will to go through it.

I tell you, I am awful glad to finish this season on a high note. Obviously, next season's offensive line has questions. Pass protection must improve, and that starts with reviewing the blocking scheme and communication and working out where that went awry this season. I'd assume that Jonathan McLaughlin will move back to left tackle, so Coach Searels will need to either commit to moving Augie Conte back out to right tackle and find a right guard; or hitch his wagon to Wade Hansen and work hard to develop his pass blocking technique. Searels will also need to find a center, as the Hokies won't have a single player on the roster who has snapped in either a college or high school game besides Eric Gallo and Billy Ray Mitchell (who will likely stay outside). Also, with Braxton Pfaff, Colt Pettit, Mitchell and now Austin Clark in the mix for spring football, Searels has more depth and can run a more physical and competitive spring program.

Even though there are concerns, the positives are significant. Wyatt Teller is already an All-ACC caliber player and will make an NFL paycheck. Jonathan McLaughlin has the experience of a season on the blind side if Searels chooses to return him to left tackle. Augie Conte looked much more comfortable in the last two games of the season, and despite his challenges pass blocking, Wade Hansen was very competent run blocking. This group is substantially bigger and stronger than some recent offensive line groupings, and they don't lack in athleticism. Plus, this spring (barring a boatload of injuries), there will be competition pushing the top guys, instead of a collection of walk-ons and projects being decimated by the top defense. Perhaps this group will give Mr. Upper Deck "Hey Block Somebody" guy a reason to be quiet next fall!


French, great stuff!

Mr. Upper deck.
He sat right behind me all season in the mid deck.
Right next to Mr. Hey, lousy punt.

This is going to be great for the ACC.

Was his wife, Mrs. HE HAD A GUY WIDE OPEN!, with him?

Go Hokies

Mr. IF YOU DON'T BOO YOUR TEAM WHEN THEY DO BAD, YOU AREN'T A REAL FAN! sat behind me all season. Maybe they are all related?

Get Angry, Bud!

My goodness that guy was such a tool. Took every ounce of self-control I possess to not throw him over the back of the NEZ stands.

And Cousin Fire the Bum, the Offensive Coach, what the heck was his name again? anyway, Fire Him!

This is going to be great for the ACC.

Don't forget their 5 year old son, *starts pulling for the other team because we're losing*!

French, I know it's early, but what would your starting o-line look like next year? Mine would be (L to R)

McLaughlin, Teller, Gallo, Clark, Conte

Long time listener...first time poster

My early guess would be:


But, there is a ton of variability here. There is significantly more experienced depth at guard than at tackle. Alston Smith and Braxton Pffaf both are mobile guys inside. If Conte moved outside, perhaps Hansen could move inside. And perhaps Searels sees Teller's athleticism and deems blindside protection to be more critical than interior mashing. It is hard to tell.

Also, we have absolutely no idea how well Billy Ray Mitchell and Colt Pettit progressed on scout team. Much like the young QBs, they are a bit of a mystery going into the spring. And it isn't fair to assume that Austin Clark is just going to step in. He has all kinds of talent, and he is going to be very good. But that transition, especially for a kid like Clark who was not playing top notch competition each week, is tough. A kid has to get used to the speed of the game.

My sleeper pick is Tyrell Smith. He is a mobile kid with tremendous feet. I love his film. He also has a year of growing and maturing under his belt after a prep year. On tape, his feet were significantly better than Jonathan McLaughlin's. If he has the lower and upper body strength, don't be shocked if he comes in and steals a spot in the two deep this spring.

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

I'm all aboard the Clark hype train! Might not be realistic but it is the offseason, and McLaughlin started at LT as a true freshman (does a 3-star + prep = 4-star + extra spring ?)

I also think Smith contributes right away - at Center.

Pettit is a mystery to me. He was in line for playing time before getting injured, but he's also small for an OT. I gotta think he moves inside at some point. Also Taraschke has had problems snapping the ball which to me sounds like a move to OG.

Dream "Freshman are amazing and will contribute" lineup:
LT McLaughlin - Osterloh - [Arnold]
LG Teller - B.R. Mitchell - Pettit/Taraschke
OC Gallo - T. Smith - Chung
RG Conte - Pfaff - A. Smith
RT Clark - Hansen - [Plantin]

Realistic "Freshmen are going to redshirt, r-JR's are going to step up" lineup:
LT McLaughlin - Osterloh - [Clark] - [Arnold]
LG Teller - B.R. Mitchell - Pettit
OC Gallo - Chung - [T. Smith]
RG A. Smith - Pfaff - Taraschke
RT Conte- Hansen - [Plantin]

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

I love Clark. He plays with a nasty attitude, and I know he is well coached (his former head coach was a former teammate of mine.) The issue is that you can't replicate the speed of division I football with the kids he played against every Friday night, and with that there is a period of adjustment (as we saw with Coleman Thomas playing at right tackle as a true freshman at Tennessee.) If he comes in and wins the job, hey that is awesome. However, that isn't fair to expect that he will and then wonder why it didn't happen if he didn't succeed immediately.

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

I remember being so excited when Farris committed. He never quite played at the level I expected, but he was 100% Hokie and did whatever the coaches asked. I wish the future Mr. & Mrs. Farris all the luck in the world.

On another note, having seen the way that this group gelled throughout the season, and the caliber of recruits coming in on OL, does anyone else feel that Grimes going to LSU might be a blessing in disguise? I'm liking what Searels is doing.

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

Yeah, I agree

does anyone else feel that Grimes going to LSU might be a blessing in disguise? I'm liking what Searels is doing

I have said the same thing but then I think both may be equal as counterparts in their respective fields. I personally like searels more, though. I just can't say Grimes would have done better or worse, cause well, you never know. Definitely optimistic outlook here I feel for now.

"This is really a lovely horse, I once rode her mother." - Ted Walsh

"Sacrificed their bodies for our enjoyment". Never thought about it that way

There's a reason why a Hokie player described himself as a "gladiator" in a Fall camp interview a few years ago. I think it was in regards to players being able to be paid. He wasn't wrong when you consider that they all sacrifice time and their bodies so that alumni like us can come online and sing their praises or rip them apart, according to our whims.

Click here to destroy wall.

But at the same time they aren't forced to play either, they volunteered knowing what the circumstances are. Same as us in the military, I've never been a "rah rah" support the troops or think we deserve any special treatment because we all volunteered for it. Now draftees are a different story.

"War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”~~Judge Holden

I feel like volunteering your life in order to serve is different than volunteering to play a game to get a free education.

"I'm too drunk to taste this chicken" - Colonel Sanders via Ricky Bobby

100% OT, but I ran into you at Disney no? If so hope you and the fam had a blast and whatever the wifey signed you up for went well ;)

in Fuller we trust

Sure did brother! We had agreat time and I hope y'all did as well. My kid and wife really enjoyed watching me retire the Colors, I guess that made it worth it.

"War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”~~Judge Holden

No argument here. I'm not looking to start up that debate again (there's an entire offseason to get through!) and I agree it's not a perfect metaphor. The phrase just struck a chord with that particular statement.

Click here to destroy wall.

I prefer not to really. Makes it feel like some sort of sick competition. While it is probably partly true, I prefer to think about all the good things these guys work towards for themselves and their families.

Regardless of how you feel about this statement, appreciate that very few of us have any idea the physical toll playing five years (six in David Wang's case) of FBS football takes on the human anatomy. While I have not heard of Laurence Gibson having any injury issues, it is hard to believe he didn't get nicked up. Caleb Farris clearly could not raise his shoulder during the first half dozen games of the season, and we know Wang has chronic ankle injuries. Be appreciative of their effort, even when the execution isn't always perfect.

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

Billy Ray Mitchell tweeted he's up to 295 lbs which definitely helps. ( I think he came in at like 280.

Is Colt Pettit gonna be available for spring ball? Not that I think he starts this season but just curious since he had season ending surgery.

VT '15

Just going off of some twitter banter I've had with Colt, I think he's just starting to get back into the swing of things. I wouldn't be shocked to see him in a blue jersey for most/all of spring, but I'd be pretty surprised if he missed spring ball entirely.

Word. Thanks!

VT '15

There was a run play down near the Red Zone in the 4th quarter I believe where it looked like either the line of scrimmage blue line was off or the entire OL got a 2 yard push. I think it was the latter because I believe JCC ran into the back of the line and still picked up positive yardage. Was hoping to see this in an example of the much improved play of the OL.

EDIT: Found what I think I was talking about. 4th Quarter with 10 min to go, JCC gets drilled behind the line, but the line is 4 yards downfield so he still picks up 2.

Whatever. It was one bad year.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

Ok, now I have to stream this on my spare monitor today while I'm working.

This is going to be great for the ACC.

Holy crap what a surge off the snap.

Where you been all my life?

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

French, out of curiosity, how long does it take you to write up one of these film reviews? I'm guessing it's a lot of time (I can't imagine one can be a know it all asshole without putting the time in) but wanted to say thanks for sacrificing for our enjoyment.

"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior" Stephen M.R. Covey

“When life knocks you down plan to land on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up, if you fall flat on your face it can kill your spirit” David Wilson

I am waiting for him to throw and empty bottle of Fireball into the comments section and scream "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!!!"

Whatever. It was one bad year.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

anywhere from 2-5 hours of watching the film... the review really is a crapshoot. Sometimes it is easy, and other times it is more challenging depending on the topic and how easy it is to explain.

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

That's a significant time investment. Thanks again for doing it. I hope Ms. Suzie keeps the pies rolling into your film room!

"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior" Stephen M.R. Covey

“When life knocks you down plan to land on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up, if you fall flat on your face it can kill your spirit” David Wilson

Any reviewable content on Alston Smith this past year? He made a sacrifice to come to the Offensive side this past year. Would like to know if that move is paying of for him and the team as a whole. Thanks

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

There isn't much. He always seemed to get hurt in public scrimmages and the spring game, which leaves a tiny amount of garbage time reps to look at. He is a very mobile lineman who is effective pulling, but they mostly used Teller in that role this year and I doubt he is moving. I have major concerns about Smith at the point of attack. He struggled with zone blocking in very limited work.

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

Am I the only one who is equally relieved to see that searels definitely knows his stuff. That bowl game was fun to watch and I think searels may be a big reason why

Taylor, looking desperately throws it deep..HAS A MAN OPEN DANNY COALE WITH A CATCH ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE FIVE!!!!....hes still open

I must say the Line play for the run was much improved the last couple games. I was quite encouraged by it.

This is going to be great for the ACC.

yards per carry by the backs this year was up a little over half a yard, IIRC

edit: actually more than that. subtracting out Logan and Brewer, the remainder went from 3.6 to 4.5

At the beginning of the season, Shane stated a YPC number he wanted for the goal.
I can't find the number can anyone remember what that was?

Did we reach it?

This is going to be great for the ACC.

Hope! We need a Labor Day countdown clock! Good job French.

"Hey Bud, you wont have to hold the opponent to 17 points anymore."