Hokies Prepare for a Track Meet Against Syracuse

Virginia Tech travels north to take on the Orange; game preview.

Amba Etta-Tawo on his way to the end zone against Louisville. [Syracuse Athletics \ Charles Wainwright]

After three dominant performances in a row, the Hokies travel to the house of horrors known as the Carrier Dome for their first matchup with Syracuse (2-4, 0-2 ACC) since 2002. Tech has a measly 2-6 record in the Carrier Dome. The Orange is under the leadership of former Bowling Green head coach and Art Briles assistant Dino Babers. Syracuse runs the same vertical attack, hurry up no-huddle offense innovated by Briles and is similar to the offense the Hokies faced against Tulsa last season.

"We've gotta do a great job of having some urgency getting lined up and getting communications and being in position to go make plays," Bud Foster said on Tuesday. "And then be good out on the perimeter, because they're gonna take their shots. They're gonna get the ball to him again, like last week, getting the ball to him on screens and little hitches where they can catch the ball in space and create plays with the ball in their hands after the catch."

The Orange run a relatively simple offensive scheme. They spread out the defense and use tempo to keep the defense from making adjustments. Through six games, the Orange have operated at a pace of 20.7 seconds per play, and have exceeded running 90 plays in a game twice (83.2 plays per game).

via syracuse.com

The Orange feature a dynamic passing attack focused on Maryland transfer Amba Etta-Tawo (No. 7, R-Sr., 6-2, 202). Etta-Tawo leads the nation in receiving yards (876 yards on 51 catches and 6 touchdowns) and yards per game (146.0). Against the Hokies in 2013, Etta-Tawo caught 4 balls for 69 yards as a Terp. He combines terrific speed with ability to bend his body and find the football. Syracuse will attempt to get the ball to Etta-Tawo horizontally via the screen game some. However, Babers loves to isolate Etta-Tawo and attack defenses vertically. And those deep shots will happen early in the game.

On this play, 'Cuse has a third-and-three against Notre Dame. Etta-Tawo is isolated one-on-one to the bottom of the screen. He runs a go route, and then adjusts to find the football.

These deep shots force the defense to either play softer coverage or devote a deep safety over the top. If the safety plays over the top of Etta-Tawo, it takes a player out of run support and opens up other receivers. If the defense sticks with one on one coverage, Babers will continue to call go routes for Etta-Tawo until the coverage loosens. Then Etta-Towa can feast on quick curl routes.

The Orange don't have a particularly impressive running game. Their offensive line isn't dominant. The running backs, while fast, are not physical enough to run through tackles. Syracuse has to get numerical mismatches in the box like Tulsa did in the Independence Bowl in order to have success on the ground.

Many of Syracuse's run plays are package plays with screens. This forces the defense to keep two or three defenders outside the hash marks where they can't factor into the run game. The Orange will mix in some quarterback draw and a handful of counters, but based on the Notre Dame and Louisville film, their bread and butter run is a basic zone read. However, they add a wrinkle by regularly cross blocking (blocking down on the play-side and pulling two offensive linemen from the back-side) to create a seam in the middle of the defense.

On this play, Louisville has six defenders in the box. They have to account for five Syracuse offensive linemen and two running options — QB Eric Dungey (No. 2, SO, 6-3, 207) and RB Moe Neal (No. 21, FR, 5-11, 169). Do note to defend the double stack receivers, Louisville has two defenders outside both hash marks and a free safety deep in centerfield.

The right side of the offensive line blocks down. The left guard and the left tackle pull front-side, and the center blocks back on the defensive tackle that was aligned over the left guard. Dungey creates a mesh point and options the defensive end to the boundary. This design allows the other five blockers to block five remaining defenders. If Dungey keeps, he can run or throw a screen to the boundary receiver standing at the line of scrimmage. Neal, who had Power 5 offers from Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and N.C. State among others, finds a little seam and has room to roam until he reaches the remaining deep safety.

This play is an example of a screen off similar run action.

While the screens look awkward, Dungey is a decent running threat, and unlike Mitch Trubisky last week, the Hokies will have to account for him in the running game.

The Hokies stopped East Carolina and North Carolina without a numerical advantage in the box. Syracuse popped a couple of solid runs against Notre Dame and Louisville. However, most carries ended up as very short gains or losses, especially against Louisville. Syracuse has given up 16.0 sacks this season (T-104th), and 2.67 sacks per game (T-97th). The Orange were seemingly at a talent and scheme disadvantage when pass protecting against Wake Forest.

Wake Forest capitalized on Syracuse's inexperienced offensive line, which features five first-year starters, three of whom were shifted in midseason due to injury. The Demon Deacons brought more pressure on early downs than expected and forced SU into many 3rd-and-long situations, which in turn led to eight Orange three-and-outs on 14 drives.

"They gave us some crazy looks and we couldn't handle some of them," freshman running back Moe Neal said. "... They were sending a whole bunch of blitzes at us early and often."

Additionally, center Colin Byrne noted Syracuse's focus on high-tempo and snapping the ball quickly is sometimes to the detriment of identifying blitzers. The Demon Deacons sacked Dungey five times, and the Hokies have just as good a scheme and better personnel up front.

The Hokies have big corners that match up well with Etta-Tawo. He's talented enough to get some big plays indoors on a fast track, but Tech's been excellent at limiting plays of 20+ yards.

If Tech can minimize those explosive plays, the Hokies offense should be able to score enough to get a win against a very young Syracuse defense that was torched by Notre Dame and Louisville. Fourteen of the twenty-two Orange defensive players in the two deep this week are freshmen and sophomores. Certainly Lamar Jackson's electric athleticism played a factor in Louisville's route. However, time and again Syracuse had linebackers and safeties taking poor angles on fills, and they allowed Jackson to break contain repeatedly.

Expect the Hokies to take a bunch of deep shots. Notre Dame's Equanimeous St. Brown had four catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns, including a long touchdown on a fade route.

Louisville had three receivers catch passes of over 55 yards. Syracuse's corners and safeties look small and don't have terrific ball skills. Any time the Hokies have a one-on-one matchup with Isaiah Ford or Bucky Hodges, don't be shocked if Jerod Evans automatically checks to a slant, sluggo, or fade. It's unlikely the Orange can handle Virginia Tech's top receivers.


a deep safety and long balls =

I don't have time to watch this 100x in a row today.

Oh well...

Leonard. Duh.

It just keeps playing over and over. Poor guy. You think he would move after a couple of those hits.

We put the K in Kwality


21st century QBs Undefeated vs UVA:
MV7, MV5, LT3, Josh Jackson, Jerod Evans, Michael Brewer, Tyrod Taylor, Sean Glennon, and Grant Noel. That's right, UVA. You couldn't beat Grant Noel.

set a world record watching this
had a seizure, too

“I remember Lee Corso's car didn't get out of the parking lot.” ~CFB

Sad thing is this amazing hit would probably be called targeting in today's game

He said give to me Roscoe

You're probably right. Also, can someone explain to me why this wasn't a fumble? They reviewed it during the game, and they said it wasn't a fumble, but I could never understand why. He certainly wasn't down, and I think he probably had control. He had been running with the ball for like 5 or 6 yards.

Refs felt sorry for him. Get laid out like that...

I am no longer active here, nor will suggest people visit here. The majority of my interaction with Joe on here has been negative, and I was impressively, unimpressed at the tailgate.

The way his hands and arms are pulled in looks like he is still trying to secure the catch or bobbling the ball perhaps there is a different angle?

Doubtful as it was shoulder to shoulder. Neither player's head made any contact.

And YES that was a fumble!

Is there a possibility that Ford will not play against SU?

Neither Ford nor Settle are listed on the injury report. They will both play. We need all the offensive weapons we can get when going up against Cuse's scoring machine.

at least for the first half

If a tree falls in Scott Stadium does it make a sound?


"...sticks and stones may break my bones but I'm gonna kick you repeatedly in the balls Gardoki!"

Great work French!

Syracuse is going to try to hit big plays, eager to see how the defense plays and handles all the one on ones Syracuse will look to create.

They've got some solid skill players. Seems they can surprise you with some
big plays at times. Will be interesting to see how #7 gets covered.

Assuming that VT is stopping the run with 6, I expect when Etta Tawo is on the boundary, Terrell Edmunds will press him and then hand him off to the corner (who will be playing a deep third.)

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

Interesting, thanks.

Did we show this look last week? I seem to remember Edmunds lined up pressed outside against a trips formation with a corner playing off behind him.

Yes, except we did it more against Switzer, who lined up more often to the field side.

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

Equanimeous St. Brown

Key and Peele are suing for bit infringement

TIMEOUT... why are the Chicago Bears playing Notre Dame??

THIS. I thought the exact same thing when I was watching it live

I thought it looked a bit like LOLUVA

Nice work French. i love the subtleties you pull from the film.

Besides the occasional deep completion to Amba Etta-Tawo, what other types of plays could pose a challenge to the Hokie defense. In other words if Syracuse is able to put points on the board, what kinds of plays are we most likely to be examining in the films next week?

"Don't go to, go through"

Screens and quick hitches. Ishmael and Estime are both high volume possession guys, but not the down field threat that Etta-Towa is. Their running game is just like East Carolina's in past years. On tapes, you see them breaking a handful of decent chunk runs, but those chunk runs are created by space from the spread. VT has, for the most part, shut that type of running game down. Dungey isn't a guy where they can line up and run QB power. He had a bunch of carries against Wake due to the rain, and the hits he took impacted both his long term health and his ability to throw (based on his own comments: http://dailyorange.com/2016/10/eric-dungey-forced-take-syracuse-football... )

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

So I have to ask (and I apologize if I missed it anywhere)... how do you see this game playing out? You know our squad a heck of a lot more than anyone else in here, and you've gone through to torture of watching Syracuse's highlights from the season, which deserves a merit on its own. I know you're cautioning us that the Cuse receivers can go off on us, but do you actually see that happening, or are you confident enough in what you've seen from our defense that we should be able to contain them pretty well?

I assume you're in agreement with the rest of the football world that we shouldn't have any problems when our offense is on the field against their defense that statistically is to defense what our offense has been to offense the last few years.

King Alum of the House Hokie, the First of His Name, Khal of the Turkey Legs, The rightful Heir to the Big Board, the Unbanned, Breaker of Trolls and Father of Gritty

I think the Hokies will win. I would like to see them win with ease and not be forced to overplay Ford or Settle. We will need both against Miami and Pitt.

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

This sounds an awful lot like a prediction, I thought you stayed away from those.

Oh ok so that debacle was french's fault. No more predicting, French.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

looked like the main reason the running play worked so well in clip 4 was that the linebacker(52 or 55?) took himself out of the play. I know it's hard to comment on someone else's defense; but was he supposed to have outside contain or should he have been filling the gap the running back come through? It looked like he was going upfield outside the defensive end; then tried to get back to the play after the RB was through the line.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

In a large part, yes. That is why the spread works as a running offense. It stretches out the defender's gaps so they lose gap integrity.

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

I am a little worried in the Orange Offense, but I have faith in Bud to be able to limit their production.

I don't want to have to rely on an offense scoring 55 to win like we did against Tulsa.

Exactly. I want the Hokies to score 55 because 85-0 would look a bit rude.

Leonard. Duh.

Going for two, are we?

A great way to stop the read option is penetration up the middle, and I think their interior OL vs our DTs is a huge mismatch in our favor.

I would really, really like to see us run the ball better through the interior. That remains one of my biggest concerns for this team, especially if we play a defense with a large, athletic defensive line and linebackers (Miami, Pitt, maybe Clemson if we play our cards right). We are rushing for good yardage, but not great averages.

edit: don't know how that originally said "battle" haha

I agree, we should

run the battle better

(I think)

"Don't go to, go through"

This might be the game for that. I think 500 of Louisville's 850 yards was on the ground.

You know... I have a theory (and trust me, I still need to see a lot of football to make sure of this), I don't know if Fuente really wants lots of big yards tackle to tackle. The offensive line plays with very tight splits, and that kind of jams everything up and makes it pretty tough for the uncovered linemen to get to the linebackers. At the same time, it keeps the defensive alignment tight, which creates more space outside. I have wanted to do a large sample and look at the design more closely, so at this point it is a theory, but more and more I think that runs tackle to tackle are more to set the defense up for other plays than intended to be big ground gainers.

Again, just a theory. My tune may change. But the blocking inside hasn't been terrible.

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

Now that is a very interesting thought. I hadn't really thought much about the splits, and a lot of our big plays have come outside the tackles, regardless of play type. I was a little concerned about our interior pass pro early in the season, but I haven't been noticing it as an issue the last few games. If this is true, it actually makes me feel better about our run game overall.

You may be on to something, those splits are awfully tight. And it's noticeable on inside runs, the RB often plows right into the back of an O-lineman. There's not a lot of room in there. So what your saying then is the edge is easier/quicker to get to if the D-line is in tighter?? Very intriguing......

"Don't go to, go through"

I think you're 100% correct. Fuente seems to want the outside for yards. The jet sweeps, WR screens, sped options all point to it. So the more bunched, the more space to the outside.

But how will that play with fast LBs (like Miami)? Not getting blockers to the second level to slow them down could backfire. Now I have something else to watch!

Great write up! I predict we get 3+ turnovers in this game. Any idea what their special teams looks like?


their punt returner is really good. It will help if we don't ever punt.

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

When they punt, do they use a shield/swinging-gate to protect the punter? We seem to be doing very well against those types of punt formations.

"Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our heart with tolerance."
-Stan Lee

"Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."
-Ron Swanson

"11-0, bro"
-Hunter Carpenter (probably)

On the flip side, if we do punt, there is almost a zero percent chance of us out kicking our coverage.

Is it basketball season yet?

At the same time, there is a greater than zero chance we kick directly into our coverage.

^true story

Virginian by Birth, Hokie by Choice

Would love to see one of the Nerds Stats guys on TKP try and find out if Ludwig has set any kind of record for hitting his own guys in the back?

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club