Publisher's Note: Chase Mummau was a walk-on quarterback at Virginia Tech from 2016-17.
Blocking Scheme in Zone-Run Plays
Virginia Tech's offense employs a zone-oriented run scheme in the majority of their play calls. What's a zone run scheme you ask? It is a design in which the offensive line will block whichever defender is in their respective "zone" at the snap. Offensive coordinators favor this scheme because there are no set blocking rules other than to zone. So theoretically it should account for all defenders against any front that a defense might show. Whether that is an over or under front, or even a bear front, the zone running scheme should be successful if the offensive line reads their respective keys.
For the first few games when offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen would call a zone play, the offensive line was taught to cut on the backside. Cut blocking is a technique that offensive linemen utilize to slow down defenders. Triple-option offenses love cut blocks because it doesn't allow opposing defensive linemen to read the play as it develops. The clip above shows right tackle Silas Dzansi attempting to cut block defensive tackle Tanner Karafa (No. 48). As you can see, the block was ineffective as Karafa eventually assisted with the tackle. A cut block can become a liability if the offensive lineman misses or doesn't get enough of a piece of the defender. That was evident over the first few weeks of Virginia Tech's season.
Since the Duke game, offensive line coach Vance Vince and the offensive staff have opted to base block on the backside of zone-run plays. This means that the backside tackle will block the backside defender one-on-one, and prevent the defender from running down the play from behind. In the clip above, the play call is a zone to the right. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw base blocks the 3-technique DT Trevon McSwain (No. 95) because the defensive end is wide enough that he won't affect the play. As the play rolls, Darrisaw gets inside position on McSwain which creates a hole that Deshawn McClease doesn't miss. Too often early in the season the cut block would be ineffective, and this switch has seemed to work as the running game has become more explosive and effective.
Designed QB Runs in Pass Play Calls
With the change at quarterback, Cornelsen has leveraged personnel and implement a quarterback run into many pass plays. Watch the plays above. McClease releases to block, that is by design. Hendon Hooker knows that if there isn't a throw available, the QB run is also blocked up. This wrinkle makes it very difficult for defenses to defend because they don't know if the running back is releasing to run a route, or to eventually block for the quarterback. This element was not present with Ryan Willis behind center. Willis was known more for his arm, so defenses weren't as stressed about his ability to run the football. With Hooker and Quincy Patterson, defenses have to respect the fact that they can run. Either that, or they will get torched on third downs as evidenced above.
This is the single adjustment that has helped Virginia Tech's offense the most over the past three games. When you run an RPO (Run Pass Option) offense, you must have a mobile quarterback who can make plays with their feet. Having this read built in also helps whoever is in at quarterback know that there is always a way out without having to dump the ball out of bounds.
Tight End Motions/Usage
Dalton Keene and James Mitchell have become the focal points of the Virginia Tech offense. Keene is utilized more for his blocking acumen while Mitchell's catching ability has begun to expose defenses. Tight ends are a quarterback's best friend. When you don't have to throw the ball outside of the hashes to gain yards, it makes the signal caller's life a lot easier to sustain drives.
The recently incorporated tight end motions have sparked new life in Tech's offensive production. This addition prevents defenses to get set based on formation. Offensive coordinators love motioning players because they know that they will get base coverages on the back-end. Not allowing the defense time to make checks, provides Tech's young and inexperienced gun slingers simplified coverages to read.
I love Keene aligned in the backfield to stay in for protection. The running backs are not the best in protection, so putting a tight end back there helps guarantee the quarterback an extra second or two. The above clip is the same play call that I featured when I discussed designed QB run calls within a pass play. This time though, instead of McClease lead blocking, it is Keene, the Hokies' best overall blocker. As you can see, Patterson drops back to pass and when he realizes that there isn't anything downfield, he takes off and follows Twenty-Nine. Cornelsen has also called runs to Keene from that running back position, which keeps the defense honest. Just because he aligns back there doesn't mean it's going to be a pass play.
Look for the offense to continue to move both Keene and Mitchell around in formations to get defenses to tip their hands. This week against Notre Dame is going to be the toughest test of the season and the success of the offense is going to be predicated on how well the tight end room plays.