Taming the Pack: Hokies Run Roughshod over NC State

Virginia Tech opened its 2020 football season with a dominating run performance. Breaking down the film of what made Tech successful in the trenches.

[Virginia Tech Athletics \ Dave Knachel]

Minutes before kickoff, as confirmation of rumored attrition in the Virginia Tech ranks circulated social media and the ACC Network, the NC State Wolfpack faithful must have howled at the opportunity to devour a traditional conference power in a weakened state. The Wolfpack offense had run roughshod over Wake Forest, and now Virginia Tech, missing a quarter of its roster and coaching staff, seemed like easy prey.

Facing a mountain of adversity (missing practice time, illness, injury, new schemes, and consecutive losses to end 2019), Virginia Tech was on a mission to domesticate the Pack. The Hokies' offensive line dominated NC State, and Tech's new-look stable of running backs rumbled to spark a 314-yard rushing performance. It was an impressive night from the Hokies that caught many fans, pundits and analysts, including your commentator, off guard, and the Wolfpack to lick its wounds.

Moving the Nose and the Quarterback Run Threat

Virginia Tech's veteran and talented offensive line this season delivered an encore worthy performance. Size and skill plus much improved footwork and blocking angles created a perfect recipe for a whupping. It was even more impressive how the offensive line dealt with change. As early as the first drive of the second quarter, at least two different Hokies had played each offensive line position except for Brock Hoffman at center. Then, when quarterback Braxton Burmeister left the game with hand cramps, the offensive scheme drastically adjusted. The Hokies had relied heavily on zone reads under Burmeister's direction. In essence, when Burmeister operated the offense, Virginia Tech closely mirrored the Chip Kelly attack that Oregon recently brought to prominence.

With Quincy Patterson behind center, Tech adopted much heavier use of power and pin and pull technique. Instead of zoning exclusively, the Hokies were driving into defenders, pinning them away from the running lanes. No matter who was on the field, or what blocking scheme they were executing, the Hokies' offensive line consistently controlled the line of scrimmage.

As I pointed out in my preview, the key to Tech's running game was lateral movement on NC State nose tackle Alim McNeill. Tech heavily featured outside zone during Burmeister's stints, and guards Lecitus Smith, Doug Nester, and Bryan Hudson often were forced to scoop McNeill. Along with Hoffman, the foursome did a tremendous job of moving McNeill and creating cutback lanes. In addition, the threat of the quarterback run eliminated a defender from pursuit to create even more space for running backs Khalil Herbert, Raheem Blackshear, and Jalen Holston.

Out of the gate, Tech ran a staple of Oregon's playbook — an outside zone read.

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