I vividly remember the Hokies 62-0 thrashing of Syracuse in 1999. And even though both programs are in very different places in 2023, the Hokies domination of the Orange on Thursday night harkened back to that legendary Blacksburg afternoon. Delivering the complimentary football head coach Brent Pry has pleaded for since his arrival, Virginia Tech did almost everything at a higher level than we have seen in recent memory. Yes, Syracuse has struggled this season, but the Hokies showed growth in all phases. Offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen continues to find his footing in his role, adding new wrinkles to get his playmakers in space. The defense delivered a dominating performance behind sound fundamentals, proper gap fits and the attitude to match. Even the special teams delivered, with five field goals from placekicker John Love and terrific punt return work by Tucker Holloway. Instead of playing down to an opponent, a trademark of the previous administration, the Hokies were technically sound and emotionally intense throughout the game, overcoming red zone issues that signaled some regression by quarterback Kyron Drones. It is exactly the kind of performance that can spark a great stretch, and with Louisville, the best team the Hokies will face over the final quarter of the season, looming next week, the Hokies needed the confidence booster going into a major road test.
New Wrinkles in the Run Game
Over the last three film reviews, I extensively analyzed how Bowen found success over and over running variations of a tailback threat wide one way and the quarterback run threat the other way. This forced opposing defenses to defend two different parts of the field, limiting backside pursuit. This strategy only works if defenses regard both run options as a threat.
Against Syracuse, Bowen finally was able to add a new, consistently successful element to the run game, the outside zone read. However, his strategy incorporated a wide variety of blocking schemes and pre-snap motion coupled with the threat of a quarterback run that created huge running lanes, even when blocking wasn't perfect. The most successful adjustment featured an interesting inside trap by the tight end, almost like a wham block on a split zone read. That movement by the tight end cut off backside pursuit, and the movement also tricked the backside linebacker into defending a split zone read quarterback run even though Kyrone Drones rarely executed the fake.
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