Central Florida Game Analysis: Run and Blitz 
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 11/13/00

Click here for the game recap with stats

This game was very simple: Tech's offensive and defensive coordinators, Rickey Bustle and Bud Foster, took the basic tenets of their philosophies -- run the ball and blitz the quarterback, respectively -- and amped them up to levels that Central Florida couldnít cope with.

Offensively, the Hokies came out with the mindset of running the ball, and run they did: 61 of 69 offensive plays, or 88.4%, were running plays. In the second half, Tech passed the ball just once and ran it 31 times, although to be accurate, one of the runs was a Dave Meyer scramble on a pass play -- if Dave passes on that play, then the ratio is "only" 30-2, and not 31-1.

Defensively, Tech blitzed over and over and over, putting pressure on UCF's freshman quarterback Ryan Schneider and knocking him around relentlessly. Schneider finally exited the game early in the fourth quarter and gave the reins over to backup Vic Penn. On the day, Tech sacked UCF QB's 6 times and recorded many more knockdowns and hurries.

This game analysis will be relatively short and will center around the comments just made. I'll admit that I didn't pore over my game tape, because I donít think it's necessary to in order to comment on this game. Despite UCF's pre-game chest thumping, despite their 7-3 record, and despite their belief that they could give the Hokies a game, they were hopelessly overmatched and compounded their problems by self-destructing in a flurry of turnovers.


The Offense: Suggs, Suggs, and More Suggs

The Hokies handed the ball off to emerging superstar Lee Suggs 30 times in this game. You have to go all the way back to the 1997 Miami game, in which Ken Oxendine recorded 36 carries, to find a total exceeding what Suggs logged in this game.

Simply put, with their two-back system, Virginia Tech running backs don't often total 30 carries in a game, despite the fact that Tech is a run-oriented football team.

With Michael Vick on the shelf and Dave Meyer running the show, it was obvious that the Tech coaching staff decided to simply cram the ball down the throats of the Central Florida defense, which is now ranked #39 in the country against the rush. That doesn't exactly qualify them as a weak sister against the run, especially when you consider that the current ranking includes the 313 yards rolled up by the Hokies. So the Tech coaching staff must have seen something they felt they could exploit.

Although the result was a win for the Hokies and five touchdowns for Lee Suggs, it didn't exactly make for entertaining viewing. I can't help but think that any non-Hokie and non-UCF fans watching this one got pretty bored, particularly when Meyer went out of the game with a rib injury midway through the third quarter, and the Hokies proceeded to run the ball 20 straight times.

Which brings us to the topic of Grant Noel. A quarter and a half is a long time for a quarterback to play without being allowed to attempt a single pass. Grant has been in the program as long as Michael Vick, and given that the Hokies led 44-21 when he got to run his first true series of downs, I think he should have been allowed to put the ball in the air at least once or twice.

"If I was him," one Hokie fan told me, "I would have audibled to a pass a couple of times. What are they doing to do -- sit him down? Not let him play? Not likely, given that he was their only healthy quarterback."

Although it's tempting to consider, such outright displays of insubordination donít sit well with coaches, and Grant Noel would surely never see the light of day again, had he pulled such a stunt.

After handing off to Lee Suggs for a touchdown on his first play, Noel watched UCF score a TD to make it 44-21, and that was the score when he re-entered the game with 3:47 to go in the third quarter. That's just a three-score margin, and with a couple of breaks, UCF's offense could have easily posted three scores in the remaining 19 minutes of the game to win, particularly when you consider that Tech only had one healthy cornerback on the entire team at that point -- Eric Green.

But as the ball game got deeper and deeper into the fourth quarter, with Tech's lead still at 44-21 the whole time, the coaching staff should have thrown Noel a bone and let him enjoy himself a little. Remember, UCF's backup QB was in the game most of the fourth quarter -- a three-score comeback at that point was unlikely.

I don't mean to dwell on such a minor point for such a long time, but the 61-8 ratio of runs to passes produced some grumbling among Hokie fans after the game. The strategy easily produced a win, and that's good. It often produces wins against the soft, non-top-10 teams that fill Tech's schedule. Just last year, Tech ran the ball 50 times and only threw it 9 against UVa.

But looking beyond this game, many Hokie fans are understandably starting to question Virginia Tech's heavy reliance on the running game. If the goal is a national championship -- and with Tech's annual easy schedule and membership in the Big East, it should be -- then shouldn't Virginia Tech develop a passing game that will allow them to compete with the Floridas and Florida States of the world? I think so, and there will be plenty of time to talk about that later, after the season is over.

But for this game, the heavy reliance on the run wasn't about the Tech offense -- it was about the depleted Tech defense, and keeping them off the field against a Central Florida team that probably would have produced 28 or 35 points, had they not committed so many turnovers.


The Field Position Battle

One key to the Tech victory was no doubt field position. This was a game-within-the-game that they lost against Miami, but they won it handily here.

The Hokies' average starting position, according to my calculation, was the Tech 45 yard line. Central Florida, on the other hand, averaged starting on their own 23 yard line.

The discrepancy is easy to figure out: UCF turned the ball over six times, including an interception by Ben Taylor that he returned to the UCF 4 yard line. The Hokies, on the other hand, didn't turn the ball over once, and when they kicked off, Carter Warley booted 4 touchbacks. One of Warley's touchbacks came on a kickoff from the 50 yard line, but nevertheless, he was responsible for UCF starting a third of their twelve drives from their own 20. In addition to that, Bobby Peaslee dropped one of this three punts inside the UCF 20.

Dave Meyer should also receive credit for the field position that the Hokies enjoyed. Tech had no turnovers, and Meyer's cool hand at the controls played a big part in that. He has eliminated the fumble problems that plagued him, and he made good decisions in the passing game, both when he threw it and when he tucked and ran. And he ran the option well.

While we're on the topic of Meyer, one of Dave's more interesting faults is that despite having a strong arm, he often underthrows the deep ball. In the Pittsburgh game, he underthrew Emmett Johnson on the play where Johnson made the great sliding grab, and in this game, he underthrew Ernest Wilford on a fly pattern in the first half. He got it right in the first quarter though, when he hit Johnson with a beautifully thrown ball that turned into a 55-yard gain.

Now that he's a fifth-year senior, I think that Meyer would be an excellent quarterback, if he had gotten significant reps as a starter in past years.


Defense: the Hokies Bring the House

One week after applying no pressure on Miami's Ken Dorsey, the Hokies brought the house in this game, blitzing UCF's Schneider over and over, until he finally bowed out of the game early in the fourth quarter.

It has been a long, long time since I've seen the Hokies blitz this much, if ever. And we're not talking just a Rover blitz here and a Whip linebacker blitz there. Most of the time, when the Hokies blitzed, it was with at least three players, and I thought I saw four blitzers once or twice.

Ben Taylor and Jake Houseright blitzed together so often that you would have thought they were tied together with a rope. Most of the time, they were joined by Cory Bird from the Rover position, while the Whip linebacker, usually Phillip Summers, would drop back in coverage. The Hokies even blitzed the free safety, Kevin McCadam, on one occasion.

I also saw one play where the entire linebacking crew (Taylor, Houseright, and Sorensen) blitzed. This is very unusual for Tech.

For all his genius as a tactician, Bud Foster sometimes tends to go too soft on opposing offenses, and to take it a little easy by not blitzing. This was definitely a factor in the Miami game.

There are many risks with blitzing. For one, the opposing team might hand the ball off to a running back, and if he picks the right gap, he can make it through the line and have a lot of open space in front of him. Or the QB might scramble and run long, as Vick did against Boston College earlier this year. Or the other team might throw a slant pattern or burn you with a pass to the tight end or running back.

A blitz looks like uncontrolled fury, but it's really a tightly controlled chess match between the offensive and defensive coordinators. It's all about positioning of players, and once the players are positioned, it comes down to making plays.

So why the heavy "sellout" blitzing in this contest? The only thing I can think of is that the Hokies knew they didn't have much to worry about from UCF's rushing game, which barely averaged over 80 yards a game. And Ryan Schneider wasn't a threat to run. So it call came down to getting to Schneider before he could get the ball to his receivers.

Not to mention that the Miami game showed that if you let a good passing quarterback stand in the pocket unmolested, he will complete passes against Tech's young and injury-depleted crew of cornerbacks.

On the whole, the strategy worked. UCF had some nice numbers passing (28-45 for 362 yards and 3 TD's), but those numbers were balanced out by costly interceptions (4 total) and 6 sacks by Tech. The interceptions and sacks were caused by the blitzing.

Again, it's a game of strategy when you blitz: can you force the quarterback to make a mistake, or can you sack him, before he is able to take his team all the way down the field? For the most part, the answer in this game was "yes," so Foster's strategy worked. Perhaps he now wonders what would have happened had he gone after Miami's Ken Dorsey last week. Given that Miami's talent level is way above UCF's, Foster decided to play it safer against Miami.

One thing is clear: with a decimated crew of Tech cornerbacks and little to no pass rush from the Tech defensive line (only 2 of the 6 sacks came from the DL in this game), the thought of blitzing is attractive to us armchair quarterbacks. Dance with the one what brung ya. Be aggressive and make them beat you. If you're going to go down, go down swinging.

If the Hokies are going to be beaten by an opponent's passing game, I think most Tech fans would rather see the Hokies apply the pressure and make the other team make the plays, instead of letting the QB stand in the pocket and conduct a no-pressure passing drill.

Tech's next opponent, the UVa Cavaliers, are probably now thoroughly confused as to what they're going to see from Tech. Will it be the lay-back team that played Miami, or the ears-pinned-back team that played Central Florida? I doubt Tech will blitz UVa nearly as much as they blitzed UCF, for two reasons: (1) UVa has a running game, and (2) UVa has an experienced QB in Dan Ellis.

Still, I would like to see the Hokies bring it against the Hoos. Combine a fierce defensive attack with a Lane Stadium night crowd, and you vastly increase the Hokies' chances of winning.


Next Up: the Hoos

Tech gets a much-needed week off before tangling with the UVa Cavaliers in Lane Stadium. The game is set for 7:30 on November 25th, and it will be televised on ESPN.

I think I can speak for most Hokie fans by saying that last year's 31-7 thumping of UVa in Charlottesville was nice, but there is still the matter of the 36-32 loss to UVa in Lane Stadium back in 1998 that needs to be resolved. Revenge for that loss is what Hokie fans are seeking.

If Virginia Tech can win the season-ender over the Wahoos, it will give the Hokies victories in 5 of the last 8 games against UVa, and 4 of the last 6. If the Hokies had been able to hang on to their 29-7 half time lead in 1998, they would be shooting for 5 out of 6 Ö but that's life. The Wahoos can make a similar argument about Tech's 1995 comeback.

What is even more important is that the game gives the Hokies a chance to end the regular season at 10-1. That would be a remarkable achievement, given the personnel losses from the 1999 team, Michael Vick's subpar season (plus his injury), and the injuries suffered at cornerback and to Andre Davis. Very few people expected the Hokies to be 9-1 at this point in this season, and even fewer would have expected it had they known this many key players would be injured this season.

In any event, there's just one more game to go. It's hard to believe the regular season is almost over. I'll return with a preview and prediction next week.

          

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