TSLX Supplement to the Virginia Game Analysis
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 12/3/02
Special Teams Genius
I recall reading an article, probably one of the billions of articles about Virginia Tech football during the 1999 season, that discussed Tech's special teams skill. The article said that Frank Beamer will spend hours poring over an opponent's special teams film, looking for weaknesses that he can exploit. He has been known to put in special plays just for certain opponents.
I filed that little nugget away, and then Sunday, a quote caught my eye. Justin Hamilton blocked a punt against Virginia, and one of the post game articles talked about Hamilton confessing that he now believed everything that was said about Coach Beamer, that he is indeed a special teams genius.
I immediately wondered what it was that earned Hamilton's awe, and I decided to break down the punt block and see if I could figure it out.
I'm glad I made that decision. I rarely give a punt block a second look, because it strikes me that most of them are just examples of a team piling ten guys on the line of scrimmage, overloading the blockers, and getting lucky with a breakthrough.
Not so here, folks. That frenetic display of punt-blocking that you saw on Saturday was actually a planned play, drawn up in detail and executed with precision and perfection by all eleven Virginia Tech players on the field.
What Beamer Saw in the UVa Film
As I sat down to watch the tape, I immediately knew what weakness Beamer saw that he wanted to exploit. Virginia does something I've never noticed any other punt team doing, and Beamer saw it, too.
When they punt, Virginia lines up seven players on the line: the long-snapper, and three players to each side. Players eight and nine are personal protectors who line up behind the snapper, one on each side. A tenth player, whom we'll call a safety valve, lines up behind the protectors, and he cheats either to the left or the right.
There's nothing unusual about that. The difference comes when the ball is snapped. The three players to each side of the long-snapper, instead of engaging the players in front of them and blocking them or pushing upfield, will all stand up and head to the outside in unison. The three players on the left head to the left side, and the three players to the right start towards the right side, nearly parallel to the line of scrimmage.
This leaves a void on each side of the snapper, and the two personal protectors (players 8 and 9) step up into the gaps and block anyone who comes through the interior of the line. The safety valve picks up anyone who makes it through the protectors or comes from the perimeter.
Frank Beamer saw that funky little move by the six guys on the line and cooked up something to use it to his advantage.
How Tech Exploited UVa's Scheme
The diagram below shows how the Hokies used Virginia's blocking scheme against them to create a punt block.
The key players for the Hokies in this setup are on the right side of Tech's line: Jordan Trott (#41), Darryl Tapp (#58), James Anderson (#47), and Justin Hamilton (#27). Also playing a major part is Nathaniel Adibi (#83).
The concept behind the VT play is simple: instead of lining up right on the line, where he would get blocked, Hamilton stood up and lined up behind Tapp. From that position, he fires up the gap created by the vacating Virginia players and makes the block, as outlined in the diagram.
But the play has many complexities and requires execution from all ten players on the line, not just Hamilton. As the ball is snapped, and the Virginia players on the line start to move towards the outside (as shown by the arrows), here's everything that happens:
At this point, the three left-side blockers have been allowed to move to the left unimpeded, and Tapp has swept the left-side personal protector away from the gap that Hamilton is going to fire through. Adibi has single-handedly occupied both the right-side personal protector and the safety valve.
The result is the parting of the Red Sea. Hamilton never got close to being touched, and the punt block he executed, though uncontested, was actually not that easy. He had to pull up a little bit and make sure that he blocked the ball as Tom Hagan (#10 for Virginia) punted it, instead of overrunning the punt and either missing it completely or running into Hagan.
After the block, with the ball careening towards the UVa goal line, Hamilton got first shot at it and failed to pick it up. He was followed by Adibi and Tapp. Tapp was the second to arrive at the ball, and he scooped it up and scored.
The complexities and the nuances of this play that Frank Beamer designed are interesting. The way he had Trott and Anderson clear out, with Tapp knifing to the inside and Adibi firing straight ahead, were brilliant. This created a huge seam for Hamilton. It required precise execution from all of the VT players involved, as well as a little cooperation from the unwitting Hoos, and it all came together nicely.
This is why we love football. While it is violent and often unpredictable, there are times where it is a carefully-orchestrated dance that relies on perfect and timely execution. This was one of those times. As I watched the tape of this block over and over, I was struck by the fact that while most punt blocks appear to be a simple case of the rushers outnumbering the blockers, this one was a case of a coach -- Frank Beamer -- exploiting something he saw on film, using a well-designed play and getting great execution from his players.
Virginia's Third-Quarter Short Passing Game
As discussed in the free portion of the game analysis, the Cavaliers chose the wind in the third quarter out of fear of falling farther behind the Hokies on the scoreboard.
But then Virginia proceeded to make no effort to take advantage of the wind. The Cavaliers threw eight passes in the third quarter, and only one of them was thrown farther than two yards downfield. And that one pass -- a deep ball to Billy McMullen with under a minute to go in the quarter -- was a disaster, as it was picked off by Garnell Wilds.
Here's the breakdown of Virginia's passing attempts in the quarter -- in the following table, a screen refers to any pass thrown behind the line, be it a flanker screen, swing pass to the tailback, or what have you. "LOS" means line of scrimmage.
That's 8 passes thrown, with Schaub going 4-for-8 for 25 yards, 1 TD, and one interception. Not exactly judicious use of the wind, either. By that time, the Cavalier coaches knew that Schaub was having an off night, and they simply didn't try anything downfield, as they had in the first half.
But let's also give the Virginia Tech defense credit. Virginia had been feasting off of the short passing game all year long, picking up all kinds of yardage, and the Hokies shut them down. Every time a Wahoo caught a short pass, a Hokie was there to greet him and bring him down. Even on the Heath Miller TD, Michael Crawford was in position, he just slipped a little on the $1 million imitation ice skating rink that Tech got stuck with by some swindler of a turf company, and he missed the tackle.
My take is that the third-quarter play-calling was a surprising lack of aggressiveness by the Hoos and a great
defensive job by the Hokies.