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The Kroger Roth Report
September 5, 2013
Misdirection, options key to Tech's offensive philosophy
The Roth Report
By Bill Roth

Back in January, Virginia Tech introduced Scot Loeffler as the team’s new offensive coordinator.

On Aug. 31 against No. 1 Alabama, Loeffler introduced a new offense to Hokie fans everywhere.

“What we’re going to be is basically a pro-style team with the ability to run the spread offense,” Loeffler said after a preseason where Tech’s key scrimmages and practices were closed. “What we’re going to do is actually similar to the Washington Redskins except they’re a wide zone team with the ability to run some play action and spread option. We’re doing basically the same thing except using the triple-option.”

That’s a new look for Virginia Tech. For fans who have asked for “an identity” for the Hokies’ offense over the years, well, now you’ve got one.

“We want to give that option look, the misdirection and counter action,” head coach Frank Beamer told me. “It makes it harder on defenses to shift and stunt. It makes it harder to blitz.”

That was Loeffler’s game plan in the opening series against Alabama at the Georgia Dome.

“We were going to run the triple option the first series regardless of the down and the distance,” Loeffler said. “The reasons were, No. 1, Alabama hadn’t prepared for it, of course, because that’s something Virginia Tech has never done. But secondly, Nick’s [Saban] blitz packages are so effective and so complex that we wanted to back them off a bit.”

Thus, even when the Hokies’ faced third-and-9 on their opening possession, Tech ran an option play with D.J. Coles carrying the ball.

“What that does is give the defensive coordinators something else to plan for,” Beamer said.

If you think Beamer and Loeffler are sounding a bit like Redskins’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, you’re right.

“The zone read is something I feel in the long run helps a quarterback,” Shanahan told blogger Dave Elfin of Washington, D.C., radio affiliate 106.7 The Fan. “Everyone’s accounted for, and there aren’t many free hitters. The whole key to the zone read is just the threat of the zone read. If you’re not honoring it, you’re usually going to get 15 yards before contact. It [2012] was the least pass rush I’ve ever seen as a coordinator. They [defenses] were just sitting there just scared to death, just watching and not moving.”

In Tech’s system, it’s the threat of the triple option that will keep defenses on their heels. Tech may line up in the wishbone, even with Thomas in the shotgun and then shift to four wide receivers, or vice-versa. That’s something new and exciting.

“About halfway through [last] year, I realized we’re not getting any of these blitzes that I used to see. The threat of a quarterback running makes [defenses] play 11 on 11 as opposed to 11 on 10, like they’ve been doing my whole career,” Shanahan said.

Thomas, who sees guys like Colin Kaepernick [San Francisco 49ers quarterback], Russell Wilson [Seattle Seahawks quarterback, and Robert Griffin III [Washington Redskins quarterback] running something similar in the NFL, is excited about Tech’s new scheme.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” Thomas told me when asked to describe the offense. “Defenses have to pick up on everything and prepare for it. We’ve got a lot of shifts and motions that are going to make it tough for people. If we get lined up and run the right blocking schemes, it’s going to be tough for people to stop us.”

Loeffler and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes are in agreement that it’s the best offense to run for the Hokies’ current personnel.

“Absolutely,” Loeffler said. “If you look at the makeup of our offensive line, the skill position people we have, and the abilities and experience of Logan, this offense fits exactly what we want to do.”

How does the scheme work in practicality? Trey Edmunds’ 77-yard touchdown run in the Alabama game offers a perfect example.

“We were giving the illusion that we were running triple option, but it wasn’t,” Loeffler told me. “We ended up kicking out the mike linebacker (with a tight end block), and Trey was able to split it.”

Here’s a good look at how that play worked. You’ll be able to see how the offensive line blocked this play and how it was executed perfectly.

In the first picture, the Hokies have the ball on their own 23-yard line. The formation shows two receivers to the field side (top of screen.) Thomas is in the pistol formation in front of Edmunds. The “Z,” or third receiver, is No. 82 Willie Byrn. He’s off Thomas’ left shoulder. The tight end on this play, No. 33 Darius Redman, is lined up behind the left tackle.

In picture No. 2, the ball has been snapped to Thomas. Byrn begins his option fake, while Redman sets his sights on Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, No. 32.

In picture No. 3, Edmunds has the ball, and Redman is about to block Mosley, while Thomas and Byrn continue to run their option fake. Note how the Tech offensive linemen have gotten to the second level and are blocking down the field, especially Andrew Miller, No. 74, who has engaged Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest at the 27–yard line.

Thomas and Byrn did a great job selling the option fake on this play, the blocking was perfect, and Edmunds out-ran the Alabama defenders 77 yards for a touchdown.

But the beauty is this: From the original formation, the play could have just as easily been a pass to Redman, or a quick screen to a receiver, or an option give to Byrn, or a play-action deep ball.

“We can do a lot of things from the same formation, and the shifting and misdirection keeps a defense from just teeing off on Logan,” Beamer said.

It’s a pro style offense, with the ability to run the spread and the triple option. And it will be fun to watch how this new offense grows and improves as the season progresses.

Dear Bill,
Another blowout loss to an SEC team. What good does it do our team and our players to get beat like that? With a young team, it would have been much smarter to open with a home game against an easy opponent, win 56-3 and let them get some playing time. Instead, we got embarrassed by Alabama, again. Todd, Arlington, Va.

Todd,
I thought it was a good game to play for Tech. Opening against Alabama gives our coaches a great yardstick of where the team is and where improvement must be made. I’m not sure Tech was “embarrassed” in this game or the 2009 game against Alabama, so I’m not sure where you’re coming from whatsoever. The game drew a 3.1 national television rating, which is tremendous exposure. The Hokies earned $2.5 million, and the team learned a lot about itself – certainly more than it would have learned in a 56-3 win over an easy opponent.

Dear Bill,
I really enjoyed listening to you and Mike in Atlanta. The reception in the Georgia Dome was perfect. A couple of thoughts: 1. We should play Alabama every year, or at least a powerful SEC team. It’s good for our players and a lot of fun for fans.

2. While Alabama was good, I don’t think that was the best team Tech has ever played, like Coach Beamer said. Time will tell, but that 1999 Florida State team or some early 90’s Miami teams were better, IMO.

3.Trey Edmunds is the man.

Thanks for all you do. Chris, Charlotte, N.C.

Chris,
Thanks for listening. We’re glad you enjoyed the trip despite the outcome of the game. We’ll see how good this Alabama team ends up, but as David Teel wrote in this story, the 2001 Miami team that Tech played had eight future NFL Pro Bowl players in its starting lineup: http://www.dailypress.com/sports/teel-blog/dp-teel-time-miami-2001-beamer,0,921170.post. That Miami team, and the 1987 Miami team, which featured Michael Irvin, Melvin Bratton and Steve Walsh certainly merit discussion. Also, as you said, the ’99 Seminoles, and some of the 90’s ‘Canes teams (think Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis) come to mind as well.

Bill,
You guys need to talk more about Kyle and Kendall Fuller. What a GREAT job they did against Alabama. Justin, Richmond, Va.

Justin,
You’re right. Kyle was fantastic against Alabama, especially in one-on-one situations with Amari Cooper. Kendall has a really bright future, too. The Fullers have been outstanding players and even better people for Tech’s program over the years, and I’m eager to see Kendall develop in the coming years.

Dear Bill,
I haven’t felt this good about a Tech offensive line since the mid-90’s. What do you think about these guys? JT, Marion, Va.

JT,
You have to be impressed with what coach Jeff Grimes and those guys are doing. We must avoid injuries and could use a few more bodies, but that’s a really nice group that’s working hard. They should improve as the season progresses.

Bill,
After watching the game, we need better receivers. Imagine how good our offense would be if we could put Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald on the field with Logan! That would be amazing! Rick L, Chesapeake, Va.

Rick,
Tech’s receivers will get better. Nobody feels worse than they do after the opener, and there are about 100 college teams (and 32 NFL teams) that wish they could put those three receivers on the field at the same time. Nice wish list, though!

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The Roth report appears monthly in Inside Hokie Sport and is posted for the general public on hokiesports.com.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Virginia Tech Athletics Department, hokiesports.com, or its advertisers.
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