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Hokie Football Focus: Marshall

By Mike Holmes | September 26
Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP

The Virginia Tech Football Hokies are in a bad way. I always try to be an optimist about all things related to the Hokies, as it takes too much energy to be a hater. We all expected this season to not be perfect, but most in the fanbase expected some sort of growth from the staff and program as a whole. There have been some expected growing pains and some of the craziest things to happen to a team in just four weeks of a season (weather delay, plane issues, 14 surgeries, key injuries, etc). With all that said, this program has not grown thus far to the necessary level to be able to compete with P5 teams. As a former coach, I will never call for another coach to lose his job. There are some things, however, that could happen this season to shake things up a bit, changing up roles and responsibilities in the coaching staff, for example could shake things up a bit. Something needs to happen and soon, in order to show all the stakeholders in the program that the staff is trying everything they can to put a competitive squad on the field.

Usually every week I chronologically break down the game and things I notice on film to help fans better understand why certain things go right or wrong during the game. This week, I want to look at some things that happened this week that are evidence of some much larger issues that permeate the program as a whole that may be leading to these losses.



The first drive of the game shows why there is hope to be had. Kyron Drones got the start for the second game in a row and showed what intangibles he brings to the table. We actually have a pretty good game plan, our line was blocking downfield, we threw the ball and ran the ball well and there was a brief moment of hope that the Hokies had turned a corner. BTW Drones is an effortless runner as evident on the TD.


Tuten also showed his growth as a runner. In previous weeks, he hit the hole hard, but with our line struggles, holes were limited. In this game, Tuten showed some patience and burst in hitting holes and had a great day on the ground compared to previous weeks.


Drones improved as a passer in his second game. This play is an example of his growth in the pocket. Drones has time to throw and makes his read progressions from left to right and hits Stephen Gosnell for a big gain.


Mose Phillips has been thrown into action early and often this year. As a freshman, it can be difficult to adjust to the speed of the college game, and Mose has had some real bright spots. In this particular play Mose shows how he is growing in ability to help in the run game, where we have struggled a lot in the season. On this play, he diagnoses the run and runs the alley and makes the play.


Keli Lawson is also growing as a player. We have seen recent examples in the ACC of players that have changed positions and sides of the ball and have had great success, most notably, Chazz Surratt from UNC who went from QB to LB and now plays in the NFL for the Jets. Keli has the potential to be that type of player. He is growing each week as a linebacker and this interception shows his ability to make plays dropping in coverage. The sky's the limit if he continues to grow each week.



Pass Protection was Much improved early this season and has gotten progressively worse. The Hokies have bad feet and get caught reaching. VT has a difficult time picking up twists and stunts from the DL and just struggle at times in pass protection. The opposition helps VT out with a vanilla pass rush where the OL can get their feet set.


The Hokies started well. OL got into the second level on this run by Tuten and the Hokies had some early success on the ground. For some reason, however (I will discuss more later in the Article) Bowen decided to get away from the run that was working. Also the the 20 and 21 personnel here was a little wrinkle in the run game


Here is why the Hokies maybe go away from the run game at times.

The OL completely reaches for blocks and whiffs causing a big hit in the backfield on Tuten, causing a fumble. This is in an important situation up 7-0 after the Keli Lawson interception Felton just dropped a TD and VT has to move the ball. The OL should want to manhandle everyone but the OL appears timid and unsure of assignments. This has plagued us all year and until the line gets meaner and tougher, I’m not sure we will improve.


The Hokies are led by Brent Pry, who has coached some outstanding players in his time, and has produced some of the country’s best defenses, year in and year out. Two years into his tenure at Tech, we seem to be having some basic alignment and assignment issues that even with young talent in some positions shouldn’t be happening.

The first play I want to show is on a long pass completed by Marshall that set up a TD later in the drive. This is an empty formation with 5 wide receivers and Marshall split the RB out wide. This happens all the time when OC’s feel that teams are just matching up personnel and will use motion a lot of times in the hopes that it will get guys out of position. In this case one of our middle linebackers, Will Johnson was lined out wide matched up with a running back and ended up getting beat on that play. The issue I am curious about here is that there seems to be a lack of on-field communication where a switch could be made to not have our guys in such a vulnerable position.


The second play I want to look at is a long TD run by Rasheen Ali. On this play Marshall uses motion to get the safeties to rotate down leaving Jaylen Jones back as the single high safety. I understand that Jones is a converted receiver, but as the play develops Jones does not read the play as a run, and drops down to help on the single receiver side and leaves the middle of the field wide open. There are other reasons this play got to the secondary in the first place, but the safety has to be able to read run or pass in his initial drop and at least be in the position to make a play on the run. It worries me that in his fourth game of this year diagnosing run or pass is still an issue.


The third and fourth plays I wanted to show was an example of an issue that has reared its head all year and in my opinion, leads to a lot of our issues in the run game. That issue is over pursuit of the ball. On the DL, we have an issue with losing our gap integrity by getting too far upfield and creating cutback lanes for running backs. Our linebackers get caught in traffic a lot as a result because the opposition’s OL get to the second level easier and LB’s cannot scrape and fill to make plays. In these examples, The Hokies are tracking on an outside QB run and instead of breaking down and forcing the QB to make a move where the rest of the D can recover and assist, we run past the QB, allowing him to get upfield for a gain. The second clip shows a reckless pass rush that allows the QB to get away. Hokies need to play under control.


I understand some of the constraints that the Hokies are under regarding depth caused by injuries, but it appears we have very little faith in our secondary to match up with talent across the field in man coverage. Because of the Hokies lack of pressure in the front 4 when they play zone coverage especially near the goal line, it’s easy for receivers to settle into holes in the zone and for even some of the less talented passers the Hokies have faced to find open receivers.


Let me say this first… ALL PLAYS, IF EXECUTED PROPERLY, SHOULD BE SUCCESSFUL. However, there are moments and positions on the field where certain plays are less likely to be successful. The Hokies have moments on offense that make me question the play calling thought process. Having called plays for years, it can be a daunting task at times especially if you have plays that aren’t working that night. A play caller can scheme for anything with a week to prepare, but the real test in the adjustments during the game. The Hokies have a tendency to seemingly over think many situations.


A big problem, especially with 1st time play callers (in all levels, and I was guilty of this as well) is trying to do too much. Sometimes with a limited group of players you need 5 run plays and make sure you can run them in your sleep (Paul Johnson at GT) and 5 passing concepts that you can run out of multiple formations. We don’t have an offensive identity because we are throwing things against the wall hoping something sticks. The other issue there is that when we do find something that works, Stick with it until the D shows they can stop it. Tuten had 82 yards on FOUR CARRIES in the first half and we did not stick with that scheme moving forward.


This week there was a 3rd down followed by a 4th and 1 where we were in no man's land a little too far for a field goal. At that point we had been running the ball pretty well and we had some success in the intermediate passing game. On 3rd, Drones does a pretty good job of hitting a shallow route and that look had been open most of the game. On 4th, Marshall initially showed cover zero and man across the board but they dropped into zone coverage and we threw a 50/50 ball into triple coverage on a 4th and 1. It appears that was the designed play and in that situation and was not needed. I feel that you have to go for it on 4th down there, but call a play that gives the team a shot.


On the 3rd down call near the end of the 3rd quarter, the Hokies ran an option to the short side of the field. Most play callers are looking at defensive numbers when calling a play. If they see a mismatch on one side they will call a play to that side. The Hokies do not have the personnel up front to successfully run this play to the short side. You need excellent downfield blocking from your WR’s and have to rep it enough in practice to make it effective. Just an overall questionable decision. Especially true when the defense is not scared of your run game and pins their ears back!


One thing that was brought up on Hokie Twitter was VT’s Strength and Conditioning program being the reason we have so many players getting hurt. Football is a violent sport. There are going to be injuries. The Hokies are not very strong relative to power five teams. Next time you watch a game or are in the stands, scan the sideline. The Hokies are not built like other teams, the players on VT’s roster are more slender and athletic than most teams. I do feel that the Hokies are in very good cardiovascular shape. All the offseason clips we as fans saw this year were of cardio work and I do think that the Hokies have not been gassed at all this year. This is the positive of our S&C program. It’s also important to remember that we are so young across the board that it’s too early to think we won’t see changes in the future, but I think people are grasping at straws with blaming the S&C program.


Offense: C-

There are bright spots, but they are slim. Drones improved again overall but needs help from other players and playcalling.


Drones played well all things considered. Had some drops (including a TD to Felton) but showed his effortless running ability and hit paydirt twice.


Tuten played well. Showed a little fumblitis, but that was due to bad OL play. FEED THIS MAN THE BALL!

WR and TE: C

Lane struggled in his first game back. We have assignment struggles in this room and WR are not being put in the best position to be successful. Felton should not be catching quick screens and Lane in a limited role, was rarely put in position to make plays. Gosnell Bros are much improved.

OL: D-

Struggled with consistency. Struggled with tenacity. Struggled with assignment. Struggled with Communication. Just Struggled.

Defense: C-

Overall VT is not good in alignment, assignment, and technique. I think effort is there, but VT is not in position to make errors on D. Hokies may be blitzing too much and taking ourselves out of plays.

DL: D+

Payne is much improved. But we do not get to see an effective pass rush because we have to play the run so much. Our inability to stop the run is the most important issue this group is dealing with.


Bad Group. Struggle with fits and responsibilities. Communication is lacking. No visible leadership out of this group.


Continue to be the strength of the D, at least on the outside. Safety is a disaster if Stroman is not in the game. Mose Phillips is a dawg!


I am a 5th Generation Hokie. I have Orange and Maroon blood coursing through my veins. I was lucky enough to attend VT from 1999-2003 and graduated with a history degree. I became a history teacher and football coach working my way to spending multiple seasons as Head Coach at schools in North Carolina and Colorado.

I now live in Colorado, with my wife and son and do what I can to follow the Hokies from afar. The outstanding team here at Sons of Saturday was gracious enough to let me talk some football and be able to impart some my knowledge gained from years spent on the sideline.

Aside from following the Hokies in all sports, I am a fan of the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Braves, and Carolina Hurricanes. I also try to play a lot of golf and enjoy skiing out here in the rockies!

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