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Hokie Football Focus: Pittsburgh

By Mike Holmes | October 05
Maddy Djuric/ Collegiate Times

I LOVE WINNING! It’s the greatest feeling in the world knowing that all of the work put into achieving a goal has been successful. I have a feeling that every single one of the staff and players on the Hokies’ roster feels the same way. To be really great in any sport, you also have to hate losing even more than the love of winning. The attitude and effort on display this week from the Hokies was a step in that direction. A prime example of this happened in the 3rd quarter this week. Pitt scored on a big play and Drones fumbled and gave up a scoop and score on the next offensive series. VT went 3 and out on their next series and you could almost feel the energy shift in the game. The defense went out that next series and completely shut down the Pitt offense and forced a 3 and out.

The game plan created by the staff was excellent and the players executed at a level that fans had not seen this season so far. The performance was far from perfect, but it was a major step in the right direction and showed the potential of this team that fans had been hoping for all year. Let’s look at some key elements of this win against Pitt, both good and bad, and look at why this week the Hokies had more success than any other week of the season.



A few weeks ago the Hokies showed glimpses of wanting to establish more an outside run game against Rutgers and this week Tyler Bowen and Co. schemed up an attack to exploit the weakest part of Pitt’s defense which was the outside. This toss play used by the Hokies was used out of many different formations and it included some read options for Drones. Most importantly it got Tuten the ball in space and allowed him to make plays on his own. This week I am also providing a X’s and O’s breakdown of the play that really shows the genius of this play and why it was so successful.


Another excellent wrinkle in the game plan this week was taking more shots downfield. One side effect of the increased success and emphasis in sticking to the run, was forcing Pitt’s safeties to creep up a little to help in run support. Bowen saw this and took some shots deep. Felton scored early on one of these attempts and the Hokies missed on a few others, including a flea-flicker in the first quarter. Bowen showed a little creativity that has been missing in previous weeks.


Previously in this article, I have griped about trying to do too much on offense and grasping at straws to find something that works. This week it appears that Bowen and Co. shrank the playbook in a good way and got more creative while using more simplistic concepts to get the ball to the Hokies athletes in space.

The second touchdown was scored on what can only be described as 2023's version of the triple option. The Hokies line up in a 12 personell package with Gosnell as an H-back to the field side, Lofton offeset in a bunch formation with Wright to the boundary side. Before the snap, Lofton goes in a deep motion behind the backfield to take divert the attention of one of Pitt's boundary side DB's, #7. This puts Wright in a 1-on-1 situation really no matter what the play calls are from either side.

After the snap, Drones' has 3 reads. The first is to hand off to Tuten on a straight 31 dive (this is blown up immediately, as Pitt had 5 down lineman and brought both linebackers in a run blitz). The next read is to tuck it and run a QB sweep to the boundary side with Wright as a 1-on-1 blocker against a DB. With so much of the Pitt defense focusing on the inside run, this ends up being a walk in touchdown for Drones. The third option would have been to Gosnell, who pulled towards the boundary pylon.

When ran well by the QB and blocked effectively by the TE, this is an almost unstoppable play at the goal line. The Hokies ran a similar variation of this in the ODU game, but instead of WR motion an out route to the pulling TE, they kept the TE and ran a delayed tunnel screen to the WR Jennings.

Screen Game

Early in the season, the Hokies tried their hand at some screens involving the RB and they did not work very well. VT finally hit a couple of these this week and Tuten was able to get out in space and make things happen. In addition, Bowen used the WR screen game as an extension of the outside run game and on multiple instances VT was able to get chunk yardage on early downs to stay on schedule. One play in particular that sticks out was the first play in the second quarter where Tuten was set wide in an empty formation. Drones delivers an excellent quick ball, and great downfield blocking by Felton and Wright allows Tuten to get the first down on a crucial 3rd down that lead to VT’s second TD of the night.

Levels Concepts

When I was still coaching, my favorite passing play was “waggle”. It’s an old school name for what is sometimes referred to as a “Levels” concept. The best thing about this concept is that in many instances, the QB has an option to run if all options are covered. This concept stresses the defense by forcing defenders to make decisions on the run going east and west. It makes the read easy for the QB because it places a priority on the shorter routes. For example, if the CB moves in to take away the shortest route, the intermediate route becomes open. It is very difficult for a defense to consistently take away all three levels.


The Hokies still have a LONG way to go in this department, but having Tisdale in the game at Mike allows his play to shine but his experience allows him to help some of the younger players in their alignment and assignment. I think that Keli Lawson is benefitting greatly from this and the more he plays the better he performs. This clip is a play from the second quarter that shows an example of that growth and fitting the run and making the stop.


The Hokies are far from a finished product. The offensive line still struggles with the inside run. The defense gives up far too many big plays, and of course the youth and inexperience at many key positions bring growing pains along with it. The Hokies won this week so I don't want to dwell so much on the negative but there are a couple of issues I still want to bring up


While the Hokies were much better this week but still had some glaring issues with defenders getting turned and washed out of the play and losing gap integrity. There needs to be a fine balance between aggression and control to keep from getting moved out of that gap and not over-running the play. An example of this is the second clip where VT bites on the fake, lose assignment and Jurkovec gets loose on a run for a 1st down.


Fortunately, this week the offense schemed its way out of many of its glaring issues. The Hokies are still struggling with consistency in OL play. VT offensive linemen struggle with footwork and get caught out of position and reach for blocks. VT has to continue to scheme and minimize the impact of sketchy line play in both the run game and pass game.



Overall this was the most complete offensive game the Hokies have played in the Pry era. Drones had an 89.7 QBR and looked in control of the offense. Have to sure up the line play and cut back on penalties.

QB: A-

Drones played his best game thus far in a Tech uniform. Had the one slip up on the fumble/scoop and score but outside of that played really well and accounted for 5 total touchdowns!

RB: B+

Tuten also played his most complete game this year. Ball security was much improved and both he and Thomas played well in the running game and passing game.

WR and TE: B+

WR’s played very well especially in downfield blocking. Fewer drops this week and as a group they played really well. Can improve still and younger guys are improving.


Still Struggle with consistency in run game and pass pro. Brody Meadows showed some bright spots at guard filling in for Moore who was out with an injury. Must play better in the next few weeks.


Gave up too many big plays. Delivered clutch performance late in the game when it was needed the most. Young players getting some run and performing fairly well.


Delane at safety had some growing pains but overall the group played well enough to win. Will be tested next week for sure. Hopefully Peoples will be back to help with depth in the back end.


Improved the run game. Tisdale’s experience is invaluable and helps the group as a whole. Tackling will be paramount moving forward.


Payne and Kendricks had a good game. Nelson and APR made plays at end. Still need work on gap integrity and discipline but overall better game from the group as a whole and stepped up when it was needed in the 3rd quarter and the end of the game.


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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