OLLY OLLY OXEN FREE!!! It’s time for the Virginia Tech offense to come out of hiding! After eight games, this unit continues to struggle, and the result is a 2-6 record with the team’s bowl hopes officially on life support.
A few minutes on the NCAA football stats page will reveal some very paltry numbers, enough to make Virginia Tech fans grab their chests like Fred Sanford telling Elizabeth that this is the big one.
Hokie Nation, make sure you are sitting down for this…
The Virginia Tech offense currently ranks in the bottom fifteen in four major offensive categories and roughly the bottom third in two others (there are 131 FBS teams):
- Rushing Offense – 100.1 YPG / 117th ranked
- Passing Offense – 218.1 YPG / 92nd ranked
- Total Offense – 318.2 YPG / 116th ranked
- Scoring Offense – 19.4 PPG / 116th ranked
- Third Down Conversion Percentage – .308 / 118th ranked
- Time of Possession – 29 MPG / 83rd ranked
Oddly enough, despite such poor stats from the offense, Virginia Tech has lost three of its eight games by six points or less. One score per game. That has been the difference between 2-6 and 5-3.
But is this really a 5-3 team? No. That point is there to emphasize that if the offense could produce just a little better, this team would have a better chance to finish with a .500 record and make a bowl.
The Virginia Tech Offense Lacks Consistency
One of the biggest problems plaguing the Virginia Tech offense is its lack of consistency. Head Coach Brent Pry has said multiple times that the team needs to play complementary football. For four full quarters. Often the offense is the one failing to uphold its end of the bargain (and in those recent games where the defense faltered down the stretch, well, maybe if they weren’t on the field so much earlier in the game, or maybe if they could get more than a three-and-out’s worth of rest, maybe they would play better too!)
For much of the season, the Hokies have failed to play a full game on offense. In the opener at Old Dominion, four interceptions kept the Virginia Tech passing attack under 200 yards.
Against West Virginia, the Hokies were only down by six at the end of the third quarter, but they were held scoreless in the fourth quarter (they were scoreless in the first quarter as well).
Against Miami, Virginia Tech remained scoreless and gained only 142 total yards through three quarters. They scored 14 points and gained 189 yards in their final three possessions to claw back into the game, but it was too little, too late.
Against North Carolina State, the Hokies had an abysmal first half, finishing with zero points and 46 total yards. Virginia Tech closed the game with -4 total yards and no scores in the final quarter. No wonder they could not hold on for the win.
If you are counting, the Hokies have been held scoreless for six of their last eight quarters. That is not good enough to win football games.
The Tech Play-Calling is still Meh
For weeks, Hokie Nation has been complaining about the simplistic play calling from the Virginia Tech offensive coaching staff. The weekly game plans appear to be the same – heavy on two tight end sets with inside zone runs mixed with straight drop back passes to the outside of the hash marks.
At least that is what we keep seeing on a week to week basis.
Fans have been frustrated with the lack of variety from the offense. Just look at this in-game tweet – and the responses – from The Key Play:
MAYBE BOWEN THINKS HE HAS A *KILLER* 2ND-AND-9 PACKAGE. https://t.co/7lSKxL4ttr
— THE KEY PLAY (@thekeyplay) October 28, 2022
Head Coach Brent Pry has even criticized his offensive unit as being too “vanilla.” After the Miami game, Pry expressed what every fan has been saying for weeks: “We can’t just line up and be vanilla. We’ve proven we’re not that offense that can just line up and say we’re going to run it and play action.”
Recently, I got into an exchange with a reader about this very topic. The reader said that Virginia Tech has to be able to run the ball between the tackles. It takes away the “manhood” of the other team.
I don’t disagree. Where I beg to differ is on the obstinate thinking that just because that can be done, it should be done. Virginia Tech has proven through eight games that on third and short (and fourth and short), the Hokies are not likely to gain the first down by running up the middle. Now THAT takes away the manhood of a team – the wrong team. When the Hokies repeatedly run the ball up the middle for no gain – and no first down – that wears on the entire team’s psyche.
Conversely, a fake handoff rollout with a run-pass option would fire up an entire stadium if it resulted in a first down. That doesn’t have to be a staple of the offense – just a wrinkle when needed.
Hey, after all, there is a reason that EVERY NFL TEAM runs a play-action pass on the goal line if it has four plays to get in the end zone.
Getting back to the vanilla offense…Pry made those comments after the Miami game. The one where the Tech offense only showed up in the fourth quarter. Welllll….after a bye week, the Virginia Tech offense came out firing on – one cylinder – against NC State, relying on what else, heavy run up the middle and straight drop backs.
No wonder social media reacted like the tweet above. Heck, even ESPN color commentator Dan Mullen was calling out the Virginia Tech offense for being too conservative! Hokie Nation was expecting some wrinkles…maybe some misdirection, some quick slants, wide receiver screens, heck, maybe even bring back the Jet Sweep!
But that did not happen, and the Hokies gained 46 yards in the first half. It wasn’t until the third quarter that things changed, and – go figure – the scoreboard lit up!
Two plays stood out to me in that quarter. One was an early fake handoff on the inside zone run, and Grant Wells rolled out and hit a wide open Dae’Quan Wright for a big gain. The second was the 85-yard touchdown to Kaleb Smith where he took advantage of a single man coverage. Wells got rid of the ball relatively quickly and Smith beat his man.
Unfortunately, the play-calling in the fourth quarter resembled that of the first two quarters, and the Hokies were done moving the ball. Granted, the poor field position probably led to more conservative calls (more on special teams later), but still, if the Hokies want to put up points, they have to be a little tougher to defend each week.
The Offense Lacks a Running Attack
Another contributor in the poor performance of the Virginia Tech offense is its lack of a running game. Through eight games, the Hokies are barely rushing for 100 yards per game. Good programs have individual PLAYERS running for 100 per game, but the entire Virginia Tech team is struggling to do that.
Part of this problem rests with the offensive line. They are still not getting the job done. Football Outsiders compiles data on offensive line efficiency and the Hokies’ line ranks 73. While that is much better than many of the other offensive statistics for the Hokies, it still is in the bottom half of the FBS ranking.
Along with struggling line play, the Virginia Tech offense cannot keep its running backs healthy. Malachi Thomas, arguably the Hokies’ best running back, did not play until the sixth game of the year. Keshawn King, who filled in admirably as the every down back despite his 180 pound frame, was dinged up a few weeks in and has missed the past two games. And the runners behind them have very little statistical prowess among them.
Against NC State, the Hokies ran for 50 yards on 26 carries. A paltry 1.9 yards per carry.
Don’t expect this week to get any better. Thomas was hurt in the NC State game and will not play for the foreseeable future. Keshawn King is coming off of his own injury and is listed as probable. King has 264 rushing yards in six games (5.9 YPC), but 65 of those came on one play against Boston College. Without that run, he is only averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Even though that is the highest yards per carry on the team, it would only rank him 165th among running backs in the nation.
If King gets hurt again this week against Georgia Tech, the Hokies are in trouble. Someone in the trio of Jalen Holston, Chance Black, and Bryce Duke will then need to step up, otherwise the Hokies will have to rely on a platoon of these three runners who have combined for 302 yards and less than three yards per carry this year. Ugh.
With the lack of a real threat of running the ball, defenses can scheme to stop the passing game. Grant Wells has had some flashes this year, but when he is constantly faced with second and long and third and long, his chances of success will be diminished. Especially if defenses are honed in on stopping the pass.
The Virginia Tech Offense Lacks Playmakers
It is no secret that the Virginia Tech offense lacks playmakers. This is not meant to be a knock on these kids who are working hard every week to compete for their school. Rather, it is a statement of observation – maybe even fact – that the roster does not currently have dynamic players that are likely to flip the momentum of the game.
Throughout the preseason, the coaching staff lauded the likes of Keshawn King and Chance Black, saying that they were “explosive.” However, outside of King’s 65-yard run against Boston College and 19-yard run at Pittsburgh, neither player has registered any “big plays” on offense or special teams.
Neither player has really gotten the ball in space, too. This ties in with play-calling. If these two guys are the most explosive, why are they not getting more opportunities to touch the ball in space? Where are the screens or sweeps or draws to these guys? Or are they not as explosive as they were hyped up to be?
The other head scratcher is Connor Blumrick. He is another guy whose name was praised throughout the preseason as someone who could be a weapon. Yet Blumrick only has two rushes for one yard and seven receptions for 74 yards. That’s it. Nine touches in eight games, seven of which came in the second game of the season (the last Hokie win, by the way). If he is so dynamic, why isn’t Tech making him part of the offense?
Pry and his staff should work the portal this offseason to find a playmaker or two for this offense (and some experience on both lines). The problem is convincing a good playmaker to come to Blacksburg and play for this offense. That is not an easy sell.
So the season will move on with the roster it has, basically the same roster that took a beat down in the Pinstripe Bowl. The team’s lack of play makers, along with the inconsistent line play, poor rushing game, and vanilla play-calling, has definitely been a hinderance to the success of the Virginia Tech offense.
The Offense Commits Too Many Penalties
The Hokies are on pace to set a new record for penalties in a season. With 70 penalties through eight games (tied for 125th in the nation), they will finish with 105 if they keep on this way. Only the 1993 Hokies amassed more – they finished with 106 penalties.
More concerning are the flags on one side of the ball. The Virginia Tech offense (and punt team, to be fair), have already been whistled for 27 false start penalties through eight games. The Hokies had a whopping ten false start penalties last week vs. North Carolina State. Five times since 1987, Virginia Tech has had 20 or more false start penalties in a season. That includes this season, where the team is three shy of program high (30 in 2007) with a third of their games still to play.
It is difficult to be a productive offense when it is consistently behind schedule in down and distance. The 2007 team – the one with 30 false starts – was loaded with talent, so they overcame the penalties. Future NFL players like Tyrod Taylor, Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, Duane Brown, and Sergio Render could make up for the mistakes. But this year’s team might not have an NFL player on the roster, so it NEEDS to cut back on the penalties. Without a doubt, they are hindering the Virginia Tech offense
Special Teams is NOT Helping
Anyone who knows Virginia Tech knows Beamerball. It was synonymous with superior defense and special teams play. Either one of those units could flip field position or even create a score, thus changing the trajectory of the game. No wonder Frank Beamer, who coached the special teams unit, referred to them as his “Pride and Joy.”
This year’s Virginia Tech special teams unit might be better nicknamed “Thorn in My Side.” In the Old Dominion opener, a bad snap on a high percentage field goal attempt turned into seven points for the Monarchs, a ten point swing on one play. The Hokies lost that one by three points.
Last week against North Carolina State, when the Virginia Tech offense needed to answer a Wolfpack touchdown and swing momentum, the Hokies fumbled the kickoff. Tech started an ill-fated “answer” drive at their own nine-yard line. Despite help from the Wolfpack defense and a personal foul, the Hokies again could not move the chains and settled for a punt from their own 26.
Pre-season ALL-ACC punter Peter Moore, who has inexplicably struggled lately, kicked a meager 36-yard punt, setting NC State up for another score to cut the lead to 21-17.
Needing to answer NC State’s second touchdown, Virginia Tech AGAIN fumbled the kickoff, and, coupled with a penalty, started this ill-fated drive at their own four-yard line. Another three-and-out led to the Hokies’ eighth punt (of nine on the day). Even though Moore got a good foot on this one, The Wolfpack started their game-winning drive in great field position at their own 40-yard line.
Virginia Tech’s special teams have been far less than special. Moore is averaging 40.9 yards per punt on the year, and that ranks him as the 100th best punter in the nation.
On the flip side, punt returns are nonexistent. It is pretty much a given that the Virginia Tech punt returner will fair catch the ball. None of NC State’s eight punts last week were returned. Tech had ZERO punt return yards. For the year, the Hokies are averaging 1.29 punt return yards per game, good for 128th nationally.
To make matters worse, the kickoff return team is not helping either. This unit is averaging 17.7 yards per return, which lands them at 107th in nation. Tech’s kick return players would be better off calling for a fair catch and putting the ball on the 25.
These special teams statistics are a gut punch to a Virginia Tech offense who needs big time help in winning the field position battle.
There is no intent to be a Debbie Downer here, but it does not appear that the Virginia Tech offense is going to light up the scoreboard any time soon. If things have not changed after eight weeks, there is no magic wand that will put the ball in the end zone with any sort of consistency in the coming weeks.
Add in the injuries. Factor in the lack of turnovers created by the defense (only five so far). Consider the poor special teams play. It does not look promising.
The over-under against Georgia Tech this week is 40.5. That seems a little high to me. But let’s hope I’m wrong!
Let’s hope the Virginia Tech offense comes out of hiding this week and picks up the much-needed win. The program has not seen a six-game losing streak since 1987…and guess what the team’s record was in 1987?
Two wins and nine losses. The 2022 team currently has two wins. They need a victory. BADLY!
OLLY, OLLY, OXEN FREE!!
Dan Mullen, former head coach at Florida and Mississippi State, was the color commentator for the Hokies’ Thursday night ESPN game at NC State. I absolutely loved listening to him. He wears his head coach hat while he calls a game. I especially loved how he was all over both offenses in the first half, criticizing them for being too conservative!
Georgia Tech has announced that starting quarterback Jeff Sims is cleared to play. Interim Head Coach Brent Key said that Sims “is a go.” That does not bode well for the Hokies, as historically, dual threat quarterbacks have given them trouble!
On paper, this is Virginia Tech’s best chance to win in November. The Yellow Jackets are ranked 120th in total offense and 108th in total defense, both of which are worse than the Hokies.
Virginia Tech is a three-point favorite over Georgia Tech (-2.5 on Fanduel!) Think about that, Hokie Nation…home field advantage is worth three points…so this is actually a pick’em on a neutral field? Not good!
Virginia Tech has now held the Commonwealth Cup for 692 consecutive days!
To read more of my articles on Virginia Tech football, click here.
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