It has been over a week since Virginia Tech’s 23-20 Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan,so things have had time to marinate. But there were a couple things I wanted to address on the blog before taking a larger look back at the season and then moving forward to 2012.
The first, and it’s one I’ve gotten many emails and comments about, is Virginia Tech’s red zone calls against Michigan. The general tone of reader responses has been that the Hokies got conservative in the red zone against the Wolverines, which led to four field goals instead of touchdowns and ultimately cost Virginia Tech in overtime.
Just by watching, I thought the same, but I thought I’d look at the numbers just to see how drastic it was. First, here’s the Hokies’ red zone numbers from the last five years:
- 22-46 passing, 47.8%, 210 yards, 13 TD, 3 INT
- 130 carries, 314 yards, 2.42 ypc, 21 TD
- 64 attempts, 48 scores, (75.0%), 34 TD, 14 FG
- 19-41 passing, 46.3%, 174 yards, 14 TD, 1 INT
- 113 carries, 306 yards, 2.71 ypc, 26 TD
- 62 chances, 56 scores (90.3%), 40 TD, 16 FG
- 11-23 passing, 47.8%, 107 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT
- 129 carries, 319 yads, 2.47 ypc, 26 TD
- 53 attempts, 47 scores (88.7%), 32 TD, 15 FG
- 12-26 passing, 50%, 87 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT
- 152 carries, 370 yards, 2.43 ypc, 22 TD
- 58 attempts, 43 scores (74.1%), 27 TD, 16 FG
- 14-27 passing, 51.8%, 138 yards, 7 TD, 0 INT
- 114 carries, 317 yards, 2.78 ypc, 21 TD
- 46 attempts, 42 scores (91.3%), 28 TD, 14 FG
You’ll notice a couple things from those numbers. Virginia Tech had more attempts inside the red zone than any time in the last five years, but it also had among its lowest scoring rates. The Hokies also didn’t run the ball particularly well near the goal line, with their lowest yard per carry average and their fewest touchdowns in the sample. You can probably attribute that to Logan Thomas‘ large number of sneaks and David Wilson‘s inability to punch things in from close range.
But look at the passing numbers. The Hokies threw the ball more than they have in the last five years in the red zone, with 46 pass attempts, 210 yards and 13 touchdowns prior to the Sugar Bowl. Only Tyrod Taylor (14 scores last year) had more touchdown passes in the red zone during a season, although Thomas was nearly as efficient in his first year as a starter.
In the Sugar Bowl, Virginia Tech didn’t give him many opportunities to throw in the red zone until late. Here’s a look at the red zone calls by quarter (I can’t recall if all of the runs were by design, although if memory serves correctly, they weren’t):
- M19, 2nd and 2: Wilson 1 run
- M18, 3rd and 1: Thomas 3 run
- M15, 1st and 10: Wilson 11 run
- M4, 1st and goal: Wilson -22 run
- M20, 3rd and goal: Thomas 1 run
- M13, 1st and 10: Josh Oglesby 5 run
- M8, 2nd and 5: Oglesby 1 run
- M7, 3rd and 4: Thomas 3 run
- M4, 4th and 1: Thomas no gain
- M20, 3rd and 3: Thomas 2 pass to Joey Phillips
- M20, 2nd and 8: Wilson 12 run
- M8, 1st and goal: Thomas incomplete to Phillips
- M8, 2nd and goal: Thomas -1 run
- M9, 3rd and goal: Thomas incomplete to Marcus Davis (PI on Michigan)
- M2, 1st and goal: Wilson 1 run
- M1, 2nd and goal: Thomas 1 run (TD)
- M16, 1st and 10: Wilson no gain
- M16, 2nd and 10: Thomas 8 pass to Danny Coale
- M13, 3rd and 7: Thomas 5 pass to Jarrett Boykin
- M20, 3rd and 5: Thomas incomplete to Coale
- 19 plays (1 defensive penalty), 5 red zone trips, 1 TD, 3 FG
- 3-5 passing, 15 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (1 PI)
- 14 carries, 16 yards, 1.14 ypc, 1 TD
First, those stats are skewed by a couple plays. Clearly, Wilson’s negative-22 yard run ruined Tech’s rushing average. (Take that out and the Hokies averaged 2.71 yards per carry, better than their season average). And had Coale’s touchdown stood in overtime, I’d probably be writing a different kind of blog post right now.
Overall, the run-pass breakdown in the red zone fell about in line with Virginia Tech’s average (73.9% runs during the regular season; 73.6% runs during the Sugar Bowl), but considering that Michigan’s strength was its front seven and Thomas generally had success picking on the Wolverines’ secondary, the split is still a little puzzling.
Moreover, other than the Coale catch/non-catch and pass interference call against Michigan on a throw to Davis, I don’t recall any other passes going into the end zone. It’s another odd tendency, considering how well the receivers have performed down there this year, in addition to tight end Chris Drager, whose two touchdowns came in the second half of the season (he had one catch for 15 yards in the Sugar Bowl).
It looked like the coaches adjusted in the second half (and of course, this is all easy to point out in hindsight). All five of the Hokies’ red zone passes came in the third and fourth quarters or overtime. But of the nine plays in the first half when Virginia Tech twice got down to the Michigan 4-yard line, all nine were runs. The Hokies had a 6-0 lead right up to the bizarre turn of events in the final minutes of the first half, but looking back, Virginia Tech fans can’t help but feel that should have been much, much more.