With Virginia Tech’s slow starts a hot topic this week, both offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring and play-caller Mike O’Cain anticipated getting questions about whether or not they script plays to start the game.
The answer? Well, yes and no.
“I know there’s this big thing about people saying, ‘Why don’t you script plays and dictate to the defense?’” O’Cain said. “You don’t dictate to the defense. You’ve got to go and block what they show you.
“They’re not going to line up and play man coverage because I’m here. They’re not going to play zone coverage because I’m here. You’ve got to adapt. And they adapt. It’s a chess match, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Virginia Tech has looked at all areas of its offense this week, trying to find solutions to its slow starts. The Hokies have scored only 14 first-quarter points this year. They haven’t scored in the first quarter of the last three games. Against Cincinnati, they had only 72 yards in the first half and two first downs, the first of which didn’t come until 25 minutes into the game.
Strictly scripting plays — a common suggestion from armchair coordinators (this reporter included) — doesn’t seem to be in the plans. The Hokies do have a script they follow, but it’s not a list of 12 to 15 plays to run in sequence, regardless of the situation.
It’s instead more a list of 10 plays taken from the game plan. The Hokies have a game plan that features broad situations (first-and-10, second-and-medium, etc.), a list of top plays from that they like in each to those situations, and from that, the scripted plays that narrows that grouping even further, for varying reasons.
“We basically have a top ten list,” Stinespring said. “They may be what we like the most. They may be formation-wise, what we like to get out there. If we’re going to run the option in that game, we might want to show that early, see how they defend it, so when it’s called, it’s going to get called quickly.”
The first play, Stinespring said, Tech will usually decide on Thursday’s morning. Things from there are decided based on situations, depending on field position and looks a defense is giving.
“We need to try to find out how they’re going to [defend],” O’Cain said. “You have an idea, but you don’t always know how they adjust until you get in there.”
The coaches have been open to suggestions this week, trying to find ways to make the operation early in the game go smoother. Stinespring asked quarterback Logan Thomas for a list of five passes he likes to throw most. Thomas gave him 10. (“I’d qualify the 10,” Stinespring said. “Seven. Well, eight because he double called one of them.”)
“You’re close enough to your players. You know,” Stinespring said. “But what I was really looking at was what wasn’t on there. That’s the one I wanted to know. What wasn’t on there? What did he not like that maybe we are calling?”
O’Cain is trying to take a positive tack this week. He doesn’t want slow starts to get in the players’ heads.
“I think sometimes the more you talk about things, the worse it gets,” he said. “Because guys come out and instead of coming out there relaxed and playing the game, they begin to press a little bit. … You don’t forget it completely, you don’t do that, but take that second half and the things we did in that second half and build on those and move forward.”
“It’s not like you stick your head in the sand or you cover it up. Of course you coach and correct it all, but let’s not just continually talk about that stuff. Let’s talk about the good things.”
For O’Cain, the problem is simple: execution.
“It’s always a multitude of things,” he said. “It’s not one thing here or one thing there. It’s a multitude of things that has been a part of this. And like I said Saturday, it’s every position and it’s not one guy.”
Here are more notes and quotes from Tuesday’s post-practice interviews …
- One thing the coaches weren’t displeased with? Fullback Riley Beiro‘s block on Martin Scales‘ touchdown run that was called a hold in the third quarter. “It was a God-awful call,” running backs coach Shane Beamer said bluntly. “And probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen.” The Big East officiating crew made the call, negating the touchdown. On the next play, Thomas threw an interception on a high pass to tight end Randall Dunn. “We’ve got great officials in this conference, and an ACC official would not have made that call,” Shane said. “I’ll say that.”
- Beamer thought Beiro did everything right on the play. He didn’t cut the defender, because left tackle Nick Becton was initially engaged with him. “I don’t know what to teach him,” Shane said. “If that’s a hold, then everything we’re teaching is wrong. Because the kid had his hands inside, he ran his feet and he just buried the guy on his back. And the only thing I can tell Riley is don’t dominate the linebacker next time as bad as you dominated that guy.”
- Shane thought Michael Holmes showed some toughness in the fourth quarter that hasn’t always been there. ”I thought he had a good look in his eye, if that makes sense,” he said. “I thought he showed a lot of competitiveness, a lot of intensity, a lot of toughness. I thought he showed a lot of that on that drive.” (I’ll have a little more on Holmes and what the offense actually did right late in the game tomorrow on the blog.)
- Beamer is hopeful that running back Tony Gregory (knee) will be able to play Saturday. He sat out of practice Monday because the team was indoors on a turf field. Tuesday, he was in blue and worked some at the beginning before being held out at the end. “I’m optimistic,” Shane said. “Tony said he feels good, and he didn’t want to be in blue today. If we have him, great. If not, that’s OK. We’ll go down there with those three guys and see what happens.”
- Offensive line coach Curt Newsome said Caleb Farris getting playing time in the fourth quarter Saturday was more a function of him coming along as a player than anything to do with Andrew Miller‘s play or health. Newsome has been so pleased with Farris’ progression that he’s had the sophomore work some at right guard this week. “Caleb is a smart guy as far as the communication,” he said. “He brings something to the table.” As for Miller, Newsome said he does not have any injury issues.
- David Wang and Michael Via remain the best bets to start at the guard positions this week. Wang was in a regular practice jersey Tuesday and was almost a full go. Matt Arkema has been working at left guard too, with Via a possibility there as well. Behind Via at right guard is Farris and Brent Benedict, who got close to 30 snaps last week at right guard but had some mental lapses.
- Newsome said Wang, when completely healthy, would get the most reps of the guards. But he anticipates playing four or five of them at both spots. “We’ve got some guys that are interchangeable,” he said. “The more people we can play, the better we’ll be.” (I think a fair translation of this is that nobody has separated himself from the rest, so getting everybody some reps in the game might help sort things out until the Hokies find a combination that works.)
- Defensive tackle Luther Maddy (ankle) was not out there at the open session for media at the start of practice Tuesday, but he was there by the end of the day in a blue, limited jersey. I did not see LB Tariq Edwards (leg/knee) out there during the open portion.
- Wide receiver Corey Fuller said he consoled his little brother, Kyle, in the locker room after he got beat in the final seconds on a long touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner. “I seen him sitting in his pads, so I went over, and he had his head down,” Corey said. “I just gave him a hug. It’s like, ‘It’s OK everything isn’t going to be perfect. I had a fumble. I had to let it go. Let it go. You’re a great defensive back.’ Gave him a hug. He was still down about it. We haven’t talked about it since and I really doubt we will.”
- This isn’t the kind of list to make. CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman lists his Top 10 disappointments from the first month. Virginia Tech’s passing game ranks No. 3.