Stealing signals? Hokies play-caller Mike O’Cain rebuffs rumor about last year’s ACC title game vs. Clemson
Like many, Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach and play-caller Mike O’Cain had gotten wind of the rumors, hearing second-hand about a Clemson player saying after last year’s ACC title game that the Tigers knew everything the Hokies were going to do.
So once Kevin Steele was fired as Clemson’s defensive coordinator in the offseason, O’Cain called him and asked point blank if he they knew the Hokies’ signals that night.
Steele’s response, according to O’Cain: “Absolutely not.”
It’s been a popular conspiracy theory among the Virginia Tech faithful trying to explain two flat offensive performances against a spotty-at-best Tigers defense last season.
Clemson, which finished 71st nationally in total defense and was embarrassed in a 70-33 loss to the Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl that led to Steele’s ouster, was amazingly effective in two games against the Hokies. Virginia Tech scored only 13 points in those two games. The Hokies finished with 258 yards and 330 yards in a pair of lopsided losses, well below their season average.
But O’Cain thinks everything was on the level.
“Now, did we have a few little tendencies here or there? Yes. Everybody does,” O’Cain said. “But he had no signals. They did a good job. They had a good plan against us. And you give them credit. And then we didn’t execute real well what we did.”
Turnovers and early missed opportunities sunk the Hokies in the first Clemson game last year. O’Cain said the biggest problem in the ACC championship game was that Tech was unable to build any momentum.
He pointed out a stretch early in the second half as critical. On the Hokies’ second drive, O’Cain thought officials missed a horse-collar tackle on quarterback Logan Thomas, then flagged Jarrett Boykin for offensive pass interference on a third-down catch that would have moved the chains.
Trailing 17-10 and backed up deep, Tech had to punt to about midfield. On Clemson’s next play, it went over the top to Sammy Watkins for a 53-yard touchdown. The game spiraled quickly out of control from there.
“You don’t know how that play is going to change a game,” O’Cain said. “We never could get any kind of momentum. And football, every sport is a game of momentum. We never could get anything going for us.”
There were other reasons. O’Cain noted the inability of the Hokies’ receivers to create space against Clemson’s defensive backs. Clemson loaded the box to take away David Wilson, challenging Tech’s receivers out wide.
“They pressed us and played man coverage and dared us to throw the ball down the field,” O’Cain said. “And we weren’t able to get open very well.”
Now, it’s a new defense Tech will face. Steele was replaced by former Oklahoma coordinator Brent Venables, whose group has had similar struggles this year, giving up 445.5 yards per game, a little over 50 more a game than last season.
O’Cain said Venables has used a lot of eight-man fronts with four down linemen, but against Florida State the Tigers played most of the ballgame in a 3-4 look. He said he’s also seen less man coverage from the Tigers this year and more zone.
“You know they’re looking at that film, because of the success they had against us,” he said. “Whether they take anything from it or not, you don’t know. But when you go back and look, you see what they did to you, how they attacked you, just so not necessarily you know what they do, but at least you’ve got an idea of what you did against them.”
Here are a few more notes and quotes from Tuesday’s post-practice interviews …
- I got plenty of stuff tonight on running back J.C. Coleman, who I’ll be writing about for Thursday’s paper. Lots of questions about his height. He cops to being 5-7½ but says Tech rounds it up to 5-8. He gets joked on about his height all the time, all in good nature. Cornerback Antone Exum and deputy director of football operations Bruce Garnes are the worst offenders, he said. “We have this little handshake where [Garnes] gets down on his knee and puts his hand all the way up,” Coleman said, laughing.
- Coleman said he idolized Ray Rice and LaMichael James growing up (yes, the LaMichael James from Oregon who is 22 and just now in his first year in the NFL). He’s never seen his height as a deterrent to playing running back, particularly with the success of guys in the NFL like Rice and Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, who are both 5-foot-8 or smaller. “It’s crazy that they say the smaller guys can’t do it,” Coleman said. “Because the smallest backs in the league the last couple years, they’ve pretty much led the league in rushing. … I just like the way [Rice] plays. He’s physical, he’s strong, he carries guys. He just does everything well. He catches it out of the backfield. And I just feel like in the future I can emulate him and be like him.”
- Coleman, by the way, got up to 192 pounds in the offseason but says he’s around 185 right now. His goal is eventually to get to 200 in his later college years.
- One last thing on Coleman and I’ll change the subject. Running backs coach Shane Beamer obviously enjoyed the long touchdown runs but said he especially liked what he saw on a few physical runs by Coleman and Tony Gregory earlier in the game. The Gregory run came on an inside zone play. “I kidded with him all last week, when you see that hole open, whatever the little turbo button is on the Xbox or the PlayStation is, hit it,” Shane said. “Because that’s the way you need to be.” Later on, Coleman held onto the ball in traffic at the end of one run and finished it by lowering a hit on a linebacker. “He’s a tough guy,” Shane said.
- A couple injury notes from today: left guard David Wang (knee/ankle) was in blue, as was backup center/guard Caleb Farris. Of the two, Wang was moving around much better. Offensive line coach Curt Newsome said he doesn’t expect Farris to play this week. He said Wang’s chances were “ a little better than 50-50″ but noted that he’s not a trainer.
- Michael Via is inching closer to getting a free sub for having played every position on the offensive line. He’ll likely start at center this week with Andrew Miller done for the year and Farris hobbled. He’s started at all three inside positions in his career, worked at right tackle recently and even took some snaps at left tackle during one spring game. “All of them come pretty natural, I guess,” he said.
- Via said the snap issues last week were due to all the adrenalin after sliding over from guard. He said getting a week’s worth of reps there this week should make that a non-issue this week. Newsome said Via is capable of making all the calls at center. “That’s not an issue because he’s done it at a young age and he’s played the guard position where they all help in communications,” Newsome said. “But he can [do it], because he’s done it and just through reps. But if he didn’t have that experience through center, I wouldn’t be concerned about it.”
- If you missed it earlier, Virginia Tech filled out its 2013 schedule with East Carolina. The teams will play in Greenville, N.C., next year and alternate sites every year through 2020.