I didn't know that Kovacs played part time for the Dukies.
Virginia Tech Offense vs… Duke!
So I downloaded and scouted VT's game against Duke. Literally everybody I've told this has laughed about the depth of my obsession, but there are good reasons for this. They are:
- Duke runs a spread offense and even brings in an underclass athletic QB type from time to time, so this was a rare opportunity to see VT operate against a zone read.
- The game finished 14-10. How does a team only score 14 on Duke? \
- I could be reasonably assured this content would not overlap with that of BWS or Ace.
- Hey, man, ACC Network action. Can't pass that up.
I have completed this process and will now go through a series of bullet points organized into offense and defense; this is not a FFFF so a more formal treatment of what Virginia Tech does will have to wait for that.
Apologies in advance for the video quality; ACC cappers are not up to the high standards of MGoVideo. Also, this game was originally broadcast in something called "standard definition" because the ACC Network is actually run out of Estonia.
QB Logan Thomas: legs. Thomas is a tank engine, more in the Tebow (huge and slow) mold than Denard (small and fast) or Cam Newton (huge and fast). His advantage in the run game comes when he can thunder straight ahead, which came on an assortment of inverted veers. This is one half of the Logan Thomas run game:
That sort of bulldozer running has the potential to neutralize Michigan's excellent third and short defense. If you don't have to move off the line of scrimmage to get a 6'6", 250 pound guy moving forward, a yard seems assured.
On the other hand, he's no Denard in space. This scramble picks up a decent chunk of yards but just lacks… oomph. This is against Duke, mind you, and Thomas seems plain slow:
While that tank thing still sees him pick up nine yards it's hard to imagine him getting any more than nine. Later in the game he'd break outside the pocket and lumber for the same nine yards John Navarre would have gotten in that situation. He's not a Miller-like threat.
Excise sacks and Thomas has 500 or so yards at 4.3 YPC. He's someone you have to account for on the ground, but he's not going to blow up for 100 yards in the Sugar.
QB Logan Thomas: arm. After watching Posey run circles around the Michigan secondary, Thomas's primary asset—an excellent deep ball—is a worrying one.
But wait, there's more, in the form of a 60-yarder to Danny Coale that hits his WR in stride.
We'll see if his uncanny accuracy over the top was a one-game phenomenon or a consistent thing as more games are added to the dossier. Extremely rough survey says: somewhere in between. Thomas averaged 7.7 YPA this year, which is above average but not spectacular. And Virginia Tech's schedule was not a high mountain—if you think the Big Ten was bad this year (and it was), the ACC was probably worse and VT's toughest nonconference opponent was East Carolina. East Carolina is trying to get fans to buy "virtual bowl" tickets, which are like real bowl tickets except there's no football game and the school selling them actually ends up making money. So… yeah. Not a tough schedule.
Anyway, if Thomas's distressing tendency to drop inch-perfect balls over the top of the secondary is stressing you out, this should help things:
He also forces things into places they cannot go, and does so without any semblance of a rush in his face. This shouldn't be overstated. Thomas had just 9 interceptions on the season. Sometimes, though, he unleashes the dragon.
RB David Wilson. Scary dude. There is no obvious analogue that pops to mind, but if you're thinking Anthony Thomas or Chris Perry you're as close as Michigan backs can come. Perry's probably the best comparison since Wilson has better balance than Thomas. He's also got a wicked stiffarm.
Those quick cuts that juke charging defenders are a regular occurrence, and you can see the size/speed combo that Thomas lacks. He'll be a load on a few plays where he bursts into the secondary. Concede his 120 yards and hope it doesn't hit 150 and it takes 30 carries to get there.
Offensive line. I just don't know about these guys. On the one hand, Duke rarely got a pass rusher within ten feet of Thomas. On the other, Duke's defensive line seemed to hold up pretty well. After running up a bunch of yards but not many points in the first half, VT got stoned more often than not in the second half.
On this play Duke's DE dives inside and gets pancaked by the tackle because he is a Duke DE and not very good; also I think the VT tackles may be solid. A big play threatens after Thomas cuts past a contain guy, but watch the backside guard give a ton of room, allowing the backside DT to run down the line and ankle tackle:
That would have me throwing a –2 at that G, and this was not an isolated incident. They couldn't convert a third and short to save their lives in the second half.
As for the pass rush, yes, "just Duke" caveats apply. VT is heavily run slanted (59%) as well. Still, they gave up only 15 sacks on the year. I did not look at this game in sufficient detail to say exactly why that's the case because the just Duke effect is at its strongest here—they're 93rd in sacks and 110th in TFLs. But to hazard a guess I'd say the tackles are good pass protectors and that's enough when you're rarely giving anyone else reason to believe you'll pass.
Receiving corps. I did not get much of a vibe in this game. A half dozen or more of Thomas's attempts were screens (frequently bubbles) and underneath stuff was usually swarmed. Danny Coale* got open deep for the 60-yard bomb linked above and then disappeared; Jarrett Boykin the 32-yard reception and then averaged 6 yards a catch on five others because they were mostly screens and dink hitches. I plead not enough data.
One guy who did make an impression was TE/H-back Chris Drager, a James-Rogers-like vagabond who bounced to defense and back over the course of his career. He was no backup, though. Drager started all but one game last year at DE. By all rights this should have been a signal of disaster but Drager has amazingly good hands for a guy who spent the last two years playing D. He made a few tough catches; he'll be a priority when VT is trying to move the chains on third and medium.
VT's backup tight end is a mess.
This may be useful in third and not-sneakable and goal line situations.
*[Who VT folk say will be punting(!) in the Sugar Bowl due to a dearth of other options.]
Keys for Michigan
Get to Thomas. Durrr QB pressure good. Yes. This is analysis just one step above the "score more points" school of Keys to Victory.
Three things make it better here. Thomas is not that mobile and if flushed out of the pocket is going to get some number of yards under ten unless something seriously wrong has gone down. He has a long, long delivery, which makes that window when he's made up his mind and has the ball in a dangerous position invitingly open. The Bank of Logan Thomas's Chest has extended hours for helmet deposits. And if Thomas is left alone to survey deep, the results will be not so good.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to mobile QBs: contain (think Iowa vs M) and attack (think MSU). Thomas is a guy to attack. The consequences of providing a running lane are less scary than those of providing time to survey and the chances of success are relatively higher.
Exploit the interior OL. I am of the opinion they kind of suck. When VT sprung a big play it was usually on the linebackers and secondary being slow or befuddled; several times Duke players made block-beating plays to hold down Wilson runs.
Have a centerfielder. You have to see if you can defend the VT run game straight up because you probably can, and then you have to take away that deep middle stuff Thomas can nail. I don't know if this is Woolfolk or Gordon after what we saw against Ohio State—but it's probably Gordon.
Gratuitous Appreciation of Duke Safety
That is all. I just wanted more than six people to see that.
Goddammit Brian, now you've gone and done it—you have effectively guaranteed that Logan Thomas will run for 150 yards. Jinx.
Weak interior OLine vs Mike Martin and RVB? I like.
More like Martin and Heininger, but point still stands.
Also, if they do have weak interior linemen, this might be a great game for BWC to get good reps, especially with an extra month to work on technique. Good OGs can beat BWC with technique, but weak OGs will get destroyed by his size, strength and athleticism. This might be the perfect game to unleash him on the inside.
our interior D-line is going to make some plays against their inferior or rather interior O-line. Looking forward to the analysis of their D.
NO Michigan players or coaches used the film from this game for .... ANYTHING.
Was the sun not shining on the day that Duke and VTech played?
Was there a huge, alien spaceship stationed mysteriously over the stadium?
Why does the game appeared to have been played in a permanent shadow?
that is all.
and boy, are they SPECIAL! derp
any chances that there will be a analysis of VT's special teams, punt block, fg block, etc.?
On the whole, VT's performance on special teams this year ranks among the worst of Frank Beamer's tenure. Danny Coale, a starting WR, is punting(and has done fairly well considering) because VT couldn't get consistent distance or hang time from either Scott Demler or Michael Branthover. He's solidified VT's punt game, but I wouldn't call him a field position weapon. Placekicker Cody Journell is solid but unspectacular-- I think his long for the year is something like 44 yards. The return game has not contributed much, though with David Wilson back on kickoff returns, you make one mistake and he scores. If VT makes a big play on special teams, I would think it'll be on a kickoff return, due to Wilson's ability and Michigan's occasional struggles covering kickoffs(though that's gotten better as the season's gone along). Jayron Hosley can hurt you on punt returns, but he's struggled much of the second half of the season with a hamstring injury, so VT hasn't gotten much there. Danny Coale's had to fill in as a punt returner as well-- he's sure-handed, but isn't going to break one. The punt and kick block units have not been productive so far, but VT will go for blocks more often against conventional punt formations. I wouldn't surprised to see Frank Beamer attack Will Hagerup early if he gets the chance. VT's kick coverage units have been OK, at best-- their best special teams tackler, Alonzo Tweedy, got hurt and missed three games.
The last two times VT's played in the Sugar Bowl, the Hokies were beaten in part because they were outplayed on special teams-- they missed a chip shot field goal early in the fourth quarter against Auburn(in a game they eventually lost by three), and got blown out on special teams in the national title game against Florida State(gave up TDs on a punt return and a punt block, failed on a fake field goal and a fake punt).
Bottom line: Virginia Tech certainly can win the special teams battle in this game, but by no means should Michigan go into the game expecting to be beaten in this area.
Your closing sentence is an instant classic.
Duke Football (seriously) tag - I laughed good at that one.
Stumbles into Thomas via blind-luck but doesn't even try to tackle him because he thinks someone else has the ball.
This game had a sick draw live that kept me coming back. I kept turning the channel, but somehow I'd end up back watching this game right when VT did something stupid, let Duke march 40-50 yards up field and then give the ball back.
FWIW. Coale actually did a good job punting when he had to this year (I think it was in the ACC Championship). He was no Zoltan (hallowed be his name), but who is.
First of all, I'd like to point out that the Duke safety that delivered that hit, Matt Daniels, was first-team all-ACC this year, and he deserved to be. He can play. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see that kid on an NFL roster next year.
As for the game analysis, I'll start by agreeing wholeheartedly with Brian's first Sugar Bowl game key. Logan Thomas has had stretches this year where he was the best player on the field, and he's capable of doing that against Michigan, but like most young QBs, he's struggled when pressured. He also has a bad habit of holding the ball low, particularly on his dropback, which has contributed to a couple of critical first-play fumbles this year(against North Carolina and in the ACC championship game against Clemson).
David Wilson is a lot faster than either Anthony Thomas or Chris Perry. The only Michigan back that comes to mind as a physical analogue to Wilson is John Vaughn-- Tyrone Wheatley had breakaway speed, too, but was much bigger than Wilson or Vaughn. Wilson's an All-American in two sports-- he finished sixth at the NCAAs in the triple jump.
The Duke game was possibly VT's strangest performance of this year-- it was as if VT was determined to do just enough and get out of town, and they barely managed to do that. If Duke's placekicking had been better, VT might well have lost that game. This was the third time in the last four seasons that Duke has given VT problems-- VT beat the Blue Devils 14-3 in 2008, in a game that wasn't decided until the final two minutes, and 34-26 in 2009. I suspect a large part of the problem this year was that this was the game before the big road game at Georgia Tech, and VT just couldn't get up for it. They outgained Duke by over 100 yards, they were +2 in turnovers, but they just weren't sharp on key plays. They missed a field goal, shanked a punt, threw an interception inside the five when a receiver ran the wrong route. It was just an uninspired performance, and while it's fair to consider every game when analyzing a team, I wouldn't take too much from that game with respect to VT.
I'm glad you pointed out Wilson. He has seemed to be underrated by this website so far. I think he is extremely good and dangerous. He was only held under 100 yards 3 times this season. One was by Clemson in the title game and the other 2 he was over 80.
I agree. You know all that hyperbole that Fred Jackson uses? "Like Chis Perry, but faster" or "Mike Hart with size and speed." David Wilson legitimately lives up to a lot of it. I thought Ryan Williams was a really good back for VT but Wilson is better. He runs motivated.
Watched the Clemson game and some things that stood out to me:
1. Thomas will lock on to a receiver and throw it regardless of coverage. Clemson missed out on a few interceptions, and there were a few Denard to Hemingway style chuck it into coverage throws.
2. I don't think Michigan will be all that afraid to leave the safety back, at least not on account of Thomas. Thomas is good at scrambling out of the pocket when he can run forward, but he takes forever getting out of the pocket if the lane is not straight ahead of him. Clemson got a lot of pressure up the middle, and Thomas was quick to bail on the pocket, but very slow to actually get out of it.
3. Wilson looked good at hitting the hole and moving the pile. He didn't look all that shifty, and receivers were breaking as many of Clemson's arm tackles.
4. Their backup Oglesby looks like a Shaw-style bouncer.
5. I'm not worried about the deep stuff. Thomas is quick to take the short route if he sees any blitz, even if its picked up, and their receivers weren't able to get open deep before the pass rush got to him.
6. #81 Jarrett Boykin may run over JT Floyd on a couple of screens. He has Hemingway's size and lowered his shoulder on Clemson's corner a couple of times to good effect.
David Wilson is a very good back, but loves to bounce it outside. If we can take care of cut back lanes, keep him from bouncing outside and/or get to the edge, they will have a hard time running the ball against us.
In addition to Boykin and Coale, they have another receiver, Marcus Davis. He's an ex-QB and a large target and has been a decent weapon for them. They haven't had the very good TE play that they have had in the recent past with Jeff King and Greg Boone, but they use a number of guys to try and create matchup problems.
I also see them trying a number of trick plays, maybe with Coale throwing it deep to Thomas. I think we'll be fine. We should stuff their running game and be able to run on them. If we get ahead by two scores, than I will feel very comfortable.
I keep reading comments about VT RBs and bouncing stuff outside immediately and I think of "Kevin Jones." This is the main reason he never made it in the NFL. Refusal to just take it into the hole.
Wilson is good enough that most sites project him as a second round pick. Of course that doesn't mean he will shine in the NFL, but he is viewed as somewhere in the neighborhood of the 3-6th best back in the draft, should he forego his senior season. Also, I don't know how talented the offensive line is, but they sure are experienced: except for the center ( a red-shirt soph.) they're all r-s seniors.
I just have a bad feeling that this analysis is going to go the way of Miss St. last year - VT looks like a "weak" opponent but one that shows up and bludgeonsthe defense with angry mobile QB anger.
I do think Thomas will be a handful, but he's not the type of QB who really gives UM trouble - his accuracy is good-but-not-great (59%), but degrades against good defenses (see GT, Clemson 2X) and seems at least ACC-assisted. I'm sure he'll put up decent numbers, but 53-55% seems about right. As for Wilson, kid looks fast and a gamebreaker, but also the type of guy who gets a couple of huge gains and not much else. Throw out a 57 yarder against WF, his average is 4 ypc; throw out a 44 yarder against GT and he averages about 5. These are still very good games, but if you accept that he'll get 1-2 big runs, he tends to produce at a slightly above-average level the rest of the way. Basically, just like Fitz. Glimmer of hope if you will.
The receivers struck me as older, experienced types that are good enough but not breakout stars. As Brian noted, they tend to have one huge catch and then a bunch of screens and short stuff. They do seem to be able to get separation, though. Their stats are a bit exaggerated because they beat up on a couple of teams - witness Boykins and Coale netting about half of total yards in 3 games, but each different games than the other. So it looks like Thomas will ride the hot receiver as much as possible, which should help in defensive schemes.
On defense, the numbers are all shiny but they gave up about 23 points per game in-conference, and teams could move the ball on them. They picked off 15 passes, which seems a little low to me given how many games the opposition was down late and needing to pass - not sure, though, compared to other seasons. Gayle and Collins seem like the bulk of their pass rush, and they have a safety in Exum who is their leading tackler and one of the anchors for the defense. A good Hokie defense, but I'm not sure how it stacks up given the competition.
The special teams seem ordinary - yeah they'll bring pressure on kicks, but the return game is meh. Their kicker looks good, with a long of 42 and 3/4 from 40+.
Difference between VT and Miss St. is that there was far less motivation to play hard when we were down 2 scores in the 2nd quarter against Miss St. with Greg Robinson as D-Coordinator with a lame-duck rich rodriguez. I also know a couple players and they told me that they didn't really have the drive to win... it was more of an "enjoy the trip" thing. This year is completely different though... I think Mattison will stick with the old gameplan and not play a Cover 1 robber defense against two 6' 1" + receivers, while allowing Martin, Van Bergen, and Demens to take care of Thomas. Really, I don't know what he was thinking with the Ohio State game because loading the box with 9 and having Morgan be a spy on Miller was foolish as Miller is an exceptional athlete and easily outran Morgan. It's not like Kovacs provided all that much run support in containing Miller.
Quite an interesting choice by reviewing Duke. I imagine that one could knock the quality of opponent, but the fact that Virginia Tech only won 14-10 to a 3-9 team is kind of telling. Also, Duke had a strange year. They got destroyed by Florida State (16-41) and Miami (14-49), but kept it close with not only Virginia Tech but also Georgia Tech (31-38), Virginia (21-31), and Wake Forest.(23-24). If they hadn't dropped their opening game to Richmond (21-23) then they are only a couple plays going their way from a 0.500 team.
Is it strange that I am more excited about what our defense does than our offense? How aggressive Mattison gets? Who steps up for us and has a big game (outside of our usual 5 star performers)? How do we handle a big time back? Can we stiffen up our coverage on the deep thows?
I will be the one sort-of defender of the ACC Network. It's got the worst announcers on the planet and awful production values, but it is most certainly in HD. My local CBS station actually ran the 12:30 ACC Network game every week, so I had to watch the beginning of every single CBS SEC game in standard definition on the auxillary channel. That was some Estonian garbage.
I don't think the Miss State parallel is really comparable here. Thomas can hurt you, but he goes from pretty good to awful the second he feels pressure. Clemson dominated VT up front with basically no 2nd string to speak of on the D-line. Martin and Van Bergen should dominate inside. Clemson dominated inside and got to Thomas on the outside pretty much by speed rushing the whole time. VT's O-line can get a push at times, but they're not going to dominate in short yardage, and they're too slow to completely neutralize a quality pass rush.
The wideouts are nothing special. They don't really have a dominant guy that will command attention. Clemson basically sold out to contain David Wilson and keep him from cutting back. If you're expecting a brilliant gameplan from Mike O'Cain or Bryan Stinespring, you're going to be disappointed. O'Cain was infamous at Clemson for saying he was confused by Duke's defense in a presser after dropping a game to them in 2004.
If the Michigan O cracks open a decent lead, VT doesn't really have the guns to make a comeback at all.
"If the Michigan O cracks open a decent lead, VT doesn't really have the guns to make a comeback at all."
This is my sense of VT as well. Their offense is designed for ball control--not scoring points quickly. And through the years, they have been successful mostly because of their defense (somewhat reminiscent of Michigan teams from the 1970s).
When I first looked at VT's record and the teams they've played, I thought Michigan should easily win by a touchdown or more. As I looked more closely, though, I have gained greater respect for VT. I still like Michigan by a touchdown, but it probably won't be as easy as I initially thought.