October 23, 2017

Film Preview: Virginia Tech

Yet another top-15 road game for the Clemson Tigers, this time facing Fuente, Foster, and Lane Stadium. A similar situation to Louisville earlier in the year, but I would argue the Hokies are more complete, better coached, and a tougher environment to play.

When first viewing this match-up, it’s important to take a look at who Virginia Tech has played each week. It’s been an easy slate to say the least:

Per rankings by FootballStudyHall.com:

47. West Virginia

D-II – Delaware

122. East Carolina

107. Old Dominion

Now the Hokies have #6(per FSH) and #2 AP ranked Clemson waltzing into town. A HUGE difference in talent from what they’ve seen the past 3 weeks. How will they be ready for it, how will they take the first hit or block from a completely different level of speed and size? Will it be shellshock early? All interesting questions.

Then, if you want to spin it in favor of VT, the Hokies have essentially had 3 straight walk-over weekends, in which they’ve been able to prep for Saturday’s game, running a rather vanilla offense to keep themselves off tape. Lots of unknowns and very hard to gauge just how good Virginia Tech is considering their recent opponents.

WHEN VIRGINIA TECH HAS THE BALL:

First and foremost, it’s necessary to go back into the rankings, this time the total defense rankings for each opponent. How much of an upgrade will Clemson’s defense be compared to what the Hokies have been tested against so far?

West Virginia – 106th – give up average 451 yards/game

Delaware – Not applicable

East Carolina – 129th or dead last in NCAA – give up average 624.8 yards/game

Old Dominion – 97th – give up average 425 yards/game

Clemson?? – 3rd – give up 227 yards/game.

Now to the keys:

  1. Clemson must be disciplined defensively.

Fuente is a brilliant offensive mind, great at finding ways to build his offense through the strengths of his players. With dual-threat Josh Jackson, this has been through variety of run-pass options. Honestly, Virginia Tech’s offense reminds me quite a bit of Clemson’s with Tajh Boyd at the helm.

Against an average West Virginia defensive secondary, the Hokies found ways to use eye candy and exploit just the smallest lack of discipline. Although VT lost several offensive playmakers from a year ago, their stud WR Cam Phillips is one of the best in the nation. Watch the safety step up after the play action fake, and Phillips run the post in behind.

 

And here’s just an example of Phillips’ go up and get it ability.

 

Another RPO, getting the safety to come up and the slanting receiver in behind. Really good play design, hard to defend, just a poor throw from Jackson.

 

More RPO, allowing the TE to get behind coverage. Easy read, easy throw for the RS freshman QB.

 

Now you’ll get the jet sweep eye candy, QB keep up the middle with Jackson. Fatigue leads to a lack of discipline as WVU’s defenders get lazy and key on the WR rather than picking up Jackson.

 

2. Virginia Tech’s RT, Kyle Chung, is a center/guard trying to play right tackle. That’s not a good thing when Austin Bryant is coming into town.

This is Chung’s first year as a tackle, and to be honest, he doesn’t have the athleticism to defend against the pass rush. In watching VT’s previous games, it’s quite obvious that he’s most comfortable run blocking, where he’s able to avoid the footwork required in pass rush. Along with that, he appears to have short arm length, which allows for DE’s to get out and make contact with him first, before he’s able engage in a block.

Bullrush from WVU’s DE and Chung gets knocked onto his heels. Once that happens, he’s falling his way into the pocket. Watch how WVU’s DE is able to extend his arms to engage and Chung loses leverage.

 

Easily beat inside.

 

Both tackles actually get beat here against Old Dominion, and Jackson does well to step and run.

 

Yikes.

 

Swim move around Chung.

 

Speed around the end, nearly gets to Jackson. Another take-away from these clips is the impressive poise and pass rush feel from Josh Jackson. Although Chung gets beat, Jackson always seems to avoid taking the sack.

 

On heels from bullrush and ends up falling down.

 

3. Josh Jackson has struggled with zone looks.

Delaware implemented zone coverage on Jackson when the two played earlier this season, and created quite a few issues. The RS Freshman struggled in finding the soft spots in the zone and perfecting the timing of routes and thus his throw. The zone coverage forced additional thought and hesitation from Jackson, thus keeping him in the pocket longer and susceptible to the pass rush.

Now, although I wouldn’t expect to see Venables roll out the same gameplan as he did against Lamar Jackson, I wouldn’t be surprised if Venables brought out several similar exotic blitzes, dropping DE’s into coverage to go along with a zone defense on the back-end. The more confusion the better, force Jackson to find open windows.

 

WVU looks as if they’re bringing a blitz, then LB #5 drops into coverage. Jackson’s already read this as a slant in man to man and doesn’t expect the dropping LB, nearly causing an interception.

 

Back to back plays in which Jackson doesn’t know where to go and is forced to scramble.

 

Another round of back to back plays in which the zone causes problems. Put VT into third and long situations, bring some pressure, and force Jackson into making throws into tight windows with a lack of playmakers outside of Cam Phillips.

 

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL:

  1. Clemson’s run game could play hero for the second straight week.

In Virginia Tech’s only game against an above-average team, WVU, the Hokies allowed 221 yards on the ground for a 6.3 yard average. WVU’s RB carried the ball 13 times for 106 yards. That’s impressive. And QB Will Grier, not considered a speedster by any means, had 11 carries for 52 yards.

The Feaster/Etienne/Bryant combination could have a big day, and their success will likely be critical as they look to grind out and fatigue a defensive line that lacks significant depth.

Giant hole here as VT’s defensive line is easily moved aside.

 

And here:

 

Now if the offensive line is able to create lanes allowing the RB’s to be productive, it’ll force the defense to key more on the RB’s and less on Bryant’s running abilities. In a game in which Bud Foster will likely work tight coverage against receivers to put make things difficult for KB in the pass game, Bryant may have to make several plays with his legs. And QB’s legs have given Foster’s defenses trouble in the past. Check out this stat via virginiatech.sportswar.com:

“Opposing quarterback rushing average in Tech wins since the start of 2013: 26.9 yards per game
Opposing quarterback rushing average in Tech losses since the start of 2013: 78.2 yards per game

The Hokies are 0-10 since the start of 2013 when the opposing quarterback has rushed for 100 yards or more.”

That has to be concerning given KB’s more than capable legs. WVU’s Will Grier is much less of a run threat, and obviously not going to get quite the attention that Bryant would, but check out these clips of VT’s defensive ends simply ignoring Grier once WVU had started to establish the running game…

 

 

 

Heavy crash to the running back, even from the safety. Fortunately for the Hokies, Grier isn’t terribly speedy.

 

2. Virginia Tech’s pass rush is underwhelming.

As often said, success in the run game opens up the pass game. If Clemson can do point #1 above, it should force VT to bring more resources into the box to defend against the run and make the Hokies more susceptible on the back end. As we all know, sacks have been an issue, both due to some offensive line struggles and Kelly Bryant’s pocket presence. Watching WVU’s offense against VT, one that gained nearly 600 total yards, it was honestly quite surprising to see the lack of pressure the Hokies were able to get on Grier.

Auburn had the talent and the horses up front to play aggressively in coverage, knowing that the defensive front 4 was good enough to create pressure themselves. I’m not so sure Virginia Tech can do same.

4 man rush and look at the time Grier has in the pocket.

 

And how about here? With not much depth and fatigue issues, if the Clemson offense can create sustained drives and keep VT’s defensive line on the field, one must believe that Bryant and the offensive line can take full advantage.

 

3. Adding onto the previous point of an underwhelming pass rush, when you allow a QB to have time and routes to develop, you’ll inevitably get burned. This has happened to VT’s secondary on several occasions, as one of their biggest weaknesses is giving up big plays.

 

Check ECU beating VT over the top following simple play action. Corner steps up, receiver gets behind and the safety cannot recover.

 

Is this the week Kelly Bryant gets back that missed TD pass to Milan Richard up the seam against Louisville? Play action, plenty of time, linebacker’s eyes get stuck on the QB, leaving the TE wide open.

 

All day to throw and Grier finds his man.

 

Beat on deep ball down the sideline. VT D-Line actually won the battle here, LT got whipped.

 

Again, Grier with all day to throw and VT gets beaten down the seam. Seems as though S #22, Terrell Edmunds, may have some coverage weaknesses that can be exploited.

 

 

 

 

 

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