2006 Wake Forest Game Analysis: Glennon, Defense Deliver

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A week after routing Florida State 30-0 in Tallahassee, the upstart Wake
Forest Demon Deacons returned to Winston Salem expecting to continue their
winning ways against a Virginia Tech team that was coming off a ho-hum effort
against Kent State. Instead, the Hokies hit the Deacons with a big play offense,
a fast and suffocating defense, and a swarm of thousands of fans clad in Orange
and Maroon. The result was an efficient, physically-dominating 27-6 victory for
the Hokies. Since joining the conference three seasons ago, the Hokies are now
an impressive 11-1 in conference road games.

There is an old adage in football that says games are often determined by the
first five minutes of each half. That was certainly the case on Saturday, as the
Hokies struck for big play touchdowns on their initial drives in the first and
third quarters. That, coupled with another imposing performance by the defense,
allowed the Hokies to pull away, despite a game-ending injury to star tailback
Branden Ore on his second carry of the game.

It was an impressive victory on several levels. Let’s break it down,
starting with the defense….

Defense Sets the Tone

Wake Forest came into the game with an efficient, opportunistic offense that
did not make mistakes. Their offensive style was predicated on misdirection and
precise execution, an approach that had worked very well throughout the course
of the season.

Tech’s defense was determined to take away the misdirection stuff and force
the Deacons to play a more conventional style of football. The coaches had spent
a lot of time in the film room scouting the Wake Forest tendencies and it
translated well to the players on the field.

The defensive game plan was to play a lot of 8-man fronts with man coverage
on the outside receivers. The 4-4 alignment balanced the defense horizontally
across the field against the side-to-side plays that Wake liked to run. That
alignment put a contain defender at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the
field. The misdirection and reverses would be forced back into the inside-out
pursuit from the interior of the defense (led by Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi).
The alignment in conjunction with the overall team speed of the Tech defense
made it very difficult for Wake offense to get anything out of what they do
best.

The first play of the game was a prime example. Wake went to one of their
bread and butter misdirection plays — an inside handoff to speedy WR Kevin
Marion coming across the formation as a motion receiver. When Marion started his
motion, Tech’s Whip LB Brenden Hill knew what was coming. Hill jumped inside
at the snap and got immediate penetration into the backfield, surprising both
the slot receiver and the running back, who were both responsible for lead
blocks on the play. Marion had nowhere to go other than directly into the
waiting arms of Hill, and the result was a big loss for the Deacons. With that
play, the defense sent a message — we know your tendencies and we will not
allow your misdirection plays to get outside the defense.

Defense Protects the End Zone

Another huge factor in the game was the inability of Wake’s offense to get
in the end zone. That had not happened to the Deacons at home in six years.

Wake had three decent opportunities to score a touchdown in the game, but
each time big plays by the Tech defense turned them away.

Let’s take a look at each one of those plays in more detail….

After getting stuffed for much of the first half, Wake’s first penetration
into Tech territory came in the second quarter with the Hokies leading 7-0. With
good execution in the passing game, Wake was able to get the ball down to the
Tech 25 yard line.

Facing a 2nd down and nine from the 25, Tech’s defense came up with a big
play. Wake ran a variation of the first play of the game, hoping to catch the
Hokies with a double dose of misdirection. On that first play, Wake had
witnessed Brenden Hill jumping the inside reverse. On this key 2nd down play,
they wanted to use that aggressiveness against the Hokies, but it backfired as
well.

As expected, Hill jumped the inside reverse again, but the plan was to
reverse the flow back in the other direction with Marion handing off to WR
Willie Idlette. What Wake didn’t count on was the blitz from Vince Hall. They
picked him up with the guard, but LT Steve Vallos had to decide whether to block
Hill streaking in off the edge or DE Chris Ellis, who exploded to the inside of
Vallos at the snap. As a result, Ellis and Hill blew up the play and Marion
never had a chance to get the handoff to Idlette. The loss of 10 yards put Wake
in a 3rd and 19 situation. They had lost the momentum and ultimately settled for
a long field goal from their sensational kicker, Sam Swank. While they did get
points of that drive, the big play by Tech’s defense on 2nd down was the key
to keeping Wake from potentially tying the score with a touchdown.

Wake’s next chance to get in the end zone came in the third quarter, with
the Hokies leading 14-3. On this drive, Wake put together a string of nice plays
in the passing game to get the all the way to the Tech nine yard line. On 2nd
and goal, Brenden Hill once again came up with a big play.

Wake QB Riley Skinner thought he had his TE Zac Selmon open in the corner of
the end zone against Tech safety D.J. Parker in man-to-man coverage. However,
Hill read Skinner and dropped off from his underneath zone to nearly intercept
Skinner’s pass in the end zone. The play put a little bit of fear into the
Wake offense — they had been fortunate that the Skinner misread didn’t
result in a turnover. Remember, this was an offense that did not make mistakes.
What had happened on 2nd down impacted their play call on 3rd down.

Instead of asking Skinner to read coverage and find a receiver in the end
zone, the Wake coaches took the pressure off of Skinner by setting up screen to
RB Travo Woods. It was a safe play call for Skinner and it had the potential to
get to the end zone, but Tech DE Orion Martin came all the way across from his
left defensive end position to chase Woods down from behind. When Frank Beamer
talks about playing hard, he is referring to the type of relentless effort that
Martin put forth on that play.

Once again, Wake had to settle for a Swank field goal. The resulting 14-6
score still left the Deacons two scores behind the Hokies.

Their third and last opportunity to get into the end zone came in the 4th
quarter with the Hokies leading 24-6. After another nice drive highlighted by
productive plays in the passing game, the Deacons once again were in the red
zone. The Tech defense stiffened up and kept the Deacons from getting a key
first and goal inside the five yard line.

Needing the touchdown, the Deacons decided to go for it on 4th down and ½
yard from the Tech five yard line. They went to a play that had worked for an
earlier 4th down conversion — a handoff up the middle to their big 250-lb.
fullback Rich Belton.

The Tech coaches expected the play and called for the defensive front to
slant right at the snap. By slanting right, the Hokies were able to get
immediate penetration in the guard/center gap from Barry Booker, their quickest
and most athletic defensive tackle. It was the perfect defensive front call, and
Booker was able to stop Belton in his tracks for no gain. The play foiled Wake’s
last opportunity to get into the end zone and it sealed the victory for the
Hokies.

Now, let’s take a look at the offense.

Hokies Strike Early

Digging up some old memories from their high school days, QB Sean Glennon hit
WR Eddie Royal for a 49 yard TD pass on the first offensive series of the game.
It was a play that was executed well by everyone involved — the offensive line
protected well, Glennon made the right read and delivered a good pass, and Royal
used his speed and quickness to do the rest.

Let’s break the play down in more detail….

The formation had both WR’s aligned to the wide side of the field. TE Sam
Wheeler was lined up on the right side of the formation with no WR’s to his
outside. At the snap, Wheeler released straight down the seam and occupied both
the corner Kevin Patterson and the safety Patrick Ghee. Royal ran a deep slant
from across the field against 3-deep coverage (both corners and one safety in a
zone that splits the deep areas into thirds with the three linebackers and the
other safety in a zone that splits the underneath areas into quarters).

Since Tech did not have a WR aligned to the boundary side of the formation,
Wheeler was the player on the end of the formation to that side. As the only
receiver to that side, he was able to draw the full attention from both
Patterson and Ghee as he ran the seam up the boundary hash. Patterson turned
inside on Wheeler and lost outside leverage in his area of responsibility. Royal’s
deep slant took him into the deep boundary area of the field, but Patterson was
not able to get his hips turned back quickly enough to make a play on the ball.
The pass protection held up and Sean Glennon had the window to hit Royal once he
cleared the drop by the linebackers. Royal made the catch and used his speed to
get to the end zone. Sam Wheeler kept up his part by running interference on
Ghee all the way into the end zone and out of the play.

With one variation, the play reminded me of the 80 yard TD pass from Bryan
Randall to Royal against Georgia Tech in 2004. On that play, Jeff King released
up the seam and occupied the safety in a Cover-2 alignment (corners up in press
coverage with both safeties back with deep halves responsibility). Royal got
behind the corner, Randall delivered the pass and Royal used his speed to take
it to the end zone. Against Wake, the Hokies used Royal on the deep slant from
the other side of the field to get similar results against the Cover-3. If Royal
had been aligned outside of Wheeler, the play never would have worked against
that coverage. With Wheeler as the only receiver to that side, he was able to
tie up both deep defenders, opening the window for Royal slanting across from
the other side. 7-0 Hokies.

Ore Goes Down, Offense Steps Up

When Branden Ore went down in the first quarter, the sea of Hokie fans in the
stadium went eerily quiet, with the exception of a few choice four letter words
that could be heard over the hush of the crowd. This was THE injury that couldn’t
happen…but it did. Already leading 7-0, how would the Hokies respond?

After the early touchdown, the Hokies would not score again in the first
half, but it was clear that the offense was getting production, even with Ore on
the sideline with a big ice pack on his ankle. The offensive line was getting a
good push up front, Glennon was settled and in control of the offense, the
receivers were blocking downfield and making tough catches in the passing game,
and both of Ore’s backups, Kenny Lewis and George Bell, were getting
productive carries in the run game.

It all paid off in the second half.

Hokies Strike Again

What most people will remember about Josh Morgan’s touchdown was how he
went up to get the ball over the Wake corner and how he broke through two
tackles on his way to the end zone. It was a play that demonstrated Morgan’s
athleticism and tremendous strength, and it resulted in the Hokies getting
something big done in those first five minutes of the second half.

What I want to focus on here is how the play was set up, going back as far as
last week against Kent State. There was a play against Kent State that at the
time didn’t result in anything other than to confirm that the offense was
lacking focus in that game. It would pay off differently a week later.

Let’s look at it in more detail….

In the second quarter of the Kent State game, Morgan found himself outside in
one-on-one press coverage against the corner with a single deep safety aligned
in the middle of the field. Against that defensive alignment, both Morgan and
Glennon are taught to go to the fade route, with Morgan breaking to the outside
of the corner and then fading down field toward the sideline. Glennon read the
coverage correctly and threw the fade pass. Morgan ran a slant directly into the
coverage and the result was an ugly looking play and more than a few puzzled
looks from those in attendance.

Now, fast forward to Saturday night. Earlier in the game, Tech’s offense
had shown that if they saw the corners lying back, then they would take the
quick outside pass or the WR screen. They got good yardage on two such plays —
one to David Clowney and another to Justin Harper.

It was the quick pass to Harper that helped set up the Morgan touchdown.

The formation had Sam Wheeler aligned left with Harper outside of him, but
off the line of scrimmage (he had to be off the line in order not to “cover up”
Wheeler and make him an ineligible receiver). Glennon saw the corner playing
back and audibled at the line of scrimmage (more on that later). The check
changed the formation by having Wheeler go in motion, allowing Harper to step up
to the line of scrimmage. Glennon hit him with a quick pass and Harper got good
yardage down the sideline.

Now, to the Morgan touchdown. The Hokies went with the same formation —
Wheeler aligned on the left side with Morgan outside of him (again, a step off
the line of scrimmage). Knowing the tendency, Wake moved the corner up to the
line of scrimmage. Glennon audibled again, Wheeler went in motion and Morgan
stepped up to align on the line of scrimmage. Now, the Wake corner was in
one-on-one press coverage against Morgan, and the defensive set left a single
deep safety in the middle of the field. Queue Kent State and the fade. This time
Morgan read it correctly, Glennon delivered the pass and Morgan did the rest for
the touchdown.

That whole sequence is a good example of the chess match that goes on from
film study to tendency charts to in-game adjustments. The Hokies set that up
nicely, got what they wanted with one-on-one press coverage outside on Morgan,
and then executed for the touchdown.

Other Observations

  • Let’s start with a topic of much discussion — the hit by Aaron Rouse
    that resulted in the fumble and touchdown by Xavier Adibi. It was a
    helmet-to-helmet hit, but it would have been a surprise to see the officials
    flag it for a penalty. First, those types of calls are generally reserved to
    protect QB’s (as we saw in the Ohio State / Michigan game). Secondly, it
    didn’t look like there was anything malicious or intentional. If anything,
    Rouse was in a more vulnerable position for injury than the Wake running
    back. Rouse was lucky he didn’t get hurt himself. In my opinion, it was a
    just a freak kind of play that resulted in helmet-to-helmet contact.
    Luckily, neither player was seriously injured.
  • Speaking of calls, how about the two personal foul calls against Rouse and
    Adibi? A lot has been said already, but I suspect the officials will
    conclude that both were bad calls once they review the film.
  • After a sputtering effort against Kent State, the Tech offense showed that
    they are continuing to emerge. Young players like Sam Wheeler and Sergio
    Render were keys to the offensive performance against Wake Forest. Wheeler
    is becoming a weapon at TE. Render, while still inconsistent week to week,
    is showing that he is very difficult to handle when he plays well.
  • With Render playing well next to Duane Brown, it’s no surprise that the
    Hokies offense likes to run off its right side. A favorite play in the Wake
    game was to run behind the right side of Render, Brown and Wheeler, pulling
    left guard Brandon Gore through to swallow anything else that might be in
    the way.
  • It was good to see both Kenny Lewis and George Bell step up in place of
    Ore. Lewis is getting more comfortable as a runner — showing better
    patience and footwork. Bell is simply a hard load to handle. Hopefully, his
    knees will hold up. He deserves whatever positives come his way.
  • Sean Glennon was impressive against Wake Forest. He had his breakthrough
    road performance against a good and opportunistic defense. As noted earlier,
    he was given a few more checks in this game and he audibled into a couple of
    nice plays for the offense. He showed better footwork and great poise in
    commanding the offense. And once again, he showed good toughness in the
    pocket. Just prior to the Morgan TD, Glennon connected with FB Carlton
    Weatherford to convert on a huge 3rd and five play. Wake DE Jyles Tucker had
    beaten Tech LT Brandon Frye and got a hit on Glennon just as he released the
    ball. Glennon stayed in there tough and delivered an accurate pass to
    Weatherford for the first down. That play is another one to build on as he
    continues to progress as a QB on the major college level.
  • Here is another example of how one play can affect another later in the
    game. Hill’s antics off the edge were confusing Riley Skinner throughout
    the game. On the play where Hill and Ellis blew up the intended reverse to
    Idlette, Skinner did not check out when he read the Hill blitz and it cost
    his team 10 yards on the loss. Later in the game, Skinner did check out of a
    play that was intended to go to Hill’s side. The check switched the play
    to run to the opposite side. However, Hill was bluffing the pressure and the
    check sent the play directly into the run blitz on the other side from
    Brandon Flowers. The result was another big play by Hill and another big
    loss for the Wake offense.

Final Thoughts

Next up…UVa. Although it will not have a lot of national attention this
year, it’s always the big rivalry game for the state of Virginia. UVa has been
getting better each week behind a strong defense and the continual improvement
of QB Jameel Sewell. After handing Miami a convincing defeat, they will come to
Lane Stadium with a lot of confidence hoping to avenge the embarrassing loss to
the Hokies a year ago in Charlottesville.

Tech will likely have to get it done again without Branden Ore. As has been
the blueprint for the season, the Hokies will rely on the defense to set the
tone and look for the offense to take advantage of opportunities when they
present themselves.

It should be another good one! Happy Thanksgiving and see you on Saturday!

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