Much was made of Virginia Tech’s rushing attack through the first two weeks of the season.
The Hokies only averaged 114.5 yards and 2.82 yards per carry in the matchups against Boston College and Old Dominion. Was it a blocking issue, a running back issue, a playcalling issue, or some combination of them all?
Whatever the answer might be, Virginia Tech got back on track against Furman with 43 attempts for 227 yards, good for 5.28 yards per carry. It’s a statistic that one would expect to improve when facing the Paladins. The Hokies will now have to prove that it wasn’t just an anomaly versus an FCS team, but that they can maintain the level of production, beginning on September 27 against Duke.
“We’re still not satisfied yet, but we’re happy,” left tackle Christian Darrisaw said. “We had like 220 yards I think, but we know we can do better. We want to still prove that to everybody.”
There were a number of reasons leading to the Hokies’ burst on the ground, beginning first and foremost with Keshawn King’s breakout game. Fans will remember King’s 15-yard and 54-yard rushes to open the second half, but there was also a number of times where King bounced off tackles at the line of scrimmage to pick up five or six yards.
“He’s a confident kid,” offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said. “He’s had a lot of success in high school, and what comes along with that is confidence in his abilities. To me that’s the thing that stands out.
“Expect him to continue to get better and better in all phases of playing that position. We know his talent carrying the ball, but there’s certainly more to the position than just that. That’s what he continues to do a good job of every day in practice, getting better with those little things.”
The true freshman finished with 12 attempts for 119 yards, and in the process, was the first running back to excite Lane Stadium denizens in the past few years.
The use of jet sweeps to attack Furman’s defense horizontally provided a boon to the ground game. It was really the first time this year that Cornelsen relied on those calls.
“There’s schematic advantages to using receivers with jet motion,” Cornelsen said. “Your tailback becomes a blocker, it happens quickly, sometimes they can’t adjust to it.”
Last Saturday, Tre Turner carried the ball five times for 68 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown on a jet sweep late in the fourth quarter. Tayvion Robinson also busted off a 21-yard gain when his number was called.
Those plays aren’t limited to just wide receivers either. James Mitchell drifted back to his high school days and punched it in from three yards out on a sweep from his tight end spot for the Hokies’ touchdown drive to start the second half.
“It just keeps teams off-balanced when we can get guys involved in the running game along with our running backs running good,” Mitchell said.
This season, Turner, Robinson, and Mitchell have a combined nine carries for 102 yards (11.3 avg.). Turner has even been effective dating back to last year as a freshman.
Over 15 games in his career, the sophomore has been adroit with the ball in his hands on the ground, amassing 14 rushes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Turner’s averaging over a first down per carry (11.6 avg.) when the ball is handed off to him.
“I think of the end zone every time I’m running,” Turner said.
The newest addition of special assistant Jerry Kill appears like it will only help improve the running game. Cornelsen recalls when Kill was his football coach at a camp in the eighth grade. It was there where Kill taught Cornelsen how to run the triple option. While that won’t be added to Cornelsen’s playbook anytime soon, he is excited for Kill’s assistance in the running game over the rest of the season.
“Offense has been what he’s done the most throughout the years,” Cornelsen said. “In particular, his ability in the run game to establish the run. That’ll be the first place that we go to him for ideas and evaluation and ways that he can help us.”
The best look at Kill’s accomplishments with the rushing attack can be seen during his time at Minnesota. Here’s a quick note from Chris’s article yesterday.
“In Kill’s four full seasons as Minnesota’s head coach, the Golden Gophers averaged 180.6 yards per game on the ground, with an average national ranking of No. 48.”
For a team that was typically towards the bottom half of college football in terms of total offense because of a lack of playmakers in the passing game, Kill’s ability to pick up yards on the ground stood the test of time.
“He understands how it works,” Cornelsen said. “It still all has to fit within the system and the players you got. You can’t just go install a new offense in the middle of a week or whatever. There’ll be plenty of ideas, whether it’s scheme ideas or technique ideas or little things here or there that he’ll be able to help us with that we’re excited to have him here for.”
While wholesale changes won’t be made, Kill’s observations and evaluations could allow the Hokies to continue the development into a multidimensional offense.
- Bud Foster noted that he met Jerry Kill through a coaching clinic several years back and he’s always admired him from a distance. “He’s done it the right way, and you can see that with his film and his preparation, and you saw that on the field with his players,” Foster said. “He is known as a bigtime ball coach. He is not a glitz and glamour guy, but just a good ole football coach. I think he’s going to be a great addition to our staff.”
- Defensive end Eli Adams had his biggest game in the maroon and orange this past Saturday. The redshirt sophomore tallied seven tackles and a quarterback hurry. “Eli has always been a guy who has a high motor,” Foster said. “He played extremely hard the other day, and he’s got to continue to fine-tune some things like a lot of young guys… He is just another guy that with the more experience he gains and more practice he has, the better he is going to continue to be.”