Virginia Tech Football: Depth At Receiver, D-Line and Linebacker Execution

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Dax Hollifield said he feels fresh and energized after Virginia Tech’s bye week. (Ivan Morozov)

After having time to rest and study film from the first four weeks of the season, Virginia Tech’s attention is now focused on No. 14 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish venture to Blacksburg for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff under the lights in Lane Stadium on Saturday night.

On Tuesday, wide receiver Tre Turner discussed his thoughts on the wide receiver group and the offense as a whole from the first four weeks. Defensive tackle Jordan Williams and linebacker Dax Hollifield also explained how the defense has been so solid so far this season.

Offensive Film Takeaways and Wide Receiver Depth

Similar to quarterback Braxton Burmeister‘s comments during last Tuesday’s open week press conference, the thing that stuck out to Tre Turner when watching film was that Tech left too many points and chances on the table through the first four weeks.

“We just left a lot of opportunities out there,” Turner said. “Whether it’s a dropped pass, a route ran the wrong way, it’s the little things. It’s nothing to get down about, though. We just know what can happen and what’s supposed to happen, so when we’re watching film of old games and we see one of us messed up, we know it was our fault the whole offense didn’t operate.”

Turner used his false start against Richmond as an example. On the second play on the Hokies’ fourth series against the Spiders, Turner moved too soon. That set Virginia Tech back with a 1st & 15, which ended up leading to Peter Moore’s fake punt. His penalty followed Burmeister’s first down run which set the Hokies up with solid field position at Richmond’s 37-yard line.

“I knew I messed up a whole drive with a false start,” Turner added. “It’s little things like that, just mental problems.”

Tre Turner (right) leads the Hokies in receptions and receiving yards this season. (Ivan Morozov)

Turner said that was one of the biggest themes from the bye week: making sure everyone gets all of the tiny details right.

“It’s all about execution,” Turner added. “Whenever one person messes something up, it messes up the whole execution of the play. If one person doesn’t execute, the operation is dead.”

One of the things that might help execution at wide receiver is if the Hokies can get some younger players in the mix. Here’s the current breakdown of snaps at receiver on passing plays through four games, from PFF:

Tayvion Robinson: 126
Turner: 115
Kaleb Smith: 108
Jaden Payoute: 22
Da’Wain Lofton: 12

As Justin Fuente mentioned on Monday in his press conference and on Tech Talk Live, he’s hopeful that the Hokies can get some of those inexperienced players some reps. He’s raved about Jaylen Jones, who’s missed time with a hamstring injury, and Payoute, who’s been a bit nicked up. Turner said some depth there would help, and he’s seen some positive signs from his teammates behind him.

“It would help tremendously based off of all of us playing 60-plus snaps a game,” Turner said. “Over this eight-game stretch, it could beat our bodies down. I’ve seen it happen to our receiver room before. Last year, we traveled to the last couple of games with six receivers. It’s just them cleaning up little things in practice and getting healthy. They’ll come along.

“Jaylen Jones has been working himself back into the rotation. He’s been himself. Da’Wain Lofton looks better and better every day. Dallan [Wright] looks good. … I like what that young group is doing.”

The Defense Is Flying To The Ball

Virginia Tech’s defense, outside of a few miscues, has been really good so far this season. Jordan Williams and Dax Hollifield both mentioned how fun it’s been to be a part of that unit through the first few weeks and how everyone is just “flying around” out there.

“We’ve been making a lot of plays and running to the ball,” Williams said, “and ultimately, if you run to the ball, you’re bound to make a play. … It just looks like we’re all out there having fun, flying around to the ball, running to the football, and it’s very rare to see eight to 11 guys flying and getting to the ball.”

Jordan Williams has 13 tackles through four games this season. (Ivan Morozov)

Williams said that’s what he expected when he transferred from Clemson in the offseason. Guys running around, playing freely and having fun.

Hollifield brought that up, too. He liked how the defense played fast through the first four weeks and executed well, and, multiple times, mentioned how defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton and linebackers coach Jack Tyler have put the defense in positions to succeed.

“JHam and Jack [Tyler] have given us very easy assignments,” Hollifield said. “Most of our coverages fit very similarly, it doesn’t really matter what we’re in. It’s really more of, ‘I know exactly what I have right now’ instead of, ‘I’m thinking, I’m half a second late,’ and that really matters.

“Just flying around, really just playing fast and making our reads very fast, making them easy for us, has been huge. … Usually the keys and reads are very similar and that helps us play fast and execute at a high level.”

That execution has showed, both in the numbers from Will Stewart’s aforementioned tweet and in the individual stats. Alan Tisdale and Hollifield lead the Hokies in tackling with 33 and 30 tackles, respectively, while four of Tech’s six players that receive the most snaps on the defensive line have more than ten tackles. The Hokies also have 27 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.

And, for the most part, Virginia Tech has eliminated big play opportunities defensively. Below is a chart with a breakdown of plays of 20-plus yards allowed:

Tech has allowed 13 plays of 20-plus yards through four games (3.25 avg.). However, only three have resulted in touchdowns. One was North Carolina’s only touchdown of the contest, while the two against West Virginia were their first two touchdowns in the game. The Hokies haven’t been perfect in that aspect, but they’ve been above average.

Three of the seven touchdowns allowed came from plays of 20-plus. Improving that even more will go a long way.

“Group tackling, team football, those are the keys to stopping big plays,” Hollifield said. “Big plays, in my opinion, are what really determines wins and losses on the defensive side of the ball. If you can stop a team from having a couple of big plays a game, you’re playing pretty good defense.”

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6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. “….We just know what can happen and what’s supposed to happen, so when we’re watching film of old games and we see one of us messed up, we know it was our fault the whole offense didn’t operate.”

    Story of the Fuente era.

    1. Eh, I wouldn’t limit it to Fuente (remember how often Beamer said “one block away”?) nor even Virginia Tech. That’s how football works in general. 10 guys can do their assignment correctly, but if/when one doesn’t, it can have a big impact.

    2. And compare the comment from the player on offense to that from the player on defense:

      “Hollifield brought that up, too. He liked how the defense played fast through the first four weeks and executed well, and, multiple times, mentioned how defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton and linebackers coach Jack Tyler have put the defense in positions to succeed.

      “JHam and Jack [Tyler] have given us very easy assignments,” Hollifield said. “Most of our coverages fit very similarly, it doesn’t really matter what we’re in. It’s really more of, ‘I know exactly what I have right now’ instead of, ‘I’m thinking, I’m half a second late,’ and that really matters.”

      Me again… The system on offense needs to put the kids in a position where execution doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be successful. The best offenses do this by getting play makers in space quickly and letting them make a play or via window dressing that causes the defense to make mistakes.

  2. The not-so-secret key to winning football games is to not beat yourself, and so far this year VT has done an excellent job of limiting the mistakes and taking advantage of the other teams miscues. I hope it is a continuing trend and not an aberration.

  3. Love this defense and the defensive coaching staff. Hope I can say this about the offense as the season goes forward. I believe they have the talent; just have to execute much better. ND will be a tough task for them, and tell Hokie Nation a lot about the rest of the season for this group.

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