It’s time for my annual “this is how I would organize the Spring Game” article. I expect the actual format to be announced by Virginia Tech on either Thursday or Friday. Until then, here’s how I would handle it.
In past seasons, we’ve seen the starters split up among both teams. We’ve also seen the #1s on one team and the #2s on another, with the backups getting spotted a certain amount of points. At other schools, we’re seeing coaches let players choose their own team via a draft. Sometimes we also see others schools do a simple offense vs. defense Spring Game, with the defense being rewarded points for getting stops, three and outs, turnovers, etc.
Ultimately, there is no right answer. I think the proper Spring Game format depends on the personnel you have on a year-by-year basis. Sometimes I think the mood of the fan base should come into play as well.
For this particular season, I think it’s very important that the starting offense stay together and not be split up among two different teams. There isn’t much depth on the offensive line, and although the starting group looks good, if they are split up I believe the result would be both offenses looking bad.
Personally, I’d lean towards doing an offense vs. defense Spring Game. It would feature the #1 offense against the #2 defense, but it would also have a few series of #1 offense vs. #1 defense, as well as the #2 offense vs. the #2 defense. The #3 offense and #3 defense would get to play the fourth quarter.
Offensive points would be scored in the regular way. Defensive points would be scored by a special system. For example, here’s the defensive scoring system from a recent Notre Dame Spring Game…
Stop before the 50: 4 points
Stop after the 50: 2 points
Turnover before the 50: 7 points
Turnover after the 50: 3 points
Holding the offense to a FG attempt: 2 points
The scoring system can be completely different from that one, but you get the point. There are a couple of reasons I’d go with this format.
Fan Psyche is Important
If the starters are split up and both offenses look bad in the Spring Game, we’d have yet another long summer of “Here we go again, the offense is terrible” type of thoughts. Last year, the Spring Game finished with a 7-3 score, leading to this rather uncomplimentary coverage from ESPN’s College Football Live, including general criticism of Tech’s offense, and even a Frank Beamer hot seat question:
The year before that, Logan Thomas threw three interceptions to the #2 defense, and as a result Virginia Tech’s backups actually defeated the starters.
Neither result gave the fan base a warm and fuzzy feeling about the offense heading into those long, torturous summer months. The year before that, the Spring Game was cancelled due to a thunderstorm. Tech fans haven’t left the Spring Game feeling good about the offense in a long time.
Virginia Tech has a unique opportunity in 2015. The offense appears advanced enough to dominate the backup defense, and even hold its own against the starting offense. In a Saturday scrimmage two weeks ago, the offense put up 10 touchdowns and over 500 yards, and that includes three touchdowns scored by the #1 offense against the #1 defense. If the staff elects to keep the starting offense together for the Spring Game, they have a chance to send the fan base home for the summer feeling good about the offense for the first time in awhile.
VT fans have suffered through some tough moments in recent years.
1: 22-19 record in the last 41 games
2: An anemic offense that can’t score
3: 4 straight last-place ACC finishes in men’s basketball
Most recently, we lost long-time radio announcer Bill Roth, a guy who was dear to the hearts of many Tech fans. After all the bad things that have gone on in our two biggest sports programs, the Roth news was like an extra punch in the gut. Personally, I’m ready for something good to happen. There are times where I’ve gotten a little bit depressed over the last few years, and today was one of them.
You know what would make me feel better? Scoring points. I think the fan base would be in a better place mentally if they can come to a spring game and see an offense that shows signs of life. If the staff keeps the starting offense together on Saturday and they manage to put up four or more touchdowns and look good doing it, then that will make everybody feel better, at least for a day. I’m ready to feel good about something. I’d prefer to feel good about the offense for a change.
Building Unit Cohesiveness and Confidence
Even more important is the opportunity to build unit cohesiveness. There really aren’t any starting positions open on offense right now. The starting lineup is mostly set. We know who our starting receivers will be. We know that Bucky Hodges, Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline will play a big role. The starting offensive line isn’t going to change. Michael Brewer is without a doubt the starting quarterback.
Since we know our main group on offense, I think it’s important to continue to build unit cohesiveness. The Spring Game is one of 15 practices allowed, so why waste it by splitting the offense in half? Take advantage of that 15th practice by keeping the offense together. That would serve several purposes…
1: It allows Michael Brewer to continue to get his timing down with his starting receivers. He’s not going to get better as quickly if the teams are split up and he’s throwing to guys like Austin Jones and the other walk-ons.
2: It keeps the starting offensive line together. Virginia Tech, like every other school, runs a lot of zone blocking schemes these days. Zone blocking schemes require offensive linemen to work well together. For example, on some plays a guard and a center have to double team a defensive tackle, and then one of them has to break away and go block a linebacker. It’s very important that they be on the same page. The more work the starting offensive line gets as a group, the more prepared they’ll be for the season.
3: It helps the running backs get into a rhythm behind the starting offensive line. I don’t think Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman are going to get very many carries behind Tyrell Smith or Austin Clark this season, so why waste time giving them carries behind the backups in the Spring Game?
4: It helps the unit build confidence. Though they’d never admit this in public, do you think the Virginia Tech offense was a very confident group over the past several years? Probably not. The better they play in practice, the better they’ll feel about themselves. If they have a good spring game, they’ll go into the offseason with improved confidence. I think that’s important.
This is just one man’s opinion on how the 2015 Spring Game should be formatted. With a deeper and more experienced group on offense, I’d be in favor of splitting the team in half, or perhaps even having a draft. However, for what we are and where we are as a team in 2015, I think my format would be most beneficial.