Virginia Football Game Analysis: Surging Hokies Pull Away in the 4th

The hype machine was out in full force for this one. The state of Virginia
had never hosted a football game of this magnitude. Both teams were hot with
each coming off woodshed beatings of the once-proud Miami Hurricanes. Both teams
were resilient — the Hoos finding a way to win five games by two points or
less, and the Hokies rebounding to play their best football after a
gut-wrenching home loss to Boston College. And both teams knew they had to win
this one to achieve their preseason goal of playing in the ACC Championship
Game.

Both teams came into the game with certain advantages. UVa had the
much-needed bye week, was playing at home, and featured what many considered to
be the best player on the field in DE Chris Long. The Hokies had more speed and
more playmakers on both sides of the ball, as well as the experience of having
played in more big games.

In the end, the difference in speed set the tone, and the Hokies used a
dominating 4th quarter to close out a 33-21 victory, their eighth victory in the
last nine games against the Hoos.

How did they do it? Let’s break it down.

Offensive Game Plans

Everyone knew the Hokies had the speed advantage on the outside, but they
also had certain match-up advantages inside that they wanted to exploit. In
particular, a key to the offensive game plan was for center Ryan Shuman to win
the individual battle against UVa’s nose tackle duo of Allen Billyk and Nate
Collins. One of the keys to a successful 3-4 run defense is for that nose tackle
to plug the middle, control both “A” gaps and force double teams by
the offensive line to move him off the ball. When that happens, the DE’s can
make plays and the LB’s are free to run to the ball.

The
Hokies needed Shuman to control the NT one-on-one and drive him off the ball.
And Shuman delivered, having his best game of the season. With the NT controlled
one-on-one by the center, the Hokies were able to use a variety of inside zone
and drive blocking schemes to chip and double both Chris Long and Jeffrey
Fitzgerald before releasing to the LB level. The consistent push at the point of
attack opened up running lanes for Branden Ore to have his most productive game
since his back-to-back 200+ yard efforts against Southern Miss and Clemson last
year.

In the passing game, the obvious plan was to attack the UVa Cover-2 on the
corners, particularly Vic Hall. UVa was concerned about the speed of the Tech
WR’s, so the coverage was tilted deep to prevent big plays down the field. That
opened up the 10-15 yard out routes against single coverage by the corners. Both
of Tech QB’s were able to exploit these areas time and again throughout the
game. Sean Glennon was particularly sharp, both in the timing of his passes as
well as the accuracy. When UVa decided to roll coverage up to challenge the out
routes, Glennon was able to hit Eddie Royal on the deep post, validating one of
the primary concerns UVa had coming into the game — Tech’s considerable speed
advantage on the outside vs. the UVa secondary.

On the other side, UVa’s offensive game plan was targeted at neutralizing
Tech’s speed advantage on defense and slowing down the pursuit. On the inside,
the plan was to get Tech’s defense moving in the wrong direction utilizing
“false” reads coupled with misdirection. UVa had an advantage with
their athleticism along the offensive line, and the combination of false reads
and misdirection created positive blocking angles on a number of plays.

On the outside, UVa used the speed option as another ploy to slow down the
Tech defense. Instead of 11 fast guys running directly to the ball, the option
forced the Hokies to play assignment football. The option is becoming more and
more of a lost art these days, but if it is executed well it can be very
effective in slowing down defensive pursuit.

While the actual yardage gained was modest, these two concepts (misdirection
inside and speed option outside) were effective in slowing down the Tech defense
enough to open up some opportunities in the running game and the play-action
passing game.

With the speed advantage somewhat neutralized (at least early on), the Hoos
turned to their primary run game objective — running it wide from passing
formations. The objective

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