ACC Championship Game Analysis: Hokies Shut Down Ryan, Pull Away

Last
Saturday the Hokies made their sixth appearance in Jacksonville Municipal
Stadium, the most of any venue outside of Lane Stadium over the past ten years.
With the 30-16 victory over Boston College, the Hokies won the 2007 ACC
Championship while evening their record in Jacksonville to 3-3. Midway through
the second quarter, it seemed like a 2-4 record was more likely after QB Matt
Ryan scrambled his way into the end zone for BC’s second touchdown of the game.
Given how things were going at the time, no one could have believed that Tech
would outscore BC 23-0 for the rest of the game.

But that’s exactly what happened. Behind an experienced, veteran team with
great senior leadership, the Hokies weathered the early storm, slowly overtook
the Eagles physically, and dominated the fourth quarter to pull away with the
victory and their second ACC Championship in four years.

Let’s break down how they did it …

Early Impressions

This game certainly did not start the way the Hokies envisioned. They
sputtered out of the gate on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, with the
exception of the FG/XP unit, BC was clicking on all cylinders.

Offensively, the Hokies were unable to get anything established against the
BC defensive front. The BC linebackers were particularly problematic. Jo-Lonn
Dunbar and Mark Herzlich were unblockable early on. The Hokies wanted to get
Branden Ore and the running game established to bring those safeties out of
their 2-deep sets. Because of those linebackers, nothing was available on the
ground.

I was really impressed with Herzlich’s size and athleticism in the running
game. He is a superb tackler — I’m sure Tyrod Taylor would agree with that
assessment. Remember Herzlich is the guy that stepped in for the injured Brian
Toal at that key inside LB spot. With both coming back in ‘08, BC will be
strong at the linebacker position once again.

Defensively,
the Tech game plan was to challenge the BC receivers on the outside and get
pressure on Matt Ryan. As they had learned back in October, it was also very
important to keep Ryan contained and not let him make plays outside the pocket.

To achieve all of that, the defensive ends set-up wide on both sides of the
line and took rush angles that were up the field. DL stunts and a mixture of
blitzes were utilized to give Ryan different pressure looks. In coverage, the
Tech corners were matched-up on BC’s outside receivers in man coverage with help
from the linebackers on digs and crossing routes.

It didn’t take long for Ryan to find the soft spots in the Tech defense. And
every defense has them. As good as the Tech defense has been over the years,
there is no defense that can defend the entire field. That is especially true
when you have a 5th year QB like Matt Ryan matched with a set of wide receivers,
tight ends and running backs that are all very good at executing the primary
fundamentals of the passing game — running precise routes and catching the
football.

With
the Tech LB’s dropping deeper to cutoff those middle crossing routes, there was
room in the short areas between the hashes for dump-offs and check-down passes.
BC’s execution was nearly flawless, with Ryan sharp and accurate and his
receivers catching everything that came their way.

When the Hokies doubled or went man-free with pressure to better defend the
check downs, the BC receivers ran the Tech linebackers out of the middle of the
field. On two occasions, Ryan quickly recognized the man coverage by the
linebackers and scrambled up the middle for big yardage — a 19 yarder and a 14
yarder for a TD.

Bud Foster kept looking for the right formula to slow down the BC offense. To
mix it up, he went with more blitz looks — crossing the LBs, bringing the

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