Duke Hammers the Middle

Andrew Motuapuaka
Andrew Motuapuaka

“The biggest disadvantage to us is the draw and screen game just because of our attack front and getting off the ball and getting separation.  We still do a lot of “bluffing” to sell the blitz but the vertical separation between the front and the second level.  You have to really drill the screens and draws aspect to make sure the front is aware of it.  We have to make sure our linebackers are factors in that game as well as our perimeter players.” –Bud Foster speaking to Mike Kuchar, March 2015

In last year’s game, David Cutcliffe caught VT off-guard with a QB lead play where the tailback acted as a blocker. Foster had to adjust his rover and free safety rules to get more players at the point of attack. Tech’s linebackers and secondary did a better job of running to the open gaps, and the result was a Tech win.

Duke did have some success in the first part of this year’s game with similar plays, though as things progressed, Tech cut down on the yards. Cutcliffe reacted by dropping the wingback and adding another receiver. With Duke now having four receivers on the field, Tech countered by either running a 3-2 front with three linemen and two linebackers, a Bear look with five linemen and Motu at linebacker, or a 4-1 where Motuapuaka was the only linebacker. This meant that Tech’s secondary players would find themselves covering in space with little help, and that Motu would find himself defending the run game in space with little help.

While they weren’t able to keep their power-style scheme, Duke gained the advantage by spreading the Hokie defense thin. On nearly every successful run, Virginia Tech was at a numerical disadvantage in the box. When Tech had five men in the box, it allowed Duke to double-team a defensive tackle while still having a free blocker (the tailback) to block VT’s only linebacker, Motuapuaka; when Tech kept six men in, there was an equal number of defenders for every blocker, and no one close to account for the QB run. Combined with the Tech front’s inability to make any individual plays, it was a recipe for getting gutted.