Virginia Tech Shows Tricks To Contain A Mobile Quarterback

Vinny Mihota
Vinny Mihota and the Tech defense contained Liberty quarterback Stephon Masha.


It was pretty clear from the get-go that Virginia Tech was concerned with Liberty’s quarterback scrambling, as the Hokies rolled out a number of techniques to limit the QB Stephon Masha from breaking the pocket.  They worked, too, as Masha was held to 1.4 yards per carry, a low average especially since he wasn’t sacked very often.  Let’s look at some of the things Foster dialed up.


A defensive “spy” is any player who’s assigned to mirror the quarterback in hopes of preventing or containing a scramble.  On a few occasions, it looked like Tech was spying with its linebackers.  In one first quarter play, Tremaine Edmunds stepped up to the line of scrimmage like he was threatening a blitz, then bounced backwards at the snap but without getting deep or picking up a receiver.

Later, Motu’s shoestring tackle on the QB also looked like a spy call. The Mike had a contain assignment to one side of the formation, but didn’t seem to be playing pass, and when the Liberty QB broke to the other side, Motu tracked him down for the tackle.  I was a little down on this play at first, figuring a mobile P5 QB breaks the tackle for a bigger gain, but looking back it was a long run for Motu, and Tremaine was there on the other side to help clean up.

True Zone Ends

You probably noticed pretty often that Foster had the defensive ends stand up instead of taking their usual three-point stance.  Foster’s used it before to help his ends diagnose mesh options, but it can also help them get into coverage just because it eliminates the act of standing up, shaving a split-second off any drop to coverage.

In the past, Foster’s used a three-man “wire” to cover tailbacks, where the Mike, Backer, and either End could be responsible for covering the tailback depending on which direction the back went.  This time was different.  On one play, Ekanem was to the field side and had three receivers to his outside.  Instead of rushing, he dropped to stay inside of the nearest slot receiver to defend against quick hooks and putting a body in the way of slants.  On another play, Ekanem had a lot of open ground between him and the nearest receiver, a single wideout standing near the sideline.  At the snap, Ekanem broke to the sideline, putting his body between any quick slant routes and getting an extra defender in the area if the QB threw a snap pass.  Overall, when the ends went into coverage, sometimes Reynolds or somebody else blitzed and the ends were part of a coverage rotation.

Other times, though, the only rushers were three established down-linemen, meaning the shallow field was packed with defenders in coverage.  It was the antithesis of the Bear front, which packs guys on the line of scrimmage.  It also differed from other occasions where Foster limits his rushers, which usually only happens in third- and fourth-and-long as a way of putting more people in the deep field to defend long passes.

Routinely flooding the shallow field with pass defenders is a trick that makes sense when 1) you’re facing a mobile QB who can break the pocket and 2) you aren’t worried about the QB’s ability to patiently make reads.  Those extra defenders playing short routes are not only watching the football, they’re also staying close enough to the QB to kneecap any scrambles.  And as I mentioned in my last article, a lineman dropping into a zone can go unnoticed by a QB, creating interception opportunities.

Against Liberty, putting all these guys in short zones might’ve just been a change-of-pace call to bait an interception.  That said, if Tech can get a handle on Tennessee’s run game this Saturday (admittedly a big “if”), it might be something we see as a balance to more exotic blitzes and shifts that’d we’d expect to see in a big-time game, and it also might be an effective trap for a Vols QB who doesn’t seem to be a deep-ball threat.