Brandon Patterson: Behind The Scenes

Like a lot of TSLers, I’ve been keeping an eye on the new message boards as they get their kinks worked out. Will and John have been doing a bang-up job keeping us updated about everything going on, and it got me thinking that it’s been a few years since I’ve given you guys a “behind-the-scenes” peek at what goes into making these things. Last time, I focused on the day-to-day, so now I’ll shift to a bigger view and talk about topics and the like. (And if you’ve got ideas to share, comment away.)

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My annual schedule is pretty locked-in by some basic requirements for a gig writing about college football. In a typical year, I’ve got fourteen games (regular season, bowl game, and spring game) to write about, as well as a single-article previews for the regular season games, and a two-part preview for the bowl game. Add in a mid-season article, and that’s about a third of the year locked in. In the off-season, there are generally about five incoming transfers to write about, as well as about six articles on the incoming recruiting class. That gets up to half a year basically booked in perpetuity. Even the COVID lockdowns didn’t too much to muck up my calendar.

That leaves me with half a year to fill. Sometimes, that half-year basically gets filled for me by circumstance, as happens with coaching changes, though the rest of the time, I’ve got some flexibility. When Will reached out to me way back in 2012, the idea was that’d I’d be taking the baton handed off by Raleigh Hokie, who was TSL’s original football details/strategy guy, and who these days you can catch on the boards. And that’s still what I do, mostly.  In that half-year of needed offseason content, most of what I write will be related to the details of football most fans don’t see. Scouting, specific plays like Inside Zone, and how to coach and play certain positions have been some topics of late. (I got that series on the Fu/Corn scheme out just in the nick of time, didn’t I?)

The latest edition to my regular offseason rotation has been the inclusion of media reviews, where I try to turn rapid-fire montages and soundbites into something intelligible for the TSL audience. I got the idea for these articles from seeing how much people like talking about the little Twitter clips on the boards. It struck me that I had the time and software to slow down the videos (to frame-by-frame, if necessary) and find enough narrative bits in there to make something insightful out of what is intended to be fluff media.

I’ve taken other cues from the boards, and like the media reviews, they’re usually topics that have a lot of broad interest and also appeal to me for some reason. Occasionally an individual idea or request that’s a real gem makes it through, but they’re rare. I’ll admit, the past few years I’m not on the boards as much or commenting on articles as much as I used to, just because of time constraints, but I still try to drop in when I can.

Another planned scheme-heavy addition I have planned is a “Know Your Foe” series, where I look at opposing coaches and their styles, similar to the “Mind of Mendenhall” bit I did a few years back. (I think my thesis of “This dude’s weird” still holds up.) I’d also like to look deeper into how Bud Foster’s scheme changed in his last years at Tech—I think there’s an idea going around that his scheme couldn’t hold up against modern offenses, but I think it was more about issues beyond the playbook.

I do like to break out of the coaching/scheme niche a little bit, though. I’m a writer by trade, and I’ll occasionally drop an essay about the bigger picture of life surrounding football. I was very nearly a historian, so I’ll also flex my researching abilities for things like “Great Games in Hokie History,” which I’d like to make a yearly or every-other-year thing, depending on how easy it is to find archival materials. I’ve got the bones of the comeback win over Nebraska on file, and after that, the bowl game against Texas, though I’ve got my eye on games going further back, too. 

Of course, not everything I think of writing (or even write) makes it through. Some articles get shelved because of immediacy or interest, e.g., there was never a slow enough month for me to roll with a series about the construction of the Student Athlete Performance Center when it was in the news, and now it’s not really interesting enough to write about. But there’s also some stuff I drop for…matters of appropriateness. I try not to get too weird with you guys—most of the time, it’s pretty tame, and comes out in video clips, like “Sad Larry Fedora,” or beer reviews, or the little bits of Hollywood movies I add to the end of game clippings. Sometimes, though, it’s not as tame.

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