I can't speak for the other admins here, but as far as I'm concerned Bryan Stinespring's struggles as offensive coordinator can be boiled down to a singular shortcoming: he cannot make necessary adjustments to his predetermined gameplan. That's it. That's the whole shebang right there. Fix that and he'd be at least a passable OC. But you can't fix it. Because if it could be fixed we wouldn't still be dealing with it eight years later.
Virginia Tech has won five games so far this season. Of those five wins, four of them were in games where the offense got off to a fast start and no offensive adjustments were necessary. In other words, Stinespring's gameplan worked exactly as it was drawn up to work against Marshall, Miami, Duke, and Boston College. And give credit where credit is due: Stinespring developed a working gameplan against those teams. Virginia Tech's other win this season - against Nebraska - Stinespring had nothing to do with. His gameplan put ten points on the board at Lane Stadium against a defense that Texas Tech just exposed for 31 in Lincoln. Tyrod Taylor, who has become a beast of a quarterback this season, took the entire offense on his back and engineered the most improbable comeback in Virginia Tech football history.
Against Nebraska, however, the defense was able to keep it a one possession game, something that they couldn't quite manage against Georgia Tech. The defense does not get a pass in Atlanta. Foster's D had the game right in front of them on a 3rd and 7 and failed to make what would have been the biggest stop of the game.
It's bound to happen every now and then. This year it's happening a bit more frequently. The defense really didn't pull their weight in the win at Duke, but fortunately the Blue Devil defense was incapable of doing anything against the passing game. In Atlanta, GT's defense had our number. And that gets back to the inability to adjust. Stinespring's gameplan should have worked as drawn up. Had GT come out on defense the way it did against Mississippi State and Florida State then the plays Stiney called would have probably put up about 450 yards and 35 points. But they didn't, because Georgia Tech adjusted its defensive scheme to better suit the Hokies. More damning to Stinespring, they broadcast that they were doing it. Johnson gave multiple interviews in the week leading up to the game saying he was simplifying and streamlining the defense to prepare for VT. If you whip out your coachspeak-to-English dictionary, you find that the translation is pretty simple: stack the box to contain Williams between the tackles, and bring multiple blitzes to pressure Tyrod.
It was obvious that Stinespring was committed to running between the tackles since Miami had so much success with that last week. And to be fair to Stinespring, it was a good idea. Try what's been proven to work, even if your opponent says they're making adjustments on defense. But don't try it once it's established that it simply isn't there for you.
Getting into specific numbers, Stinespring called a handoff between the tackles 17 times against Georgia Tech. Now this is open to some debate, but I personally consider a successful run to be a gain of four yards or more, since that would be enough to get a first down on every drive if it's maintained. If we go with the 4-yard gain as the definition of a successful run, then of the 17 handoffs between the tackles exactly 3 of them were successful: a Josh Oglesby 5-yard gain in the 2nd quarter, Ryan Williams' 66-yard touchdown in the 3rd, and a Ryan Williams 20 yard gain late in the 4th. In other words, one of the cornerstones of Stinespring's gameplan against GT had a success rate of 17.6%. This is assuredly much lower than Stinespring anticipated, and yet he was still calling it in the 4th quarter.
It might be a tough sell to criticize the handoff between the tackles since it resulted in the longest play from scrimmage on the night in R-Dub's 66-yard touchdown scamper, but let there be no mistake that the success of that particular play is attributable to Ryan Williams' sheer talent, the ability of the offensive line to stick their blocks, the fact that our offensive alignment on that play did not telegraph the run, and the fact that it was the first play from scrimmage after a Georgia Tech turnover and the Yellow Jacket defense was a bit on their heels.
I've also heard a bit of criticism in some of the post-game comments here and elsewhere that 14 attempted passes against Georgia Tech's questionable secondary is simply unacceptable, and I agree. However, it must also be acknowledged that how VT passes is probably more important than that VT passes. I might be off base here, but it seems to be that as Tyrod has developed as a passer this season (and he's admittedly a pretty damn good one by this point) he seems to do better passing on the run than out of a traditional straight drop. The only exception is on quick out or slant patterns, where he can be leathal out of a three step drop, but Stinespring moved away from those plays after Tyrod's pass was batted at the line and intercepted on the first play of VT's third offensive series. (Odd, though, that Stinespring would move away from that after it fails once but stuck with the run between the tackles when it was failing over 80% of the time; but I digress...) Where Tyrod struggles as a passer is when he's asked to pass deep out of a straight drop. The offensive line has notorious problems defending against the pass rush, and that rush comes hardest when the pass is telegraphed. Yet Stinespring called for a straight-drop 8 times of the course of the game. The results: 2 of 6 for 16 yards, 2 interceptions, 1 sack for -7 yards, and 1 scramble for 11 yards. These numbers do not include the straight-drop passes while Tyrod was running the two-minute offense, as those plays were not called by Stinespring. For what it's worth, in the two-minute drill when Tyrod was calling his own plays, on his straight-drops he was 3-3 for 29 yards, 1 TD, 1 scramble for 3 yards.
It's difficult to be certain, but so far as I can tell it looks like Stinespring called 23 plays where the pass was at least an option for Tyrod, but the way Georgia Tech was rushing the pass combined with the fact that Tyrod was having some success running the ball allowed for the ball to get in the air only 14 times.
And so Stinespring found both avenues of his original gameplan - shred them between the tackles, light up their weak secondary - cut off, and he failed to make the proper adjustments to take advantage of amazing field position in the first half. In the second half, once Paul Johnson had correctly identified Kam Chancellor and Cody Grimm as the key men in Foster's scheme and adjusted accordingly, the triple option started to do what the triple option does: grind out long, multi-play, clock-leaching drives that wore out the defense. By the time VT's offense found something that worked in the 4th quarter it was too late: Foster's players were gassed, Foster himself had no answer for Johnson's adjustments, and the defense could not force a punt to give Taylor an opportunity to reclaim the lead.
Check and mate.
In my "Questions I Want Answered" post, I actually listed "How the hell do you stop the triple option?" second. In the lingering aftermath of the game, however, I found it to be foremost on my mind. The ref rolling the football a quarter-turn on that 4th down measurement - the number one question on my list - was highly suspect, but in the end it was also academic and dropped in importance to me within hours of the game being over. It seems that the triple option, at least as Paul Johnson runs it, might be Bud Foster's kryptonite. It forces a defense to play assignment football and be reactionary, both of which are antithetical to Foster's method. Put a more chilling way, Bud Foster might be incapable of adequately adjusting to the triple option. That doesn't mean VT's era of dominance is over in the ACC. It just means if VT is to beat the Yellow Jackets they will have to do it the way Miami did: make them play from behind. And that, in turn, means that unlike basically every other game VT plays, when VT and GT get together the onus of winning the game will fall primarily on the shoulders of Bryan Stinespring and the offense.
I pause here a moment to let you stifle your sobs.
For Virginia Tech to beat the Yellow Jackets the Hokie offense must have sustained, time-consuming scoring drives and the defense must at least hold the triple-option in check long enough for VT to make it a multiple-possession game. This past Saturday in Atlanta, Bud Foster and the defense held up their end of that bargain, but Bryan Stinespring was - once again - out to lunch. Here is the rundown on Virginia Tech's offensive series against Georgia Tech:
- 6 plays, punt
- 3 plays, punt
- 1 play, interception
- 6 plays, punt
- 8 plays, field goal
- 2 plays, interception, end of half
- 4 plays, turnover on downs
- 1 play, touchdown
- 3 plays, punt
- 6 plays, touchdown
- 5 plays, touchdown
In the one game so far this season where ball control on offense was most critical, Bryan Stinespring failed most miserably to establish it. The longest sustained drive of the night was 8 plays, only 2 of 8 3rd downs were successfully converted, and 10 of VT's 11 offensive series were limited to 6 offensive plays or fewer. The brightest spot on offense during the first 3 quarters, Ryan Williams' 66 yard touchdown sprint, was incredible to behold and spoke volumes about his talent and willpower to play through illness, but provided no rest for Foster's beleaguered defense, which was already on its heels at that point and had to return immediately to the field and endure another griding GT offensive series. Put another way, all of the offensive production against Georgia Tech was from the talent, when what was really essential to winning the game was production from the gameplan.
In the aftermath of this game, Virginia Tech finds itself last among equals in a Bermuda triangle of a three-way tie for second in the ACC Coastal. (Technically, Georgia Tech is 2nd, VT 3rd, and Miami 4th, by virtue of an unequal number of conference games played, but each team has one conference loss.) If all three teams were to win out in conference play - a distinct possibility - Virginia Tech would be the team most likely left on the outside looking in thanks to item 7 of the ACC's tiebreaker for 3-way ties:
In the initial BCS rankings released yesterday, Virginia Tech, with two total losses, was predictably ranked lower than both Miami and Georgia Tech, with one loss each. Iin order to not get left out in the cold, Virginia Tech must find a way to leapfrog Georgia Tech and finish within 5 spots of Miami. This proves difficult when you consider VT's remaining opponents are a combined 16-17 and are not even remotely close to being ranked. GT and Miami both have nonconference games left against BCS-conference opponents, while VT's lone remaining non-conference game is against a Conference USA team. The only upshot for VT is that two games down the stretch will have national television audiences, with the Hokies' next two games being Thursday night games on ESPN. Those two games are critical, as they might be the best shot for Virginia Tech to make a case that they deserve to represent the ACC Coastal in a third straight ACCCG.
The tied team with the highest ranking in the Bowl Championship Series Standings following the conclusion of regular season games shall be the divisional representative in the ACC Championship Game, unless the second of the tied teams is ranked within five-or-fewer places of the highest ranked tied team. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the ACC Championship Game.
Except, do we really deserve it? We're going on eight years of the failed Bryan Stinespring Experiment, which has proven time and again that when the game comes down not to talent but to scheme Virginia Tech is behind the eight ball on offense.
There's an empty trophy case on campus with a sign that reads, "This space reserved for the national championship trophy." As long as Bryan Stinespring is offensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, it might as well read, "This space reserved for perpetual-motion machines, cold fusion, and Middle East peace."