“On most of those, our first-down play wasn’t very good.” -- Frank Beamer, explaining why the offense struggled inside the red zone against BC.
Look, it's basic football. You want your first down play to set up a manageable 2nd down for your team, so that on 2nd down you can either set up a very makeable 3rd and short or just go ahead and convert. And while some analysts call 3rd down the "money down," I personally subscribe to the philosophy that what you do on 1st down is more important - because if you handle 1st down properly, you might never even see a third down.
I'm not getting into the stats for 1st down inside the red zone here. Kyle Tucker has already done that. The verdict isn't pretty.
Instead I'm going to focus on what VT does (or doesn't do) on first down in general.
Against Boston College, Virginia Tech had 25 1st down plays. Of those 25 plays 16 were rushes, 7 were passes, 1 was a QB scramble out of a broken play, and 1 was a QB kneel. We're throwing out the QB kneel. It's technically a negative yardage play, but it's also my favorite play in the Virginia Tech playbook.
So we're looking at 24 plays on first down. Exactly 2/3 of those plays are rushes. The other 1/3 were all designed pass plays, during one of which Tyrod had to tuck and run out of a collapsing pocket. The Hokies gained 85 yards off their 1st down plays, or 3.5 yards per play.
Is that good? Bad? Acceptable? Well, it all depends. In general I personally believe the goal on 1st down should be to gain 4 yards. This gives the offense 2 more downs to gain 6 yards. Based on an average of 3.5 yards per play on 1st down, the Hokies are very close to this goal. Given the talent VT has on offense this season we can argue that the Hokies should have been blowing this goal out of the water right out of the gate, but I'm trying to stick to the data here. And by that data, there deficiency on first down yardage is not a huge one.
But as anyone who works with numbers or statistics knows, there's more than one way to present the information. By a strict average (mean) of first down plays, the Hokies are coming up half a yard short. But our first down play calling his heavily dominated by running plays. On those designed rushes (not counting Tyrod's scramble), the Hokies averaged 2.4 yards per designed running play. Put another way, the Hokies on average faced a 2nd and a short 8 when they ran the ball to start a series.
It's a different story when passing on 1st down. Tyrod was 6 of 7 for 40 yards on 1st down passes, an average of 5.7 yards per pass attempt. On average the Hokies faced 2nd and a long 4 every time Tyrod passed to open a series of downs.
The Hokies gained 3.3 more yards on average when Tyrod passed on first down than when a run play was called.
If we attribute Tyrod's 11 yard scramble to the passing plays, then the average yardage on first down pass plays jumps to 6.4, or exactly four more yards per play than when a designed run is called.
To delve a bit deeper into specifics, the worst possible result on a first down play (short of a turnover) is negative yardage, followed closely by zero-gain plays. Against Boston College, Virginia Tech lost yardage on 3 first down rushing plays, and was stopped for no gain on one more. That's 4 plays of no gain or worse when running of first down. When passing on first down, the Hokies were held to no gain once - Tyrod's one incompletion.
The Hokies ran twice as much as they passed on first down, but running plays accounted for 4 times as many no gain/negative yardage plays.
There's several things we can take away from this. First and foremost, it's another indication that for whatever inexplicable, mind-boggling, infuriating reason, the running game simply isn't clicking this season. Through four games, Virginia Tech ranks 41st in the nation in rushing at 180.25 ypg. Last season VT ranked 14th at 208.15 ypg. The leading Hokie rusher is Tyrod Taylor at 50.25 yards per game. Through four games, the Hokies have yet to have a single player rush for more than 100 yards in a game.
Compare that to our passing. Tyrod Taylor is completing 65.3% of his passes, far and away a personal best. He's averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, good for 6th in the nation among qualified QBs. He is once again in the top 15 in passer efficiency.
Virginia Tech is a run-first offense. I get that. It's always been our identity, built upon names like Oxendine, Stith, Suggs, Jones, Humes, and Williams. VT wants to be known for pounding the rock. But what happens when, for whatever reason, the running game is having a devil of a time getting going? What happens when you have a senior QB who was a 5 star recruit, the type of player that comes along maybe once in a decade, who has proven to be a lethally efficient passer, and who might just be the last 5 star quarterback to play at Virginia Tech under Frank Beamer?
Tyrod Taylor is averaging under 19 attempts per game.
It's the same thing that has always happened under Bryan Stinespring's watch. The same plays are called regardless of results. The players' strengths and individual skill sets don't matter. The glaringly obvious fact that the key to opening up this offense might just be to air it out a little doesn't matter. The fact that once again our offensive line is a joke doesn't matter. Stinespring will keep trying to bang a square peg into a round hole because the goddam computer keeps telling him to. Once again his complete inability to adapt his offense both to his own players and to the in-game situation is costing Virginia Tech and its football program a chance for something more, something greater than it has ever achieved.
Once again, Bryan Stinespring is driving this team off a cliff.
That is all.