Virginia Tech Post Mortem

Rutgers continued its disappointing trend of play against Virginia Tech. The 3-2 Scarlet Knights are exactly where they were predicted to be but have yet to perform impressively. As against Michigan State, Rutgers was hopelessly outsclassed by Virginia Tech. The Virginia Tech game answered few questions and merely perpetuated lingering doubts about prospects for the remainder of the year. This article analyzes how Rutgers performed relative to my perceived keys to the Virginia Tech game.

VIRGINIA TECH POST MORTEM


Virginia Tech – ranked #4 in the nation – paid its farewell visit to Rutgers Stadium as a member of the Big East.  The Hokies also arrived with a 10-game winning streak against Rutgers, winning the past 8 games by an average score of 47-11.  In my Keys to the Virginia Tech game, I eschewed the possibility of a Rutgers upset because I doubted that Rutgers had closed the substantial gap that existed between the two programs.  Instead, I concentrated on tangible evidence that Rutgers had narrowed the gap with an improved Hokie team that will contend for the national championship.  The goal for Rutgers was to hold Virginia Tech under 40 points and to keep the game in doubt into the 2nd Half.  Unfortunately, Rutgers accomplished neither as Virginia Tech cruised easily to a 48-22 victory in its Big East finale with Rutgers. 

Rutgers went 3-n-out on its opening possession but Hokie Jr CB/WR/PR DeAngelo Hall muffed a 30-yard punt by RS Fr P Joe Radigan and RS Fr FB Brian Leonard recovered the football at the VT29.  Four plays later, So QB Ryan Hart connected with So WR Shawn Tucker on a hook route for a 17-yard TD.  Rutgers led Virginia Tech for the first time in 8 years (since 10-7 in the 2nd Quarter in 1998) but it wouldn't last.  The Hokies marched 81 yards in 9 plays behind the passing of Jr QB Bryan Randall, who hit RS Sr WR Chris Shreve for a 28-yard TD pass on a corner route.  Virginia Tech forced another 3-n-out and Radigan wobbled a 27-yard punt that struck a teammate on the coverage team at the VT47.  Two plays later, Randall hit Shreve on skinny post for a 45-yard TD.  Virginia Tech now had the lead for good at 14-7.  Following yet another Rutgers 3-n-out, the Hokies drove 63 yards in 6 plays, which Jr TB Kevin Jones finished with a 5-yard TD run off tackle.  Rutgers mounted its first drive into Hokie territory but RS Sr DE Nathaniel Adibi deflected a pass by Hart and RS Jr DT Kevin Lewis intercepted the wobbler at the VT33. 

Virginia Tech drove 58 yards in 5 plays to span the 1st and 2nd Quarters, scoring their fourth consecutive TD on a 10-yard drag route to So WR Mike Imoh.  RS Sr ILB Vegas Robinson made a leaping interception of a Hart pass to RS So WR Tres Moses on a deep in route and Robinson's 9-yard return gave the Hokies possession at the RU39.  An offensive pass interference penalty put Virginia Tech into 3rd-n-22 and Sr CB Nate Jones intercepted a scrambling Randall at the RU07.  Another Rutgers 3-n-out and another poor Radigan punt (27 yards) actually improved the Hokies' field position to the RU33.  Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer substituted RS Fr QB Michael Vick into the game for some real experience (before garbage time ensued), but RS Sr DE Raheem Orr and So WLB William Beckford sacked Vick to end the scoring threat.  After the fourth Rutgers 3-n-out, Randall drove Virginia Tech to the RU18, but another Orr sack pushed the Hokies back and RS Sr PK Carter Warley missed a 41-yard FGA.  Rutgers drove to midfield but Hokie So FS Jimmy Williams intercepted a Hart pass intended for Moses on a slant and Williams returned the pick 55 yards for a TD in the closing seconds of the 1st Half.  An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Williams cost Virginia Tech when Nate Jones blocked the resulting 35-yard XPA.   Nonetheless, Virginia Tech led 34-7 at halftime.  Same ol', same ol'. 

Virginia Tech put the game away on the first possession of the 2nd Half, driving 79 yards in 12 plays with Imoh scoring on a 10-yard drag-n-up.  Rutgers responded with a sustained 10-lay, 49-yard drive that ended fruitlessly when RS Fr PK Justin Musiek couldn't clear the line of scrimmage on a 43-yard FGA.  With Vick back at QB, Rutgers forced a 3-n-out.  The Scarlet Knights finally drove the length of the field on an 11-play, 88 –yard, 5-minute drive that bridged the 3rd and 4th Quarters, culminating in a 21-yard TD run by Fr TB Justise Hairston off tackle.  Jr FS Jarvis Johnson intercepted Vick on the following play and returned it for a 47-yard TD.  Leonard converted the 2XPAon a drag route to narrow the lead to 41-22 with 12:39 remaining.  A roughing the passer penalty against Virginia Tech on the 2XPA enabled Rutgers to kickoff from midfield but Head Coach Greg Schiano shunned an onsides kick and instead So K Mike Cortese pooched the kickoff to the VT12.  Rutgers forced another Hokie punt but the Scarlet Knights again went 3-n-out.  Virginia Tech in turn went 3-n-out but Hart threw his fourth INT to RS So ILB Blake Warren on a crossing route intended for Jr TE Chris Loomis.  RS So TB Cedric Humes capped a 46-yard drive with a 35-yard on an isolation play to close out the scoring at 48-22.  The teams exchanged 3-n-outs to end the game. 

Rutgers continued its disappointing trend of play.  True, the Scarlet Knights 3-2 record is exactly where it was predicted to be.  But the Rutgers has yet to perform impressively in 5 games against opponents varying from the dregs of Division IA (Buffalo and Army) to middling programs (Navy) to upper echelon programs (Michigan State) to the elite (Virginia Tech).  As it did against Michigan State, Rutgers showed against Virginia Tech that it was hopelessly outclassed.  The offense had too many 3-n-outs and too many TOs.  The defense couldn't stop a Hokie passing game not known for its prowess and missing several weapons.  And special teams again were unsatisfactory – especially the kickers.  Rutgers did not assert itself until the 2nd Half once Beamer began liberally substituting his second unit.  The Virginia Tech game answered few questions and merely perpetuated lingering doubts about prospects for the remainder of the year.  Here's an analysis of how Rutgers measured up to my keys to the Virginia Tech game.  The original text is presented in bold italics. 


TEAM KEYS

1.  Minimize Big Plays Allowed.  The litany of big plays allowed by the Rutgers defense is alarming.  A 75-yard TD run by Buffalo.  51-yard, 62-yard, and 27-yard TD passes by Michigan State.   A 26-yard TD pass by Army.  A 55-yard TD pass plus 29-yard and 20-yard TD runs by Navy.  The list does not include other big gains that didn't result in scores.  The Scarlet Knight defense is young and inexperienced at LB and at safety.  These are the positions that experience most benefits.  The price for playing talented young players are the blown assignments that are the inevitable result of youth.  Defensive Coordinator Paul Ferraro's task is to minimize those blown assignments during the growth process.  As the young players gain experience, blown assignments are less and less attributable to youth and inexperience.  

The Hokie offense is loaded with playmakers.  Jones, among the very best RBs in the country, burned Rutgers for a 58-yard TD last year.  Wilford averaged 18 yards per reception last season in earning Second Team All-Big East honors.  Randall is a dual threat to either run or pass.  However, the Hokie playmakers are also prone to TOs.  Jones has a tendency to fumble and Randall has shown poor judgment in his pass selection.  Unfortunately, neither has demonstrated that tendency this season.  The Scarlet Knights must minimize the big plays and make Virginia Tech methodically drive the length of the field.  The Hokies have shown the ability to do exactly that so such a strategy won't necessarily stop Virginia Tech.  However, minimizing big plays allowed will slow the pace the game and enable Rutgers to hold the Hokies to a modest scoring total.  Rutgers must not allow the Hokies to score more than 40 points.  In order to accomplish that, the Scarlet Knights must not allow more than one big play TD defensively. 

Virginia Tech gained 473 yards on 70 plays – nearly 7 yards per play.  The Hokies gouged the Rutgers defense for 11 gains of at least 15 yards.  Virginia Tech scored three of their six TDs on big plays.  Surprisingly, seven of the big plays were pass plays.  Ferraro frequently employed man-to-man coverage with his secondary to free his LBs and safeties to focus more heavily upon stopping the powerful Virginia Tech running game.  Hokie Offensive Coordinator Brian Stinespring responded with multiple WR formations that spread the field and Randall exploited the gaping holes in the Scarlet Knight secondary.  Here's a summary of the big plays that the Rutgers defense yielded:

  • On Virginia Tech's first possession, Shreve – a former walkon – badly beat Jr CB Eddie Grimes on a corner route for a 28-yard TD. 
  • On the next Virginia Tech possession, Shreve beat RS Sr CB Brandon Haw on a skinny post for a 45-yard TD. 
  • On the third Virginia Tech possession, midway through the 1st Quarter, Randall ran 16 yards for a first down on a 2nd-n-12 QB draw. 
  • On the next play, RS Sr TE Keith Willis beat Johnson badly on a post route for a 32-yard gain. 
  • On the last play of the 1st Quarter, RS Jr TE Jarred Mazzetta gained 16 yards on another post route when So MLB Will Gilkison didn't drop deep enough into coverage and left a big hole in the middle of the field. 
  • Two plays later, now in the 2nd Quarter, Hall gained 16 yards on a pass from a scrambling Randall after breaking off his route and coming back to help his QB. 
  • On the first possession of the 2nd Half, Jones gained 18 yards on an option.
  • Three plays later, RS So WR Justin Hamilton gained 15 yards on a 3rd-n-9 slant route against Fr CB Derrick Roberson, who was yielding too large a cushion. 
  • Late in the 3rd Quarter, RS Sr WR Ernest Wilford beat Haw on a fly pattern for a 35-yard gain. 
  • Early in the 4th Quarter, Jones gained 16 yards on a 3rd-n-5 counter play as both So SLB Berkeley Hutchinson, Johnson, and RS Fr WS Bryan Durango missed tackles. 
  • Late in the 4th Quarter, Humes burst up the middle on an isolation run for a 35-yard TD as So WS Jason Nugent missed the tackle. 


2.  Throw Deep.   Virginia Tech employs a 4-4 Cover 1 defensive scheme.  Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster puts converted safeties at OLB, essentially giving the Hokies a 4-2 nickel scheme.  The CBs tend to play off the WRs, allowing short passes but coming up quickly to make tackles.  The FS (centerfielder in the Cover 1 scheme) plays shallow and isn't positioned to provide effective double coverage on the outside.  Virginia Tech denies its opponents the ability to run the football and dares the opposition to throw deep.  The eight-man front allows Virginia Tech to control the line of scrimmage.  A young and inexperienced Hokie defense was vulnerable to the run last year but that defense is now a year older, more experienced, and more physically mature.  The Virginia Tech defense is allowing only 81 rushing yards per game.  Foster relies upon a dominating DLine and frequent blitzing to pressure the opposing QB into quick throws, thus easing the burden on the CBs.  The Hokie secondary can be beaten for big plays because so few players cover such a large area.  However, the Rutgers OLine must provide Hart with the time to throw.  And the Rutgers WRs must force the Hokie CBs to defend both the inside and outside routes as well as shallow and deep routes.  And Hart must make accurate throws.  Hart's ability to hit longer routes – fade, corner, and post routes – will have the greatest impact upon the effectiveness of the Rutgers offense.  If Hart can hit those big plays, that will stretch the Hokie defense and create openings for the short passing game and running game.  If Hart can't throw deep, then the Hokies will compress the field, as did Michigan State.  Hart must connect on at least 4 deep passes for gains of at least 25 yards. 

Hart threw deep only six times, completing only 2 for 80 yards: 

  • Late in the 1st Quarter, Hart threw a 35-yard completion to Moses on a 3rd-n-13 post route that was underthrown but on which Moses made a tremendous adjustment and catch in traffic. 
  • Late in the 1st Quarter, Hart attempted a deep throw to Jr WR Jerry Andre on a 1st down fly pattern but Adibi beat RS Jr RT Ron Green on the outside and deflected the pass, which Lewis intercepted at the VT33. 
  • Midway through the 2nd Quarter, Hart underthrew Moses on a 3rd-n-11 fade route that Hokie Jr OLB James Griffin broke up. 
  • Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Hart threw a 45-yard completion to Andre on a 3rd-n-13 stop-n-go route that caught Andre in stride. 
  • Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Hart threw behind Moses on a 1st down fade route but Moses never adjusted to the pass. 
  • Two plays later, Hart threw incomplete into double coverage to Moses on a 3rd-n-10 post route.  Hart should have found another receiver or thrown the ball away.


The remaining 29 pass attempts were either short or intermediate throws, often into the teeth of the Hokie defense.  Hart completed only 15 of these 29 passes for only 103 yards.  Virginia Tech suffocated the inside routes, allowing only one completion for 5 yards in 7 attempts while:

  • One pass drew an 8-yard pass interference penalty and a first down;
  • Two attempts fell incomplete; and
  • Three attempts were intercepted. 


Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg did a poor job of attacking the Hokie defense, voluntarily removing the TE from the passing game because he didn't use the TEs to stretch the field.  Hart virtually ignored his TEs, throwing to them only three times, twice incomplete and once intercepted.  Hart threw only six passes to his RBs – all to Leonard – completing four for 30 yards and 2 first downs.  The vast majority of short and intermediate passes – 20 of 29 – were thrown to the WRs, resulting in 11 completions for only 88 yards, 5 FD, a TD, and 2 INTs.  The fact that 20 short or intermediate attempted passes to WRs yielded only slightly more yardage than 6 deep attempted passes indicated the futility of the Scarlet Knights offensive game plan, which played to the strength of the Hokie defense.  A team must throw downfield to move the football against Virginia Tech and Rutgers attempted far too few downfield passes. 


3.  Punt Team.  The punt team is more than just Radigan.  Sure, Radigan is the most visible component.  But all 11 members of the punt team must execute against Virginia Tech, which has a reputation for both blocked punts and punt returns.  I can't remember the last time Virginia Tech didn't block a punt for a TD or return a punt for a TD against Rutgers.  Punt team breakdowns by Rutgers have contributed to the recent string of blowouts at the hands of Virginia Tech.  Successful punt team performance will start with RS Fr TE/LS Clark Harris, who must consistently make good snaps to Radigan.  Lost seconds fielding poor snaps can be fatal against the opportunistic Hokies.  Two years ago, Rutgers executed a successful fake punt when the Hokies failed to adapt to a formation adjustment.  The successful fake punt slowed the Virginia Tech punt rush for much of the game.  Schiano must look to aggressively counter attack any Hokie punt block attempts, as he did two years ago.  A successful fake punt will force Virginia Tech to reduce its punt pressure, much as a draw play or screen pass slows an aggressive pass rush.  Even if a fake punt is unsuccessful, it is preferable to a blocked punt that typically is returned for a TD.  Plus, the attempted fake, even if unsuccessful, will send a message. 

Radigan has been inconsistent this year.  He has followed strong efforts against Buffalo and Army with poor efforts against Michigan State and Navy.  Most recently, Radigan had punts of 26 and 28 yards against Navy in his only two opportunities.  And both punts were from deep in Rutgers territory.  Radigan will be under tremendous pressure in his first appearance against Virginia Tech.  He must remained poised and kick well.  His kicking must push the Hokie offense back and force them to drive the field.  The Rutgers punt team cannot be so preoccupied with punt protection that it fails its other assignment – punt coverage.  Virginia Tech's success at returning punts is a direct reflection of its ability to block teams.  Opponents are so preoccupied with punt protection that their punt coverage suffers, allowing big punt returns.  The Scarlet Knights must prevent any punt blocks, must average 40 gross yards on its punts, must not allow Virginia Tech any big punt returns (i.e., >20 yards), and must average 37 net yards on its punts. 

Harris snapped well against Virginia Tech, giving Radigan clean snaps to field.  Furthermore, the punt protection team did not allow Virginia Tech to block any punts.  Since Schiano did not call any fake punts against Virginia Tech, the Hokie punt rush was not chastened.  The punt coverage team denied the Hokies any punt returns for TDs.  Furthermore, the punt coverage team yielded no punt return yardage on the 7 Rutgers punts.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that Radigan averaged only 34 yards on his punts, only one of which was inside the VT20 and that occurred on a poor kick with a lucky bounce.  Radigan's inability to push the Hokies back shortened the field for Virginia Tech, which already had little trouble moving the football against the porous Rutgers defense.  On the positive side, this was the first time since 1998 that Virginia Tech did not block a kick or return a punt for a TD. 


4.  Man-to-Man Coverage by CBs.  The Scarlet Knight CBs have had mixed results with man-to-man coverage in the base 4-3 Cover 2 defense.  Jones has generally shutdown the WRs on the left side of the defense (offense's right side).  Haw has been the preferred target for opposing QBs.  Both Michigan State and Army threw at Haw far more frequently than at Jones, although Jones was often a weak safety in the 3-2 Cover 2 (two deep zone) dime defense.  Virginia Tech will present the first standard pro set offense that Rutgers has faced to date.  Michigan State and Army operated spread offense while Buffalo and Navy employed option versions of the spread.  The Hokies basic offensive formation is the "I" set with two WRs.  The Hokies will deploy their WRs as split backs, sometimes with the QB in the shotgun.  The Hokies will also replace a WR with a second TE.  Virginia Tech lacks depth at WR.  The emphasis of the Beamer offense is running the football.  Therefore, Virginia Tech will rarely employ more than 2 WRs. 

In the Cover 2 defensive scheme that Ferraro employs, the CBs funnel the outside WRs inside to the LBs and safeties.  The CBs force the outside WRs to release inside, run with them for about 10 yards, and then pass them to the safeties while still maintaining responsibility for the flats.  Rutgers' outside CBs have struggled with conflicting assignments against spread offenses as opponents flood the secondary.  The CBs have been forced to choose between staying with the outside WR on intermediate routes or coming up to cover the secondary receiver in the flat.  Against Virginia Tech, the Rutgers CBs generally will not be overwhelmed with conflicting coverage assignments.  The CBs typically will be responsible for the two Hokie WRs.  The LBs and safeties will be responsible for the TEs and RBs. 

Rutgers will need its safeties to provide run support to contain the formidable Virginia Tech running game.  In order to facilitate that assignment, the CBs must cover the Hokie WRs man-to-man.  Since Schiano has shown a reluctance to use press coverage against opponents, the CBs absolutely must not get beat deep since they will be giving an 8- to 10-yard cushion to the Hokie WRs.  Furthermore, the CBs must come up quickly to tackle the Tech WRs as soon as they catch the football on out, hitch, curl, and sideline routes.  The CBs can't afford any missed tackles.  The CBs must limit the Hokie WRs to no more than six receptions for no more than 60 yards.  And no TDs. 

Ferraro dispensed with his Cover 2 scheme and deployed his safeties aggressively in a run support role, leaving his CBs primarily in man-to-man coverage.  Stinespring immediately countered with a spread formation and threw against the man coverage.  This represented a substantial change in philosophy for Virginia Tech, which traditionally ran the football in the face of 8- or 9-man defensive fronts.  The results were shocking. 

Stinespring called 35 designed passing plays versus 37 designed running plays, an atypically balanced offense for the usually conservative Hokies.  Through three quarters, the ratio was 33 designed passes ot 22 designed runs.  Not your typical Beamerball.  Of the 35 designed passes, Virginia Tech completed 20 for 281 yards (including 19 yards lost on three sacks, 13 yards gained on two scrambles, and 5 net yards gained on three penalties), 16 first downs, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs.  The Top 5 Hokie rushing offense gained "only" 192 yards, 89 of which Virginia Tech gained in the 4th Quarter as it ran out the clock.  Randall dissected the Rutgers secondary in completing 16 of 22 for 250 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT.  The Hokie WRs gained 252 yards on 17 receptions.  Virginia Tech easily converted first downs because the big cushions provided by the Scarlet Knight DBs freely yielded the quick intermediate routes.  Fourteen of Virginia Tech's 18 completions converted first downs.  Randall also beat the Scarlet Knight secondary deep, so the loose coverage did not prevent big plays either.  Four of Virginia Tech's 18 completions gained at least 25 yards.  Three others gained at 15 yards.   


5.  Placekicking.  The placekicking continues to be a disaster.  RS Jr Ryan Sands missed FGAs of 35 and 45 yards against Buffalo.  Rutgers left at least 9 points on the field against Buffalo.  Sands was short on a 39-yard FGA against Army.  Musiek missed XPAs against Army and Navy and was way wide right on a 44-yard FGA against Navy.  Cortese had made two XPAs and a 36-yard FG – all against Army – and understandably missed from 53 yards against Buffalo.  Sands is finished unless both Musiek and Cortese prove totally incapable as substitutes.  Musiek had a fair opportunity last week against Navy and performed unsatisfactorily despite Schiano's faith in him – Schiano didn't pull Musiek after he missed the XPA.  Now, it is Cortese's turn.  Schiano must straighten out his placekicking situation, which is currently unacceptable.  Placekicking likely won't provide the difference between winning and losing to Virginia Tech.  However, the Hokie defense likely will limit Rutgers' scoring opportunities. In order to keep the scoring margin close, the Scarlet Knight must capitalize on every scoring opportunity.  That means the PKs can't leave points on the field. 

The game of musical kickers likely will continue as Musiek again performed poorly in his third appearance this season.  INTs and 3-n-outs deprived Rutgers of scoring opportunities in the 1st Half.  But the Scarlet Knights drove 49 yards in 10 plays on their first possession of the 2nd Half.  Musiek attempted a 43-yard FGA but his low kick didn't clear the line of scrimmage.  Cortese should get his opportunity against Virginia Tech. 


KEY INDIVIDUALS

1.  So QB Ryan Hart.  While crucial to the execution of the west coast offense, Hart's performance was not as critical in recent weeks as were those in areas needing greater improvement or production.  Against Michigan State, Hart was the most important player on the field for Rutgers.  As at Michigan State, Rutgers must establish the passing game to foster the running game.  Hart started quickly against Michigan State and, as a result, Rutgers put the favored Spartans back on their heels.  Hart completed 5 of 8 1st Quarter passes for 170 yards and 2 TDs.  The young QB staked the Scarlet Knights to early leads and hushed the home crowd.  Once Michigan State deployed its CBs in press coverage and disrupted the timing of the Rutgers short passing game, Hart struggled thereafter with his accuracy and decision-making, completing only 9 of 23 attempts for only 96 yards and two INTs.  Unfairly burdened with the entire offense in the absence of a running game, Hart withered under the pressure.  Hart faces a similar challenge against Virginia Tech.  Running against the 8-man Hokie defensive front is a daunting task.  Virginia Tech dares an opponent to throw deep and beats its pass rush.  More so than did Michigan State.  Hart must make quick reads and accurate throws.  He can't afford to throw INTs.  And he must find receivers downfield and not simply shorten his throws, as he did against Michigan State.  Hart must use his RBs more heavily as safety valves and not force throws inside to his TEs.  Hart's throws must keep the Hokie defense off balance and must force them to defend all Scarlet Knight receivers and the entire field.  Hart must throw for at least 275 yards and must not throw more than one INT. 

Hart completed only 16 passes in 34 attempts for only 182 yards.  He threw four INTs, none more costly than the one in final seconds of the 1st Half: 

  • Late in the 1st Quarter, Hart attempted a deep throw to Andre on a 1st down fly pattern but Adibi beat Green on the outside and deflected the pass, which Lewis intercepted at the VT33. 
  • Early in the 2nd Quarter, Hart threw over the middle to Moses on a deep in route but Robinson made a leading, one-handed interception at the RU48. 
  • In the final seconds of the 2nd Quarter, Hart threw over the middle to Moses on a slant route but Williams jumped the route, intercepted the pass at the VT45, and returned the pick 55 yards for a game breaking TD. 
  • Midway through the 4th Quarter, Hart threw over the middle to Loomis but never saw Warren, who stepped in front of Loomis and intercepted the pass at the RU50. 

Thirteen of Hart's 34 passes reflected either poor decisions or poor throws: 

  • On the third play of the game, Hart threw incomplete to Moses on a 3rd-n-6 middle screen pass that was thrown nowhere near Moses. 
  • Midway through the 1st Quarter, Hart threw incomplete into double coverage to Sr TE Ray Pilch into double on a 3rd-n-4 out.  Hart should have found another receiver or thrown the ball away. 
  • Early in the 2nd Quarter, Hart threw over the middle to Moses on a deep in route but Robinson made a leading, one-handed interception at the RU48. 
  • Midway through the 2nd Quarter, Hart underthrew Moses on a 3rd-n-11 fade route that Griffin broke up. 
  • Late in the 2nd Quarter, Hart overthrew Tucker on a 1st down out route. 
  • Four plays later, Hart threw behind Tucker on a 2nd-n-4 shallow crossing route. 
  • In the final seconds of the 2nd Quarter, Hart threw over the middle to Moses on a slant route but Williams jumped the route, intercepted the pass at the VT45, and returned the pick 55 yards for a game breaking TD. 
  • Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Hart overthrew an open Loomis on a 2nd-n-8 corner route that should have been a Rutgers TD. 
  • Midway through the 4th Quarter, Hart threw to Leonard on a 2nd-n-10 drag route but ILB RS So ILB Blake Warren jumped the route and broke up the pass.  Hart should have thrown downfield to Fr WR Marcus Daniels on a fade route. 
  • On the next play, Hart threw incomplete into double coverage to Moses on a 3rd-n-10 post route.  Hart should have found another receiver or thrown the ball away.
  • Midway through the 4th Quarter, Hart threw over the middle to Loomis but never saw Warren, who stepped in front of Loomis and intercepted the pass at the RU50. 
  • Late in the 4th Quarter, Hart threw incomplete to Moses on a 2nd-n-7 hitch route that RS Fr OLB Aaron Rouse broke up because it was thrown too high. 
  • On the next play, Hart threw incomplete behind Moses on a curl route. 


A west coast offense QB cannot perform as inefficiently as did Hart against Virginia Tech, especially when throwing primarily short as Hart also did against the Hokies.  Hart did not target enough areas of the field or enough different receivers to spread out the Hokie defense.  He forced too many throws into double or triple coverage in the intermediate zones.  Hart didn't throw deep often or effectively enough.  He threw downfield only six times, completing only two for 80 yards.  Hart didn't target his RBs enough, throwing only six times to the RBs and completing four for 40 yards.  Hart threw exclusively to Leonard and didn't throw once to Hairston or So TB Markis Facyson (out of the backfield).  Hart threw only three passes to his TEs, none of which were completed:

  • Midway through the 1st Quarter, Hart threw a terrible pass to Pilch into double coverage on a 3rd-n-4 out route. 
  • Late in the 3rd Quarter, Hart overthrew an open Harris on a corner route on 2nd-n-8 from the VT17.  Rutgers didn't score on this possession as the ensuring FGA was blocked. 
  • Midway through the 4th Quarter, Hart threw to Loomis on a crossing route over the middle and never saw Warren, who stepped in front of Loomis to intercept the fourth Hart pass of the game. 

 

2.  RS So WR Tres Moses.  For two years, Rutgers fans waited for the emergency of Moses as a playmaker.  As a true freshman in 2001, Moses showed glimpses of the ability to make tacklers miss after catching the football.  Through his true freshman campaign and an injury-abbreviated sophomore season, Moses always seemed one tackle away from breaking a long gain.  But he never managed to break a play.  After a spring camp performance that wasn't noteworthy, I was not expecting much from Moses this season.  In fact, I expected true Daniels to quickly displace Moses as a starting WR.  That hasn't happened because Moses answered the challenge posed by the newest crop of WRs.  Since returning a punt for a 66-yard TD to open the Buffalo game, Moses has been a playmaker.  He added a 15-yard TD against Buffalo that was more run than it was catch.  He made several acrobatic first down catches against Michigan State on fade routes.  He caught two TD passes against Army – one a 16-yard catch-and-run plus an acrobatic 10-yard reception.  Moses converted several 3rd down situations against Navy with yardage after the catch (YAC) to keep drives alive.  He also forced a fumble on a fumble return by Navy, maintaining an important possession for Rutgers.  The key to beating Virginia Tech is to exploit their CBs, who are out on an island with little support.  Moses must make catches inside and outside, shallow and deep.  He must fight through any press coverage to release into his route quickly and not allow the timing of pass plays to be disrupted.  Moses must gain YAC and he must beat the Hokie CBs deep.  Moses must catch at least 5 passes for at least 100 yards and a TD.  

Moses caught only 3 passes for only 49 yards for one first down.  He also gained another 8 yards and an automatic first down on a pass interference penalty.  Moses started big with a 35-yard reception late in the 1st Quarter.  And Hart targeted Moses frequently.  However, Tres couldn't get untracked.  Moses was Hart's primary receiver, targeted on 13 of 37 designed passing plays.  However, Virginia Tech exploited this tendency and intercepted two passes intended for Moses, including one that Williams returned for a TD.  Moses gained negligible YAC and burned the Hokie secondary deep only once.  Unfortunately, the early deep ball didn't loosen up the Hokie the secondary, which was going to make Hart complete more deep passes before decompressing the middle of the field.  Here's a summary of Moses' activity:

  • On Rutgers's first possession, Hart missed Moses with a poor throw on a 3rd-n-6 middle screen. 
  • Late in the 1st Quarter, Moses gained 35 yards on a 3rd-n-13 post route on which he beat the coverage deep but had to come back for the underthrown pass and catch it in traffic. 
  • Early in the 2nd Quarter, Hart threw over the middle to Moses on a deep in route but Robinson made a leading, one-handed interception at the RU48. 
  • Midway through the 2nd Quarter, Hart underthrew Moses on a 3rd-n-11 fade route that Griffin broke up. 
  • Still later in the 2nd Quarter, Moses ran a 1st down hitch route but was tackled for no gain when he came back to help out a scrambling Hart. 
  • Late in the 2nd Quarter, Moses gained 6 yards on a 1st down hitch route.
  • Two plays later, Moses drew a pass interference penalty against RS Sr CB Garnell Wilds that gained 8 yards and an automatic first down on a 3rd-n-4 slant route. 
  • Three plays later, Hart threw over the middle to Moses on a slant route but Williams jumped the route, intercepted the pass at the VT45, and returned the pick 55 yards for a game breaking TD. 
  • Late in the 3rd Quarter, Moses gained 8 yards on a 2nd-n-9 curl route. 
  • Midway through the 2nd Quarter, Hart underthrew Moses on a 3rd-n-11 fade route that Griffin broke up. 
  • Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Hart threw behind Moses on a 1st down fade route but Moses never adjusted to the pass. 
  • Late in the 4th Quarter, Hart threw incomplete to Moses on a 2nd-n-7 hitch route that Rouse broke up because it was thrown too high. 
  • On the next play, Hart threw incomplete behind Moses on a curl route. 


3.  RS Fr FB Brian Leonard.  Leonard has emerged as Rutgers' best multi-dimensional threat.  He can lead block as the FB, block in blitz protection, run as a TB, or catch the ball out of the backfield.  As a receiver, Leonard has shown an ability to outrun and overrun defenders.  Against Buffalo, Brian converted 7 first downs on 11 touches – 6 carries and 5 receptions.  Against Michigan State, Leonard caught the football two yards behind the line of scrimmage on a drag route and turned upfield for a 72-yard gain.  Against Army, he caught two short passes at the line of scrimmage and gained over 35 yards afterwards.  Leonard also broke three runs of at least 15 yards, including a 61-yard TD run.  Ver Steeg must use Leonard to stretch the Virginia Tech OLBs horizontally.  Flare routes and drag routes will pull the Hokie OLBs up the line of scrimmage and into the flats – away from the middle of the field.  That will open the interior for slant routes to the WRs and hook routes to the TEs because the OLBs won't be sitting in the middle of the field.  Leonard may not be 100% recovered from a knee injury suffered last week.  However, he still should provide a decoy threat that the Hokie OLBs must respect, at least until Leonard's effectiveness is confirmed.  If Leonard is 100%, he will primarily be a receiving threat.  Leonard must catch at least 4 passes and gain at least 60 yards. 

Leonard gained 76 yards on 12 carries and caught 4 passes for 30 yards.  He confirmed that his ability is legitimate with a strong performance against a notoriously stingy defense.  He also demonstrated his versatility with the recovery of a muffed punt to extend Rutgers' opening possession.  Leonard ran effectively against the nationally ranked Virginia Tech rushing defense.  He was most successful on draw plays, gaining 56 yards on 9 carries.  Ver Steeg used the lead draw successfully in long yardage situations on early downs, when Virginia Tech was expecting passes and the Hokie DEs rushed upfield, creating running lanes between the guards and tackles. 

Leonard was less effective as a receiver because Hart was ineffective as a QB.  Hart threw his first pass to Leonard but did not throw to Leonard again until late in the 1st Half, even though Leonard was often open as a safety valve in the flat.  Instead, Hart forced throws into heavy coverage over the middle.  Hart finally targeted Leonard in the 4th Quarter.  Leonard caught two passes on Rutgers' longest drive of the game and had a third intended pass broken up.  The result was to pull the Hokie LBs up to cover the flat and that opened the previously crowded middle of the field.  That Rutgers achieved its best drive and Leonard's receiving was an integral component was not a coincidence.  Unfortunately, Leonard was used too late as a last resort instead of early as a primary target.  The Hokie LBs were allowed to crowd the middle of the field and disrupt those short routes – slants and crossing – that could best result in YAC. 

Leonard's activity is summarized below:

  • On the first play of the game, Hart threw to Leonard on flare route but Green didn't cut Adibi, who deflected the pass incomplete. 
  • Three plays later, Leonard recovered a muff by Hall and recovered at the VT29. 
  • Two plays later, Leonard gained 9 yards on a 1st-n-15 lead draw play. 
  • On the next Rutgers possession midway through the 1st Quarter, Robinson drilled Leonard for no gain on a 2nd-n-4 Power G to the left as RS So RG John Glass missed the block while pulling and leading through the hole. 
  • Late in the 1st Quarter, Leonard gained 14 yards on a 1st-n-25 lead draw play. 
  • Early in the 2nd Quarter, Leonard gained 15 yards on a 1st-n-10 counter play. 
  • Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Hokie So DE Darryl Tapp tackled Leonard for a 2-yard loss after beating RS So RT Sameeh McDonald on a 3rd-n-5 lead draw play. 
  • Late in the 2nd Quarter, Leonard gained 6 yards on a 3rd-n-5 drag route. 
  • Four plays later, Leonard gained 15 yards on 1st down as a safety valve in the flat but a holding penalty on RS Sr LG Brian Duffy nullified the gain. 
  • On the next play, 9 yards on a 1st-n-20 lead draw play. 
  • Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Leonard gained 6 yards on a 3rd-n-3 lead draw play. 
  • Late in the 3rd Quarter, Leonard gained 5 yards on a 2nd-n-2 Power G run to the right. 
  • On the next play, Leonard gained only one yard on a 1st down lead draw that Hokie RS Jr DT Isaac Montgomery stopped after beating a block by Sr LT Rich McManis. 
  • Three plays later, on the last play of the 3rd Quarter, Leonard gained 8 yards on a 1st down flare route. 
  • On the first play of the 4th Quarter, Leonard gained another 8 yards on a 2nd-n-2 lead draw play. 
  • On the next play, Leonard gained 11 yards on a 1st down drag route. 
  • Midway through the 4th Quarter, Warren broke-up a pass that Hart never should have thrown to Leonard on a 2nd-n-10 drag route.  
  • Still later in the 4th Quarter, Leonard gained 8 yards on a 1st down lead draw play. 
  • Late in the 4th Quarter, Leonard gained 3 yards on a 1st down lead draw play after McDonald missed another block. 
  • On the final play of the game, Leonard gained 5 yards on a 2nd-n-7 shallow crossing route. 


4.  Sr LT Mike Williamson.  In four games, Rutgers has only faced one legitimate defense – Michigan State.  Buffalo, Army, and Navy presented defensive units that were small and slow.  The Spartans were big and fast.  And made mincemeat of the Rutgers OLine, especially Williamson.  Against Michigan State, Williamson was repeatedly blown up or simply beaten on both running plays and passing plays.  He yielded two sacks because he was driven straight back into the QB.  And he repeatedly disrupted running plays because he was pushed backwards into the backfield.  Against Army, Williamson was OL with the most missed blocking assignments.  Rutgers has drawn a break with the suspension of Hokie starting RS Sr DE Cols Colas.  That leaves only Adibi as an experienced threat at DE.  Foster may align Adibi against Williamson to create a mismatch on the edge.  Williamson will not outplay Adibi.  But he must limit the damage that Adibi causes.  Ver Steeg likely will not run straight at Adibi behind Williamson but will run away from him on the bread-n-butter Power G, on which Williamson must maintain a seal block on the backside.  Williamson will have to chip block Adibi on lead draws so that Adibi can't pinch on the TB unimpeded and make the tackle for a loss.  Williamson will also have to neutralized Adibi on isolation runs.  When Williamson is matched up against Tapp or any of the Hokie backup DEs, he must neutralize them sufficiently to allow Rutgers to run at the DEs behind Williamson on the Power G.  Williamson must not yield more than one sack.  And must not get blown up on a run blocking assignment more than once. 

The Hokie rushing defense is nearly as good as that of Michigan State's Top 10 rushing defense.  Williamson was primarily aligned against Tapp or backup DE RS Fr Noland Burchette.  Occasionally, Williamson faced Adibi.  Williamson performed much better against Virginia Tech than he did against Michigan State.  Williamson was not blown up once on any blocking assignment and generally accomplished his assigned task.  He gave up only one sack – a costly 8-yard loss that pushed Musiek into a longer FGA, which Musiek kicked low into the line of scrimmage.  Williamson improved his chip blocks on lead draw plays, which were very successful against the hard-charging Hokie DEs.  Ver Steeg ran six of eight Power G plays to the left behind Williamson for a combined gain of 13 yards.  Ver Steeg called only one of four off tackle runs to the left behind Williamson for a loss of 2 yards.  Though Rutgers did not run well to Williamson's side on Power G and off tackle plays, Williamson was generally not the cause of the breakdown.  Here's a summary of Williamson's breakdowns:

  • Midway through the 1st Quarter, Williamson didn't disengage the DT on a on a 2nd-n-4 Power G to the left side and double tap the backside ILB.  This breakdown was overshadowed by a missed block by pulling guard Glass that allowed Robinson to stop Leonard in the hole for no gain. 
  • Still later in the 1st Quarter, Lewis limited Hairston to a 4-yard gain on an isolation run after beating Williamson on a backside down block. 
  • Late in the 1st Quarter, Williamson didn't disengage the DT on a on a 2nd-n-11 isolation run and double tap the nearest LB.  OLB RS Jr Brandon Manning ran past Williamson and dropped Hairston for a 2-yard loss. 
  • Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Williamson didn't disengage the DT on a on a 1st-n-10 Power G to the left side and double tap the backside ILB.  This breakdown was overshadowed when Hairston bounced outside instead of following pulling guard Glass into the hole, gaining only one yard. 
  • Three plays later, Lewis limited Hairston to a 2-yard gain on a run off right tackle after beating Williamson on a backside down block. 
  • Two plays later, Burchette beat Williamson to the inside and sacked Hart for an 8-yard loss on 3rd-n-8 from the VT17. 
  • Midway through the 4th Quarter, Adibi beat Williamson to the outside and hurried Hart into an incompletion on a 1st down fade route to Moses. 

 

5.  So WR Shawn Tucker.  Tucker is Moses' bookend. While Tucker has not caught as many passes as has Moses, Tucker had made his share of big plays.  Tucker burned Michigan State for a 65-yard TD catch-and-run.  He burned Buffalo for a 27-yard gain, Army for a 30-yard gain, and Navy for a 23-yard gain.  Tucker must have a big game to complement a similar performance from Moses.  If the Rutgers WRs can't victimize the Virginia Tech secondary, then the Rutgers offense will be squeezed into a shorter and shorter field, much as it was against Michigan State.  Tucker is the taller of the two WRs.  He is more likely an inside threat on slant routes when using his bigger body to shield the football.  As with Moses, Tucker must fight through any press coverage and beat the pressing CB for big gains, either on YAC or a deep throws.  Tucker must be an inside threat on slant routes and must be prepared to take the inevitable hits from the Hokie OLBs and FS.  Shawn also must be a threat on the outside on fade and corner routes.  Tucker must catch at least 4 passes for at least 100 yards and a TD. 

Tucker caught 4 passes but gained only 40 yards for 3 first downs and a TD.  He started fast with two receptions on Rutgers opening TD drive.  However, his production ended in the 1st Quarter.  Hart targeted Tucker unsuccessfully twice in the 2nd Quarter.  Tucker didn't see any passes thrown his way in the 2nd Half.  Whether by design or failed execution (by either Tucker and/or Hart), Tucker was not deep threat at all.  Not one of the six attempted passes to Tucker were thrown past 10 yards.  Tucker broke only one for a big gain.  Here's a summary of Tucker's activity:

  • Early in the 1st Quarter, Tucker gained 8 yards on a 2nd-n-6 out route. 
  • On the next play, Tucker scored a 17-yard TD on a curl, spinning past a beaten Wilds. 
  • On the next possession, Tucker gained 6 yards on a 1st down hitch route.
  • Late in the 1st Quarter, Tucker gained 9 yards on a 2nd-n-4 sideline route. 
  • Late in the 2nd Quarter, Hart missed Tucker with a poor throw on a 1st down out route.
  • Four plays later, Hart again missed Tucker with a poor throw on a 2nd-n-4 shallow crossing route. 


GAME BALLS

Offensive Player of the Game –RS Fr FB Brian Leonard:  Leonard accounted for only 18 of Rutgers' 65 offensive plays (28%) but gained 116 yards of Rutgers' 311 yards of total offense (37%).  A damn good day at the office for a FB.  Leonard gained 76 yards on 12 carries against the tough Virginia Tech rushing defense.  He was targeted on six passes, catching four for 40 yards.  His running and catching enabled the Rutgers offense to nearly match the Virginia Tech offense in number of plays, thus keeping the powerful Hokie offense on the sidelines to some extent. 


Defensive Player of the Game – RS Sr DE Raheem Orr:  Orr was probably the only Scarlet Knight to play well on defense against Virginia Tech.  Orr realized his best performance yet against a quality opponent – 9 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and 2 QB hurries.  And his tackles weren't downfield, either.  The Hokies lost 2 net yards on Orr's nine tackles.  One of his sacks pushed the Hokies out of FG range; another pushed them into a longer FGA, which they missed.   


Special Teams Player of the Game – RS Fr FB Brian Leonard:  Early in the 1st Quarter, Leonard recovered a muff by Hall at the VT29, sustaining Rutgers' first possession and giving the Scarlet Knights great field position.  Rutgers scored three plays later for its first lead against Virginia Tech since 1995.   


Best Run – Fr TB Justise Hairston:  Early in the 4th Quarter.  Rutgers trailing 41-7.  1st-n-10 at the VT21.  Hairston ran off tackle behind a beautiful block by Leonard and cut inside a Green block and raced untouched up the sideline for a 21-yard TD.   


Best Pass – So QB Ryan Hart:  Midway through the 3rd Quarter.  Rutgers trailing 41-7.  3rd-n-13 at the RU36.  Hart pump faked to Andre on a stop-n-go route and hit Andre in stride for a 45-yard gain to the VT19. 


Best Catch – RS So WR Tres Moses:  Late in the 1st Quarter.  Rutgers trailing 21-7.  3rd-n-13 at the RU17.  Moses beat the Hokie 2 deep zone deep on a post route but had to come back for the underthrown pass and catch it in traffic for a 35-yard gain. 


Best Hit – So WS Jason Nugent:  Midway through the 1st Quarter.  Rutgers trailing 14-7.  4th-n-13 from the RU24.  Radigan beat the Hokie punt rush and hits one of his best punts of the day – 39 yards with plenty of hang time.  Nugent, a gunner on the outside, beats his blocker downfield and drills Hall almost immediately after Hall catches the punt, running right through Hall and dropping him for no gain.  


Coming Next:  Keys to the Pittsburgh Game.  I'll review the five keys to another imposing challenge at home against previously Top 25 Pittsburgh Panthers.  I'll also identify five key players whose contributions will be essential to a good performance.


Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the Virginia Tech game or the upcoming Pittsburgh game with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.  Thank you for your patronage. 


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