Virginia Tech offense
The Hokie offense has some sizable weaponry. Quarterback Logan Thomas is a hulking figure at 260 pounds to go with his 6-foot-6 frame. Senior receiver Marcus Davis is 6-foot-4 and able to attack all parts of the field. So what should Florida State expect on Thursday? It's hard to say because consistency is not Virginia Tech's strong suit this season.
On Logan Thomas
Thomas is the hardest type of player to "analyze" or project because he is wildly inconsistent. The junior can make next level throws look routine and do so for three or four attempts in a row. Then, inexplicably, he'll make a throw that raises serious red flags. Conversely, Thomas can look primed for a stint on the bench, then come out of nowhere to light up a defense.
One thing is consistent about Thomas' game: he's not afraid to throw into traffic. His big arm allows for multi-covered targets to come away with the ball, but it is also sometimes what allows a defense to make a big play or a big hit on a receiver. Truly, Hokie receivers have to be able to bury fear when running routes for Thomas.
At any moment
It's not a coincidence that Thomas will sometimes make one read and take off running. It is clear that the Virginia Tech coaching staff has informed Thomas he has the green light to run at any moment. Aside from the designed plays - quarterback power runs that Tech will run in any situation - take a look at this designed pass play that Thomas scored on against Miami.
To be sure, it is not smart for the Hurricane defense to help create a running lane on multiple levels. Someone - either an interior lineman or second-level defender - was assigned to keep track of the middle of the field here. But where Thomas is dangerous is in moments like these. He trusts his body to be able to take punishment, and will take off if he reads a lack of respect from the defense. Florida State will have to commit a defender to watch Thomas Thursday night, or at the very least maintain a contain principle as a front-four group.
Virginia Tech will implement just about every offensive formation in a given game. Thomas will operate from under center, in the pistol, or in the shotgun in empty and two-back sets. But if the Miami game said anything about what works and what doesn't for this particular roster, it is that the traditional I-formation is not the solution for the Florida State defense.
Miami's front group, one that has given up over 200 ground yards a game on average, surged through the inexperienced Hokie offensive line throughout Thursday's game. Virginia Tech was far more successful out of the shotgun and pistol when it used zone-read principles or multi-tight-end sets. Unlike the teams of the past handful of seasons, Virginia Tech cannot simply get the job done with the five up front. Instead, a formation like the one above gives the Hokies the best chance to succeed on Friday.
One thing that Virginia Tech is doing a lot more of this year is coming to the line, getting set, and then looking to the sideline for any changes from the coaching staff. Much like Oklahoma of last season, the Hokies will line up (sometimes going with a dummy snap count) and then tweak and/or change the formation completely. If Florida State wants to disguise some defensive looks/pressures this week, the defense will have to be focused and patient at the line of scrimmage.
Virginia Tech defense
On spacing and leverage
Virginia Tech has never been scared to bring different quarterback pressures from different angles. The Bud Foster defense adapts naturally to what the offense brings to the table. If the personnel groupings include two backs and a tight-end, for example, then a typical Hokie defense will attack the box and let an outside receiver release in one-on-one coverage. Conversely, if the offense goes four wide in a traditional shotgun set, the defense often is in a hybrid of man and zone coverage in a quarters (four deep defensive backs) look. A unique tactic employed in combination with Virginia Tech's base defense is its spacing against the receivers.
Notice in this photo that although one DB is playing well off his man, he is helped out by the corner at the bottom of the shot lining up between the two receivers. A quick throw to the outside shoulder of the slot man is covered by the outside defender. A quick throw to the inside shoulder of the slot receiver may be trouble because the slot defender has inside leverage. This principle, in theory, provides two pre-snap advantages. First, it's hard to say for sure if the coverage is straight up man-to-man or some disguised zone look. Second, the spacing allows the slot defender to "cheat" a step towards the box in case of run support.
The antidote to this kind of defense, as with any defense, is time in the pocket. Unless Virginia Tech decides to play off the FSU receivers for the night, chances are EJ Manuel will be looking at 50-50 matchups down the field.
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