Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach and play-caller Mike O’Cain is in the midst of a three-game stretch in which Virginia Tech’s offense has gained more than 470 yards of total offense in every contest. No team under Coach Frank Beamer has ever done that.
Meanwhile, running back David Wilson currently leads the nation in rushing yards. The Hokies are also on pace to rewrite the record book for passing yards during a single season. Considering this is O’Cain’s first year calling plays at Virginia Tech, the following question came up when he met with reporters Tuesday evening: How much credit does he deserve?
“That’s happenstance. I was the same play-caller against East Carolina [when the Hokies scored just 17 points], that threw for 125 yards against Clemson,” O’Cain said. “I’ve always downplayed play-calling. It has its place, but play-calling is about how well it’s executed.”
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring agreed with O’Cain, saying the players deserve much of the credit. But Stinespring, who called the plays the past nine seasons, also offered an interesting glimpse into the dynamic that exists between he and O’Cain now that they’re eight games into the play-calling change instituted by Beamer this past offseason.
Beamer and Stinespring have said all along the decision to make O’Cain the play-caller had to do with his close relationship with quarterback Logan Thomas. But it appears the move has had several unforeseen benefits.
“I think the arrangement suits us very well,” said Stinespring, who now coaches from the field instead of in the coaches’ box, as he did in years past. “I think it allows two sets of eyes. I think it allows Mike be closer to the quarterback, as we discussed at the beginning of the season. I think that part has worked out very well. I’ve liked being down on the field. I think I like the camaraderie down there. I think to be able to look players in the eyes, and getting a feel and a gauge for what they’re feeling.
“Mike and I communicate very well. There’s a separation from not being side-by-side, but I think that separation allows me to get my thoughts between the series and Mike and I discuss things between the series, what we’re thinking and create a future plan. . . . For me personally, I’ve enjoyed the whole deal because — Al Davis said this a long time ago, more than ‘just win baby’ — you get so caught up in calling the plays, you forget to coach the players. I think for me it has enabled me to do something I greatly enjoy. It has enabled me to really set up and just coach the players right now.”
Whatever may be happening differently now, the benefits are being seen on the field, where the Hokies have shown the ability to capitalize on big plays and march down the field on long, time-consuming drives.
Earlier this week, Duke Coach David Cutcliffe said the Hokies’ offense appeared to be utilizing play-action better this year, creating one-on-one matchups for wide receivers on the outside. But Stinespring and O’Cain also deserve credit for taking advantage of the combined athleticism of Thomas and Wilson by going to read-option plays that have been mostly successful.
In fact, Stinespring referred to those read option plays as “Auburn quarterback powers” and “Auburn quarterback decides,” a nod to the success the defending national champion Tigers had using them last year with Cam Newton running Gus Malzahn’s offense.
And as both O’Cain and Stinespring admit, play-calling is a whole lot easier when players like Wilson and Thomas are at the top of their games, like they have been over the past three games.
“It frees you up as a coordinator or Mike as the play-caller, you’re never behind the chains,” Stinespring said of Thomas and Wilson. “You never feel like you have to throw the ball or feel like you have to run the ball here. When you have both of those at your leisure . . . that frees you up not to get caught up in down and distance, but just call the game and play the game.”