Less may mean more for Virginia Tech’s offense. At least that’s what Coach Frank Beamer thinks heading into Friday’s Russell Athletic Bowl.
The Hokies instituted several changes to their offensive scheme during the offseason, adding the pistol formation and more misdirection to better take advantage of quarterback Logan Thomas’s diverse skill set. But the experiment, like Virginia Tech’s entire season, didn’t work out the way anybody hoped.
The Hokies were No. 8 in the ACC in scoring offense and No. 9 in total offense, their lowest finish in either category since 2008. So Beamer has instructed his coaches to simplify the game plan.
“I think we’re on to some good things,” Beamer said Thursday during his pre-bowl news conference. “I think the misdirection’s good, we just got to be better at what we do and usually that means cutting back. Sometimes you try to do too much. There’s too much that looks good.”
The decline on offense, combined with Thomas’s overall regression, has led many to believe Beamer will make changes to his offensive coaching staff this offseason, a topic he has declined to address several times in recent weeks.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has been a subject of fan criticism for years, but in the past two seasons Virginia Tech’s offense set school records. He concedes the Hokies “haven’t played as well as we expected to play this year,” and play caller Mike O’Cain said earlier this month the breakdowns were normally the result of an inability to initiate changes on the fly.
“It didn’t have anything to do with the system,” said O’Cain, who indicated this week he hoped the entire offensive staff would be retained.
“It was a lack of experience but it was a lack of people being able to make adjustments off of what they knew. When they lined up exactly how you thought they would line up, we were pretty good. But when things change, which happens on defense a lot – they very seldom line up how you want – we didn’t do a great job of adapting to that.”
“I believe that what we’re doing offensively is headed in the right direction,” he added. “We can give people a lot of looks. We’re very diverse. We’re diverse from personnel groups. We’re diverse from formations and diverse in plays. I personally like what we’re doing and feel good about it. Do we need to get better? Absolutely. But I like the direction we’re going in. We give people a lot of things to prepare for.”
That seems to run counter to what Beamer said Thursday, and Virginia Tech’s slimmed-down offense won’t get any favors against a Rutgers defense led by linebacker Khaseem Greene, a two-time Big East defensive player of the year. The Scarlet Knights allowed the fifth-fewest points in the country this season.
The frustrating part for Stinespring and O’Cain is that the Hokies have shown at times this year that they can be a dynamic offense. They were No. 10 in the country in passing plays of 40 or more yards and scored 30 or more points five times. Thomas, meanwhile, is just 171 yards shy of setting the school record for total offense that he broke a season ago.
But more often than not, Virginia Tech had trouble sustaining any offensive success. The Hokies converted less than 30 percent of their third downs this season, their worst showing in that category since 2008.
“There’s times this year that we looked a little unstoppable and there’s times where we looked terrible,” Thomas said earlier this month. “We want to get rid of the terrible times and we want to finish the season off on the right foot going into next year so we have something to build off. A great game against a great defense would do a lot for our confidence going into next year and keep us excited about going into next year.”