“They’re really starting to turn it up with us going to a spread offense,” Taylor said before later explaining his answer. “It’s a lot more exciting ... going against them every day. If we keep it up, we’ve got a chance to be just as good on offense as we are on defense.”
Virginia Tech has set school records on offense the past two seasons and Thomas returns with a bevy of preseason accolades entering his second year starting under center. But the Hokies decided some tweaks were in order for the 2012-13 campaign.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring spent a portion of his offseason in Austin, studying the playbook of Longhorns co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who had previously been at Boise State. The result has been a faster tempo, new alignments — most notably the Pistol, in which Thomas lines up in the shotgun with a running back behind him — and some of the deception that has made Harsin’s units a nightmare to prepare for in recent years.
But playcaller Mike O’Cain disagreed with the notion that the Hokies have gone full-fledged spread, as Taylor indicated. They simply wanted to find news ways to get playmakers like Thomas, wide receiver Marcus Davis and running back Michael Holmes in better position to make plays in space.
“The formations we line up in haven’t really changed. The plays we run haven’t changed,” O’Cain said. “What will look different is some motions and things, trying to get a little more misdirection in our offense.”
Adjusting the scheme wasn’t the only major offensive undertaking this offseason, according to Stinespring. That distinction belongs to the examination Virginia Tech performed on its red zone deficiencies, an issue that has cropped up several times in past years.
Despite averaging more than 400 yards per game and watching Thomas set school records for total offense and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback last season, the Hokies ranked sixth in the ACC in scoring (27.9 points per game) and ninth in red zone efficiency.
So Stinespring and his staff went through every play inside the opponent’s 20-yard line from 2011, and identified “what we ran, what was the result, and did we get points.” O’Cain said the team will likely look to throw more often near the end zone this year.
“We were as thorough and comprehensive about our situational studies as we’ve been, and the biggest thing we came out of that was we had a lot of self-inflicted mistakes,” Stinespring said. “We’ve got to do a better job of not killing ourselves in the red zone. We left too many points on the field.”
Thomas isn’t quite sure how the changes will manifest themselves once the regular season starts, although he described the offense as “a little bit nasty, but explosive.”
The nickname, though, will have to wait.
“We’re not trying to look for one ourselves,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to go out there and make our own.”