Well aware of the criticisms once again being levied their way given the Hokies’ slow starts this year, both Stinespring and play-caller Mike O’Cain knew they’d face some interrogation considering Virginia Tech has scored an ACC-low 14 points in the first quarter this year and took nearly 25 minutes to pick up a first down in its loss to Cincinnati last weekend.
But using a script at the beginning of the game? It was met with a measure of derision from an offensive staff that is trying to focus their energies on emphasizing the corner they believe the Hokies turned in the second half Saturday.
“I know there’s this big thing about people saying, ‘Why don’t you script plays and dictate to the defense?’ You don’t dictate to the defense. You’ve got to do and block what they show you,” O’Cain said. “They’re not going to line up and play man coverage because I’m here. They’re not going to play zone coverage because I’m here. You’ve got to adapt. And they adapt. It’s a chess match.”
That’s not to say some parts of Virginia Tech offense aren’t scripted. In fact, Coach Frank Beamer said Tuesday the offense scripts certain situations, such as what plays to run when facing third and one or second and long during any given game.
Stinespring equated it to a “top 10 list” of plays and formations that the coaching staff likes and tries “to get called as quickly as possible.” He added that the Hokies usually decide what to run on the first play of the game on Thursday.
“If you go back and look at every first play we ran this year, it’s probably been successful,” Stinespring said. “We spend a lot of time concentrating on it to try and get off to a good start. We just got to follow it up.”
That would seem to run counter to his and O’Cain’s incredulous reaction to even considering more scripted starts.Well, sort of.
A look back at Virginia Tech’s first play from its five games this year revealed an incomplete deep pass to wide receiver Marcus Davis against Georgia Tech; a fumble by running back J.C. Coleman following an 11-yard gain against Austin Peay; a 44-yard completion to wide receiver Dyrell Roberts at Pittsburgh; an incomplete pass to Roberts against Bowling Green; and an eight-yard gain by running back Michael Holmes facing Cincinnati.
But putting a spotlight on the team’s slow starts is exactly what O’Cain hopes the offense doesn’t do this week.
“I think sometimes the more you talk about things, the worse it gets. Because guys come out and instead of coming out there relaxed and playing the game, they begin to press a little bit,” he said. “You don’t forget it completely, you don’t do that, but take that second half and the things we did in that second half and build on those and move forward.”
Running backs coach Shane Beamer said he felt the offense finally clicked in the second half against Cincinnati when Virginia Tech’s offensive line “showed some toughness and got some movement on the line of scrimmage.” It opened up running lanes for tailbacks Holmes and Coleman and loosened up the Bearcats’ secondary enough for Thomas to find Davis and fellow wideout Corey Fuller.
Virginia Tech ended up gaining 330 of its 402 yards after halftime and took the lead twice in the fourth quarter following touchdown drives.
“Everyone wants to talk about what we haven’t done,” Stinespring said. “We’re focused on what we need to do better and the way we played in the second half.”
The Hokies also had to deal with some bad luck. Beamer called the holding penalty on fullback Riley Beiro that negated a third-quarter touchdown run by Martin Scales “a flat out God-awful call.” The game was officiated by a Big East crew and Beamer added, “I’m confident an ACC official wouldn’t have made that call.”
But like his counterparts on the Hokies’ offensive staff, that near-miss wasn’t Beamer’s focus. Instead, it was about accentuating the positives after halftime and quieting the outside critiques he doesn’t agree with.
“We lost four pretty good players on our offensive line and people expect all of a sudden we as coaches, we just snap our fingers and throw four new starters in there. That’s not how it works,” Beamer said. “We got some blocking past the line of scrimmage and had some good calls. We spend a lot of time during the week deciding what calls to make on Saturday and I thought we had some good calls against what they do. Against a pretty good defense, too.
“Everybody wants to keep on talking about Virginia Tech’s offense and what’s wrong with Virginia Tech’s offense. We just played a pretty good defense. . . . We’ve got to get better in the first half, but we made strides in the second half and are optimistic we can build on that Saturday.”