Ah the offseason. The long and miserable offseason. The new authors here have really brought this place back to life already with lots of new content, but the quality level of content in the fanposts has been great recently too, which is, I think, a wonderful thing for helping us all through the long days of no football.
With that in mind I'm thinking of expanding on the schedule theme by taking a look at our first opponent in the fall, Virginia Tech. This is largely going to be about coaches and schemes, and in this post I'll start with the offensive side of the ball.
Last year VT struggled to a 7-6 finish. They ranked 40th in Football Outsiders's F/+ rankings, a measure of total team effectiveness. This was the first year since 2003 that the Hokies didn't win at least 10 games, and their worst record since 1992. Frank Beamer likes to make a big point about his "Lunchpail" mentality, and it has indeed been very workmanlike at VT, attaining near constant success without ever winning the MNC game. Hokie fans had been grumbling for years about the lameness of their offensive attack under Bryan Stinespring, so Beamer had to make a change after last season.
Naturally, Beamer decided to hire Scott Loeffler as his new offensive coordinator. Loeffler, of course, had his one disastrous spin through Auburn, and was the OC at Temple the year before that. He was previously QB coach at Florida for two years and Michig an for five years, and is famously Tom Brady's BFF.
Which is apparently enough cred to get you an OC gig, despite displaying no form of offensive vision or identity at Auburn.
"Like we said at the beginning, this isn't my offense. This is going to be our staff's offense and Auburn's offense," Loeffler said going into last season. "Everyone's going to have input and we're going to develop this thing to do what's best for our football team."
And it did indeed seem all year like it wasn't anyone in particular's offense down at the Barn. Maybe it's because no one wanted to take responsibility for setting the dumpster on fire in the first place. Statistically, the Auburn offense was terrible. The 2012 TIgers ranked 85th in Offensive S&P+, and 119th in OFEI rankings, dead last in the SEC. (Bama is ranked 4th and 5th, btw.) Loeffler's Temple team from the year before came in at 29th and 57th. So it's not like this guy has been setting the world on fire, or anything.
Over at Gobbler Country, chicagomaroon tries hard to convince his readers that Beamer has made a decent hire here:
If you ask my opinion, I am relatively happy with the hire. Of course time reveals everything, and this hire may turn out to be the seminal piece in the undoing of Frank Beamer. But I think it is likelier that it will help repair the Virginia Tech offense, at least to a degree, in the short term. And honestly, as Virginia Tech fans, witnessing what we've seen on that side of the ball for many years, can we ask much more than that?
Likelier, At least, to a degree, in the short term is a pretty long string of qualifiers. This is obviously a tough hire for any Hokie fan to get behind. There is some hope that he can develop Logan Thomas at the QB position, but Loeffler's resume seems awful thin to me. His bragging list is Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Drew Henson, Chad Henne, John Navarre and Tim Tebow, but the amount he actually "developed" some of these players seems questionable to me. The tie to Tom Brady is from back when he was a graduate assistant. At any rate, he has an athlete in Thomas with all the raw physical attributes to make a star. It remains to be seen what other playmakers can be found, as Va. Tech lost three starting lineman and their top three recievers.
As far as Loeffler's offensive scheme goes, it has been described mostly as Pro-Style, but of course that is a broad brush to paint with these days. With a QB like Thomas I'm sure we'll see lots of shotgun looks, plenty of read option, and other stuff that's not under center with two tight ends. He does claim to emphasize the running game, and Auburn did indeed run the ball 59% of the time last year. But most of the time Auburn's offense was on the field in 2012, it seemed to completely lack any kind of identity, cohesion, or discipline.
Watching this cutup of all of Auburn's offensive plays from the LSU game, you can really sense the flailing about coming through in the play calling.
You'll see lots of slow developing tosses to the outside, lots of ill-timed screens, and of course, lots of bad decisions by the QB. There is some success on tricky misdirection, but almost no smashmouth, straight up the gut ground game.
We know that a Va. Tech team is going to try to run the ball, but if Loeffler tries to push it outside, it won't get very far against Bama. Our defense plays from the inside out, and is trained to push the play out towards the sideline, rendering most attempts to get around the corner futile. I'm sure Loeffler is aware of this fact after last year's Iron Blowout, so perhaps he tries to establish something between the tackles. Without the presence of Jesse Williams or Nico Johnson, he might have some success there, which might lead to some success in the play action game.
There haven't been many teams, though, in the past few years that have had much success running the ball in a traditional way against the Tide. Almost the only teams that have managed to beat us have done so with a dual threat QB, usually combined with that QB having a career game. Logen Thomas does have the physical skill and talent to be one of those quarterbacks. The question is, can Loeffler coach him into that position, or will he turn him into a Kiehl Frazier, huddling under his bed at the first sign of a pass rush?
If Loeffler can figure out how to find a way to force Alabama's safeties up towards the box, Thomas might be able to find some open space downfield and create some explosive plays. I think this is the only chance this offense will have against the Fully Armed and Operational Deathstar that is the Tide Defense.
Next time: Bud Foster and the VT Defense