When Justin Fuente was brought in to reboot Virginia Tech’s football program, a lot was made of how he would increase the tempo of their offense. The Hokies — at 5-2 — are in the Coastal Division’s driver’s seat, ranked 25th in the nation and have wins over North Carolina and Miami. Through the first seven games, which included a close contest with Tennessee, Fuente’s debut season has been a success by just about every objective metric. However, have the Hokies actually played faster on offense? Well, let’s take a look.
Here’s Virginia Tech’s 2015 offense, which was coordinated by Scot Loeffler:
- Plays per game: 72.2 (+5.5)
- Opponent plays per game: 66.7
- Yards per game: 385.2
- Yards per play: 5.3
- Touchdowns per game: 3.3
- Points per game: 31.0 (No. 6 in the ACC, No. 53 nationally)
- Offensive S&P-plus: 28.1 (No. 74 nationally)
- Time of possession: 31:26 (No. 5 in the ACC)
And here’s how the Hokies have done in 2016, with coordinator Brad Cornelsen:
- Plays per game: 77.1 (+8.2)
- Opponent plays per game: 68.9
- Yards per game: 435.9
- Yards per play: 5.7
- Touchdowns per game: 4.3
- Points per game: 35.9 (No. 4 in the ACC, No. 29 nationally)
- Offensive S&P-plus: 30.0 (No. 56 nationally)
- Time of possession: 32:32 (No. 4 in the ACC)
For reference, here’s how the Memphis Tigers performed in 2015, with Fuente and Cornelsen:
- Plays per game: 79.1 (+5.3)
- Opponent plays per game: 73.8
- Yards per game: 486.9
- Yards per play: 6.2
- Touchdowns per game: 4.5
- Points per game: 40.2
- Offensive S&P-plus: 35.1 (No. 27 nationally)
- Time of possession: 30:21 (No. 7 in the AAC)
The Hokies have run nearly five more plays per game, which is a nice leap, but not exactly a cataclysmic change. Take this into consideration: in 2011, North Carolina ran 62.5 plays per game — 7.3 fewer than their opponents. The following year, though, when Larry Fedora arrived in Chapel Hill, that number jumped drastically: the 2012 Tar Heels ran 74.8 plays per game. That’s an increase with more than 12 plays per game, which is cooking.
As their plays per game have increased, so too has the margin between them and their opponents, and numerically, they look a lot like the 2015 Tigers. Virginia Tech has a great defense, which is holding foes to just 68.9 plays per game; that gives the Hokies a surfeit of 8.2 plays per game. Virginia Tech isn’t just playing faster; they’re also more efficiently, and possessing the ball for longer stretches of time. Football Study Hall’s S&P-plus measure both an offense’s explosiveness and efficiency. They ranked 74th nationally in this metric a season ago (28.1), and that’s jumped up to 30.0 this season (No. 56). The Hokies have increased their time of possession by more than a minute per game, too.
The increase in pace has worked around a significant improvement at the quarterback position — Jerod Evans has been a serious revelation, which I addressed last month. He’s steered the ship, and the results speak for themselves. The Hokies average 4.3 touchdowns per game (2.9 passing, 1.4 rushing) in 2016. This is an increase of one touchdown per; in 2015, Tech scored 3.3 touchdowns per game (1.8 passing, 1.5 rushing). In turn, Virginia Tech has scored nearly five more points per game this season.
The Hokies have gone uptempo in 2016. They have an excellent dual-threat quarterback, and three receivers with at least 25 receptions, 300 yards receiving and two touchdowns: Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges. If they win out — they currently have four ACC games left on their schedule — then Fuente, in his first season as head coach in Blacksburg, will have the Hokies playing for an ACC title in Orlando.