Miami vs. VT Film Review

The Mario Cristobal era has started out slower than many had hoped. This week, the Miami Hurricanes’ football team had to travel to a house of horrors in their history in the form of Lane Stadium to face Virginia Tech. The Hokies are also transitioning to a new HC and are struggling thus far. How did Miami’s 20-14 victory look on film? Follow along and find out.

Game Film

The Virginia Tech scripted plays did give some trouble early, as on first down they ran a split zone read against the DT Leonard Taylor. I always enjoy teams doing this because when you have an excited 3-technique who wants to get upfield they are almost never used to being the read player on a read-option. As is usually the case, Taylor doesn’t play it very well and attacks the mesh point rather than his key. If he follows the hip of that G getting to the second-level he forces the QB to keep the ball and can retrace to make a play on the QB with a LB stacked behind him. Run goes for 17 yards.

Avantae Williams makes both a good play and a poor play on this one. First, not a fan of the alignment where he’s 10-yards off a slot WR with a blitzing LB. This is as easy of a conversion as you can get if they run a slant (they do). But 15 jumps the outside curl for reasons I truly do not know (assuming he guessed and hoped to jump the pass). Then he tracks it down and punches the ball out after a huge play. Give him credit for knocking it out, but you can’t have this from your safeties every week.

Avantae jumped the outside hitch and left his receiver completely. This was a play of 36 yards that would’ve set VT up for points if the receiver doesn’t fumble. While I understand 15 guesses he’s going outside, that’s not his guy. If they throw that hitch outside they pick up the 1st there, but it’s a 10-yard play and you keep defending.

Miami comes out in a 4 x 1 look out of the gun. VT tries to shade the slant with the LB and then stack a S deep over Brashard Smith. This should be a built-in read for the QB that if they give this look you stand up and throw the bubble all day. That’s exactly what Miami did. Nice to see Miami take advantage of some easy buttons and an ability to punish a defense that just gives up the cash this easily.

Defenses have been attacking this read-option play by simply running to the RB all season long. The DE doesn’t even respect TVD pulling the ball at all and easily makes a TFL. Miami will need to continue to add RPO looks to this to get the edge and Mike to stop jumping the run.

What a catch by Young. My kingdom for TVD to stop overthrowing deep passes. You complete 0.0% of them and get very few penalties on them.

On 1st & goal Miami runs a tendency breaker. Miami runs that levels concept so often to one side of the field, but they like to run it out of trips. Here, they offset a TE and have only two WR’s. They run that offset TE on the shallow crosser, the boundary WR on the intermediate route and then run the field WR all the way across the back of the end zone the opposite direction. They keep the RB in to pass protect and TVD has the time to wait for the deep crosser.

Campbell got jumpy and punched too soon here, causing him to get off-balance and give up the inside. They were trying to hit the field side WR on a stop route but the CB squatted on it. Brashard is running a deep-in route and TVD makes a great play to make a rusher miss and get it to Brashard. Campbell has to be more patient and wait for the rusher to declare. You do see his great length here, though.

Miami runs another nice route combination here. They run mesh to occupy the LB’s who are in zone, but also stack the two inside receivers with one running a deep seam (this takes the S out of the zone) and then Mallory just sits down right in-between the defenders. Mesh clears, Mallory is wide open behind it. Campbell off-balance and waist-bending again. He’s already beaten right here. Reaching again, look at the defenders outside foot has already cleared Campbell’s foot. At that point, you’re beaten.

What a catch by Mallory. I know what TVD is trying to do here by throwing him away from that S coming downhill but Mallory got a hit to his head as he was going down.

Campbell won’t like this rep in film. He will say he tripped over the leg of Rivers, but he was already getting driven back when he exposed his chest. Sack on TVD as Campbell gets reverse pancaked.

This should’ve been a much bigger plan than it was. You’ve got three OL leading and all this space for Knighton. Rivers doesn’t block a soul and Knighton isn’t patient and runs right into defenders.

I’ve implored Miami to incorporate easy buttons into their offensive gameplan for weeks now and they did try and do so with a couple of screens, a few swing passes to Brashard, bringing in Jacurri Brown on QB runs on short yardage etc. Then you add in using choice routes, option routes, RPO’s that TVD has thrived on, and I will give them some credit for doing a pretty solid job in the first half of this game.

The last Miami TD of the day was a great throw and recognition that the S was going to have to stay outside in case Young took his route to the corner. In Tampa-2 that Mike LB has to turn and run the alley in the MOF to carry any seam routes. TVD hits him with a laser in the seam that Young makes another great catch on. As a QB, once you see the back of a LB’er your receiver is open.

Few things for the defense to improve upon here. Taylor gets washed inside far too easily. Then Wesley doesn’t read his keys with the pulling LG. If he read his keys properly he’d see the action is taking him to the other A-gap and he needs to be two steps to his left. He lets the RG get to second level and wall him off inside.

Big run and then a personal foul on a face mask as Wesley grabbed him as he ran by. You can see all the leverage being lost from this angle.

When I speak of “pinching” the pocket, here is what I’m talking about. Mesidor is not trying to use an outside speed rush on this play, he’s trying to push the OT back into the QB and make his only escape route up in the pocket, and not outside of the pocket. This is how you want to condense a pocket with a guy who wants to get outside. VT tries to block Harvey with a TE and he shucks him and then powers through the RG trying to get out there to help. QB steps up, Mesidor gets the sack, but it was setup by both players doing their part.

Miami gives the look of cover-4 pre-snap. Kam communicates with Williams that he’s going to blitz based on formation. He comes and that causes confusion because the line call didn’t account for the deep safety blitzing. It can be a slow developing play, but when timed correctly it generally gets someone free. In this case, Flagg comes free for the sack.

VT was playing coverage on a lot of 3rd and longs after the second quarter on and Miami caught them in a light box here. Pulled Skinner across the formation to kick out the end and Knighton had a walk to a 1st down. VT really switched to a lot of Tampa-2 defense in this game and Miami got them a few times early.

Here is an example of a WR having a sight adjustment in his route as VT brings the CB blitz and Young throws his hand up immediately to signal that he’s uncovered. TVD sees it because the blitz is coming right into his read and hits Young on a back-shoulder. There are some encouraging signs on the first half film thus far.

Campbell had a hard time with the speed of VT on the edge in this game. He blows up the 3rd down play by losing immediately after the snap here. Knighton released on the checkdown if TVD has another second this would’ve been an easy pickup.

Mesidor has beautiful wrist control here on this play. You grab the wrist of the OL and that allows you to lift their arms up. As an OL is trying to extend an arm, if you lift their arm up, it causes their center of gravity to tip forward and you can get by them easily. DL all maintains their lanes and Mesidor comes around as QB tries to step up for another sack.

Here is what it looks like when you lose your lane. Edge is pushed wide and behind the QB. The 3-tech is washed inside. Easy lane for the QB to step into. This causes the defense to step up and this should’ve been a TD.

Avantae stepped up and allowed the receiver to run right by him. Avantae flashed in front of the receiver and that contributed to him dropping it, but another poor play from a deep safety that should’ve resulted in a long TD.

This is a heck of a throw by TVD here. Throwing it all the way across the field with anticipation as Ladson comes out of his break and a man in his face as Sagapolu loses quickly.

This would’ve been a nice play with better execution. Drag Mammarelli down the LOS here. Brashard completely whiffs on his block and it’s a TFL, but if he gets that block there is all kinds of space. Maybe they make a variation of this and have Brashard carry his route to the sticks and settle in if they’re going to jump as soon as he raises his hands to block, but the biggest issue was simply that Brashard gave away that he wasn’t running a route far too quickly.

This was a wonderful play by Keontra to plant and drive on this pass and then make a great tackle short of the sticks.

To me, this was a mistake by TVD. There was no reason to take off from this pocket. If he just sticks there for another beat Knighton is going to come wide open for a TD on the shallow cross as the check down.

Harvey didn’t get much shine during the game, but I have to say it was his pressure that caused a lot of numbers for his teammates. Here he gets the edge on the RT and forces the QB to step up, who scrambles directly into Agude, who does an excellent job of controlling this blocker with his length and then comes off for the sack. It’s a good thing VT’s QB is bad and doesn’t throw this ball to the TE who is clearing into empty space in the MOF.

My kingdom for a punt returner who will run up and catch these punts on the fly. Brashard gets tackled at the 16-yard line after fielding it on the bounce. It bounced at the 32. What are we doing? I’m going to have very little kingdom left after watching this Miami football team.

It’s asking your LT an awful lot to get this reach block on a slanting 1-tech. VT is again just running straight downhill on any run action. They pull Skinner across again and have him kick out the edge. If I’m seeing this kind of attacking on the run action I’d love to see the run fake and drop it off to Skinner on one of these cross-action plays with an attacking defense. This gets dumped for a loss by the DT, who honestly got held as well.

VT ran a zone blitz and brought an edge and it fooled TVD. He bails on a pocket, drops his eyes, runs right into pressure again. He’s got Young on the outside against cover-2 but dropped his eyes. Would also like to see more awareness from the OL and identify that you’re uncovered here Rivers and look for work. DT is standing on the 20 and took the RB.

Agude gets upfield, loses his lane, G looks for work and crushes him out of there. Allows QB to escape and he hits a big play down field. Stay disciplined when rushing a QB like this. Almost all of their big plays were allowed because the edge would get pushed too far upfield and we didn’t have anyone to replace.

40 simply doesn’t read his keys here. He’s turning his hips immediately here and not seeing the pulling G is his first key on a run play. This causes him to lose vision on his first read (QB run). He vacates his area and the QB run is right by him for a big gain. Miami has their pass rush defensive personnel into the game and they’re hurting them by losing eye discipline, whereas earlier Miami was doing a great job of pinching and containing the escape routes for the QB. This is how VT started moving the ball was Miami losing their lanes too often.

Get pushed wide and open up a lane for the QB to step into. Saw it over and over again when VT started moving the football. QB runs this to the 5-yard line. Caleb Johnson, who is standing here and could’ve tackled him after 5 yards completely whiffs. He’s unplayable right now with what he is putting on film.

VT runs motion to clear out the S and to identify coverage. QB knows he has man coverage now that S followed and knows he is going to his RB who will leak out of the backfield and be singled up on James Williams. This was probably the most frustrating defensive call of the game for me because there is no reason to be blitzing everything in the middle here and exposing your weakness to the field side. If Miami just rushes four and plays coverage here they stop them and hold them to a FG or a 4th down try.

There is just no one out there except for Williams and he takes a false step inside and that’s all it took. This is on the coaches for me, because you didn’t need to take this risk in that spot at all.

Miami ran a bubble, swing, or shallow drop-off five times in this game and were successful on four of them. The fifth one would’ve been successful but Brashard missed a block. Stretching a defense horizontally can be beneficial to an offense stretching a defense vertically as well as it causes the defense to widen and respect the threat. Brashard with another easy first down off a numbers advantage against VT base defense. I don’t even like the way the inside slot WR stopped his feet here instead of getting inside the defender here and giving a chance to block and come off or steer that defender. Skinner is the blocker I have highlighted.

Tough ask for Flagg here as they show blitz and ask him to get across the field against the RB in man coverage. When I’m watching these plays I am struck by how often there is a lack of football understanding in our players. You are coached to carry out your fake or play your part, but there is something to be said for knowing what can hurt you the most as well. Here, Flagg is singled up with a RB on 3rd-and-8 and if the routes run off the defenders (which they do) there is no one else out there to help with this RB. You should know this and be moving right now to get to the edge with him. He doesn’t and the RB easily beats him on a dump-off for the 1st.

Defensively, Miami really struggled in the flats in this game. It was an issue we saw repeatedly last season due to a lack of length and range in the LB group and it showed up in this game late. Here, VT has another flat route to the RB wide open for a 1st down and the QB just missed him. We spied the QB with Harvey and whomever was responsible was for the RB missed his assignment.

TVD again drops his eyes and looks at the rush here. He’s got an easy pocket to step into but instead flushes right into the rush. TVD really did get jittery in the pocket in the 2nd half of this game. If he just steps up, Knighton comes wide open on the checkdown again.

When you read about “leverage” this is what is being referred to. Flagg keeps his leverage here by seeing the TE leaking into the flat and stays outside of him. Makes a nice TFL. Just being where you are supposed to be on every play will make you a solid defensive player through the use of leverage. The difference in this play and the way where Caleb Johnson gave up the QB run is that he doesn’t have his hips turned where he can’t see both the receiver and QB at the same time.

Ivey opens his hips too early, gives up the hitch easily, then comes in with his feet way too far apart. This causes him to lose balance, miss the tackle, give up a big play. Look how his feet bow out instead of being under him. Makes you far less explosive and agile.

What a play Mesidor. This is not a stunt. He sees his momentum is stopped and rather than run outside, he replaces the DT who gets washed inside and makes a sack on the QB who tries to step up into this void. What a player.

Getting too far upfield and allowing the QB to step up is what is hurting you as a defense. The pass rush unit on the edges on 3rd down really hurt Miami. They never did understand that getting upfield and leaving the edge is what cost them. Also, Flagg is stuck in-between here. He either has to “Green Dog” and immediately blitz once he sees no receiver is releasing, or he has to stay wide to help if the QB tries to run. He steps up and then just stops in no-man’s land here. QB escapes and runs for a 1st down. Frustrating to see the edge players do the same things over-and-over again. Couch with one of the silliest penalties you’ll ever see as the QB is running out-of-bounds adds 15 more.

Ivey grabs a receiver on the sideline for no reason and gets a pass interference on the next play. It is as though Ivey makes the right plays in practice, but when he gets into the games he forgets his technique. He forgot his technique on a tackle when his legs got too wide, then forgets his technique when he has perfect coverage and just reaches out and grabs a WR for no reason on another play. Not shown.

Agude got the dead bug treatment from a TE releasing into a route. If I’m the VT OL coach I want to know why my RT doesn’t dive on him and bury him right there, but he showed mercy.

Always frustrating to see LB’s not having awareness. I talk about what hurts you and pre-snap the LB has to know that James Williams is 15 yards off on a 4th-and-9 play. Flagg is misaligned here and doesn’t attack that seam route to the TE, which is the route that hurts you the most in this defense. Easy pickup and not a fan of the defensive call there. Flagg needs to be two yards to his right and if the QB tries to run short side and get a 4th down pickup you just take your chances rather than not covering the seam off the LOS.

VT returns the favor a bit as two guys attack Young and Ladson gets open on the deep-in behind the LB’s to essentially ice the game. Heck of a throw and catch. Give the receivers some credit as they are slowly turning into a solid group. When Restrepo gets back you’ll see the rotation cut down.


There were some positives to take away from in this game. Miami opened the offense up some (see Roman’s Student of the Game breakdown) and allowed the QB to have more easy buttons than we have seen in past games. They took free yards when the defense gave them looks to do so. They punished VT in situations where they had Tampa-2 against their best WR right now. They made easy throws an extension of the run game. They even hit a few explosive plays as well.

It looks like Miami has a WR1 in the form of Juco transfer Colbie Young. Ahkeem Mesidor is a freak show on defense. Lou Headley is a deadly punter.

To me, there were reasons to be concerned as well.

  • When VT was making their comeback in the 4th quarter, it was on the backs of the defensive players losing contain and eye discipline. This could’ve easily been a blowout with just a little better execution on defense.
  • VT moved away from Tampa-2 in the second half and moved to more Cover-3 and match principles on the outside. Miami did not really have an adjustment for their adjustment and had a truly pitiful 2H offense.
  • TVD started seeing ghosts in the pocket and bailed on pockets that had an opportunity to step up several times. This cost Miami points on more than one occasion.
  • The OL has gone from an encouraging unit to a concerning one quickly. Denis had multiple snapping issues that caused false starts. Both in timing and just actual snap count itself. Sagapolu was beaten multiple times on inside pressure and forced TVD off his spot. John Campbell had a poor game and was victimized by speed on the outside multiple times. The loss of Jakai Clark is glaring.
  • The run game that has been a bright spot at times, completely disappeared without the presence of Parrish. In this game, Knighton repeatedly missed holes and looked slow. It is a concern.
  • Game situations were a concern. In the 4Q, nursing a lead, Miami was rushing the snap and wasting seconds off the clock. One possession was a :48 second game clock disaster. Coach Cristobal needs to assign an analyst to handle game situation and game theory for him so he can focus on being the CEO in-games.

A win is a win, especially on the road. Miami gets their first ACC win under Coach Cristobal and has an opportunity to put together a string of wins if they can continue to develop as the season goes along.

About the Author: Lance Roffers

Data science is all about asking interesting questions based on the data you have. Film study is all about understanding what actually happened on the field. Hopefully I can find the right balance between the two and bring you interesting insights that grow our knowledge of the game together.

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