VMI plans to lean more toward running this year

UTC quarterback Tyler Roberson (17) stiff-arms VMI defensive back Uzoma Kpaduwa during the Mocs' home football game against the VMI Keydets at Finely Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

When coach Scott Wachenheim took over the Virginia Military Institute football program before the 2015 season, he had a record-setting quarterback, two standout receivers and a solid tight end. As a result, the Keydets' coaches adapted to the personnel they had and ran a run-pass option offense.

Now the school's all-time leading passer (Al Cobb), two top receivers (Aaron Sanders and Dane Forlines) and tight end Ryan Swingle are gone, so it's time to adapt again.

The Keydets are expected to adjust to a more run-heavy offense, mirroring a lot of what the Southern Conference programs prefer to do. VMI rushed for 3 yards per carry in 2016, ranking eighth in the league in rushing yards per game at 109.1. Only Samford had fewer, and the Bulldogs led the conference in passing yards with one of the most explosive offenses in the country.

The new adjustment makes VMI offensive lineman Stephen Miller happy.


2016 record: 3-8, 1-7 in SoConSeason opener: Sept. 2 at Air ForceDate against UTC: Sept. 23 in Lexington, Va.Preseason rank (coaches/media): 9/9Coming Thursday: Western Carolina

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photo VMI linebacker Ryan Francis tackles UTC running back Alex Trotter during the Mocs' home football game against the VMI Keydets at Finely Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"It's really fun to be able to come off the ball hard," Miller said last week at SoCon media day. "I liked the zone-read last year, but now coaches are assigning us gaps and telling us to hit the gaps and whoever we see first to hit, so we're not thinking a whole lot.

"Coming off the ball and hitting is fun for an offensive lineman to do."

Wachenheim played on the offensive line at Air Force, so he knows exactly what Miller is talking about.

"We'll still have some aspects of our run-pass offense, but it's really hard on the offensive line because we really don't know if it's a run or a pass," the coach said. "This gives them more freedom to know when we're running the football."

The Keydets are working through figuring out a replacement for Cobb at quarterback. Sophomore Austin Coulling started the spring as the leader, but Wachenheim said both he and redshirt freshman Duncan Hodges - whose brother Devlin is a junior quarterback at Samford and was a third-team All-American in 2016 - had good springs.

Wachenheim also mentioned true freshman Reece Udinski as a possibility, although Udinski just arrived on campus.

Regardless of who gets the quarterback job, he'll have a new role, one the defenders say even will help them throughout the season since they'll have an opportunity to practice against an offense similar to what they'll see during league play.

"Our entire conference is a heavy-run offense," linebacker Allan Cratsenberg said. "Everyone runs the ball and is very good at it, so it's good we'll see more running in practice as opposed to our pass offense last year."

Said Wachenheim: "Teams that finish near the top in our conference do a heck of a job running the ball and stopping the run on defense. We're working really hard to get better at that."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.