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Film Room - NC State's Robert Anae spins the dial

Much like a DJ, NC State offensive coordinator Robert Anae was spinning hit after hit up in Blacksburg to give head coach Dave Doeren his first win at Virginia Tech. He layered concepts on top of concepts while not making the overall approach too complex for his players to execute.


We've got a lot to get through, so as always, let's go to the video tape!

 

1. Ease them into it


Starting off easy with a basic inside run with Kevin Concepcion. Anae used this pistol setup to run several looks all game long. Once he unlocked KC as a runner, this offense really took a step up, like leveling up in a video game, new skills became available.


Anae got the Hokies looking inside from this setup before going to outside tosses later. The offensive line made a gaping hole. Redshirt freshman Reid Mitchell is in the game at tight end and the guy he's blocking pushes off to get to KC's shoestrings. If Mitchell is able to hold that for another two seconds then KC seemed like he was looking to break the run to the outside for an even bigger gain.



 

2. Anae stays rolling seven's


As KC goes, so goes the NC State offense. Much like a craps table, you ride the hot hand. As fans, we're just betting the pass line and watching the show. Things really started opening up once Anae got KC going in motion so much. It seems like he's in motion nearly every play, but you don't know whether he's going to cut back for a handoff, or a jet sweep, or take a screen pass in the flat.


VT got caught being overly aggressive and brought an LB blitz. The play had motion to the left to get the defense off balance, something Anae used to great effect in this game. One thing to note is how much more accurate quarterback Brennan Armstrong was in this game. He got KC in stride just in time for him to make his break to the next level. It really seems like his timing with the receivers is finally locking in. Better late than never I suppose.


 

3. Trickeration


Now that you spent the first quarter with KC in the backfield either taking handoffs or in motion, you get funky with a little trickeration. Back in the Eli Drinkwitz days, fans would be irked by a seemingly over-reliance on trick plays in order to generate chunk yards. And we know that Tim Beck sure did love him a good ol' fashioned Thayer Thomas pass (Alec covered that one already). Robert Anae has gotten creative, but not that tricky.


Here, though, he gets a little funky. You can see Porter Rooks lines up in the slot, then breaks back to the ball. KC takes the handoff then flips it to Rooks on what might be the reverse, but then he flips it back to Armstrong. Meanwhile, Trent Pennix soft released to fake the block then broke out. We saw him do something similar in the Marshall game when he broke out for a 62 yard touchdown. Anae has been waiting since week 6 to pull it out again and added in the flea flicker wrinkle on top of it. One layer on top of the other.




A key here is the top receiver is Bradley Rozner (pretty sure). He takes the top off the defense, dragging the defensive back and the safety, creating this wide open spot for Pennix to sit in.


Sometimes we see guys get wide open and think, "How did that happen??" This is how. Misdirection and getting the defense to bite one way while you're looking to get another guy open. When everyone plays their part to perfection it works well.


Speaking of playing your part, KC is being used solely as a decoy on this play, and he plays his part well, though takes a lick for his troubles. You can see the outside linebacker (do the Sam and Will terms get flipped if it's a left handed QB?) move like he's going to avoid Pennix's block for a second because he totally assumes it's a KC run. As soon as he sees Armstrong got the ball back he turns around to find the guy he just let go but it's too late.


 

4. "Call out picks!"


Later in the drive, KC was rewarded for his teamwork with a very impressive touchdown catch. As impressive of a catch and score it was, the play design was better. VT had assigned an LB to spy on KC, and it didn't end well. Anae runs the other receivers right into traffic and creating a pick play.


Watch as Armstrong hikes the ball at the right moment causing the LB to get stuck working through the crowd. In basketball, we'd be yelling at each other after the play, "Are we switching screens or not?? Call out picks!"


Again, watching live we're all thinking the same thing, "how could they have left KC so open? Don't they know better??"

Well, yes, they do know better. Obviously they do, they've seen ALL the film. But the thing we knew about Robert Anae when he was hired was how talented he was at identifying his playmakers and finding ways to get those guys open. It sounds easy, but requires the ability to dial the plays in just right.


It also requires said playmakers to make playmaker plays. Most guys would have been out at the one or two yard line. After securing the ball KC has four, count them, four steps, to make this play happen. He has to catch the ball while going away from the pass and toward the sideline. If you remember the Jordan Poole touchdown a few weeks ago, this required a similar amount of smart footwork.


In this short amount of time after catching a not so easy pass KC does the following:

- Gathers his feet

- Gets his hips square and going forward

- Realizes he doesn't have time to fully secure the ball so he just holds it by the back end

- Makes sure to get his toe well inbounds before leaving his feet

- Reaches the ball out inside the pylon


I hope I'm not jinxing things going into the unc game, but the dropped passes have been cut down dramatically in the last few weeks. Doeren was asked bout that this week and said they worked on re-teaching the guys to look the ball all the way into their hands BEFORE turning to make their run. You can see KC do just that here. This is coaching at work.

 

5. GOAT pass?


Though it may be hyperbolic to say, this might be the single best throw Armstrong has thrown this season. Not because it results in a touchdown, but it was just such a well thrown ball.


It has to be admitted that early in the season, Brennan Armstrong was just...off in terms of timing with his receivers as well as his accuracy. When we talk about players and teams peaking at the right time, it's throws like this you can point to.


We saw glimpses of this when MJ Morris came in during the middle stretch of the season. When he found his receivers, he was hitting them on time and in stride. See previous instances of this Film Room series for those examples. This was something Armstrong was struggling with, and I'd bet he'd be the first to tell you that. Here, he took one look at the defense, saw KC blow past the first DB and popped that pass just ahead of him and right into the arms so he could catch it without slowing down and do what he does best, which is make defenders look (and surely feel) foolish.


All that misdirection and movement of KC previously got the defense assuming he was setting up for a screen pass here. This guy really wanted to be the one to make a play and hit #10 for a loss. Wouldn't that have been great for you? Instead, you overplay your assignment, leaving a blank space in coverage.


I don't know why the safety didn't immediately provide help over the top for KC, the smart thing to do there would have been to double him up. But lucky for the Pack, VT did not do the smart thing.


A lot of times sports can have similarities in fundamentals. The way you plant your feet and turn to throw a baseball has similarities in mechanics with throwing a football. The same goes for stepping into a jump shot in basketball. The way Armstrong plants his feet here and confidently steps into this throw is like a shooter catching a kickout pass and stepping into a three-pointer before splashing it. In this game, we saw the most confident version of Armstrong we've seen all year long. This is the runner/passer hybrid I was expecting to see when they signed him. It took much longer than we wanted for it to appear, but here's hoping it stays for the next two games.



Now, like most people, I love a good juke. KC caught this and flipped the juke stick on the controller and left that defender flying off into the sunset never to be seen again. I've tried to slow it down for you to see that THIS IS NOT NORMAL. NC State has not had a pure athlete like this in quite some time. I've been holding off for a few weeks from using the "Jay-Sam" word, but it's there on the tip of my tongue. I won't say it, but if KC makes another leap in the second year of this offense in 2024, he'll officially be the new Swiss army knife that Dave had been looking for since #1 left.



 

6. Big wheel keep on turning


Who doesn't love a good wheel route? I'm a sucker for this route, it's one of my favorite plays in football. This time, the offensive line splits to open a route for Kendrick Raphael to leak through. The Mike LB was spying the gap seemingly expecting a delayed QB draw. This is the advantage of a running quarterback, it causes the defense to respect the run which opens up possibilities for other players.


Now let's look at poor #38 here. He wasn't supposed to be double teaming Dacari Collins, but he got stuck there because Collins ran a rub route/pick play to open up the space for Raphael. Similar to the concept that got KC's defender stuck in traffic, Anae got Raphael's defender, #38, jammed up. We saw a lot of crossing X routes in Tim Beck's playbook the last few years to get guys open, this is a more advanced version of that idea.



I made the basketball analogy already, but Collins comes down and literally sets a basketball screen on #38. This is the kind of thing that doesn't show up in a stat sheet so the fans won't know unless they rewatch a play 10+ times like I did to see how Raphael got so open there. You might look at Collins and wonder whether he's been a worthwhile addition out of the portal if he isn't filling up the stat sheet. But there are many selfless plays like this he's doing throughout the game to create opportunities for his teammates.


 

7. Even the simple plays look good


We already covered the more exotic looks, so what's so exciting about a quick slant route? It shows the continued timing chemistry Armstrong has built with KC. The Wolfpack are able to run this play because they have been able to stay on schedule. They made positive gains on first down so now they're in a second and manageable situation.



This was a good pitch and catch from BA to KC, yes. But this play hinges on Porter Rooks in the slot. Much like Collins, Rooks has not had many big moments to shine, but he plays his part well by running a mirrored slant to KC's route to force the Mike linebacker away from the space that KC is running towards. Again and again, VT fans are probably thinking, "how is #10 open AGAIN?" Well, this is how, because the players around him are moving in such a way it forces the defense to move thus opening up spaces.


We just have to take a moment to appreciate KC's footwork here. This is a true freshman running a route that Thayer Thomas perfected by the time he was a senior. He plants his outside foot getting the defender to freeze momentarily, and that's where he lost the play. KC is able to quickly get inside position just time time for a perfectly thrown pass from Armstrong. Move the sticks, first down Wolfpack.

 

Conclusion:


Going through these breakdowns has made me really appreciate all the wrinkles that make Roberat Anae's offense do what it does. It looks so simple in real time, then when you look under the hood you realize just how complicated it is. Like a Swiss watch, all the pieces are moving in unison to make these plays happen. It seems obvious now why it's taken so long to get the offense in swing. Building that chemistry takes time. Quarterback to receivers, running backs to linemen, one position group to another, it doesn't happen overnight.


One would hope that means the remaining players will provide a headstart for them to pick up where they left off last year so they don't need to take 11 weeks again. I think we'll see more of this style of play in September and not November, which could make next year's team quite dangerous. This is, of course, assuming they can find someone to throw them the football. But that's a topic for another day. For now, we'll enjoy this win, getting to 8-3, and waiting (im)patiently for the unc game Saturday night under the primetime lights.


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