Game Balls and Challenge Flags: Spreading the Blame in Virginia Tech’s Opening Loss to Boston College

Virginia Tech’s season-opening loss to Boston College was frustrating for Hokies fans from start to finish. The Hokies missed out on several scoring opportunities, committed five turnovers and allowed a late third-and-long conversion on the ground that put Tech’s comeback hopes to bed.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. No one player shoulders all of the blame for Tech’s defeat, but some hold more of the fault than others.

This season, I’ll be highlighting the positives and negatives from each of Virginia Tech’s games, handing out game balls and throwing challenge flags. Let’s start out with the game balls.

Game Balls

Hezekiah Grimsley

Virginia Tech’s top two receivers — Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton — struggled to impact the game on Saturday due to injury, with Hazelton not even seeing the field. However, Grimsley took over the top spot and gave Virginia Tech real production, catching four passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. Even though Grimsley did cough up a fumble, he stepped up when his team needed him most and showed he can be just as productive as the two-headed monster at the top of the depth chart.

Kaleb Smith

Smith also deserves a game ball, catching four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown off the bench. He showed some fantastic hands and it’s nice to see him flourishing. I had a feeling when I first saw Smith in camp after he enrolled that he would eventually turn into a productive receiver. He’s added some weight and gives the Hokies incredible depth on the outside.

Rayshard Ashby

Virginia Tech’s defense wasn’t very good on Saturday, but Ashby did his best to keep things going. He led the team with 13 tackles, finishing with three solo tackles for loss and a sack. He’s become a solid mike linebacker for the Hokies, beating out more heralded players at the position. Ashby’s performance landed him on Pro Football Focus’ ACC Team of the Week.

Challenge Flags

Ryan Willis

Willis showed us exactly who he is on Saturday. Willis completed almost 62 percent of his passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns, making some nice throws and moving the offense downfield without his top two receivers for much of the day.

However, Willis also threw three killer interceptions. Two of them were inside Boston College territory while the other was near midfield. In all, Willis turned the ball over four times. And this presents the dilemma for Virginia Tech — is there really anyone better than Willis at quarterback?

Quincy Patterson has not developed enough to play quarterback at the ACC level. Hendon Hooker hasn’t reached that point either. Willis is really the only option to quarterback this offense, and Tech fans are going to have to take the good with the bad.

That said, Willis needs to limit his mistakes. Each of those turnovers was an absolute momentum killer, particularly his first which happened in the red zone. As a fifth-year senior, Willis has to be smarter and more efficient than that. The Virginia Tech offense will only go as far as Willis can take them, mostly because the running game has failed to materialize yet again.

Deshawn McClease

McClease has all kinds of talent, but he’s yet to produce at the college level consistently. Saturday was one of his more forgettable performances, averaging just 2.9 yards per rush and catching just one pass out of the backfield. He failed to impact the game in a positive fashion.

Despite a highly mediocre performance to start the season, McClease is likely going to get even more carries now that Jalen Holston is out for an extended period of time after undergoing knee surgery. Holston’s recovery time is unknown, leaving the running back reps to McClease and freshman Keshawn King. McClease is the veteran at the position and it’s up to him to pick up the slack.

Virginia Tech’s secondary

Anthony Brown is not a good quarterback, at least according to his track record. But vs. the Hokies, Brown looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. He tossed two scores and 275 yards, throwing zero interceptions. Brown and receivers Zay Flowers and Kobay White hooked up for multiple big plays and torched the Hokies secondary.

Caleb Farley looked much better than he did last season, but the rest of the secondary struggled to put up a fight. Things would have been worse if Reggie Floyd hadn’t made up for a blown assignment and dislodged a touchdown reception early in the game. Virginia Tech’s defensive backs simply weren’t very good on Saturday, and the Eagles’ passing attack is one of the least talented they’ll face all season. This unit must get better. There is no alternative.

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