Virginia Tech won on Saturday vs. lowly Old Dominon, but the game showed that the Hokies are still not the team that the fan base would like them to be.
The Hokies’ 31-17 victory was marked by two more turnovers, another sub-par rushing performance and a defense that allowed 202 rushing yards and almost five yards per carry against a program that nearly lost to an FCS team last weekend.
Despite knocking off the Monarchs, Saturday’s game did little to settling nerves of Virginia Tech football fans, who are growing increasingly worried about the team’s short-term potential and long-term direction. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Tech fan who thinks the Hokies can realistically win more than eight games this season, with many fans wondering just how close the Hokies will come to extending their 26-year-long bowl streak. Don’t even mention Virginia.
The encouraging thing is that the Hokies at least know the problems. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster and wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley both publicly lamented different problems that plagued the Hokies today. The team isn’t in denial, but the team is struggling to find solutions in the running game and on defense as a whole.
Virginia Tech’s receivers
With Damon Hazelton still nursing a hamstring injury, the entire Tech receiving corps stepped up and produced. Four different receivers finished the day with 40 or more receiving yards, while Hezekiah Grimsley and Phil Patterson both caught touchdowns. The unit as a whole stepped up and made big catch after big catch, helping Ryan Willis find his rhythm.
When Hazelton comes back, this unit may be the best on Tech’s side of the ACC. Heck, it may already be the best in the Coastal Division. There’s a lethal combination of top-end talent and reliable depth, giving Justin Fuente the option of spreading the field more and adopting more Air Raid concepts if desired. This would actually be a prudent decision, given Tech’s consistent struggles to run the football. An offense predicated on short, quick throws that get the ball in the hands of Tech’s receivers seems like a more efficient option than running up the middle for two-to-three yards.
Ashby has become one of the better linebackers in the ACC. He’s a thumping tackler in the middle and does enough in coverage to stay on the field all three downs. His 10 tackles vs. Old Dominion were a team-high, though Ashby failed to register a tackle for loss. He’s a reliable and consistent player and is going to get even better throughout the season.
It’s pretty incredible how one play can shift the momentum. Virginia Tech allowed a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that cut the Hokies’ lead to just seven points, leaving the crowd inside Lane Stadium stunned. The Monarchs held all the momentum and if Tech couldn’t move the ball on their next drive, Old Dominion had a shot to tie the game and send the contest into full-blown chaos.
Enter Terius Wheatley, a redshirt sophomore running back who’s struggled to earn playing time. Wheatley took the ensuing kickoff 71 yards, finally going down at the Old Dominion 17-yard-line. Wheatley’s kick return kickstarted Tech’s failing heart, setting up the Hokies for a score just four plays later.
Virginia Tech is going to need more of this moving forward. The offense and defense have both been uneven through the Hokies’ first two games, and some impactful special teams plays would certainly boost the Hokies’ chances each and every week. Wheatley needs to take over the role and start putting fear in opposing special teams coordinators.
Virginia Tech’s running backs
Deshawn McClease and Keshawn King combined for an underwhelming 87 rushing yards on 26 attempts. For those not counting at home, that’s a 3.34 yards per rush clip, which isn’t ideal against a C-USA opponent.
Both McClease and King has good runs. McClease showed off some elusiveness and single-handedly converted a key third down by breaking multiple tackles. King scored his first career touchdown. But more often than not, the two backs struggled to move the ball on the ground efficiently.
These are the only two backs that the Hokies feel comfortable with right now. With Jalen Holston out for the foreseeable future and Terius Wheatley, Caleb Steward and Cole Beck seemingly far from breaking into the rotation, one of these two backs need to emerge as a back who can keep Tech ahead of the chains and impact the game positively. Neither McClease nor King have done enough through two.
Virginia Tech’s offensive line
The entire unit gets a challenge flag because through two games, the Hokies are averaging 2.8 yards per rushing attempt. Even though there are injuries popping up along the line — mainly Zacariah Hoyt and TJ Jackson — this unit has enough talent to put up better performances that what we’ve seen thus far.
To be fair, Tech’s running backs haven’t done much to help the cause. But there are far too many times when the Hokies simply can’t generate any push in the trenches. Old Dominion is one of the teams you’re supposed to push around, and the offensive line did nothing of the sort.
Furman is also one of those teams that you’re supposed to push around. They’ve allowed 389 rushing yards vs. Tennessee and Georgia State and are capable of being manhandled in the trenches. It’s time for Vance Vice’s unit to get it done.
Virginia Tech’s secondary
The defensive backfield didn’t play poorly vs. Old Dominion, but the unit wasn’t great either. Jermaine Waller and Caleb Farley both showed significant improvements, but the unit still made too many mistakes in coverage vs. the Monarchs. Waller has the Hokies’ only interception through two games, and neither of the passing attacks Tech has faced to this point are very good.
This unit needs to improve once again next week vs. Furman. The Paladins are one of the better FCS teams in the country (ranked 11th in the Coaches’ Poll coming into Week 2) and are coming off a close defeat to Georgia State. Virginia Tech should win this game, but they certainly can’t take Furman and their offense lightly.
Foster’s unit may have looked better on the backend on Saturday, but his front seven still allowed two C-notes on the ground. Ashby looks like the answer at mike linebacker, but Dax Hollifield has been underwhelming and the rest of the front seven has struggled to slow the run. Tech’s defense began to break in the fourth, allowing 144 rushing yards alone in that period. Foster has one more week to get his unit cleaned up before the ACC schedule arrives.