Middling Performance vs. Rhode Island Highlights Alarming Pattern for Virginia Tech

With all due respect, Rhode Island is not a good football program. Head coach Jim Fleming authored the Rams’ first winning season since 2001 last year, finishing 6-5. The FCS team is struggling again this season, as their only win was against Brown, an Ivy League school.

Somehow, FCS Rhode Island found themselves down one score vs. Virginia Tech in the fourth quarter on Saturday. The Rams trailed 24-17 until a Deshawn McClease touchdown put Virginia Tech up 14 points.

As if one was needed, Saturday’s 34-17 win over Rhode Island served as a bitter reminder that Virginia Tech is a flawed football team and that the road is only going to get more difficult.

Virginia Tech’s offense wasn’t necessarily the problem. Of course, Tech fans would like to see more points scored, but considering it was Hendon Hooker’s second start, the unit gets somewhat of a pass. Hooker was largely impressive on Saturday, completing 16-of-21 pass attempts for 261 yards and three more touchdowns. Hooker hasn’t turned the ball over in either of his starts, and he added another 43 rushing yards vs. the Rams.

The Hokies’ most pressing issue is the defense, which allowed nearly five yards per play vs. Rhode Island. After forcing five turnovers vs. Miami last week, the unit failed to record a turnover this week. Virginia Tech conceded drives of 50 yards or more five different times on Saturday.

The impact of Saturday’s game goes beyond the statistics and individual performances. It was another data point in Virginia Tech’s troubling trend of underperforming against non-Power 5 teams. Here’s a look at Virginia Tech’s recent results against non-Power 5 opponents, excluding Notre Dame.

  • 2017 vs. Delaware: 27-0 win
  • 2017 vs. East Carolina: 64-17 win
  • 2017 vs. Old Dominion: 38-0
  • 2018 vs. William and Mary: 62-17 win
  • 2018 at Old Dominion: 49-35 loss
  • 2018 vs. Marshall: 41-20 win
  • 2018 vs. Cincinnati: 35-31 loss
  • 2019 vs. Old Dominion: 31-17 win
  • 2019 vs. Furman: 24-17 win
  • 2019 vs. Rhode Island: 34-17 win

On paper, Virginia Tech should overwhelm each of these programs. The only one that should be competitive with the Hokies is Cincinnati, which is a competent Group of 5 program. Outside of that, the talent gap is supposed to be massive. But more often than not, it seems like Virginia Tech doesn’t seem to have that big of an advantage in talent against these lesser programs.

Mathematically, Virginia Tech is in the thick of the ACC Coastal Division race. The worst division in Power 5 football has no clear favorite and Virginia Tech, currently at 1-2 vs. the ACC, holds a valuable opportunity to somehow resurrect their Coastal hopes vs. North Carolina next Saturday. A win gets the Hokies back to even in the ACC and just one loss behind Virginia, Duke and Pittsburgh.

That said, anyone paying attention knows it’s highly unlikely that Virginia Tech puts themselves in this position. As unpredictable as North Carolina has been, the Hokies simply haven’t shown the ability to compete with quality opponents through their first five games.

Virginia Tech has developed somewhat of a rivalry with the Tar Heels. The two programs regularly recruit head-to-head, the fan bases trade barbs on social media and before Mack Brown’s arrival, there was some genuine beef between the two head coaches. It’s imperative that Virginia Tech win this game, or at least put forward a respectable performance. An ugly loss to the Tar Heels at Lane Stadium would surely divide the fan base even more, as head coach Justin Fuente tries to navigate these turbulent waters.

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