Monday Mail: Assessing the State of Virginia Tech Football

There’s an overarching theme with this week’s questions. Many fans seem worried, or maybe even convinced, that Virginia Tech’s football program is in need of serious and dire change.

I tried to attack things with a clear mind this week, and hopefully I succeeded. Without giving any more away, let’s dive into this week’s questions.

Virginia Tech’s offense is drawing plenty of ire after their performance vs. Boston College, and rightfully so. The Hokies’ offense struggled in the second half vs. Georgia Tech and those same struggles continued in the second half vs. Boston College.

There are a lot of problems, but many of them start on the offensive line. Virginia Tech simply hasn’t been good there. The guys up front have struggled to generate much push as of late, nullifying the Hokies’ already average running game.

This was on full display in the second half of the Boston College game. The Eagles came out of halftime showing more two-high safety looks, removing a defender from the box and bracing themselves against the pass. Virginia Tech tried to pound the rock in the third quarter and found no success. The Hokies ran the ball six times in the third period for just four yards.

Ryan Willis shoulders some of the blame, specifically in Tech’s loss to Boston College. As I wrote on Sunday, Willis struggled mightily in the second half and contributed to the offense’ decline. Willis’ stats this season are more than adequate, completing just under 60 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. Willis has played alright, and he’s arguably been better than what Josh Jackson would have been. But I still feel like he’s leaving a lot on the table.

More on play calling and scheme in a second.

Brad Cornelsen has become a bit of a pariah among Tech fans this season. Tech’s offensive coordinator has been blamed for many of Virginia Tech’s issues and as the guy calling plays and coordinating the offense, he is in large part responsible.

I do think Cornelsen needs to perform better for his players. He’s working with an experienced quarterback, experienced running backs, talented and somewhat experienced receivers and a few experienced offensive lineman. Tech’s defense is as green as it gets, but the same cannot be said for the offense.

I’m not going to pretend to know what concepts or plays Tech needs to avoid or use more often. I don’t have the time to breakdown each play and describe why it is or isn’t working. But I can say that Tech’s offense does feel a little stale, and it’s Cornelsen’s responsibility to refresh things.

Replacing Cornelsen at this point would be a massive overreaction. Not only has Cornelsen recruited well and stuffed Tech’s quarterback pipeline with talent, it wasn’t that long ago that he was coordinating an offense that set several school records.

Yes, Cornelsen needs to be better. But calling for his job is premature at best and ignorant at worst.

I’m going to address this quickly. Justin Fuente has done an exceptional job at Virginia Tech. He successfully turned a talented roster that was going 6-6 into an ACC Coastal Champion team that won 10 games. He won nine games the next year and is working with a very green defense and a backup quarterback.

Everyone knew there was a chance the Hokies could take a couple steps back this season. In fact, those of us who were optimistic (hello, that’s me) should have known this was coming. Fans need to be patient and understand that there’s no reason to think Fuente isn’t the answer.

This question is related to the last one. Virginia Tech is on the verge of missing a bowl game and possibly losing to Virginia for the first time in 14 years. Not all is well in Blacksburg.

And yet, this should have been entirely expected. This defense lost eight starters from the 2018 season and one of the returning starters is no longer with the team. The offense should be a little better than what it is, but Tech still doesn’t have a difference maker at running back and Josh Jackson is still injured.

What we’re seeing is a team that is devoid of talented seniors. Many members of the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes either ended ended up in the NFL or failed to make an impact. I’ll leave you to interpret that statement.

Virginia Tech’s football program is still headed in the right direction. Donations are increasing, fans are attending more games and Tech is continuing to improve their facilities. The Hokies are recruiting at a much higher level than they were and time will tell if this coaching staff can develop those prospects into contributors. The on-field product isn’t good this year, but there’s no reason to believe that this will continue.

Virginia Tech fans need to exercise some patience. They got some instant gratification in Year One, but now there are some growing pains. If Tech is fighting for their bowl streak next season, then maybe these questions would be warranted.

I’m surprised Hendon Hooker didn’t transfer this summer. He was the clear No. 3 on the depth chart heading into the season and Quincy Patterson was and still is on the come up.

Fast forward to now, and Hooker might not even be the third guy anymore. He certainly hasn’t challenged Willis for the starting job and though he played once before halftime vs. Boston College, Patterson saw the field for several plays after Willis took another hard hit in the second half. Here’s what Fuente had to say about Patterson’s performance.

Patterson will pass Hooker on Tech’s depth chart, if he hasn’t already. Barring something unlikely and unforeseen, Hooker will never start for the Hokies.

If Hooker wants to play, he should transfer once the season is over. Schools are always looking for transfer quarterbacks who still have potential, and Hooker fits the bill. If Hooker is fine with being a long-term backup, staying with the Hokies is his best bet. He’ll get to continue to work in an offense he already knows and provide depth on a competitive team close to his hometown of Greensboro, N.C.

I’m expecting Hooker to transfer after the season, and I doubt it would shock the coaching staff either.

Isn’t this just weird? Pittsburgh, who lost to North Carolina earlier this year, is leading the ACC Coastal. Here’s your ACC Coastal Standings.

Pittsburgh 4-1, 5-4 overall

Virginia 4-2, 6-3 overall

Virginia Tech 3-2, 4-4 overall

Georgia Tech 3-3, 5-4 overall

Duke 2-3, 6-3 overall

Miami 2-3, 5-4 overall

North Carolina 1-5, 1-7 overall

As ESPN’s Andrea Adelson pointed out, Pittsburgh is now the clear favorite to win the ACC Coastal.

Virginia Tech needs to beat Pittsburgh on Saturday if they’re going to win the ACC Coastal. Tech would likely also need to win out and defeat Miami and Virginia too. If they run the table, the Hokies get to go to Charlotte.

If you’re a Tech fan, winning the Coastal shouldn’t even be on your list of worries. Making a bowl game should be.

 

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