New cornerbacks. New linebackers. A thin defensive line.
Virginia Tech’s defense turned in a masterful performance on Monday night, pummeling Florida State’s offense en route to a 24-3 victory in Tallahassee. Monday night’s win may go a long way in positioning the Hokies for an ACC Coastal run, while Clemson might lock up the Atlantic Division by the end of October.
Here are my biggest observations from Virginia Tech’s win over the ‘Noles
Foster elevates his game
Nobody would have blamed defensive coordinator Bud Foster if his defense looked a little shaky on Monday night. He was breaking in eight new starters against a team full of athletes that he had little film on to work with. Foster had to piece together Willie Taggart’s film from Oregon and South Florida while taking into account Florida State’s film from last season.
The result was perhaps one of Foster’s best productions. He orchestrated a three-point effort, allowing just 94 yards rushing against one of the most talented backfields in the country. Outside of Cam Akers’ 85-yard scamper in the fourth quarter, Florida State ran for just 10 yards on 27 attempts.
Turnovers were a key part of the Hokies’ success. Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois threw three interceptions and the ‘Noles fumbled the ball twice, helping the Hokies win the field position battle.
Florida State actually finished with more offensive yardage than Virginia Tech, but the ‘Noles bungled every single red zone opportunity. Florida State’s red zone trips ended in these results — missed field goal, field goal, fumble. The ‘Noles went for it on fourth down on Virginia Tech’s 21-yard-line in second quarter, and they blew that too.
Foster deserves all the credit in the world, as do his players. Trevon Hill, who sat for much of the first quarter, totaled two sacks and three tackles for loss. Divine Deablo, Reggie Floyd and Rayshard Ashby each registered two tackles for loss. Caleb Farley, playing in his first collegiate game, intercepted two passes.
Virginia Tech’s defense won’t be this dominant all season. But after this performance, it’s hard to believe they won’t be one of the nation’s best units in 2018. For now, here’s another crazy stat from last night’s game.
Of Florida State’s 63 offensive plays tonight, 35 went for 0 or negative yards (55.5%).
That is the highest percentage of negative plays for the Seminoles since Nov, 25, 2006 against Florida. pic.twitter.com/qKWcOfgFlK
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 4, 2018
Running backs showing promise
The lack of a consistent and explosive running game has plagued Justin Fuente’s Hokies in each of his first two seasons. But on Monday night, Tech’s backs got the job done.
Deshawn McClease led the way with 77 yards on just 13 carries, while Steven Peoples and Terius Wheatley chipped in 44 and 22 yards, respectively. Wheatley’s 22 yards came on just two carries. Virginia Tech’s running backs averaged just over five yards per carry vs. Florida State, a number which towers over the Hokies’ 2017 game-by-game outputs.
Yes, Josh Jackson did nothing in the ground game. But maybe he doesn’t need to. If Virginia Tech can control the line of scrimmage like they did last night on a consistent basis, it opens things up tremendously for this offense. Still, an increased presence from Jackson would be helpful, which leads me to my next point.
Jackson must improve if Hokies are to win ACC
Josh Jackson held his own last night. He weathered consistent rain and a tenacious Florida State defensive line to finish 16-of-26 for 207 yards passing and two touchdowns.
As good as that stat line looks, Jackson still has areas he needs to improve on. He should have thrown an interception earlier that was missed by two Florida State defenders. He didn’t move very well either and was sacked three times.
Jackson had a good performance vs. Florida State, but if the Hokies are to take the next step and seriously contend for the ACC Championship, Jackson needs to be better. He needs to make more plays with his arm and find ways to be productive on the ground.
It’s time to handle business
Virginia Tech’s next three games should be over before they begin. The Hokies host William and Mary and East Carolina over the next two weeks before traveling to my part of the state for another clash with Old Dominion. Neither of these three games should be painful. William and Mary is an FCS program and both East Carolina and Old Dominion endured embarrassing losses to start the season.
The Hokies need to run over these next three opponents. It’s time to build confidence before Tech hits the next part of their schedule, which includes a tough road game at Duke and a (likely) primetime showdown with Notre Dame inside Lane Stadium.