Let’s begin this article by hearkening back to an old tweet from yours truly. I’m sure you’ve seen it all over Twitter.
Virginia Tech should focus on next year for the rest of this season. A bowl game is no longer a realistic possibility and the team as constructed won’t keep the UVA win streak alive. Just play all the young guys and let them make mistakes. It can’t get worse. #Hokies
— Ricky LaBlue (@RickyLaBlue) November 10, 2018
Obviously, this prediction went nowhere. Virginia Tech proceeded to win their next two games, capping things off with a 41-20 win over Marshall that cemented the Hokies in a bowl game for the 26th-straight season.
Besides the fact that I was wrong, I bring up this tweet because it helps note how far Virginia Tech has come in the last two weeks.
The Hokies’ 38-14 loss to Miami on Nov. 17 was Virginia Tech’s fourth loss in a row. Tech had lost each of those games by two scores or more and the team looked listless and defeated. Injuries were mounting and two players left the Miami loss.
Virginia Tech looked like they wouldn’t win a game for the rest of the season, let alone win both of them.
But the Hokies flipped the switch. Tech gritted out a tough overtime win over Virginia, which was not only surprising but impressive, and then mounted a blowout of Marshall inside Lane Stadium. Virginia Tech showed a level of determination and perseverance that fans hadn’t seen since the Hokies’ win over Florida State in September.
Virginia Tech stared the odds down squarely in the eyes and won. And with a team full of sophomores and freshmen, that feat is monumental. The Hokies ignored pundits like me, as they should, and salvaged a dark and mournful season. Tech’s players and coaches showed a lot of heart over these last two weeks, and that bodes well for this program’s future.
Some more observations from Saturday’s game…
“Big-Play Tre” Turner keeps making big plays
Freshman wide receiver Tre Turner has earned his “Big-Play Tre” moniker. He solidified it on Saturday.
Turner finished the day with just three receptions, but racked up 99 yards on those catches and scored on a 45-yard touchdown to boot.
Turner wasn’t supposed to do this as a freshman. At 6-foot-2 and 187 pounds, he was the skinny young guy coming off a shoulder injury. I think we knew he had the potential to do this, but I don’t think we thought he could do it in his first season.
All five of Turner’s touchdowns have come since the start of November. It wouldn’t surprise me if he added another in Virginia Tech’s bowl game in a few weeks. Turner has a bright future in Blacksburg and should be a featured offensive weapon for seasons to come.
Ashby and Hollifield solidifying the linebacker corps
As shaky as Virginia Tech’s defense has been all season long, their two young linebackers have played well. They did so again on Saturday.
Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield led the Hokies in tackling vs. Marshall, registering 15 and nine tackles respectively. Ashby also made a tackle for loss.
Ashby has an overwhelming lead in tackles for the team, which is impressive as a first-year starter. Hollifield entered Saturday’s game fourth on the team in tackles, which is also impressive for a freshman who didn’t get significant playing time until a couple weeks into the season.
Neither Ashby nor Hollifield have been perfect this season, but they’ve shown serious talent and production. As they grow physically and mentally in this program, they’re only going to get better. Virginia Tech’s middle of the defense looks good for a couple of seasons, at least.
Hokies headed back to Annapolis?
Now that Virginia Tech has won their sixth game of the season and become bowl eligible, let’s prognosticate a bit.
The Hokies are obviously out of the running for any of the Tier I bowls, which leaves out Charlotte, New York, South Florida or El Paso as a destination. Instead, here are the bowl games Virginia Tech is in line for.
- Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, American vs. C-USA (ACC only eligible if other conference cannot fill spot)
- Birmingham Bowl, SEC vs. American (ACC only eligible if American cannot fill spot)
- SERVPRO First Responder Bowl, Big Ten vs. C-USA or ACC
- Quick Lane Bowl, Big Ten vs. ACC
- Walk-On’s Independence Bowl, SEC vs. ACC
- New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Big Ten vs. ACC
- Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman, ACC vs. American
Of these options, the Military Bowl seems the most likely. Annapolis is right next door to Washington D.C., the largest collection of Virginia Tech alumni in the country. Virginia Tech hasn’t played in the Military Bowl since 2014, when the Hokies knocked off Cincinnati, so there aren’t any recency problems.
Even though Virginia Tech barely became bowl eligible, they are still eligible and the Hokies are one of the best draws for bowl executives out there. The fan base travels well and they’ve got program recognition for TV.
If you’re in the DMV area, start planning for the Military Bowl. It looks like that’s where Virginia Tech is headed.
(UPDATE: Virginia Tech has accepted a bid for the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md. on Dec. 31 vs. Cincinnati. Tech defeated Cincinnati in the Military Bowl in 2014.)