Sustained Success on the Ground Critical for Virginia Tech’s Survival

Good news is hard to come by in Blacksburg at the moment.

Virginia Tech just lost to Old Dominion, previously winless, and fell outside the AP Top 25. The Hokies starting quarterback, Josh Jackson, is out for the foreseeable future with a fractured fibula and Trevon Hill, Tech’s best defender, is no longer with the program.

It’s not quite rock bottom, but Virginia Tech is in a low place right now. However, there is one thing Virginia Tech can hang their hat on right now — an improved rushing attack.

The Hokies currently sit at 245 rushing yards per contest, good enough for 21st in the country. Virginia Tech’s offense broke off several big plays on the ground vs. Old Dominion, finishing the day with 318 yards on the ground on 49 carries.

Virginia Tech’s offensive numbers are obviously inflated, given that the Hokies have yet to play a good team. Florida State is in a bigger tailspin than Virginia Tech is, William and Mary is an FCS team and Old Dominion still has work to do before making a bowl game.

But consider Tech’s rushing struggles under Justin Fuente prior to this season…

2017: 173.38 yards per game, 54th overall in FBS

2016: 183.07 yards per game, 55th overall in FBS

Virginia Tech’s issues on the ground pre-date Fuente’s arrival.

2015: 159.23 yards per game, 82nd overall in FBS

2014: 147.92 yards per game, 89th overall in FBS

2013: 119.77 yards per game, 110th overall in FBS

The Hokies have also become more explosive on the ground. Tech has had eight running plays go for 20 yards or more this season, which is one more than they had in all of 2017.

Virginia Tech’s running game has been anemic since David Wilson moved on to the NFL. It’s taken five seasons, but the Hokies are starting to show some life.

It’s been a balanced effort. After barely making an impact vs. Florida State, Steven Peoples has emerged over Tech’s last two games against lesser competition. Peoples leads the team with 255 yards and four rushing touchdowns averaging over six yards per carry.

Deshawn McClease has been the more consistent threat. McClease rushed for 77 yards on just 13 carries vs. Florida State and after a subpar performance vs. William and Mary, he rebounded with another 75 yards vs. Old Dominion.

Virginia Tech’s rushing attack could improve and getting Terius Wheatley some more carries is one way to do that. Wheatley showed vs. Florida State and William and Mary that he can get to the outside and make explosive plays. He’s got another gear that Peoples and McClease just don’t have, and it would behoove Virginia Tech to get him the ball a bit more.

With a backup quarterback at the helm, a consistent threat on the ground is critical to this Hokies’ offense. Ryan Willis has plenty of arm talent but leaning on him isn’t advisable. Willis is a backup for a reason and supplementing him with a rushing attack with a pulse is imperative. No one is expecting Virginia Tech to turn into Wisconsin, but if the Hokies can sustain their early success in 2018, perhaps the Hokies can turn this season around.

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