Good football teams know what they’re good at. They play to their strengths and use those strengths to cover for their weaknesses. Virginia Tech did just that on Saturday.
The Hokies’ 40-14 win over Boston College was by no means a masterful performance — the defense still allowed more than five yards per play and the passing game never found a sustainable rhythm. And still, Virginia Tech pounded Boston College with a smash-mouth brand of offense not seen in Blacksburg in quite some time.
Enough of the intro, here are your Tech Takeaways.
We know who the Hokies are (on offense)
Virginia Tech has one of the best rushing attacks in the nation. It was on full display yet again on Saturday, as the Hokies rushed for 350 yards and averaged over eight yards per rush.
The Hokies’ running game starts with Vance Vice‘s offensive line, who are creating mammoth-wide gaps up front. This unit is generating more push than any Hokies offensive line in recent memory. They’ve owned their counterparts in each of Tech’s first four contests.
It helps when you’ve got one of the nation’s best running backs behind that group. Khalil Herbert is the total package — he sees the hole before it opens, he almost never goes down at first contact, he has a second-gear to break into the second and third levels of the defense and he’s a capable receiver out of the backfield.
Herbert has 962 all-purpose yards through four games. As ESPN’s David Hale pointed out, that’s 180 yards more than UTSA’s Sincere McCormick, who is second in the category with two more games played. Herbert is averaging 9.6 yards per carry and he’s scored six times. He’s unconscious.
To top it all off, the Hokies have Hendon Hooker. All of the talk about needing Braxton Burmeister to beef up the running game was rubbish. Hooker dazzled on Saturday, running for 164 yards (21 yards more than Herbert) and three touchdowns. The fooling around at quarterback is over. Hooker is the guy.
If you’re still riding the Burmeister preseason hype train, watch the video below and tell me you need another guy rotating in at quarterback.
😤 111 pass yards
😤 164 rush yards
😤 4 total TD
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) October 18, 2020
Virginia Tech is a run-first offense. The Hokies have found their bread-and-butter and they need to ride it all the way through December, for better or for worse.
Stick with what works
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, because Brad Cornelsen called a pretty solid game against Boston College. He relied on his offensive line and his stars in the backfield to keep the ball moving in the second half to pull away.
But I’d like to direct your attention to one of Virginia Tech’s first-half offensive possessions.
On the second drive of the first quarter, the Hokies were moving the ball with a mix of Herbert runs and Hooker completions. With a fresh set of downs at Boston College’s 27-yard-line, Tech ran the following three plays…
- Jet sweep to Tre Turner for a two-yard loss
- Pass play, Hooker sacked for two-yard loss
- Seven-yard completion to Kaleb Smith
The drive stalled out because the Hokies got away from what works. We saw this in first half of the North Carolina game — Cornelsen got too cute and went away from the running game.
Again, Cornselsen called a pretty awesome game on Saturday. They handled adjustments well, didn’t panic when the lead was cut to three in the third quarter and rode their horses into the sunset. Do that more, Cornelsen.
Some defensive improvement
Virginia Tech’s defense benefitted from five turnovers on Saturday night. The Eagles did more to get in their own way than the Hokies did to stop them.
Three of Boston College’s first four possessions ended in turnovers — two fumbles and a interception with a touchdown mixed in the middle. Those four possessions yielded 201 yards and just seven points.
In fact, Boston College gained 37 or more yards on seven of their 12 drives. That’s not ideal.
Still, there were some positives from the Hokies’ defensive performance. Getting Divine Deablo back made a definitive difference — he finished with five tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Dax Hollifield played perhaps his best game of the season, holding up in coverage far better than Alan Tisdale. Devin Taylor acclimated himself well to the free safety role, something he hasn’t been asked to do in-game. Dorian Strong looked confident and poised, keeping his man in check regularly.
Virginia Tech played one of the more explosive offenses in the country last week. North Carolina has a lot of weapons and balance. That doesn’t excuse how poorly the Hokies’ defense played a week ago, but it does mean there’s potential for them to hold their own against most of the offenses they’ll play. Holding Boston College to just 14 is a good start.
A look ahead
Here are the Hokies’ remaining games…
- Oct. 24 at Wake Forest (2-2)
- Oct. 31 at Louisville (1-4)
- Nov. 7 vs. Liberty (5-0)
- Nov. 14 vs. Miami (4-1)
- Nov. 21 at Pitt (3-3)
- Dec. 5 vs. Clemson (5-0)
- Dec. 12 vs. Virginia (1-3)
The only game on there that I’d bet on Virginia Tech losing is Clemson. Every other game is up for grabs.
Even if Virginia Tech were to lose two more games, nobody could fault them for a 8-3 season. It probably isn’t going to land the Hokies in the ACC Championship Game, but it’s a respectable season. Now if the Hokies run the table, save for Clemson, there’s at least a chance they could be playing for a title.
Wake Forest, Louisville and Virginia have all been underwhelming and present very winnable games. Pitt has an identity crisis and Liberty is more formidable than usual, so those games aren’t going to be easy. Miami’s only loss is to Clemson.
Virginia Tech has an opportunity to put together a strong and successful season. There’s no time for games. Time to strap up and take it to the rest of the conference.