All things come to an end, good or bad. Virginia Tech’s 15-year domination of Virginia has ended, thanks to a 39-30 defeat on Black Friday in Charlottesville.
The Hokies needed to do two things to win this game — take care of the football and contain Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins. The Hokies failed at both tasks, turning the ball over four different times and allowing Perkins to amass 475 total yards and three touchdowns. It didn’t help that the Hokies’ offensive line seemed outmatched for good portions of the game, and that Caleb Farley missed the contest with back spasms, but those two reasons are primarily why Virginia Tech no longer possesses the Commonwealth Cup.
A loss like that begs all sorts of questions. It’s a tough time for the fan base and the program right now, considering one of Tech’s two prized streaks has now ended and it did so in the fourth year under Justin Fuente. The fan base is pretty split right now and that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
If you’re able to remove yourself from the moment and look at this season from a wider view, the Hokies met most expectations. With questions at several positions and very little veteran leadership, Virginia Tech still finished the regular season at 8-4. The way they arrived at that record wasn’t what anyone expected, but they still got there.
There are plenty of positives to celebrate. Virginia Tech seems to have found their quarterback of the future in Hendon Hooker. The offense found their rhythm when Hooker was inserted into the lineup, averaging over 36 points when Hooker was the starting quarterback. The running game trended upwards and every offensive starter is slated to return for next season. Defensively, the unit trended upward towards the end of the season and all but one starter will return in 2020.
On the downside, it took Fuente four games and the perhaps the worst loss in program history to start Hooker. The first four games of the season drove the Hokies down a dark tunnel and even though Virginia Tech rebounded, we can’t ignore Tech’s underwhelming performances this season. The team did lose to Virginia, spoiling an ACC Coastal championship.
The Black Friday loss has placed Virginia Tech at a crossroads. Every aspect of the program will be under heavy scrutiny this offseason, whether it be coaching, recruiting, athletic donations, fan support or the administration. Tech may enact serious changes on the offensive staff after a rocky season and the new defensive coordinator will play a critical role in the program’s future. Twenty-one of Virginia Tech’s 22 offensive and defensive starters return for 2020. Fuente will be in his fifth season in Blacksburg, the exact time when the coach and his team should be peaking.
Virginia Tech should and will face steep expectations for the 2020 season. He’s recruited and coached the entire roster and pending transfers, this should be the deepest and most complete roster Fuente’s had. The Hokies have seven home games next season, including Penn State, Miami and Virginia. The Hokies should be a highly competitive team, with 10 wins being entirely realistic.
How the Hokies perform in their bowl game will give us an idea of how the program is trending heading into the offseason. A positive performance should breed optimism and success heading into 2020. An underwhelming or disappointing performance may show the program isn’t where it needs to be. Who they play matters, too.
Either way, the 2020 season is the ultimate test for Fuente and his staff. If Fuente is going to make it in Blacksburg, he needs to put together a nine or 10-win season and maybe even knock off a talented Penn State team in Lane Stadium. Given the roster, these seem like reasonable expectations.
There’s a discussion to be had about reasonable expectations at Virginia Tech and some time soon, we’ll have those discussions. But in my eyes, it’s reasonable and fair to expect a coach heading into his fifth season to start turning heads, beating good teams and seriously competing for a conference title. If Fuente doesn’t achieve those goals in 2020, then Tech will face another serious discussion about what the program wants to be moving forward.