The questions are flying throughout the Hokie Nation. Message boards, Facebook groups, Twitter; you name it, fans are voicing their opinions, for better or for worse.
Who can blame them? The Hokies were routed in Chapel Hill last week, closing out a two-game stretch where they were outscored 74-20. They only scored ten points against a West Virginia team who then fell behind Texas by 35 points before finally scoring. Tech followed that by being routed at North Carolina, a team whose defense couldn’t stop Florida A&M when they were without 25 scholarship players.
Hokie fans are scratching their heads. There are questions abound. It is almost the midpoint of the season, and the team does not appear to be getting better. Let’s examine some of the most common questions flying through the Hokie Nation right now.
Why Can’t Tech Run the Ball?
This is at the forefront of most Hokie fans’ minds. Virginia Tech has a proud history of being a good running team. Yet this year, they just cannot gain yards on the ground. Through five games, they have amassed only 547 yards rushing (109 yards per game).
The line is not getting a push. Yet the majority of runs have been between the tackles. Why isn’t Tech running outside? After a summer of praise for his explosiveness, why isn’t Keshawn King getting the ball in space? After hearing so much about Connor Blumrick’s versatility, why does he only have two carries? And why is a Joe Rudolph coached unit so poor at run blocking?
The Hokies have also been plagued by injury. Malachi Thomas has yet to play this year. And King is also nursing an injury. Unless these injuries heal and the other issues improve – quickly – Virginia Tech will continue to struggle in the month of October.
Who is to Blame for the Slow Start?
It is easy to answer this question by pointing fingers. Is the offense not sustaining enough drives or scoring points? Is the defense not making key stops? Is the play-calling too basic? Do the Hokies lack enough depth? Did previous head coach Justin Fuente hurt the program by burning in-state recruiting bridges? Did the exodus of players over the past two years set the program back? Are the head coach and both coordinators making mistakes because of inexperience at their new positions?
The answer is yes to all of these.
But pointing fingers and laying blame is not healthy for the culture. Yes, the Hokies are struggling, and yes, they can be playing better. But they are not. There is a lack of depth and a lack of playmakers of the team. And don’t forget, this is a rebuilding year.
It will take time for head coach Brent Pry and his staff to right the ship. He is trying to rebuild the culture, rebuild the program, reinstall the lunch pail mentality.
One criticism of Pry is that he did not sign enough out of the transfer portal. Not only did Pry have to REDUCE his roster significantly, but he also had to repair relationships with the in-state high schools. Those who are making this portal complaint have overlooked the time and effort it took Pry to evaluate his over-stocked roster AND visit the high schools. Fuente showed that the reliance on out of state recruits and the transfer portal is not a recipe for success in Blacksburg. Pry knows that and is addressing it by emphasizing the “footprint” for recruiting. He says repeatedly – it is going to take a lot of work – so Hokie fans, be patient!
What is the Future of the Quarterback Position?
There is a lot of talk on social media about Grant Wells and his lack of production. Many fans’ questions ask if it is time to play Jason Brown. Some even suggest Devin Farrell. Is it time to pull the plug on Grant Wells?
To answer those questions, look at the big picture. Right now, Grant Wells is inconsistent. He is missing open receivers. He has thrown six interceptions already. His 983 passing yards and five touchdowns are well below his pace from last season at Marshall (where he threw for 3532 yards and 16 touchdowns).
However, there are other factors to consider in his performance. Several well thrown balls were dropped by open receivers. The receiving corps is thin, has battled injury, and lacks playmakers. Factor in a run game that is struggling, and Tech has become one dimensional and easy to defend. It is hard to imagine that Jason Brown or Devin Farrell would excel in the same situation.
Also, Wells was brought to Blacksburg to be “the guy” for three years. Benching him now when there are all of those other factors could have long term consequences. What if he decides to transfer again? That would perpetuate the Fuente quarterback carousel that Pry is trying to terminate. A benching could also bring about confidence issues. That could hurt Wells’ future performances too, especially if he is always looking over his shoulder. Just ask Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke what that feels like.
This is not to say that Wells’ performance is excusable. It is not. And if a better quarterback becomes available in the portal in the off season, the Hokies should at least give him a look. But making a change now, given all that is going on around Wells and what is behind him, well, that is a bad idea.
Can Tech Still Reach a Bowl Game?
Of all the questions, this is the easiest to answer. Yes. Of course Virginia Tech can still make a bowl. This is, after all, the ACC Coastal. Every game on the schedule is winnable.
However, the way Tech is playing lately, no game on the schedule looks winnable. A bowl berth does not appear likely. At least, that is what many fans are saying.
This is a little hyperbole on the part of those Negative Nancy fans. But for the time being, they are not too far off from reality. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a brutal stretch of the schedule that could very well see them lose five games in a row.
After losing to West Virginia and North Carolina, the Hokies now travel to Pittsburgh to play in a stadium where they are 1-6 all time. The Hokies are not playing well, and although the Panthers were upset by Georgia Tech last week, not too many fans would expect that to happen two weeks in a row. Pitt is physical, and Virginia Tech cannot run the ball. The Panthers are favored by two touchdowns, but consensus on social media is that Tech fans believe the betting line is too low!
Next week the Hokies host Miami. The Hurricanes have proven that the U is not back, so who knows what Miami team will show up in Blacksburg? However, Miami does have the talent to win this game easily.
After a bye week, Tech travels to Raleigh to take on nationally ranked North Carolina State on a Thursday night. Carter-Finley Stadium will be rocking, and Tech will have yet another tough challenge to close out the month.
After that, Tech could easily be 2-6. But then they play Georgia Tech, Duke, Liberty, and Virginia in November. None of those is a gimme, especially if Tech does not improve, but they are all winnable. So if the Hokies can sweep November, they can play in the post-season. I’m not telling you they will…I’m just telling you there’s a chance.
Where Do The Hokies Go From Here?
This is a simple question…go back to work. Prove that the Lunch Pail mentality is not a gimmick. Continue to clean up the mistakes, and, as Pry says, play complementary football. There is no doubt that the kids are working hard. There is no doubt that the coaches are trying to win. They just have to keep their noses to the grind stone and make improvements. If they do, fans will at least appreciate the progress.
However, some ask at what point the younger guys get reps to build for the future? That has already begun. Sophomores CJ McCray and Cole Nelson have been seeing quality time on the defense. Freshmen Dae’Quan Wright, Mansoor Delane, and Cam Johnson performed well at UNC. Freshman running back Bryce Duke has appeared in all five game, making him ineligible to redshirt.
And this brings up another of the burning questions…who redshirts and whose gets “burned”? Several freshmen appeared in less than four games so far – will they see increased action? Or will they only play in four games to preserve their redshirt?
If their performance now does not make the team better, then they should redshirt. Chances are that the coaching staff has already made that decision on most guys, and the borderline guys will see their four game cap and decisions will be made then.
Final Thoughts (Not Questions)
The Hokies are going through a stretch that the program has not seen since Frank Beamer started his career in Blacksburg. There are a lot of similarities between the program now and the program then. It took Beamer six years of rebuilding until he finally won his first bowl game in his seventh season. It could very well take Pry a few years to reach his first bowl too, as he has similar rebuilding and rebranding issues on his plate.
Pry loves Virginia Tech. He loves Blacksburg. He has embraced the culture and the community, and he has reconnected not only with the in-state coaches but also the Hokie alum. Pry left a great coordinator job and a blue blood Big Ten program to take a job from which many coaches shied away. He deserves the patience – and support – of the fans. Give him a chance.
And don’t forget – for the past few years, Hokie fans complained that Justin Fuente was too private. They did not like how Fuente closed practices, turned his back on in-state recruits, and shunned Virginia Tech football alumni. Pry is the opposite. Tech fans should embrace that. Of course, the fans want to win now, but Pry is working toward rebuilding, and that takes time. Remember, campus buildings were never built in one day – they were built one Hokie Stone at a time!
And if nothing else, show the coaches and team that you still love them – BECAUSE THIS IS HOME!
Fans can support the team in many ways. That support matters – and it is part of what makes the Hokie Nation special. We are a passionate fan base – but be need to be true to the program. So continue to go to games, continue to buy merchandise, and give financial support when you can. It will show benefits both now and down the road.
Speaking of support…it is imperative that Tech fans SUPPORT NIL INITIATIVES…the Tech fan base has many that are not accepting of NIL. That is perilous thinking. NIL is here to stay. Fans who turn their backs on it are turning their backs on the program. A school like Virginia Tech needs sustainable fund raising to be competitive in the NIL space. Tech will not be able to offer multiple six figure NIL deals to compete with the likes of the SEC. But if they can support Commonwealth NIL, Triumph NIL, NRV NIL, etc., they will take steps in the right direction for Virginia Tech to be successful with Name, Image, and Likeness initiatives.
One simple way to support NIL is to purchase NIL jerseys. Show Dax Hollifield that you appreciate his heart and his commitment to Tech…buy his jersey – or any other player’s jersey – while boosting Virginia Tech in the very competitive space that is NIL!
Dave Scarangella of DullesDistrict.com wrote an intriguing article suggesting that Hokie fans follow the situation in Madison, Wisconsin. According to Scarangella, the Badgers have many unanswered questions and are not happy that their coach was removed. There could be drama unfolding in the locker room. And that can lead to heightened transfer portal activity. This is interesting because Virginia Tech currently employs former Wisconsin line coach Joe Rudolph. If guys want to leave Madison, Scarangella suggests that Rudolph may be able to rekindle old relationships and convince some Big Badgers to become Hokie linemen! Maybe he can even persuade a running back or two to come with them!
Virginia Tech has now held the Commonwealth Cup for 664 consecutive days!
To read more of my articles on Virginia Tech football, click here.
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