“We made too many wrong mistakes.” Yogi Berra famously said that key phrase.
After last Friday, many in the Hokie Nation are saying the same thing. Virginia Tech made way too many “wrong mistakes” in their season opener, falling to Old Dominion 20-17 in Norfolk, Virginia.
This was unlike the Hokies’ previous trip to S.B. Ballard Stadium, where Old Dominion just out-played Virginia Tech. In that 2018 contest, ODU racked up over 630 total yards and won 49-35.
No, this one had a much different feel. In this one, the Hokies generated better statistics in most box score categories and kept the ODU offense in check. But the mistakes – oh those costly mistakes! – negated any advantage that Virginia Tech was trying to build.
If you saw the highlights or read any post-game articles, then you know about Virginia Tech’s 15 penalties, half of which were pre-snap on the offense. You know about their five turnovers. Of course, you know of the biggest key play, the bad snap on the Tech field goal attempt that turned into a scoop-and-score for ODU. If you consumed any college football media on Saturday, then you know all about this stunning upset.
It is a week since that dreadful game, and the recaps are everywhere. There is no need for me to beat that dead horse. If you want good content about that game, read the articles by the guys at Techsideline.com. David Cunningham, Chris Coleman, and Will Stewart do a great job recapping and analyzing the contest.
Instead of going down the road that everyone has gone down this past week, I’d prefer to look back at a few of my recent articles and compare those predictions to last week’s outcome.
Quarterback Consistency is Key
In a recent article, I analyzed the consistency and performance of the quarterback position during the Frank Beamer years. Needless to say, Beamer’s success went hand in hand with his quarterback consistency. He utilized many multi-year starters, and they performed at a high level.
Sophomore Grant Wells has a high ceiling. He could possibly be a three-year starter for the Hokies and a key contributor to their program’s re-emergence. However, he averaged a little more than one interception per game in his years at Marshall, and that was a concern heading into the season. On Friday night, he threw four interceptions. In all fairness, the last one was in desperation, as the Hokies were deep in their own zone and needed to go over half the field just to get into position for a long field goal. And one of his passes bounced off his receiver’s hands and into the arms of the defender. But still, his stat line shows four interceptions, and they hurt the Hokies badly.
Wells threw his first pick at the end of the first quarter, overthrowing the receiver in the flat. That gave ODU the ball at the Tech 36. A few plays later, ODU kicked a field goal to cut the Hokies’ lead to 7-3.
The second pick did not result in points for ODU, but it prevented points for Virginia Tech. Wells forced a ball into press coverage and the Monarch’s Tobias Harris easily jumped the route. That turnover gave the ball back to ODU at their own 23. It prevented the Hokies from at least attempting a field goal and their lead remained 7-3.
Wells threw his third interception when Tech was driving late in the fourth quarter with a four-point lead. After an illegal formation penalty and a sack, Virginia Tech was faced with third and thirteen. Instead of running the ball with 3:06 to play, Tech opted to throw it. Wells’ pass bounced out of Jalen Holston’s hands and into the open arms of ODU’s Ryan Henry. He was tackled at the Tech 41-yard line with 2:58 to play. The Monarchs use the momentum of that play to muster their only touchdown drive of the day, punching in the decisive score with only half a minute to play.
These interceptions were extremely costly to Tech. In a three-point contest, teams cannot afford to give the ball to the other team five times. That’s exactly what Tech did, with four of them coming from the starting quarterback. Although Wells graded out fairly well in his PFF for the week, those interceptions are what linger in the minds of most Hokies fans when they think of the quarterback play last week.
For the Virginia Tech to be successful, they will need more ball security from their quarterback.
The Key of Offensive Linemen Health
In my most recent article, I highlighted three areas of the Tech team that I thought were key to the overall success of the program this year. The first was the health of the starting linemen.
The linemen stayed healthy last week. The problem is that they did not exactly perform well as a unit. Silas Dzansi played very well, but at the other tackle Parker Clements struggled. And the interior linemen were not consistent enough for Tech to control the running game and wear down the ODU defense. This unit needs to be more efficient.
Also, since the game was close from start to finish, Tech relied heavily on its starting five up front. The same five linemen played every offensive snap. The backups lack experience, and they did not see the field last week. It is important for them to gain experience this year, so this was a missed opportunity for Tech.
Had Virginia Tech taken care of the football and cut down on penalties, they could have extended a lead that would have provided opportunities for backup linemen to get some much needed snaps. That did not happen, and here we are heading into week two – against a conference foe – with the same front line questions that we had to open the season.
Establishing the Run is Key
Another key that was highlighted in my previous article was the need to establish the run. This one is not so easy to dissect. At first glance, it appears as if Tech did just that. As a team, they ran for 190 yards (the box score reduces that number by 54 because of the yards lost on the bad snap from the field goal attempt). This is not a great number though, especially against a Group of Five school. But considering that Tech’s top two running backs were mostly unavailable, then this is an okay performance as a team.
Individually, Keshawn King was the highlight. The 5’11” 180-pound tailback ran tough and gained 111 yards. He did a nice job Friday night. King bounced off would-be tacklers and made people miss. He also added three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown (the TD pass was a beautifully executed play to King!)
But that is where the positivity ends. Watching the game, it never appeared that the Hokies were in control of the line of scrimmage. It did not seem like they had really established the run. They did not attack the edge, and they only broke off a few long runs (20 yards or more). Basically, the ground game did not control the game for Virginia Tech.
Perhaps the penalties contributed more to this than most fans realize. With seven pre-snap penalties and a few others on the offense, the Hokies were behind the chains frequently. It is very difficult to establish the run in long yardage situations.
Also, the edge blocking was not very good. Perhaps that is why Tech did not run outside. They had a speed advantage but did not (could not?) take advantage of it. Brent Pry said all summer how Keshawn King and Chance Black would be most effective on the edge, yet the Hokies repeatedly ran those two inside the tackles. Hopefully that will change next week and King and Black can get the ball in space.
The Hokies will need to clean up these mistakes in their home opener and allow the ground game better opportunities to be effective. The stronger the Virginia Tech rushing attack, the better their chance will be to win games.
The Key for Tech to Return to DBU
The final key to success that was discussed last week was the need for Virginia Tech’s defensive backs to return to DBU form. They had to shut down receivers in the passing game.
For most of the Old Dominion game, Virginia Tech did just that. The defense did not allow the ODU offense to reach the end zone. Even with the multiple turnovers and some short fields, the Hokies’ defense held ODU to two field goals.
The pass defense was outstanding. Prior to that fateful last pass, they had held ODU quarterback Hayden Wolff to 13 completions on 34 attempts for 127 passing yards. That is a great stat line for the Tech defense.
They also held the 6’9” Penn State transfer tight end Zach Kuntz to two receptions on nine targets for only twelve yards.
DBU was back.
Well, maybe, but not when it mattered most.
Unfortunately, the Tech defense had its worst sequence of the night on the final drive. With just over a minute to play, Wolff threw up a prayer to the West Virginia transfer Ali Jennings III. Tech cornerback Dorian Strong, whom many had praised as the best cornerback after summer practices, inexplicably allowed the receiver to get behind him. Then, instead of finding the ball, Strong ran to the receiver and knocked him over, drawing the little yellow hanky. Jennings fell to the turf but still caught the ball for a 38 yard gain, setting up the go-ahead score.
Had Strong kept the receiver in front of him, he could have defended that under thrown pass. Even after being beat on the play, had he turned and found the ball, he could have essentially “boxed out” Jennings and either intercepted the ball or batted it down.
That one defensive backfield mistake did not cost Tech the game. The sixty minutes of mental and physical errors are what lost it. However, despite all the mistakes, the Tech defense, especially the secondary, still had a chance to make a big play and save the game. They did not.
Tech will be tested more and more as the season goes on and the quarterbacks get better. They will need to come up big if the Hokies expect to win.
As I wrote last week, “If Virginia Tech can stay healthy, especially on the line, establish the running game, and shut down the passing game, they will be in good shape. Just win the turnover battle and the game should be won.” Virginia Tech executed fairly well in these four key areas against Old Dominion, well enough to win. However, they lost the turnover battle soundly, and they committed 15 penalties. These mistakes negated the keys to success and ultimately led to an embarrassing loss in the first game of the season.
The Hokies host ACC foe Boston College this Saturday, so they do not have much time to correct these mistakes. If they can stay healthy on the O-line AND block well, if they can win the line of scrimmage and establish the run, and if they can shut down Zay Flowers and the BC receivers, they will be in position to win their home opener.
However, as we learned last week, that might not be enough. Tech will also need better efficiency from the quarterback, fewer penalties, and less turnovers. Boston College has a better roster than Old Dominion, and they will present a tougher test. Virginia Tech cannot afford to make these wrong mistakes again.
- Everything seemed to go wrong for the Hokies in Norfolk last week. In addition to penalties and turnovers, the ball and the calls were not kind to Tech. Unfielded punts continually rolled the wrong way for Tech. A key pass interference was called on the Hokies despite the pass appearing to be uncatchable. To add insult to injury, the start of the second half was delayed when Virginia Tech’s coaches were stuck in the elevator. Worse than that, there was a theft in the Virginia Tech locker room. And for those watching on TV, it was noticeably bad camera work. As if losing to Old Dominion isn’t bad enough, Hokie Nation had to endure all of that as well.
- Tech lost 105 yards in penalties and 54 yards on the bad snap. That is a loss of 159 yards. The Hokies only ran for 190 and threw for 197, which is 387 total yards from scrimmage – a decent number. When we subtract the 159 lost yards, Tech only accounted for 228 yards of total offense. That’s only 228 total yards against Old Dominion. Tech needs to fix that in a hurry as ACC defenses will be much better than what they faced last week.
- My previous article opened like this: “When Frank Beamer endured a loss, it was common for him to say if one or two plays went the other way, the game would have ended differently.” For last week against ODU, Tech fans can say that the game would have ended differently had 20-25 plays gone the other way!
- The Old Dominion game brought to light a few key issues for Virginia Tech, namely the lack of playmakers at wide receiver. Tech’s top receiver Kaleb Smith left early with an injury. His loss was felt as the middle and deep passing game really weren’t threats. Even with Smith, Tech did not stretch the field. Without him, the inexperience and lack of depth showed as receivers were not getting open downfield. This has to be a concern moving forward and hopefully guys get healthy and the passing game improves.
- On a positive note, the Virginia Tech tight ends combined for 9 catches. However, they only totaled 61 yards. And when Nick Gallo’s long reception of 16 yards is taken out of the equation, the tight ends only averaged about five and a half yards per catch. Again, Virginia Tech needs to be able to stretch the field, and they did not do that with the tight ends last week.
- Speaking of tight ends, Connor Blumrick did not touch the ball all night. In the final thirty seconds, Blumrick was targeted twice. On one of those balls, he made an incredible catch, only to be knocked out of bounds in mid-air for an incompletion. The is a bit peculiar though, as Blumrick was touted in the offseason for being a multi-dimensional threat and a potential key player to mix things up. Despite this assessment, he was not part of the offense, and that is a bit of a head-scratcher to Hokie fans (especially since he could have helped attack the edge, which Tech did not do). Blumrick is a dynamic athlete – here’s hoping that he contributes more to the offense this week.
- Next up for Virginia Tech is Boston College on Saturday at 8pm in Lane Stadium for their home opener. On Sunday, one of those two teams will be 0-2. Neither probably thought that was going to be a reality.
- Speaking of home openers, Virginia Tech has won 24 of their last 26 home openers dating back to the 1996 season. Can you guess who was their opponent in the ’95 home opener loss? Yep, Boston College.
- Virginia Tech has now held the Commonwealth Cup for 636 consecutive days!
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