Well that wasn’t good! The Virginia Tech Louisville game was supposed to be a showdown for second place in the conference. Instead, it was a 34-3 beatdown that let everyone know the ACC championship is essentially a two-horse race between Florida State and Louisville.
After winning consecutive home conference games, the latter being their own pummeling of a conference foe, Virginia Tech charged into this game with its fan base excited about the possibility of playing in Charlotte for the conference championship. The recent turnaround gave Hokie Nation amnesia about its September woes and instead treated them with hopes of running the table against a perceived “weak” schedule.
But Louisville did its best Lee Corso impersonation and said, “Not so fast, my friend!”
The 13th ranked Cardinals came out swinging, and they exerted their will on an overmatched Hokie squad. The win puts Louisville in control of their own destiny, having victories over all other two-loss ACC teams other than North Carolina, with only two games left to play against Virginia and Miami.
The Hokies, however, now have to win two of their final three games to attain bowl eligibility, with two of them away from Lane Stadium, where head coach Brent Pry has only won once in his two seasons so far.
Do not fret, Hokie faithful. The prize is still in sight. However, it will require better play on the road and four quarters of complementary football in each game.
The Louisville loss has to be put in the rear-view mirror. Just pick up the pieces and move on. However, there are a few things that were very clear from that game, so let’s take a closer look at three glaring takeaways from the loss:
1. The Offensive Line is Still a Work in Progress
The Virginia Tech offensive line struggled from the start of this one. The first play from scrimmage was a ten-yard sack of quarterback Kyron Drones. Three of the Hokies’ first five possessions totaled negative yardage.
Drones would be harassed all day and sacked three more times, with Louisville adding eight tackles for loss. Tech only converted 2 of 11 third downs. They averaged 2.4 yards per rush while gaining only 68 yards on the ground and only 140 total yards, which was their fourth-lowest yardage total since 1987.
The offensive line just could not open holes nor protect their quarterback.
But wait, weren’t they getting better, especially with the big wins of the past few weeks?
Somewhat. However, they were aided by creative play-calling as well as poor play from their opponents.
Techsideline’s Chris Coleman has said multiple times on the TSL podcasts that the new offensive scheme is helping the offense with a “smoke and mirrors” type of effect. In the Syracuse game particularly, the motion and misdirection often took linebackers out of position and opened holes for Tech’s runners.
Despite the huge success on the ground against the Orange, Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded the Tech run blocking at 46.4, its lowest run blocking grade of the year. For comparison, Tech graded 51.1 against Louisville this week! (And for those who don’t know, a PFF score of 60 is fair, 70 is good, and over 80 is excellent).
And as I gathered to watch this Louisville game with some friends, one of whom is a former Virginia Tech lineman, he echoed the same sentiment. He was concerned about the Tech line heading into this game, and he credited much of the recent success on play calling, especially the trick plays.
Unfortunately, his fears materialized, and Louisville just owned the line of scrimmage.
This is a young offensive line that has shown some signs of life, but there is still much more work to be done. If the Hokies expect to make a bowl game, the line play must improve and be more consistent.
2. This Team Needs to Learn How to Win on the Road
Virginia Tech has looked great in their last three home games. However, they have been the opposite in their road contests, giving up big plays and a lot of points.
In the four games on the road, Virginia Tech has scored 16 points at Rutgers, 17 at Marshall, 17 at Florida State, and now 3 at Louisville. They have given up 35, 24, 39, and 34 in those same four games. Not only is the offense struggling away from home, but the defense is playing poorly as well.
This past weekend, Louisville was just more physical and played with intensity that lacked from the Virginia Tech side of the ball. From punishing hits on kickoffs to safeties smashing Tech runners, Louisville sent a message all game long that they were there to play. And the Hokies failed to come close to matching that kind of physicality, which resulted in the lopsided loss.
In the recent home wins, the opposite scenario played out. The Hokies fed off their home crowd and played much more physical football than their foes. Without the electricity of the Lane Stadium crowd, this team has not played inspired football.
Two of the remaining three regular season games are away from Lane Stadium. While Boston College isn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard, Tech will need to score more than 17 points to win that one up at Chestnut Hill, a noon kickoff likely in front of a sparse crowd.
The final game is at Virginia, and the Cavaliers have shown some signs of life. Tech needs to up their road game if it wants to retain the Commonwealth Cup. Leaders will have to emerge, players will have to make big plays, and the overall energy needs to be better in road games.
If it is not, then the Hokies will be home for the holidays.
3. The Goal of a Bowl Bid is Still Very Much in Reach
Despite all these issues, the original goal of showing improvement, getting to six wins, and playing in a bowl game are all still on the table. If Virginia Tech can win two of its last three games, it will be 6-6, which is a solid improvement from last season’s dismal 3-8 record.
Yes, Tech will have to find a way to win on the road. And yes, the offensive line will have to find a way to play better. But the schedule is less than impressive with opponents who, on paper at least, appear very beatable.
Next up is Boston College. While they do have six wins, most at by a one-score margin. Only one is against a P5 team with a winning record, and that is Georgia Tech, who is currently 5-4.
After that, Tech plays its final home game against North Carolina State. While the Wolfpack have a tough defense, their offense leaves a lot to be desired, and this is a home game where the Hokies have played well.
The final game is for the Commonwealth Cup in Charlottesville. Virginia did beat North Carolina, and they pushed Miami to the brink, but they are still a 2-7 team with only one P5 victory.
Looking at this schedule, Hokie fans feel good about their chances of winning two of three. However, only one is at home, so there is plenty of cause for concern.
If the Hokies can put together four good quarters of football, they should be able to win against any of these opponents. If they can do that twice, they can clinch a bowl bid.
Final Thoughts on the Virginia Tech Louisville Game
The Virginia Tech Louisville game was just a mismatch from the start. Louisville is a better team who played better from the opening kick. Their top-15 national ranking is justified.
While Hokie Nation understandably does not want to admit it, Virginia Tech is still a mediocre team in the middle of a rebuild. This Louisville loss was a harsh gut-punch of that reality. However, the last few wins showed the fanbase what the future can look like.
So it is best to put this one in the past and keep looking forward. A bowl bid is still an attainable goal.
The Hokies travel to Boston College next week to take on a 6-3 Eagles team that is on a five game winning streak. This will not be a “gimme” for the Hokies in any way, shape, or form. No, Boston College is not beating good teams in that five-game stretch, but the Hokies are not playing well on the road either, so this one is anyone’s guess.
As I wrote in my preseason predictions article, “The Hokies are 9-5 all time in Chestnut Hill, but they have lost their last two at Alumni Stadium. They have never lost three in a row up there.” However, Brent Pry has yet to beat a Power 5 team on the road (he is 1-9 on the road with the only win at Liberty). Let’s hope the Hokies get it together like they did at Lynchburg last year and break both of those streaks!
For what it is worth, Virginia Tech kept its consecutive scoring streak intact. Despite being dominated in all facets of the game, the Hokies were able to connect on their lone field goal attempt, preventing a shutout. Tech has not been held scoreless since losing at home to Cincinnati 16-0 in the second game of 1995. Their streak is now at 367 consecutive games, which moves them one spot ahead of Michigan for fourth place all time.
Hokies Scoring Streak hangs on by a John Love right foot – 366 straight to take sole possession of 4th place all-time pic.twitter.com/IXVUmQU7AW
— օ×ѵէ (@OX_VT) November 5, 2023
Despite the blowout loss, the Hokies are – again – exactly where I predicted them to be at this point in the season. My preseason forecast called for a 6-6 season and a Military Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl. As mentioned above, that scenario is still very much a possibility. Let’s hope the Hokies can find a way to win at least one road game this year. They will need to do so if they want to go bowling.
The Hokies travel to Chestnut Hill on Saturday, November 11 for their next contest against Boston College. Kickoff is set for noon and the ACC Network will broadcast the event.
ACC Expansion and Scheduling Musings
In other news, the ACC future was again the topic of recent conversations. Only this time, it was about additions, not subtractions.
At the end of October, the ACC brass met to discuss future schedules now that Cal, Stanford, and SMU are set to join the conference for the 2024 season. They released conference-only schedules, which can be found here.
With 17 teams, the current 3-5-5 model had to be modified, so after only one year, the teams in the league will again undergo a scheduling shift. But Virginia Tech fans rejoice, because Hokie Nation got its wish in getting Miami back on the calendar each year.
The new ACC football scheduling model, which begins in 2024, runs through 2030 and protects two #Hokies rivalries: Miami and Virginia.
— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) October 30, 2023
The suits at the ACC offices must follow Virginia Tech Twitter – how else would you explain their complete 180 in regards to their scheduling of Virginia Tech and Miami? These two former Big East rivals have played every year from 1992 through 2022. And that was a great rivalry with some iconic performances. Last year I wrote an article about my favorite games in that series – it is linked here and is worth a few minutes to relive those best moments.
Getting back to the league…the ACC decided to keep a few annual rivalries intact, such as Virginia Tech vs UVa, and they added a few, such as returning the annual Miami-Virginia Tech matchup. They gave the new schools annual clashes with each other, and they kept most of the others that were worth keeping.
They even kept old Big East ties between Boston College, Syracuse, and Pitt. How kind of them to think of the few hundred people that would want to watch those games each year!
The only schools who did not get annual rivalries are Georgia Tech and Louisville. But that does not come as any surprise – do either of those schools have any rivals in the ACC?
Getting back to the Hokie-centric part of this schedule analysis, Virginia Tech may have gained Miami back, but they lost Florida State, who only appears twice on the next seven years worth of schedules. Since Tech joined the ACC in 2004, the Hokies and Seminoles have only played five regular season conference games. This infrequency of meeting will unfortunately continue.
On the bright side, Virginia Tech will only play Boston College twice over the next seven years. Did I just hear a sigh of relief? I thought so. Hokie fans have had enough of watching their team travel to Chestnut Hill and play in a half-empty Alumni Stadium, so thankfully that will only happen once in the next seven years.
Oddly enough, Louisville will finally come to Blacksburg in 2025, marking their first trip to Lane Stadium since joining the ACC in 2012! The Cardinals will travel to face the Cardinal (Stanford) in year one, but they won’t play at Blacksburg until their fourteenth year in the league!
Speaking of Stanford, the Hokies will start their cross-country travels in years one of the new schedule. Virginia Tech will play in Palo Alto, California in the 2024 season. This means that next year’s game at Stanford will be the first ever regular season game in California for Virginia Tech, and it will also be the Hokies’ first ever regular season game in the Pacific Time Zone!
Of course, there is always the possibility that Florida State, Clemson, and maybe others ditch the league in the next seven years, causing yet another schedule shuffle. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. I have said it before, and I will say it again – because of the financial crippling that any defector will endure, I just don’t see anyone leaving the ACC in the immediate future.
So for the time being, let’s get ready for some west coast football on the Atlantic coast!!
And let’s get ready for Saturday’s rumble in Boston. Go Hokies!
To read more of my articles on Virginia Tech football, click here.