Coming into the Virginia Tech Virginia game to end the season, the Hokies needed a win to reach .500 and gain bowl eligibility. Tech did exactly that and more in putting the beatdown on the Cavaliers, 55-17.
It was quite a rollercoaster season for Hokie Nation, but here we are, waiting for the official bowl invitations to be handed out, and honestly, I feel pretty darned good about where head coach Brent Pry and the Hokies are right now.
Here are the reasons why (and a few other afterthoughts from the rivalry game):
Make No Bones About It – This is a Significant Improvement from Year 1
Year two for Pry and company showed significant improvement. Yes, September was disappointing, but the Hokies turned it around and were solid in ACC play.
The obvious indicator is the win total, going from three wins last year to six this year. Even though Tech only finished with a .500 record, that is quite a turnaround to get to three more wins and a bowl game.
Taking a closer look, there were other measures that show how much better this year’s team is than the 2022 version:
- Virginia Tech finished tied for fourth (with Georgia Tech) in the ACC with a 5-3 league record. They were expected to finish 11th after tying Virginia for the bottom spot last year with one conference win.
- Tech scored 30 or more points in all six wins. They didn’t hit 30 for the entirety of last year.
- Virginia Tech averaged 28.6 points per game, good for 58th in the country. This is up from the 19.3 PPG average and 113th ranking of last year.
- The Hokies finished the regular season ranked 66th in yards per game (up from 120 last year) and 49th in rushing YPG (up from 113 last year). Their rank of 85 in passing yards is not great, but that is still an improvement from 103 last year. Tech also wants to be a run-first team, so I’m ok with these rush-to-pass numbers for now (and keep in mind that all of these rankings include the September games prior to the change in quarterback and offensive scheme)
- The defense also showed improvement statistically, with passing defense being a particular strength. The Hokies ranked 8th nationally in passing yards per game (172.9)
- Virginia Tech improved slightly in penalties per game. Their 6.4 penalties per game moved them up to 92 this year from 116 last year (7.4 per game). That is only an improvement of one less flag per game, but it just felt like they had fewer fouls in 2023. They also avoided the likes of the 15-penalty games that appeared a few times in 2022. As this roster ages, those numbers should continue to go down.
Hats off to this team for staying the course and turning the season around after such a struggle to start.
Special props go to the offensive line for opening the holes to allow Tech to run for an average of 175 yards per game this year. As a unit, they improved over the course of the fall. This O-line has received its fair share of criticism this year, so let’s take a moment to give them some kudos and celebrate their improvement too.
This Team Has Playmakers – Now it has to Keep Them
There were a lot of explosive plays for the Hokies this year, which was a turnaround from the lack of playmaking ability last year. Just look at the big plays of the last two games:
- Receiver Da’Quan Felton had TD catches of 84 and 42 yards.
- Xavion Turner Bradshaw and Tucker Holloway each had long touchdown runs on designed reverses.
- Bhayshul Tuten had a 94-yard kick return for a touchdown, his second TD return of the year.
There are more plays of 20+ yards in the past two games. And many more over the course of ACC play. Which is not what could be said last year when Tech lacked the ability to hit the “home run.”
Felton in particular has improved his game. Going into the season he was probably the biggest unknown of the transfer receivers. And after two games, he only had one catch for 34 yards.
However, when Ali Jennings went down, Felton stepped up. He capped off a solid season with his second 100-yard performance against UVa (and second in three games). It was his sixth game of 80 or more receiving yards. He ended the regular season with 667 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns, with an average of over 17 yards per reception.
Another rock-star transfer was Tuten, who finished with 727 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns for the season. Against Virginia, he had his third 100-yard game of the season. Tuten added 220 receiving yards and 489 kick return yards. He also had two touchdowns each through the air and via kick return. Thus, he finished with 1436 all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns.
These are just two of several playmakers on offense. On defense, Dorian Strong was a shut-down cornerback and Mansoor Delane also played well at the other corner. Antwan Powell-Ryland racked up 9.5 sacks as a defensive end, leading a group who finished tied for first in the league in total sacks.
— VT_StArScReAm (@VTStArScReAm) November 27, 2023
This team should only get better since the entire offense can return next year and most players on defense can come back.
However, that danged transfer portal opens next week, and if it has shown us anything, it is that the unexpected will happen.
Check that. It already happened to the Hokies. Starting tight-end Dae’Quan Wright has already announced that he will enter the portal. This is a big loss, as he was Tech’s third-leading receiver this year.
How many more surprises will there be? Only time will tell.
Let’s hope the rest of the starters return. Heck, let’s hope the all the eligible players in the two-deep return. They have been instrumental in this rebuild and have brought momentum back to Blacksburg. One would hope they feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and want to come back to finish the job.
Remember #BIB last December? When Mansoor Delane started the “Brewing in Blacksburg” mantra on Twitter?
Well, Delane was right. Something was brewing. And it started to come to fruition in the second half of the 2023 season. I hope the players continue to buy-in and keep it brewing in the off-season. If they do, then the 2024 Hokies can easily win 8-10 games, especially with their schedule.
— Brent Pry (@CoachPryVT) December 6, 2022
Tech Finished as a Solidly Middle-of-the-ACC Team – But “How Middle”?
Virginia Tech finished 5-3 in conference play, good for a tie for fourth with Georgia Tech. However, it is difficult to gauge if the Hokies are legitimately the “fourth-best” team in the ACC.
Their only three conference losses were to the top three teams – Florida State, Louisville, and NC State. And those games really were not close (even though NC State ended as a 7-point margin of victory, the Wolfpack dominated most of that game statistically).
However, Tech’s five ACC wins came at the expense of the bottom five teams. And Tech won all of them soundly, which is what any fan wants to see.
If you look at the tweet below from Treadmill Horse, it shows that the Hokies did not play the middle five teams: Georgia Tech, Clemson, UNC, Duke, and Miami. So while Virginia Tech finished the season tied for fourth place, there is no real way of knowing if they are top half or bottom half.
— Treadmill Horse (@treadmillhorse) November 26, 2023
And statistically, Virginia Tech was middle or better in a lot of categories for ACC-only games. This link provides all of that information, but again, many of those stats were garnered against the worst five teams in the league. So the jury is out as to where Tech really ranks across all ACC teams.
For now, though, don’t worry about that. As a fan, just celebrate that Tech is solidly in the middle of the pack and played well – for the most part – since September.
And that is improvement. Especially following last year’s last place finish and this year’s preseason prediction to finish at the bottom of the league. Only Louisville had a more impressive jump in going from 8th to 2nd. There is something to be said in that!
The UVa Game was a Textbook Lesson in What Not To Do in Terms of Creating Bulletin Board Content
Coaches should have taken note of what happened to motivate the Virginia Tech Hokies prior to this rivalry game (as if beating the in-state rival and earning a bowl bid was not enough motivation already!)
UVa’s freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea committed a Cardinal Sin when he gave Virginia Tech some bulletin board material after leading his team to victory over Duke. You can read his post-game comments in the tweet below:
— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) November 19, 2023
Apparently, the Virginia Tech locker room had those words posted throughout the week. There is no doubt in my mind that they served to fire up the Hokies.
The Tech defense was after Colandrea all day, hitting him whenever they could. They looked determined to make him eat his words, and they didn’t just do that, they fed him some dirt with those words, sacking him five times and knocking him down repeatedly (the sixth sack was against the backup). Chris Coleman of Techsideline even said in the TSL podcast that the PFF stats showed 38 pressures on UVa’s 50-plus dropbacks!
The hits included a few extra that drew flags, but Tech was clearly sending their own message to Colandrea, and I think it got through. The freshman QB was 29 of 46 for 243 yards, but much of that came in the second half when the game was already decided.
A better indicator of Colandrea’s performance is his quarterback rating (QBR), which came in at an abysmal 21.7. By contrast, Tech’s Kyron Drones’ QBR was 73.2 on Saturday. Even though Drones only threw for one more yard than Colandrea, he did it on only 10 completions, most of which were in the first half when the game was still competitive (well, in terms of the scoreboard at least).
Usually, I would not be happy with three roughing the passer penalties and one unsportsmanlike conduct flag, but given the context, I’m ok with all of them. Heck, if I lived in Blacksburg, I would even offer to run the penalty sprints for these guys!
The quarterback penalties were a direct result of Colandrea running his mouth, and the Hokies needed to shut him up. Their extra aggression also helped to mentally beat the Wahoos. UVa was a defeated team well before the clock hit double-zero.
As for Bhayshul Tuten’s unsportsmanlike penalty? Of course, I could never condone that kind of flag, but from a fan’s perspective, watching him run into the student section to celebrate a rivalry game that was already out of hand actually put a smile on my face. And when I saw the VT student spill his beer and the UVa student flip an obscene gesture (not included in the YouTube link below but easily findable on social media), my smile broadened.
Hey, it’s a rivalry game. This just added to the lore!
Trash talk is a part of sports, and it is heightened during these kinds of in-state games. For Colandrea and the University of Virginia however, the mistake of commenting publicly came back to bite them. Maybe he will learn to save the chatter for the field of play next time.
Or better yet, maybe he can learn to let his play speak for him instead.
Final Thoughts on the Virginia Tech Virginia Commonwealth Cup Game
With the victory over their in-state rival, Virginia Tech now has won 18 of the last 19 and 22 of the last 24 meetings. Tech has the overall series edge, 61-38-5.
As a Hokie fan, that makes me happy. And the 55-17 thrashing of the Wahoos makes me happier.
Bigger than the final game, though, is how the Hokies finished the season. With a bowl bid on the line, they showed out in the finale and got that sixth win, ensuring another invaluable month of practice for this young group.
It has been mentioned over and over for the last month – after that disappointing 1-3 non-conference start, Hokie Nation was just hoping for three or four wins. To get six and a bowl is a great outcome after that opening month.
Something is brewing in Blacksburg. These young players are only going to get better. A culture of competing is returning to the program. There is a lot to look forward to.
Including a bowl. Whichever one it is, Hokie Nation will be excited. Unlike the last bowl experience, this team should be fired up. Let’s hope they can use it as a springboard to 2024!
The foundation is being laid. It’s time to build!
As mentioned above, the Hokies had an offensive explosion, especially in the last three wins. In that time, Tech has:
- Outscored opponents 141-49 in the last three wins
- Gained 1628 total yards in their last three wins
- Rushed for 318, 361, and 252 yards in their last three wins
- Outrushed opponents 927-167 in the last three wins
- And in their five ACC wins, Tech averaged 41.8 points, 503 yards per game, and 5.4 yards per carry (according to Andy Bitter in the Techsideline podcast)
It was funny to watch the Tech fans rush the field again (confession, I was part of it!!). It is a new tradition, born in 2021 after that intense 29-24 comeback victory to give interim coach J.C. Price the win and a bowl bid.
Sons of Saturday co-host Pat Finn said at the 12:44 mark of their most recent podcast that he thinks the practice of rushing the field at Scott Stadium will not go away any time soon. I agree with him. When Tech storms the field after a 55-17 victory, that says that the celebration is bigger than the actual game. It is about the rivalry for Tech, it is about dominance. It is about planting your flag and declaring the state as ours.
And with such superiority over the past 24 years, Tech fans are finding new ways to show their clout. Rushing the visitor’s field is the latest flex. It won’t stop here though.
— SportsPoliticsCoffee (@SPC_Harry) November 26, 2023
The other budding tradition is from Price himself – smoking cigars on the field during the post-game celebration. There were several fans doing just that, and apparently there was an abundance of cigar-smoking in the locker room as well!
So yeah, as long as Virginia Tech keeps winning at Scott Stadium, Tech fans will storm the field and smoke their cigars. The only way to stop that? UVa has to win.
And that has only happened twice since 1998.
Virginia Tech now has held the Commonwealth Cup for 1082 consecutive days!
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