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They Didn't Win By 100, But Hokies Took One More Step Saturday

You just knew coming in that Virginia Tech’s game with Wofford was a no-win situation, as the game was such a mismatch, even if the Hokies won by 100 there would still be people saying “yeah but it’s Wofford. You should have won by 107.”

Virginia Tech didn’t win by 100 Saturday – the margin was 27-7 – and yes, there were fans who said it wasn’t enough of a margin.

But there were enough good things that happened that give credence to the belief that each week this program is moving in the right direction.

Everyone had their hair on fire after the season-opening mistake-filled loss to Old Dominion, and for good reason. Improvement needed to start the next week against Boston College, raged the barbarians at the gate, and continue each week.

Despite not gaining 1,000 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns, I believe that’s what the Hokies did Saturday. Against Boston College the previous week, they showed they could fix the mistakes, committing only 5 penalties (after 15 against ODU) and zero turnovers. My initial thought was if you do it once, it could be a fluke. Do it twice, and you’ve got a positive trend.

They made it two in a row against Wofford. Again, only 5 penalties and again, zero turnovers. And unlike either previous game, they had zero pre-snap penalties. No illegal procedure or jumping offsides before a play began, which really is a nice indicator of a team’s discipline. No special teams miscues, no fumbles, no interceptions.

No instances of shooting themselves in the foot.

Then there was the matter of the passing game. It’s been long expected that this Virginia Tech team has a number of situations that are just going to take time to address. New head coach, new quarterback, new receivers, new offensive line…and there is no substitute for playing time to solve any of those areas. The offensive line usually takes the longest, but the chemistry between quarterback and wide receivers is close behind.

With more complex defenses these days, passing is more than a quarterback making a read and a receiver running a route. That receiver has options on the route and also has to make a read, meaning two people have to interpret what they’re seeing from different viewpoints on the field the same way. Against ODU, Grant Wells and his receivers at times looked like they needed a Rosetta Stone course in translating what was going on, as this lack of being on the same page led directly to at least one interception, and probably a second one.

It was better against Boston College, but still far from great. So earlier in the week I suggested the Hokies throw against Wofford like dead people vote in Chicago – early and often. Coach Brent Pry must have had similar thoughts because they did just that, throwing nearly as much in the first half as they did the entire game against Boston College.

The result was the emergence of new weapons the Hokies had not previously displayed. Christian Moss and Jadan Blue came into the game with a combined one catch for minus-3 yards, but by only halftime, the two had 9 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. I got to see Bryce Duke play for Tuscarora up here in Loudoun County, and he has the gift of being able to turn on a big burst of speed when needed, the perfect talent to have if you run a wheel route out of the backfield. The Hokies ran that wheel route play and Duke outran everyone for a 27-yard touchdown.  

Wells threw for 314 yards, but it wasn’t the yardage that was particularly special. On a team that I’ve wondered if it had enough options, he spread that around to 12 different targets. Seven different receivers had two or more catches, and in an offense where in previous years there were more checkdown plays than downfield passes, the statistic sheet tells a much different story. Next to each receiver’s name where it shows the longest completion they caught, you saw yesterday a string of numbers like 29, 27, 24 and 20.  

They showed at times they can throw the ball downfield and don’t have only 1 or 2 options to employ.

That’s not to say everything in the air game is perfect. There were times Wells threw balls that led receivers directly into a defender’s path, prompting me to think “Grant’s going to get somebody killed,” but that gets back to passer and receiver getting on the same page. It looked like that area took a big step forward Saturday.

Then there is the matter of the crowd. After the ODU loss, there was a great disturbance in the Hokie Nation force regarding their hopes for the program. “I might as well set these Wofford tickets on fire because I’m not going to watch that and nobody’s going to buy them,” one longtime Hokie told me a few minutes after the ODU game ended.

But yesterday that sentiment was long gone. Despite a game that started at 11 AM – which is considered the middle of the night for college students on a weekend – the stadium was close to capacity. Over 62,000 showed up despite the early kickoff and they were loud and proud. By comparison over in Charlottesville, three hours later with a 2 PM kickoff and perfect weather, they didn’t come anywhere close to such a turnout.

The Hokies clearly have more work to do, and a Thursday night game with West Virginia will be a telling tale of just how much that is. But against an overmatched opponent, they did what they were suppose to do – win comfortably – while again limiting mistakes, adding more weapons to their offensive arsenal and gaining one more step of experience in the rebuilding climb from seasons past.

At this stage of the season, you really can’t ask for more.

Even if they didn’t win by 100.

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Friday, 30 September 2022

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