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It wasn’t the kind of game that left you beating your chest and screaming at the world “See? We’re really good!”
But Virginia Tech’s win over Boston College last night showed a few intriguing statistics that could serve warning that this year’s Hokie team might just break its string of underperforming seasons under Justin Fuente and be surprisingly good.
Everyone knew the defense would be suspect – and it lived up to that billing last night – but there’s also been a hope if the Hokies got the right people in the right seats on the bus on offense, one unit could offset the growing pains of the other and have a special season.
Which is sort of what happened last night.
Fuente – who must have been doing it just to aim a middle finger at me for last week suggesting it was dumb to win the toss yet defer to the second half so that suspect defense could be on the field immediately – did it again last night, and BC obliged, easily moving the ball down the field. Fortunately, they held on to the football as effectively as I exercise, and an early BC fumble prevented VT from starting a game behind. Again.
Enter Hendon Hooker as the rightful starting QB and Khalil Herbert, who Fuente actually remembered to use in the first quarter this week. Those two must have been channeling Bruce Springsteen in the tunnel before the game while humming “We gotta get out while we're young…`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”
Each carried 18 times. According to Hokiesports.com, Hooker gained 166 yards, averaging 9.1 yards per carry. Herbert gained 146 yards, for 7.9 yards per carry, so that duo had 36 carries and between them averaged 8.7 yards per carry. A dog with a note in his mouth can call plays when you can give the ball to either of two players and you average that kind of yardage.
Which is what gives me such hope about the season. Fuente is allegedly a quarterback whisperer who excels in the passing game. But the strength of this year’s team is a huge, talented offensive line and several great runners, and at times it seems like Fuente resists that gift, wanting to call frequent pass plays, probably because that’s his comfort zone.
But last night he gave up and rode the horse he had instead of the one he wanted. Having to defend two great runners in Hooker and Herbert when most teams don’t even have one really stresses a defense. They can’t key on one or the other, and zone read plays are now really effective. I’ve always been a strong believer in you run to set up the pass, and that seemed to happen last night too. Defenses find themselves creeping up to the line because they’re tired of giving up 8.7 yards per running play, and all of a sudden, they’re vulnerable to the pass.
I mean, look at Hooker’s stats from last night: 11-15 passing for 111 yards. 18 carries for 166 yards. ZERO turnovers. And this was his first start of the season. That’s a balanced attack that chews up clock, scores points and doesn’t make mistakes. Coaches dream of having that kind of offense.
That doesn’t mean to say the game was easy, because the defense still hasn’t gotten its act together. I had hoped after all the mistakes made against North Carolina, there would have been some very intensive film study, the mistakes in coverage or schemes would have been analyzed, and everyone would learn from those mistakes.
That didn’t seem evident in the first half as BC ran the ball easily and found receivers with enough room in the secondary that it looked like Hokie defensive backs were social distancing. Virginia Tech could have easily been down several scores like they were last week against North Carolina had it not been for Boston College turnovers.
They got better in the second half, and Fuente noted that improvement in his post-game comments. But I’d have to give the offense credit for some of that as they put up a 3-touchdown lead, causing Boston College to throw more, take more chances and ultimately allowing the defense to get more aggressive because they knew what was coming.
As we all saw last week, there’s a big difference on defense when you’re down three touchdowns versus being up three scores in the way you are allowed to approach the defensive side of the ball.
The good news is this offense is only going to get better. That was only Hooker’s first start this season, and having the same guy under center week after week should make it easier for the offensive line to block, knowing they’re only dealing with one style of play from a QB instead of two. Or three. Plus it’s not like in its current state it isn’t one of the best offenses in the conference.
This team, while adjusting to all sorts of uncertainty due to COVID, has now averaged 42 points a game in 4 games. It’s also been a consistent 42 points a game, not like previous teams that could go out and score 60 one week, then come back a week later and only score 14. They have put 45, 38, 45 and now 40 on the scoreboard in consecutive weeks.
They look like in a shootout, they can outscore just about anyone.
Which may be the greatest news of all. High scoring teams that don’t turn the ball over can buy their defense time to adjust and get better over the course of a season. The defense doesn’t need enough time to be great. They just need enough time to be average.
With the Hokies having an offense last night that showed a strong running game, a good passing game, no turnovers, and even a kicking game where Brian Johnson set a Hokie record (thanks to Damian Salas for pointing it out) by kicking his 114th consecutive PAT, one thing seems certain.
Time is on their side.
Which could mean this team might get to - as Springsteen once sang - "where we really want to go, and we'll walk in the sun. But till then, tramps like us, baby we were born to run."
good analysis on O&D; good hope and projection; HH improve passing, backups continue to prep; no need to apologize to BS, he may follow his lyrics; thx -