Virginia Tech held onto a 10-3 lead against Old Dominion with 5:23 remaining in the second quarter. Ryan Willis had just pushed the Hokies inside the 10-yard line after picking up nine yards on a 3rd-and-2 quarterback keeper.
He took the snap in the shotgun, faked a handoff inside to Deshawn McClease and a pump fake to Kaleb Smith on the outside screen to suck the defenders in before lofting a pass into the corner of the end zone to Hezekiah Grimsley.
Grimsley adjusted his body to the throw, went up for the ball with one hand, and tipped it to himself before corralling it against his chest as he tumbled to the ground. It made for an acrobatic, SportsCenter Top 10 catch.
It only made for one problem. Grimsley wasn’t able to catch the highlights later that night on ESPN.
“I don’t even have cable,” Grimsley said. “It was sent to me. I didn’t even realize I made it. Being on ESPN is a big deal for me and my mom.”
With his favorite NFL player being Odell Beckham Jr., Grimsley has become accustomed to practicing the one-handed catches that have become internet sensations since Beckham’s one-handed touchdown against the Cowboys in 2014.
“We got here because we know how to catch with two hands,” Grimsley said. “I’d rather practice the rare catches. Before every practice I grab a teammate, probably Tayvion Robinson, grab him and we do one-handed catches. If the situation is like that, it’s just to get the right hand-eye coordination.”
Now in his junior season, Grimsley has found himself in an expanded role. Wide receivers coach Jafar Williams issued a challenge to each wideout in the spring. He told Grimsley that he wanted him to learn every position as a wide receiver, not just the slot that he had been in for the past two seasons.
Williams also wanted Grimsley to take on a leadership role in the receiver room, and that work outside the lines has yielded positive early results on the field.
“He does everything that you ask on the field, off the field,” Williams said. “When you see guys who work hard and do everything you ask, you know they’re going to have success in life. So when they have success on the field, you’re just overly excited for them. Hezzy is one of those guys. He has an infectious personality.”
In the absence of Damon Hazelton who’s still dealing with a hamstring injury, Grimsley has hauled in two touchdowns through the first two games. Phil Patterson also saw an increased role on Saturday where he caught three passes for 44 yards, including the touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game again.
Patterson has seemingly been poised to break out for a while now, but there have been apparent strides for the redshirt junior.
“He has been more consistent, and that was one of the things I challenged him on when I got here,” Williams said. “If he continues to do that, hopefully by the end of the season we’ll have a pretty good player.”
The Virginia Tech Linebacker Rotation
Against Boston College, backup linebackers Alan Tisdale and Keshon Artis played a couple series. In particular, Tisdale showed promise in his time on the field as the redshirt freshman racked up five tackles.
However, the duo did not get rotated into the linebacker unit during last Saturday’s matchup with Old Dominion. The rhythm of the game messed with Bud Foster’s intended rotation.
“I told Keshon and I told Tizzy [Alan Tisdale] that that was my bad,” Foster said. “We only played 24 snaps in the first half. I didn’t want to get those guys – and linebackers are a position almost like tailback, you kind of get the flow of the game. You get a feel of blocking schemes, those type of things of what they’re doing.”
At the mike linebacker spot, Rayshard Ashby has been a tackling machine with 23 tackles through the first two weeks. Dax Hollifield, meanwhile, has brought the same energy to the field, but the execution has been missing at times. The sophomore tallied eight tackles against ODU, but also missed a few tackles that would have limited the ball carrier to little or no gain.
“We’ve got to get some more play out of the backer spot a little bit, be more productive as far as behind the line of scrimmage and what not,” Foster said. “Dax had some plays last year behind the line of scrimmage.
“He missed a couple tackles that I thought he would normally make, but that also goes back to those guys.”
Another Look at O-line Room
The offensive line has been discussed much more often this week than normally, and that’s largely because of different units that were trotted out on the field and filled with underclassmen.
To start the game on Saturday, the offensive line consisted of two redshirt sophomores (Lecitus Smith and Silas Dzansi), a true sophomore (Christian Darrisaw), a redshirt freshman (John Harris), and a true freshman (Doug Nester). Add in two more freshmen (Bryan Hudson – true, and Luke Tenuta – redshirt) who were inserted into the lineup in the second half, and you’d be hard pressed to find a younger offensive line across the ACC.
As a result, offensive line coach Vance Vice knows it’s a work in progress.
“Can we get better? Yeah, we can,” Vice said. “Am I going to be gray-headed in a month? Yeah, I am. They’re still working like crazy and had a great day today.”
Redshirt juniors Zachariah Hoyt and TJ Jackson began the season in the starting lineup but suffered injuries that held them out of the home opener. It’s led to a number of different units being used where the chemistry between the five on the field might be lacking.
“The chemistry that we’re going to get to is probably not there yet,” Vice said. “It’s letting our guys play fast. That’s the most important thing. Play fast and use their athletic ability to the best.
“It’s not one guy. It’s not one group on the field. It’s a little bit of all of us.”
Those offensive linemen have heard the outside noise about the lack of a running game so far for the Hokies. It’s a correction that they know they need to make, and it also led to a promise from left guard Lecitus Smith.
“It’s definitely frustrating to us as an offensive line because we take it to heart,” Smith said. “It’s something we know we need to get better at because it tags at our character.
“We’re going to toughen up. We’re going to get it right.”