The Virginia Tech offense made it look easy on Saturday night as they ran for over 300 yards on the ground in their 45-24 beatdown of North Carolina State.
“We felt like we could have had more. We felt like we left some out there on the field,” left tackle Christian Darrisaw said. “We were talking about it during the game, we wanted 400. We felt like we came up short, but we’re good with that.”
The Hokies had five players rush for over 40 yards against the Wolfpack, but the standout was Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert.
Herbert Explodes in Debut
In his first game as a Hokie, Khalil Herbert touched the ball just seven times, but it seemed like each of those touches was a big play.
Herbert started off the night with a 33-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage and followed that up with a 37-yard run into the end zone on the second drive of the game. He sprinted down the sideline nearly untouched for the first score of the new season.
“Hats off to the o-line. They do a great job up front making it easy for us,” Herbert said. “Going into the secondary before we get touched, that’s a dream for running backs. It makes it real easy for us.”
On Herbert’s six carries, he ran for 104 yards for an astounding average of 17.3 yards per carry. However, it was his catch out of the backfield that sealed the game for Tech.
At midfield, early in the fourth quarter, Herbert took a screen pass from quarterback Braxton Burmeister and burst down the left sideline. He dove for the pylon but came up a few yards short of the endzone.
“Before we got out there, o-line is like, ‘This is a touchdown, this is a touchdown.’ We came to the sideline right after that play, and I couldn’t hear the end of it [that I didn’t score],” Herbert said. “I’m still hearing it. I’m definitely mad about that one. I look forward to getting one back.”
The Hokies punched it in two plays later and extended the lead to 28 points, truly putting the game out of reach.
Herbert made the decision to come to Blacksburg after spending his entire career as a Jayhawk. With 150 scrimmage yards in his first game wearing the maroon and orange, he has already made an instant impact for Tech.
“I kind of envisioned just winning was my big thing,” Herbert said. “Being able to go out there with the guys and get a nice big win was nice to have.”
The Mauling Offensive Line Follows Hoffman
After a year of speculation and waiting, Coastal Carolina transfer Brock Hoffman finally took the field as a member of the Hokies. He quickly made his presence felt as he was named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week while being matched up with the Wolfpack’s disruptive nose guard, Alim McNeill.
“[Hoffman] knew that he was going to be challenged with that nose guard,” head coach Justin Fuente said on Tech Talk Live. “We knew we had some flexibility there and had other guys who could play center and Brock could move to guard, but lining Brock up with Alim, we thought was a good way to start and see how it goes. He certainly didn’t back down from the challenge. He excelled and did a fine job with a really good football player.”
McNeill made just two total tackles during the game, and for the most part was a non-factor on Saturday.
The Hokies’ offensive line has lots of big bodies, but there was an increased physicality in the group on Saturday. A lot of that can be attributed to the gritty attitude that Hoffman brings to the line.
“I want to say before he got here, we just did our job and what was asked of us from Vice and how they wanted us to block on plays and schemes, but it’s like Brock got in, and even if he cuts off his man on a block, he’s going to take him to the ground,” guard Lecitus Smith said. “It doesn’t matter if the running back has already gotten the ball out of the backfield, he’s going to do whatever it takes to get his man on the ground.”
Hoffman’s nastiness in the trenches helped the Hokies open huge lanes on Saturday night and take the Wolfpack front almost completely out of the game. Surely, he will look to continue to frustrate his matchup in Durham on Saturday.
“If you line up on the opposite side of the ball against Brock, you’re not going to like him very much at all. As a matter of fact, it’ll make you hate him,” Smith said. “Off of the field, he’s a cool guy. He’s not only my teammate, that’s my guy off of the field. On the field, line up across from him, it’ll make you grow some hate for him with how physical he is.”
The Revolving Door Up Front
Looking closely at the offensive front on Saturday, it’s hard to ignore that the group changed on almost every drive.
Not only were players being shuttled in and out of the game, but players were being asked to play multiple positions. The depth and versatility of the Hokies’ offensive line allows Coach Vance Vice to experiment with different combinations throughout the game.
“He lets us know when we’re preparing for the week that we’re going to be changing positions. I think Coach Vice does a really good job making sure that a lot of us up front can play different positions,” Smith said. “A lot of times you won’t be in one spot. If there came a time that I needed to play right guard, Coach Vice is going to make sure I’m ready to play that position.”
This strategy isn’t always perfect. If a group of five has an exceptional drive and they’re shuffled around on the next series, the chemistry may not always stay the same and it could take players out of their rhythm.
“I don’t want to sound selfish, but this weekend I was on the sideline after the second or third series and he told me that I’m out and Hud is going in.,” Smith said. “In my head, I really wanted the reps, but it is what it is. I wasn’t upset or anything, I just wanted to play.”
The Hokies could settle on a set group up front later in the season, but for now it seems like the rotation will continue. After their performance on Saturday, it doesn’t look like there is any reason to change what led to Tech’s best rushing performance in years.