The Hokies are just a few days removed from their 56-45 loss in Chapel Hill to North Carolina, but it is abundantly clear that the team is not looking back as they push towards Boston College.
“It’s over with, but we definitely wish we could have it back. We have to move forward. Boston College is a good team at 3-1 coming off of a big win,” defensive end Emmanuel Belmar said. “We have to keep pushing forward.”
Tech’s defense didn’t have many highlights on Saturday as they allowed over 600 yards of total offense, over half of which came on the ground.
“They came out running the ball and established the run. Once they established the run, it was kind of a lot of RPO’s,” Belmar said. “You couldn’t get a rhythm for the game as far as pass-rush. They didn’t go to many drop-back passes. Once the run game got started, they had us.”
The focus now goes to the Boston College Eagles, who are 3-1 on the season and have developed one of the best passing offenses in the country. The defense will have to bounce back quickly if the Hokies want to avoid back-to-back losses.
Preparing for BC
The Hokies have quickly turned the page to the Eagles this week, who are coming off of an upset win over Pittsburgh in Chestnut Hill.
Quarterback Phil Jurkovec has quickly emerged as a star for BC after transferring from Notre Dame this offseason. The 6-foot-5 gunslinger has just shy of 1,200 yards with eight touchdowns through the Eagles’ first four games and has elevated the entire unit.
“He’s a big guy that reminds me a little bit of Roethlisberger. He’ll make some plays even if he’s getting tackled,” Belmar said. “He’ll throw it away, he’s definitely smart with the ball, but he can make some plays throwing across his body like Patrick Mahomes.”
Defensively, Boston College has shut down offenses that the Hokies have struggled with over the last two weeks. Tech allowed 87 points to Duke and North Carolina combined while the Eagles held those two teams to 6 and 26 points, respectively.
“They’re a very physical team up front and at linebacker. They play extremely hard. We know it’s going to be a challenge,” tight end James Mitchell said. “It’s something we’re looking forward to. Very excited to play, and we know what we’re going to get from them.”
What may not have looked like a tough game at the beginning of the season has turned into a big matchup as the Hokies and Eagles both look to avoid their second loss of the year.
Barno and Belmar in the Backfield
Ahead of the season, transfer Justus Reed received all of the attention at defensive end. After putting up double-digit sacks at Youngstown State in 2019, he was expected to be the star on the outside for the Hokies’ defense. However, it has been two homegrown talents that have led the team with three sacks each.
Amare Barno and Emmanuel Belmar have gotten after the quarterback better than anyone else on the team so far and helped the Hokies to just under five sacks a game, which only ranks below Pittsburgh among teams that have played two or more games.
Belmar has flown under the radar over the past few years, with just six sacks over the last three seasons. If he is able to continue to produce in his senior season, he won’t be slept on much longer.
“He’s a baller, he’s a sleeper. People don’t talk about him as much as they need to. I think he should get more attention,” linebacker Alan Tisdale said. “Me and him, we’re both underdogs, so I like it. We just keep battling.”
While Belmar’s production has been surprising, so has Barno’s emergence as a pass-rusher.
The 6-foot-6 defensive end started his career at linebacker before making the switch to the line for his junior season. He’s announced his presence with authority with all three of his sacks coming in the last two games.
“That’s my big brother. He’s an athlete. When he was at linebacker, I wanted to model my game after him because he’s fast, explosive and everything you want,” Tisdale said. “At defensive end, he’s just a freak.”
Barno and Belmar may not be household names yet, but they’ve made a huge impact for the Hokies for the first two games. Both could start to get more attention with another big game on Saturday.
Mitchell Taking a Step Forward
Last season, everyone saw flashes of potential from James Mitchell, but in 2020, he is finally at the top of the depth chart.
Expectations were high entering the season, and Mitchell has not disappointed. Through three games, Mitchell leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He also took a reverse into the end zone against North Carolina, showing his versatility in the Hokies’ offense.
With issues due to COVID-19, Mitchell may have to become even more versatile if that’s possible. Mitchell says that the team has him training to play at three or four different spots, just in case.
“I just try to do whatever they ask of me. Whatever is going to give us the best chance to win,” Mitchell said. “It’s really not that hard. They do a good job of making sure I get all the reps I need at practice, that way when it comes to game time I’m moving fast and not really thinking. Just ready to go out there and play.”
Part of what makes Mitchell such an important part of Tech’s offense is his ability to block. He has received plenty of attention for his work running routes and scoring touchdowns, but his blocking through the first three games has been a key part of the Hokies’ strong start on the ground.
“A lot of those guys blocking down the field helps me a lot. James, especially, putting guys on his back,” running back Khalil Herbert said. “He’s becoming a really, really good blocker down field, sealing edges. It makes it easier for me to run around. Just shout out to the guys in the tight end room, they’re doing a really good job.”
Mitchell continues to grow as a player and has already started off a strong 2020 campaign. If that trend continues, it may not be long before he’s playing on Sundays.