Error-Prone Virginia Tech Loses at Wake Forest, 23-16

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Virginia Tech Wake Forest 2020 scoring summary

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman celebrates after opening the scoring with a 9-yard touchdown run. (Winston-Salem Journal/Andrew Dye)

The old adage “any given Sunday” can be applied to Saturday as well. No matter how much praise and hype a team has received, they still have to take the field, line up across from the opponent, and get the job done.

Virginia Tech could not accomplish that task on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies (3-2) fell flat in Winston-Salem and lost 23-16 to Wake Forest (3-2).

“It’s my responsibility to get our team out there playing well,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “We made uncharacteristic mistakes. I don’t remember the last time we had that many penalties. Turned the football over, we were poor in the red zone. We weren’t good on third down. Just disappointed. We should have done a better job.”

Let’s take a deeper look at some of those areas that Fuente addressed.

Virginia Tech Unforced Penalties

It was an ugly display of discipline for Virginia Tech the entire game. The Hokies were flagged 10 times for 112 yards. Defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt was ejected for targeting in the third quarter and flagged another 15 yards after he was officially kicked out of the game, throwing his helmet on the field, irate at the call. What would have been a sack instead pushed the Demon Deacons 30 yards down the field. Nick Sciba connected on a 46-yard field goal on the drive to extend Wake’s lead to 20-10.

On another occasion in the fourth quarter, the Hokies gobbled up Wake’s Kenneth Walker in the backfield at the Tech 25-yard line on third-and-goal. It would have forced a 42-yard field goal, but instead, Norell Pollard pushed Walker after the play was blown dead, earning a personal foul penalty to give the Demon Deacons a first down. As a result, Wake drained more clock and Sciba connected on a much shorter 28-yard field goal to push the lead to two scores again, 23-13.

“Unforced penalties, and I’m not talking about the targeting deal,” Fuente said. “I’m disappointed in Jarrod after that. We had one on Norell. The way it’s officiated with targeting is what it is, but it’s the other ones that are unforced penalties. It’s just been uncharacteristic of us. We haven’t done those things. It’s not who we are and who we’re supposed to be. We just can’t hand people things. It’s too competitive of a league. Everyone is equal to hand them yards on penalties and turnovers.”

In the four previous weeks, Virginia Tech averaged 4.75 penalties for 37.25 yards. So how will the Fuente and Co. address it moving forward?

“We aren’t going to write it off. I can promise you that,” Fuente said. “Our ass is going to address it. No, I’m not going to write it off and just hope it gets better. We’re not going to play football like that.”

Offensive Woes

Virginia Tech came into the contest averaging 42 points per game. On Saturday, it was able to string together just 16 points over the course of the game.

Even worse, the Hokies crossed midfield on 8 of their 11 drives and still couldn’t score on a consistent basis. It was a number of issues that culminated in Virginia Tech being unable to punch the ball into the end zone.

Hooker, who finished 17-of-33 passing for 223 yards and a touchdown along with 98 rushing yards, threw a career-high three interceptions, all to Wake Forest freshman walk-on safety Nick Anderson. Trailing 17-10, Hooker led the Hokies down the field into the red zone before the end of the first half, only to throw a pick in the end zone on third down.

“Anytime you get the ball down there and don’t get any points, it’s a big deal,” Fuente said. “I thought we responded well. It was not a positive thing going into the half, but our guys handled the halftime and what we were doing better. I told the guys on offense, ‘Would you have felt better if you went three-and-out?’ You drove the ball all the way down there and we had a turnover. Obviously, it wasn’t good, but I didn’t think it was a soul-crushing event that happened that we couldn’t recover from.”

It was a well-executed gameplan from Wake Forest’s defense that keyed in on Khalil Herbert. The Demon Deacons loaded the box and were not going to let Herbert single handedly beat them after he had done so time and time again for the Hokies this year. The graduate transfer was limited to just 14 carries for 64 yards.

“They did a really good job up front just playing tough,” Herbert said. “They must have studied a lot of film because they were able to do their job and do their assignments and be where they needed to be. 

“We have to capitalize on when we make plays and go score. We’ll look at the film and get better for next week.”

As a team, the Hokies, who came in averaging 312 rushing yards per game, still ran for 210 yards on 43 carries, but a lot came from Hooker (17 carries, 98 yards) improvising to gain yardage with his legs.

“You want to hit that 300 mark every game,” center Brock Hoffman said. “It’s obviously frustrating when you can’t run like we have before in games. We’re just going to get back to it and work our tails off. Get back to that next week.”

With no rushing attack to lean on, Hooker and the passing game struggled to make plays through the air. He connected with James Mitchell for a 39-yard touchdown in the second quarter and hit Herbert for a 35-yard screen pass. Otherwise, no chunk plays were made as the receivers couldn’t get separation and Hooker was off target most of the night in the passing game. Brian Johnson also went 3-for-5 on field goals, missing attempts from 42 and 51 yards.

“They play a little bit of a bend-but-don’t-break defense,” Fuente said. “They came and challenged us a little bit more on the outside. We really didn’t make any big plays I thought in the passing game. We ran the ball still okay against a pretty loaded box. We really didn’t make very many plays … throwing the ball. You can look at the passing yards. We weren’t very effective down there.”

“It’s not been the normal, but it is a part of the game,” Hooker said of his interceptions. “It’s the same as getting tackled or scoring a touchdown. It’s a part of the game. Just gonna put my head down and keep working. Staying positive, lifting my teammates up, and coming to practice with a great attitude.”

Defensive Inconsistencies

By no means did Virginia Tech’s defense lose the game. Coming into the game if you had said the Hokies would allow 23 points, you would probably take it. However, there were still several frustrating moments.

In the first half, Wake Forest was more physical than Virginia Tech at the point of attack. The Demon Deacons were the tougher team and rushed for 236 yards, led by Christian Beal-Smith, who tallied 129 yards on 13 carries. One drive still sticks out.

Tied at 10 apiece in the second quarter, Wake ripped off a 17-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took off over seven minutes of clock. The Demon Deacons converted three fourth downs on the drive and Kenneth Walker finished it off by carrying four Hokie defenders into the end zone after he was seemingly wrapped up for no gain.

“I felt like it was going to be that kind of game,” Fuente said. “They were going to go for it on fourth-and-short. That’s kind of become the norm a little bit more in college football. We held them to 23 points. We should have played better all around.”

The Hokies limited Wake’s Sam Hartman to just 110 yards passing. In the second half, Justin Hamilton’s unit allowed just six points and forced Hartman and Co. to go 0-for-5 on third downs.

“The first half we were just a little bit out of our gaps, missed tackles and things like that,” said linebacker Rayshard Ashby, who recorded seven tackles and a sack. “The game plan stayed the same. They made minor adjustments. It was just on us to get better.”

Virginia Tech Notes

  • Tech is 5-2 against Wake Forest since joining the ACC in 2004.
  • Head coach Justin Fuente’s record moves to 36-22 at Virginia Tech.
  • Chamarri Conner wore the No. 25 jersey and was the leading tackler with 10 tackles. It’s the second week in a row he’s been in on the most tackles after collecting 11 last week against Boston College.
  • James Mitchell’s 39-yd touchdown catch was his fourth receiving touchdown of the season.

— hokiesports.com box score —

Virginia Tech-Wake Forest Team and Player Stats

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60 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. An interception is worth 2 points statistically. a field goal is worth about 3 as I recall. So 2+2+2+3+3=12. So it appears that better execution would have won the game, unless my math is off.
    I don’t blame the coaches for turnovers and missed FG. How many of these missives would be posted if we had beaten Wake 28-23?
    Calm down guys, this is a good team that had a bad day, that’s all.

    1. catamount What do you think the record of this “good” team will be. I’ll give the neutral position of 7-4 [over/under – not exactly a “good” team] and take the under. You have the over at 8-3, or 9-2. They finish at 8-3, and I’ll agree, they are good. Even if they finish at 7-4, I’ll take it. But, I’ll take the under at 6-5.

      1. If the OC can respond to the keying on Herbert and Hooker stops throwing picks, then 8-3. If Hooker’s accuracy doesn’t improve, 6-5 is very realistic. Frankly, as good as Hooker is overall, I wonder if starting QP wouldn’t improve their chances. His running would not allow any defense, even Clemson, to spy on Herbert, and his passing has proven to be reliably good. However, I never bet on sports, it’s too emotionally exhausting as it is, never mind the added stress of losing money!

    2. 2 timeouts wasted on 3rd and 4 plays that we did not come close to converting. Another on a punt.
      We just were not sharp.

  2. I agree with you about players from Va
    Four or 5 years ago on D Tech was run by a different DC .I ask the same question why did we not recruit and sign these young men ?
    A lot has to do with selling the culture and identity which Tech was starting to re create
    and Wake already had
    On D we have to give JHam a few years but a co-defensive coordinator is not out of the question to give JHam time to learn and grow into his position
    Like bud and Rod Sharpless

  3. phoenixhokie states – We’re a solid Top 25 team usually

    Not saying he is wrong, I am saying I would never rank a Fuente coached VT team in the top 25 until after 6 games, if they earn it. For the past two years [fact check please] we have started in the polls higher, and sometimes much higher than we have finished. In 2018 we started 12th and didn’t finish in the Top 40. We weren’t very good. Last year we lost to pUVa and the bowl game.

    We get our mojo back with a solid BC win, we get most of our D players back, we get our D Coordinator back for a second week, we get the #1 QB back for the the whole game. Perfect storm to flatten Wake. Instead we lose to the smallest school playing D1 ball.

    I think we were a solid Top 25 team at one time. We are now lucky to finish in the Top 40.

    We have 6 games left – we will go 3-3 and finish 6-5, maybe 7-4, but I don’t see it. Phoenix, is that what you mean by putting on the big boy pants? I don’t expect better. Oh well.

  4. I get tired of so many quick to blame the coaches every time we lose. Sometimes you have to credit the opponents and WF played well.

    They loaded the box with 9/10 and evenly spread to hold our running game down. UVA has done the same thing and expect other opponents to experiment as well. The answer is to attack the corners down field with the passing game and I am sure Fu and Cornelison know that. But that exposes what I feel is the weakest part of our team – the wide receivers. We need more and lost several to transfer. TV angles make it difficult to see for sure but guessing we aren’t consistently getting separation. So that puts more pressure on the QB and HH wasn’t as sharp as he has been.

    Finally we fans have no idea how practices are now structured to deal with the Covid challenges. Yes we weren’t missing any players this week due to Covid but were they all available the entire week for practice? How about the conditioning of the returning players? Or how many players are getting reps in practice at the same position? Because with the Friday testing protocol you can’t prepare the team while not knowing for sure who you might be missing. I acknowledge every team has the same issues. Just pointing out how challenging this season continues to be and it’s likely to continue to exhibit ups and downs. Just happy to have sports to watch.

  5. Alternative headline for the article.

    Mediocre football team loses to another mediocre football team. Fuente will never get this team above 8-4 without a miracle. Due to the downward spiral recruiting situation the future looks pretty bleak. The entire offense was available yesterday to score 16 points on a mediocre WF team that is unranked and 3-2. Many of us knew that Stiney was the problem back in the day, which was when this program failed to make the next step and likely missed that opportunity forever. Right now, we have the same thing in the current OC that just can’t get an obvious feel for the game in real time. You don’t have to be Bill Belichek or Nick Saban to observe that lack of ability. You just have to watch other football games to understand the difference.

    Oh well, I’m still happy to be a Hokie fan and I always will be. Just wish we didn’t put so much money into Fuente’s contract because he could be replaced rather easily, otherwise.

    1. And …. you think changing coaches is going to fix things??? Either you are dreaming or on dope.

  6. I hate seeing yet again no real passing attack. Lob passes and fades won’t cut. Hooker gives us “more” balance, but he does not make the offense balanced. Plus the OC continues to over-call running plays stubbornly knowing that BC is keying on it. Definition of insanity.

    When we say the WRs can’t get separation, are people actually watching it. Because if you are watching it on tV, the tv camera isn’t following the WRs to be able to assess that.

  7. Fuente states that WF must have studied a lot of film to shut down Herbert. Well, it should be no surprise that teams focus on scheming to minimize the opponents most productive elements. My question, what did our O-coord have ready in the game plan to make adjustments? It seemed we continued to run laterally with no success. Minimal RPO and no mis-direction.

    1. +1 We all knew what any opponent will focus on. I’m not settled on how much to put on the OC, between over throws, dropped passes, skipped passes and interceptions our QB was not showing himself to be a threat in the passing game. So we could not cause WF to worry about a balanced attack. Happens to all of us, HH had a bad day passing. The question is: is it best to leave in a struggling player or rotate someone else in?

      1. That is what I was thinking. I could not watch the game but I did listen to it. If Burmeister was the QB getting the same results, would he have been left in the game?

      2. I was thinking the same thing if HH was off
        Then put QP in smash mouth vs smash mouth Football with a little passing
        Challenge the O and D Line

    2. WF has a much quicker D than VT’s O. Much better LBs, like night and day comparison. Our vaunted “Vice Squad” was beaten like the proverbial rented mule. And their backs are all quicker and tougher than VT’s backs.

    1. No might about it, HH was off. Maybe the O-line could have played better but connect on some of those passing attempts and this is a different game.

      1. No way. WF has better, faster, more determined players. Outcome would be the same if you played that game 10 times in a row.

  8. I hate seeing the lack of discipline and the penalties. It was apparent yesterday and at the end of the game against UNC, when they roughed up the QB when he was taking a knee. That isn’t toughness, it is stupid. And that is on the coaches.

  9. Throws were high all day, D fits were off in the first half, still learning new D scheme, turnovers off high throws, dumb penalties, little separation by receivers, there’s a LOT of performance issues to unpack in this game. The coaching that sooo many seem to think is a massive problem doesn’t equate to execution. It was a bad game but not terrible, stats bare that out, just couldn’t finish. Man up, rub some dirt on it and get back in the fight.

    1. Will someone tell me what the “new scheme” is? It looks as bad as the “old one” to me. Faster stronger players running wild through the VT D like they were up against a high school team.

  10. Coaches coach players play
    Give Wake credit !
    We did not play well.bottom line ! Across the board!
    Fu is a good coach and Wake is well coached
    Learn from it and move on !

    1. Got that right, some of the players had a bad game. But the coaches own getting the players ready to play and putting them into a position to succeed. What really stood out to me is where the starting defensive talent at WF came from:
      Carlos Basham, Roanoke, VA
      Sulaiman Kamara, Richmond VA
      Traveon Redd, Martinsville, VA
      Trey Rucker, Fairfax VA
      Not to mention number 45 who had the game of his life (I suspect) who is from Clifton, VA.
      You got to ask yourself, would we trade our starters for any of these guys? Would WF have struggled if these guys weren’t there because they Stayed In State?
      If the coaches want players that execute better and more consistently, get better recruits. They own that.

      1. It doesn’t matter what “position” you put a poor player in. He’s gonna get run over unless he gets out of the way.

  11. One word DISGUSTING…just look at the box score .Vt ran 78 plays; only punted 2 times; 28 FIRST DOWNS but only 16 points.

    However the biggest number is 14- the number of touches that Herbert had…yes I get they stacked the box but he could have possibly broken a big play if more chances.

    I have to hold Fuente responsible.Clawson out smarted and out coached him, I guess with all those top 10 recruiting classes they have had over the years…time our main excuse to finally gets exposed..it’s the coaching stupid as they say!

    1. Clawson will always outsmart them and get better players, too. A young successful coach. I was disappointed when VT didn’t get him.

    2. Agreed. There is as much talent, if not more, on the Hokies. When the most impressive play of the season to date is on special teams (the fake punt) that’s telling the tale. Our offensive is loaded with talent but when your QB has to be a running back it’s bound to interrupt the flow. Instead of utilizing the talent Tech has in their true running backs and allowing Hooker to be a secondary threat, our coaching staff relies on him while Blackshear and Herbert stand idle. Receiving Corp is talented but also takes a back seat. Our OC lacks creativity and makes it a cake walk for opposing D’s. Whomever is calling the plays needs a refresher course, but then again when you have middle school plays in your book it’s like getting blood from a stone. Credit to WF for playing well and capitalizing on our issues. Just wish Tech did not make it so easy. When Fuente cleaned house he neglected to replace this teams greatest weakness. Appears his friendship with his OC May cost him his own job as well.

  12. Jeez – all the bed wetting. Like last year after Duke: ‘We’re tanking’. ‘Fuente sucks.’ Blah. Blah. Blah.
    How about you fans adjusting YOUR expectations:
    – Nick Saban will never coach in Blacksburg
    -4 and 5 star recruits will never consistently come either
    -Va Tech is a mid to upper ACC program that can’t hang with the bigs like Clemson
    – We’re a solid Top 25 team usually with a great bowl streak who take 3 star kids and develop them as best as possible. That’s it. It’s the past, the now and the future. Reality has been staring you in the face for 3 decades now. It’s time to put away the diapers, find your big boy pants and ACCEPT IT.

    1. it is what it is. nothing will get better. No one any good will come to Blacksburg. blah, blah, blah.

      History shows it can get better. You accept mediocrity. I’m moving to another table with those that want better. You sit and wallow in the mud.

      And don’t expect to keep the “solid Top 25” rating or bowl streak with performances like yesterday.

  13. Playing games like this has become common for the Hokies. Every year we see a game or two just like this one. Sick and tired of this mess and losing interest in VT football. We need change and we need change as soon as possible. What a mess!!!!

  14. I missed on this one. I predicted we would win because I thought hooker had a lot of Bryan Randall in him. I missed one this one. Prove me correct over the long haul, HH.

  15. V T has regressed to become a lower level ACC team. This year is a high point before our recruiting catches up with us. Again we were totally outplayed in the first quarter. Wake played smarter, harder, and appeared to have far more desire than Tech did.

    This is not about how much VT fans contribute. Wake beat UVA last week and VT today. They own the state of Virginia.

    Today was not about missing players or COVID. It was about the lack of team effort and desire.

    1. Well bounce back, we always have a couple bad games a year. At least the defense played a little better, hopefully we get back on track next week! Hopefully we’ll get a lot of guys back next year too except for probably deablo and Herbert.. I hope we can play good the next few weeks and go into Clemson game a 2 loss team tho, optimistic

      1. Having a couple of bad games a year gets a lot of coaches canned. This is unacceptable on every level.

      2. Please help me understand what teams remaining on the schedule that Virginia Tech can beat. Watch Liberty paste them.

    2. I’m not sure about lack of effort or desire, maybe, but I think the lack of talent is a problem. The O-line has gotten talent, I think our QB crew is talented and lord knows, Herbie is the RB of old for Tech and many of us had grown to expect. But the D is lacking talent. Maybe the one area of lacking effort is Ashby’s effort to push back from the dinner table, that’s a nice belly on him.

    1. The errant passes and stupid penalties are not on CJF.
      Besides, Wake has a good team. Better than ours today.
      Snaps from center need to improve also.

    1. Wasn’t all on hooker yeah he had 3 ints but one was dropped pass and another at end of game when just throwing up a charity shot, the o-line that everybody’s been so quick to applaud didn’t play well at all, no push on runs, not the best pass protection.. I hope them boys bounce back in a big way cause they definitely have the talent.. and don’t get me wrong I love this O-line but I think they got to much praise too quick

      1. Exactly, That is why we need to come ready to fight, You could feel when we didn’t get the 3rd and 1 on the first possession, and didn’t go for it on 4th and 1, that we were not ready to play. The O-line lacked its usual grit and fierceness, and the rest of the team was sluggish along with them.

        1. Good point. Some of those calls where headscratchers like Stinespring of old. But then by that point, what had HH shown in this particular game that he was able to complete some needed passes.

      2. The VT game plan is probably to recover any fumble they see lying on the ground, or catch any opponent passes that are thrown right to them, or tipped to them by an opponent. If they can get 5 TO’s, they have a really good chance of winning. Hard to plan for that, though.

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