In Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech played complementary football. The Hokies were balanced in all three phases of the game, and it resulted in the team’s most complete game of the season.
The offense kick-started the performance with two first quarter touchdowns, the first time that’s occurred all season. That put the defense ahead of the chains and gave the group some breathing room.
That led to a 26-17 bounce-back win in Bobby Dodd Stadium, which put the Hokies back on the right track and back to a .500 record.
A Balanced Offense
For the second time (and the second straight week) in the 2021 campaign, Virginia Tech’s offense was balanced.
Malachi Thomas and Raheem Blackshear ran for 186 combined yards, while Tech ran for 237 yards as a team. It was also Braxton Burmeister’s most efficient game as a passer this year, as he completed 15-of-25 for 254 yards and two scores.
Tre Turner had an outstanding receiving game, finishing with seven catches for 187 yards and a score. It’s the first time a Hokie receiver has gone over 150 yards since Damon Hazelton did so in 2018 at Old Dominion.
491 yards of total offense. 254 yards through the air, 237 on the ground.
For an offense that hadn’t put up more than 329 yards of offense against a Power 5 opponent until the Syracuse game, back-to-back weeks of 400-plus yards is impressive. It’s started with the running game, which has opened up everything else.
“It’s opened up things quite a bit, and I think it especially showed this past weekend against Georgia Tech,” left guard Lecitus Smith said. “When you run the ball really, really well, it brings defenders down into the box. When that happens, you’re able to run RPOs and those types of things.
“You’re able to open stuff up for guys like Kaleb Smith, Tre Turner and Tayvion [Robinson]. … If we’re able to pass the ball and get defenders out of the box, then we can run it more. It just feels really, really good to be able to run the ball.”
That balancing act worked really well against the Yellow Jackets. Thomas and Blackshear combined for a one-two punch, while Burmeister sprayed the ball wide to his outlets. Virginia Tech controlled the clock, held the ball for 35:48 and ran a season-high 78 plays to Georgia Tech’s 56, a season-low for VT opponents.
The Hokies also didn’t stall, something that was a common theme in the beginning of the season. The offense recorded a season-high 23 first downs in the game, tied with the Middle Tennessee outing, and converted nine-of-18 third downs.
Down the stretch, in four games that are all very winnable, a balanced offense that can move the chains will be the key. It all starts with the run game.
Getting Pressure, Forcing Turnovers
While the offense was scoring points against Georgia Tech, the defense bounced back from its worst game of the season.
The Hokies recorded six tackles for loss, the most since recording nine in each of the first two games of the season. They had two sacks for 16 yards, too, and limited the Yellow Jackets to just three third down conversions on 12 attempts.
What’s more is Virginia Tech got fourth down stops. This season, opponents are 13-of-18 (72%) on fourth down. That ratio is 11-of-15 (73%) against Power 5 opponents. On Saturday, however, VT held GT to just one-of-three on fourth down, including a very important stop on fourth-and-two at the VT 12 in the fourth quarter.
As Will Stewart pointed out in his Monday Thoughts, the Hokies played that fourth down stop very well, and Norell Pollard and Dax Hollifield made the initial play to get the defense off the field.
Three drives before, defensive end Jaylen Griffin came up with a huge strip-sack that turned into a Virginia Tech field goal.
“He [Jaylen Griffin] made a huge play in the Griffin Bowl,” defensive tackle Jordan Williams said. “This is a guy who may not be in all of the headlines, but he’s a hard worker. He’s a great football player and makes plays when he needs to. He made a huge one, and it just so happens that it was in the Griffin Bowl.”
[Editor’s note: Griffin has two brothers who play for Georgia Tech.]
In addition to the pressure and the turnovers, the secondary only allowed 183 passing yards and GT quarterback Jeff Sims finished 15-for-26. And on the last drive of the game, cornerback Armani Chatman came up with the game-sealing interception.
“On the defensive side, we came ready to work last week,” Tech cornerback Dorian Strong said. “We’ve been locked in every week, but we were locked in a little bit more to get the job done [against Georgia Tech].”
It’s those types of plays and an all-around effort that put the Hokies in a good position to win the game on Saturday defensively. Those are also the types of performances Virginia Tech is going to need to have down the stretch to pick up wins in its remaining four games, three of which are on the road.
Looking At Boston College
The Hokies’ attention now turns to Boston College, who has lost its last four games. The Eagles also sit at 4-4 (0-4 ACC), though they’ve lost their last four games after starting the season with four wins.
It’s a winnable game for Virginia Tech, as are all of the remaining games on the schedule. With the offense playing its two best games of the season in back-to-back games this week while the defense figured things out against Georgia Tech, the Hokies are in a good position heading into Friday night’s game.
Boston College is No. 1 in the ACC in passing defense, allowing just 174 yards per game through the air and 1,392 for the season. The Hokies are third on that list, allowing 200.5 yards per game. The Eagles are a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of rushing defense, however, sitting at eighth and allowing 172.9 yards per game.
Running the ball is going to be key, especially against a solid secondary.
“It starts with man coverage with them,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “Certainly they’ll mix in some zone looks. In their heart and soul, I think they want to crawl down there and play tight coverage. We’ll have to run and throw the ball effectively against those looks. They have been good against the pass.
“It really kind of starts up front, I think. They find ways to create pressure, they do not stay blocked, and they’re not afraid to lock people up in coverage. They certainly provide a lot of problems.”
Offensively, BC is marginally ahead of VT in total offense. The Eagles have struggled since losing Phil Jurkovec in the second game of the season. They still have weapons, however, like Zay Flowers on the outside at wide receiver.
Patrick Garwo is also a solid running back and ranks fourth in the ACC in rushing yards with 689. He’s scored five touchdowns this season and averages 5.9 yards per carry.
The Eagles have a veteran offensive line, too, though they’ve had to shuffle players around lately because of injuries. As Fuente said on Tech Talk Live on Monday, however, the quarterback position has so much influence on every other position on the offensive side of the ball.
“It [a quarterback] can alleviate so much pressure on a group of wideouts or the running back core or the offensive line,” Fuente said. “When you’ve got one that’s that good [BC’s Phil Jurkovec], that’s out, I really do believe it affects everybody on your offense and it can lead to some inefficiencies that you hadn’t planned on.”
“They [BC’s o-line] are big guys, very strong,” Williams said. “Ultimately, their size is really a huge part of who they are up front. They stay unblocked a long time and for us, we just have to stay disciplined, play our gap and make a play when it comes to our gap.”