Virginia Tech Played Complementary, Balanced Football In Atlanta

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Jordan Williams (12) and Virginia Tech got pressure up front and got into the backfield against Georgia Tech. (Ivan Morozov)

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.

Raheem Blackshear and Malachi Thomas combined for 186 yards on the ground against Georgia Tech. (Ivan Morozov)

“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.

 

Armani Chatman sealed the game with his interception. (Ivan Morozov)

“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.

Virginia Tech struggled to stop the run against Boston College last season, though they did force the Eagles to fumble four times. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times)

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.”

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20 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I am in favor of going on fourth and short when the offensive line can get the necessary push for the RB’s to pick up that yard or two. As of recent, that doesn’t seem to be happening. So, let’s put points on the board every chance we get and play the field position game. And, for goodness sake, start coaching up the O-line to get the push for that yard or two. Sometimes the best scheme is to straight muscle the guy across from you.

    1. “Putting points on the board” and “playing the field position game” doesn’t work as well in the modern game. It should be about maximizing the teams points expectations over the long term. Fu is not doing that right now. Not even close. This is particularly important when we are playing teams with superior rosters.

      Not to go full bore analytics but having a process in place for 4th down decision making also shows preparation and understanding of how the game is playing right now. Failure to have this process in place leads to poor 4th down decisions (there are plenty just this year) and lack of confidence/indecisiveness.

      This is a long term issue for Fu and Beamer before him. With Beamer it can somewhat be explained away. Hard to teach old dog new tricks and all of that. But with Fu as a young coach this stuff is table stakes.

  2. Have any of you guys looked at the recruiting..the recruiting has been better than before..let’s face it. The last coaches didn’t help any one when it came to recruiting..especially when the defensive coach sat on the bench most of the years like he was sulking..we have gotten rid of some of those players except one in the middle linebacker position..all he can do is walk in circles and flap his arms!!! If u don’t believe me watch him..then when he gets to the sideline all he can do is stand there listening to the coach and shake his head .. Watch him in the next games and see if he doesn’t do those things.. we lost 2 maybe even 3 games because the defense didn’t do its job on the field.. I frankly don’t blame the coaches. The tackling has been atrocious in those loses. When we should have won.we all know that we should have beat ND . In the UNC game they tackled properly and we won with the help of the defensive But in the Syracuse my mother could have done a better job of tackling and she is dead. You can’t arm tackle!! If u guys can’t see that..I do think the coaches have not done as good a job as they could have but they found a good running game . And they do have a Good class with 4 —-4 star players coming in. And what if someone offers to pay the coach off..well the old saying “ a fool and his money….” And then who do u get? You all,will gripe about a new coach too!!! Personally a lot of fans have not treated Coach Fu very well. I think it is because The last coach is not coaching. Remember guys it took the last coach until 1992 to break even ..THAT WAS SIX YEARS before he broke into above .500. But the AD had faith in him and he changed some things.

    We need new blood and if you were honest with yourselves coach Fu wasn’t left with many good players . Or players who were upset that the last coach wasn’t there. VT needs good quality coaches that are young and full of energy.. VT needs changes true but not at the head coach but down the line a little.

    Now I am sure I will be chastised by the old guard etc. but I am 70 yrs old and I don’t like some of the crap going on but I also don’t like some of the fan crap either. I have been through lot worse in my years at VT. Including the years that with jimmy sharpe , Charly Coffey etc thru to bill Dooley. And they were lot worse years they are now!!!

    The following question is …who will they get to replace Fu ? Name them and see how they do in the first 6 yrs!!!! And you can’t even count last year..at least we played where others quit playing and then decided to play a little to get in a bowl game.

    1. I don’t like some of the crap going on but I also don’t like some of the fan crap either. >>>>

      Glad I didn’t read your post before I went to bed as I would have had multiple nightmares with those names from the past haunting me. What’s worse when you extend your thoughts is that the fans who are screaming the most about Fuente – don’t understand the college football landscape nowadays. Yeah – they’ll harken that supporting Coach Fu is supporting mediocrity. VT has a ways to go – but I want to get there with Coach Fu.

    2. I’m with you 73….why is everyone so sure we will be better off with a new coach??? and who will that coach be??? I’m for one more year with staff adjustments and a “special” contract with Coach Fu.

    3. Agree. People will say they will give the next guy a year or two but people will be down their throat after the first loss on the field and on the recruiting trail.

    1. Yep, convert 1/2 of those FG’s and no one would be worried at the end of the game. Could have been a 45-17 game.

    2. Exactly, I’m baffled as to why so many seem so excited about a 26-17 win over a really bad GT team especially when we attempted FIVE FIELD GOALS instead of getting in the end zone. I for one am still unimpressed and Fuente needs to go 100%

      1. Keep Fu and replace Corn. I really don’t feel like going through, well the next coach needs a few years to get his players in an adopt his system. No Thank You.

        Name 5 head coaches that will guarantee 8+ wins every year. No thanks on Orgeron if that is one of your ideas. There are not a lot of really good and successful coaches.

  3. My concern, of course, is that they win 3 of the remaining 4, for example, and Fuente is back next year and we are dealing with the same issues. Of course, I want the kids to win but it does set up a weird Catch 22.

    1. If Fu is back I’m pretty confident that the issues that are at the forefront of everyone’s mind will have to be addressed as part of the deal. It isn’t going to be status quo.

      1. This, I agree with. Status quo won’t cut it even if we have no $$$ to upgrade staff, a lateral change is needed.

      2. Is there any evidence this is the case? I mean I hope you are correct but why are we assuming that he would have to clean house to save his job (honestly asking as I likely don’t follow that part of it as closely as others)?

  4. I am pleased they won. Fuente is still an issue though somewhat masked by beating a team that wasn’t very good. Conservative play calling and an unwillingness to extend drives via 4th down is a long term problem that isn’t fixed by winning this game.

      1. So if Fu doesn’t call the plays, makes consistently incorrect game management decisions, kicks field goals and punts FAR too often…what exactly is out there for?

    1. I don’t mind him not being super aggressive on 4th downs. Not every 4th down calls for a conversion attempt. Many of our 4th downs would not make sense to do so….. That is how you lose even more games.

      1. This is incorrect. The analytics are quite clear. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the issues is “solved” but there are clearly spots where not going for it on 4th materially impacts the teams ability to win. For example, the 4th and 1 punt against Notre Dame tied deep in the 4th Q. There likely won’t be a spot with a larger disparity in win probabilty this season than that call. I assume that was Fu’s call. If not, what is he even doing out there?

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