Abysmal Offense, Penalties Doom Virginia Tech in Loss to West Virginia

West Virginia won the Battle for the Black Diamond Trophy again on Thursday. (Ivan Morozov)

In a one-possession game at the end of the third quarter, West Virginia was called for a false start on a fourth-and-one. That backed the Mountaineers up five yards to the Virginia Tech 39-yard line.

On fourth-and-six, JT Daniels rolled to his right, and his pass attempt fell short before he was drilled by Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield. But the Hokies’ captain got to Daniels late and picked up their 12th penalty of the game, giving the Mountaineers a first down. Three plays later on third-and-14, Norell Pollard was called for illegal hands to the face, helping WVU escape once again.

That’s how the ball rolled on Thursday night, and for the second time in four games, the Hokies had 15 penalties. Between that and an abysmal performance from the offense, it resulted in their second loss of the year, a 33-10 defeat to West Virginia.

“We didn’t play complementary football,” Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry told reporters after the game. “And we’re at a point right now as a team, we have to do that. We can’t leave too much to overcome in any phase. And either we weren’t making them earn it or we were shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit.

“We’ve got to own it and we’ve got to be better in a bunch of areas.”

It starts by cleaning up the flags. 132 penalty yards is tied for the second-most in program history, and the Hokies (2-2, 1-0 ACC) committed 10 different penalties, from pass interference and false starts to holding and personal fouls. Tech was also called for an illegal snap, an illegal substitution, facemask, delay of game and the aforementioned roughing the passer.

Scott Campbell and his Big 12 crew called 15 penalties on the Hokies. (Jon Fleming)

Pry said he feels like his team tends to press in tight situations. That looked the case in front of a sold-out crowd on Thursday night on both sides of the ball, and it was obvious in Norfolk for the season-opener.

Through four games, Tech has been penalized 40 times for 323 yards. Its opponents: 20 times for 189 yards. As a result, they’re currently No. 126 out of 131 teams in the FBS in penalties per game. What’s more, West Virginia (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) had 32 first downs, eight of which came by penalty. That’s a school record against the Hokies. 

“I’m definitely disappointed,” Pry said about the number of flags, “but I told the guys in the locker room that this is kind of where we’re at as a team right now. … It’s an overall mindset and manner in which you play.

“The most important thing to me is that we learn from each and every one of these situations and we grow to become a more mature football team.”

There are other aspects to which that applies, starting on offense. As has been the trend all season, Virginia Tech has struggled to run the football.

Against Old Dominion, Boston College and Wofford, the Hokies totaled at least 130 yards on the ground. The Mountaineers had other ideas, holding them to 35 yards on 18 carries (1.9 avg.), the 11th-fewest mark in Tech history. It’s the worst performance since they rushed for nine yards against Aaron Donald and Pitt back in 2015.

After the loss, a disappointed Pry was asked what’s missing in Tech’s run game. He admitted he wasn’t sure, though he was surprised the team couldn’t run the ball better than it did.

“We changed up the plan a little bit to spread it out a bit more to run it and had some motions involved, but we’ve got to look at it,” Pry said. “We’ve got to be able to run the football. It makes it so much more difficult to play defense.

“I think we’ve got a passing game that can work pretty good for us, that can function. But we’ve got to complement it with the run game.”

Keshawn King and the Hokies couldn’t get much going in the run game. (Ivan Morozov)

The Hokies’ longest run was 15 yards from Jalen Holston on the last drive of the game. Prior to that, the longest was a nine-yard pickup from quarterback Grant Wells in the third quarter.

As it has many times this year, the lack of success in the run game made Tech easy to defend.

“[West Virginia] was a good team and you can’t beat them being one-dimensional,” Wells said afterwards. “Like I’ve said before, the run game opens up the pass game. When you’re one-dimensional, it’s very easy to defend.”

Wells was 16-for-35 through the air for 193 yards with one interception, which sealed the game in the fourth quarter. But he started off the game well, completing seven of his first 10 throws. The ninth was a 28-yard touchdown strike to Kaleb Smith, which gave Virginia Tech a 7-3 lead at the beginning of the second quarter.

Offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen checked to that play when West Virginia was playing off-man, and Wells knew that Smith would have a solid one-on-one opportunity.

“We called a simple go,” Smith said. “Take off and [put] that fate in the quarterback’s arm. … Grant put it perfect on the outside, I just flipped my hips open and made it.”

The connection between Wells and Smith was a sight. (Ivan Morozov)

That score gave the Hokies the momentum for the time being, and Wells finished 11-of-18 in the first half for 128 yards. As Pry put it, he played well enough to give them a chance to win.

However, the game flipped on its side. West Virginia kicked a field goal with 1:50 remaining in the first half, and when Virginia Tech punted after 49 seconds, the Mountaineers drove back down the field and scored again. Daniels found slot receiver Sam James on a seam route and placed the ball right over the head of Hollifield. That gave WVU 10 points in 1:39 and a 13-7 lead heading into intermission.

Though Tech never led again, the defense continued to hold its ground. The Mountaineers ventured into the red zone five times but were forced to kick three field goals, scoring a touchdown just once. Three separate drives — twice in the first half, once in the second — took up 37 plays, 211 yards and 16:51 but culminated in just three points, which highlighted how effective Tech’s defense was on Thursday when it needed to be.

And despite the unit allowing 421 yards, 24 first downs and Daniels to finish 20-for-30 for 203 yards, it gave the Hokies a shot to win, much like the play of Wells.

It was the main reason why the game was separated by just one score at the end of the third. But over time, penalties and a one-dimensional offense doomed Pry & Co., and Justin Johnson’s six-yard scamper that made it 23-10 early in the fourth quarter closed the door.

JT Daniels and West Virginia had all the offense they needed on Thursday. (Ivan Morozov)

“We can’t play too many snaps on (the defensive) side of the ball,” Pry said after WVU ran 76 plays. “Some of it was our doing, some of it was West Virginia, some of it was us unable to move the ball better. But (allowing just) 26 points and 400 yards against that group — you’re going to give yourselves a chance.”

“I was disappointed about (the tackling). … We’ve got to play complementary ball and make the other team earn it.”

Now the first ACC road game of the season at North Carolina comes into focus, followed by a gauntlet. Three ranked foes — No. 24 Pitt, No. 25 Miami and No. 12 NC State — are on the schedule with an open date sandwiched in between. That’s without mentioning that three of the next four games are away from Blacksburg.

It doesn’t appear any massive adjustments will come in the meantime, meaning it could be a long campaign, especially when a running game is practically non-existent. The defense will keep Virginia Tech in some games over the next few months, but the ceiling is only so high.

Box Score: Link

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  1. Coach Young is and was a proven successful head coach. Coach Pry has not given up caling the defensive signals and become a ful time game time head coach. What does that say about the confidence he has in his defensive co–ordinater a d his own confidence in being a head man?

      1. I Think I have an idea about what it says. It says we are doing a pretty good job on D, but not a good job as a team. Maybe Coach Pry should look at his current situation and move to the one ODU, WVU, and every other team that beats us this year has – that is Head Coach, D Coordinator, O Coordinator. Just maybe?

  2. From the previous coach, so much damages were done to the VT program: recruiting, players development, mass exodus and the arrogant/clueless coaching staff just have theirs heads in the sand.
    G. Wells is similar to Willis of the Fuente years, holding onto the ball too long, throwing the ball to the other teams and most of all are not accurate on the short 3rd down passes.
    So far this season, it’s not all on Pry’s coaching staff. How many times in the Fuente years that the Hokies fans was baffled with 3 consecutive runs up the middle then punt or over 50% of the run game was expected to be done by the QBs when you got up to 10 running backs on scholarships !!! It will be a tough year with multiple ACC Coastal teams being ranked, look at how much better in the quality of their recruits in the last few years, some from Virginia too. We can not get all of Virginia’s top players but as VT we should be able to get many of them… VT just does not have a Division 1 roster to be competitive for now… Hang in there Hokies…

    1. Agreed that we have to hang in there. I can’t even remember the offensive coordinator after Ricky Bustle but he was offensive line before that. He was awful but we had a lot of 10 win seasons with him. As awful as that game seemed we still had receivers open long that Wells did not connect. We have to stay the course and support the hokies. It may take a while but I think we can get there. One game at a time and here comes UNC. Go hokies!

  3. Wow, what a Shit Show with a Jacked up Full House. Here is a Quote from the Athlon PreSeason Issue where Opposing Coaches size things up- ” The Program did real damage to itself by keeping Justin Fuente for that extra year. Maybe even the last two…..I think Brent Pry identifies as a Bud Foster guy and wants to commit long term. Other Coaches saw the condition of the Roster and figured out pretty quick that they have Years of work ahead of them. It’s bleak on Offense. Schematically, they were a Train Wreck in ’21. I don’t that they have an ACC Caliber QB on the roster. Those Guys are average at best. The Offensive Line was the strength for the Team, and now they’re gone. It’s not a stretch to say the Offense doesn’t have a top-half -of-the League Skill Player at any Position. They haven’t signed a single Player in the last 2 Years that a High-Level Acc Program wanted. Yada, Yada, Yada. There’s more, saying it took Beamer a long Time to get it going. A grim Prognosis. I thought, as Others, that Fuente was a good hire for Babcock. That early Contract extension and Raise after 1 Year cost Tech alot! Money and Talent. The Fan Base deserves better, and Babcock should be scrutinized for botching the most Expensive hire in VATech History.

  4. I wish that the offense play caller would have to bang his head into the wall every time that he called a run up the middle that it did not gain a yard, then he may see that was the strength of the west va line. There was poor tackling the whole game. the first was Chapman throwing himself down instead of tackling with his arms on third down, this let west va go down the field for the fieldgoal instead of becoming forth and long. I quit counting the arm tackles that Donaldson broke for 5 to 7 yards. West va played like tech use to play great run defense, special teams block a punt, interceptions. Offense gets 5 to 7 yards a run and grind the other team down. Tech played like the teams we did that to. We just do not have quality players that we need to complete at the level we need to be at to win these kind of games. We will see what kind of recruits the Pry can bring in in the next few years.

  5. There were many areas where we must improve. I saw on several occasions when WVU was in third and fourth downs and we either missed tackles or had a penalty, and they scored TD’s. Our offensive line is pathetic, and has no push off the ball. I’m 79, so I watched it on TV, and the ESPN announcers were terrible in their calling the game. They often misspoke of which team had the ball, and called VT VIRGINIA on a number of times etc. ESPN should be ashamed of that crew in the booth. I’m a diehard VT Hokie fan, and we must support our program with our great fans as always…..and get through this year as best as possible, and hope for better times down the road. The ACC schedule is in front of us, one game at a time starting with UNC next week.

  6. Why did we let WVU bring in a Big 12 crew? I felt the refs took over the game. Some of the calls came from 30 yards away and late as in after the play( holding deep in our end). Daniels was looking to run on the 4 th and 5 but flipped the ball short hoping to get a PI call. Hands to the face came away from the play. WVU did a lot of holding. Not called. Pry has got to get on these refs. They are only human. Yes they were better but three of their drives were saved by these calls.

    1. Most of the calls that went against us were legit. Although I agree with you that the big 12 crew opted to ignore numerous blatant holds by the West Virginia OL

  7. PLease address the run game situation more analytically. Until the game got past the score of 23-13. VT had run 30 pass plays and 13-14 run plays. And 5 of those run plays were by Wells. To the point, Holston had 1 carry. Chance Black had 1 carry. King had 6 carries for the game. We didn’t TRY to run the ball. It isn’t just that we could not. We didnt try. And when we do run, everything is straight between the tackles. Pry mentioned adding motion. So what. We didnt really hand it off to make WVU think the ball was not going to go between the tackles. We make no effort at an ouside run game. PLEASE provide analysis that goes beyond “we can’t run” and the “OL isn’t good at run bloacking.”. Our run game is very predictable. And we didn’t try to run it much. And why do we view King as the savior of the run game? Because he had a big run against ODU. Once again, we take a small sample size and make something bigger out of than it is

    1. King is not the savior of the run game. If all RB’s were healthy, King wouldn’t get more than 7 touches as RB, he would be in the slot for some touches.

  8. Maybe HC should tell Bowen to stop running plays up the middle over and over. Isn’t a coordinator supposed to follow direction from the head guy. If Pry is happy with this play calling, Tech placed their money on the wrong horse.

  9. Keep in mind…most of these guys were the ones Maryland smacked silly in the bowl game. They are worse because this is a different offense. They are still learning it. We will get more ability…time.. The WV QB, Receiver, and RB were 4and 5 star guys. Many of the experienced guy we have, Fu got and put them on the back burner. He played others…might be a reason. So yes…this season will be painful. We knew it coming in…now you are acting all surprised. Not going to watch ….. Not going to support your team?? Shameful!!

    1. Excellent comment. You see it all the time in a rebuild almost everywhere; one or two years where you don’t see a lot of wins and you face a lot of adversity. By the third year, wins start to come and you get “good” again. It’s a process and it takes time. I think Pry is doing it the right way like Coach Beamer did.

      1. Thanks LXNTN and Efigalaxie for some straight up reality. Most of these doofs can’t make their way around Madden NFL in their basement much less produce a coherent comment about recruiting, rebuilding, patience and playcalling. WVU has superior talent and VT is VERY easy to defend right now offensively. The penalties just compound everything. And yeah, to the ‘fans’ who want to pack it in already — move to Charlottesville or Chapel Hill and make it official. Buh-bye.

  10. I believe the penalty problem is a reflection of the coaching from Pee Wee to Pro. Two games with 15 flags reflects terrible discipline.

      1. Didn’t say that. I said it is a reflection of the discipline that is instilled in the players. That comes from the coaching at every level of the game.

  11. VT looks overall slow compared to other teams I’ve watched. Liberty is just one example. LU is faster overall than VT. And the secondary lacks ball skills — would-be interceptions fall uselessly to the ground. It happened again last night. I recall one player in the recent past who was a receiver, but who dropped too many passes in practice, was transferred to safety. That indicates to me that the coaches do not insist on getting secondary players who are sure-handed.

  12. All I care about now is VT recruiting, successful NIL development and coaches Bowen, Marve, Rudolph, and Pry getting better in their next-level experiences in a hurry. VT interest in football as exhibited by Lane Stadium fans, its past history, NFL player success, and ACC representation are deserving of better success than the mismatch that was shown last night and against ODU. My focus now as an older Hokie is winning and not waiting on player development and its uncertainty. VT has got to start upgrading its recruiting and the attraction needed to accomplish this lifeblood goal.

    1. I agree. Right now we are all in on planting lots of seeds around the state, developing relationships with high schools, etc. That is an older , traditional model. I’m really skeptical if it can it work in this new age.
      We got no new coach bounce from this hire- would we have with a Camobell , Napier or some other brand- hard to say.

      1. We got a coach who really wanted to be here and embrace the culture. Those other coaches wanted to be somewhere else. Coach Young has done it with the basketball program and with time I think Pry will have similar success. Go Hokies.

        1. Coach Young is and was a proven successful head coach. Coach Pry has not given up caling the defensive signals and become a ful time game time head coach. What does that say about the confidence he has in his defensive co–ordinater a d his own confidence in being a head man?

        2. So far I have liked the hire….other than, it sure would have been nice if he would have brought a few players with him from PSU. That’s disappointing and baffling. Same with the portal….hasn’t been able to snag any quality players so far. It’s yet to be determined with Grant Wells.

  13. Well, that was not pretty!! The only positives I could see was the fan support, the kicking game (outstanding) and performance of a few of the portal transfers. The rest was basically atrocious. There was no running game, no run blocking, absolutely no mental discipline, and poor run defense. The majority of the penalties were committed by the more senior of our players who were not known for doing this under previous staffs.
    I have been a Hokie Fan and supporter since the early sixties, as well as a season ticket holder for more than thirty years. I was at the Sugar Bowl against Texas and the National Championship against FSU. The only time I have felt we were competitive on an National level were the two Vick years. I hate to think of how many times I’ve seen us fail at 3rd or 4th down and one. So for all you younger fans, I hope Coach Fry is the one that will succeed. As for me, I’m done.

    1. Take a deep breath and get over it. Better times will come. Every emotion known to man comes out in a sporting event.

    2. The coaches name is PRY not Fry. The one thing that I have seen, not only this year but last year also-why do we go into the shotgun snap on 4th and 1, instead of behind center. It looks to me like, the QB could get 1 yard versus needing to get 6 when we are in the gun. I hope this changes in the future. That is my only complaint at this time. I am going to give this coaching staff a few years to get the job done. Pry is at least 10 times better than Fu was.

    3. So you lived through the Dooley years (and the one or two before him, sorry but I only started with Dooley) … it may be somewhat a comparison to where we are now … you didn’t give up then, y would you give up now? I’d call myself an avid fan, I had season tickets 1999-2018 until I really couldn’t anymore. I’ll say there have lately been disappointments, starting in Beamers final years (I do believe he earned the right to pick his exit) and continuing through Fuente. Times have changed from way back pre-Beamer. Is that y u r done?

  14. The optics last night were horrible. And the numbers cited in this article are even worse than I expected.

    My take on key plays that doomed us:
    1- Going for it on 4th down instead of kicking the FG
    2- The ‘almost’ INT on WV’s final drive of the 1st half
    3- Failure to recover a muffed WV punt return deep in their end
    4- Roughing the passer
    5- Failure to hit a wide-open WR for a score

    Despite committing an unfathomable number of penalties, and being generally outclassed on the LOS, we still had our chances. If 2 or 3 of the above had gone our way, it’s at least a much closer game.

    1. This game was there for the taking but was given away: 15 penalties including the roughing the passer call on Dax, a “leader” on this team? I thought him a great, “get” but he has been a huge disappointment.

    2. Agree but would add as 2/3 were right in front of our seats. 2 nice play but the 6”4 receiver made a great play to strip. 3 we should have had. The add also in front of us was the missed tackle on 3rd down that open their almost 98 yd drive but held late to hold for only 3. OL / offensive run philosophy and appears we are determined it’s not going to change. While I appreciate a coach wanting to go for it on 4th and 1 this OL cannot get it at least via run (saw that against Wofford) There is a need for bridge via portal if you can get anyone to come. Not sure the following will be there 3/4 years of waiting for potential development (but buyout at that point should be low don’t see Whit jumping on early extension this time)

    3. I said it as it was happening….take the points and go up by 7. I said the same thing in New Orleans vs FSU, take the initial lead. Always take the points when the game is close.

  15. Absolutely painful to watch. This is a complete rebuild from the coaching staff to the players. I’m sick of Enter Sandman and hearing espn say this is the best entrance of any football team. This has become the “main event” for Tech football which tells you a lot. After the “main event” the fans could just go home – the show is over.

  16. Both of those overthrown wide open passes were touchdowns. Stop the stupid penalties and this is a completely different game. They were in it until they gave it away with all the penalties. Roughing the passer? Illegal hands to the face? Cmon I think this team could’ve hung in there and been close or even won, yes with this Roster.

  17. This was hard to watch, but it shows just how much of a rebuild is needed. I have faith Pry will get it done. But it’s going to be painful in the interim.

  18. For me, things started to unravel in the 2nd Q on 4th and 1 from the 18 . The play SHOULD have been to go to the line in a tight formation and try to get WV to jump. If the don’t, call timeout and kick the FG. They should have practiced this and been ready. Instead, they looked disorganized and just called timeout. After the timeout, they try a basic QB keeper up the middle right into the teeth of their D – stuffed. No idea why they thought that play would work. It swung the momentum to WV.

    We couldn’t score at the end of the half and let WV score a TD just before the half – BIG momentum swing!

    Obviously the penalties were a killer, esp on the drive mentioned at the top of the article. Unfortunately, we might not have won even with a stop there but it would have given us the MO and you never know.

  19. We talked about King like he was a terrific back when he had good plays against some of the worst defenses in the country. And he’s the best we have! WVU’s DL is the strength of their defense, and we kept running into it with a weak OL and our FCS tailbacks. 3rd and 1, 4th and 1, we do the same dumb play. I understand we have to be patient, but it’s tough for a school that’s been relevant in college football for decades to now be this horrible.

    1. The typical scenario is a player makes 1 big play and that player ius annointed. King has a big run against ODU and now he is the speed threat that VT needs and he is the man. 1 play.

  20. SAD!!!

    There are a lot of things missing. BUT – the lack of discipline shouldn’t be one of them. Penalties stopped VT in its tracks. Dax’s ruffing the passer was the epitome of lack of discipline and it cost VT dearly.

    Win or lose…

  21. “We’ve got to play complimentary ball and make the other team earn it”. I’m guessing that Coach Pry really meant “complementary” ball . I just don’t see Dax Hollifield telling WVU that they have nice uniforms.

  22. Won’t be watching any more VT football this year. Maybe not for the next 2 years. Got better things to do than watch this bunch of clowns.

  23. Yuck. Just yuck. At least I’ve been around long enough to have experienced a time when VT football was just as impressive – even more impressive – than it’s overhyped entrance. We should shelve Enter Sandman until the product on the field is worthy of the product in the stands. Right now we are nothing but champions of the pregame, and it’s sad. Lane used to be a fearful place for opponents to play. Remember?

    1. I’ve thought the same thing about the Enter Sandman opening the past few years. I find myself sometimes turning on the tv a few minutes late to miss it. That’s the sort of pre-game ritual that should get followed-up by a smackdown of all visiting teams. Nope..

    2. Agreed. The visiting teams seem to feed off the entrance energy even more than the Hokies. Putting Enter Sandman on hold may also get the attention of the team.

  24. “I’m definitely disappointed,” Pry said about the number of flags, “but I told the guys in the locker room that this is kind of where we’re at as a team right now. … It’s an overall mindset and manner in which you play.

    “The most important thing to me is that we learn from each and every one of these situations and we grow to become a more mature football team.”

    What is this BS meant to excuse and justify tons of penalties? You won’t win another game in Blacksburg if your “overall mindset” incorporates a ton of penalties.

    Just say “We need to cut down the flags, obviously. We won’t win games like that”

    Why is the obvious so hard to say here?
    Ugh…. Red Flag there.

      1. Such BS. He inherits a team that: Has loads of defensive experience, Could run the ball and the starting 5 all return from pretty good grades on that OL, a team that didn’t commit penalties and didn’t turn the ball over….the offebse sucked because it couldn’t throw, but we could run.

        NOW: Can’t run, can’t block (ALL 5 linemen have somehow gotten 10 pts worse according to PFF), can’t rush passer (same issue..though continual 3 or 4 man rushes baffle), we now commit penalties at a record pace (where these same kids never had that issue) and we show zero offebsive scheme. I really wonder what the O does all week..we look like a team that never practices. Zero innovation, zero discipline, zero heart, but 4 games and 4 times we have had more talent than our opponent.

        1. The O Line can not run block!!! Two shots for a 1 yard gain to get a first down, Blech!!!
          Joe Rudolph fine 5 people that can run block please. I don’t care if they are Freshmen or 6 yr Seniors, somewhere we’ve got to be able to get a yard anytime we need it, at least 90% of the time other than ZERO. Wells was give time on passing most of the game, yet the Line can’t run block. I know it is a process with a new regime, but that game was an crap show.
          GET BETTER AND KILL THE ‘heels. Please?

        2. VT has more talent than WVU? Where? O-line – No, WR – No, DL – No, RB – No, QB – No. I must have been watching a different game than you.

        3. The starting 5 did NOT return from last season. Hanson, Clements, and Jordan were not the starters last season….I think you’re forgetting Tenuta, Hoffman, and Smith. This new line needs a lot of work w/ run blocking, pass blocking is much improved compared to last season.

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