Game Notes: Despite Mistakes, Virginia Tech Sees Encouraging Signs in Loss to Ok. State

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Virginia Tech football
Deshawn McClease (33) and the Virginia Tech rushing attack could not overcome the Hokies’ mistakes vs. Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Happy New Year! I hope all of our readers here at TSL had a splendid holiday season and are off to the new year on the right foot.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Virginia Tech football. The Hokies fell short vs. Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl, losing 30-21 to the Cowboys. In the end, Virginia Tech’s mistakes proved too costly. In this week’s game notes, we’ll address those mistakes and look at some of the other storylines from the Hokies’ bowl game defeat.

McClease leads successful running game

Virginia Tech’s rushing attack carried the load vs. Oklahoma State, finishing with 248 yards on the ground. That total is their highest output since Sept. 23, when the Hokies ran for 271 yards vs. Old Dominion. Deshawn McClease racked up 124 rushing yards, his highest total of the season, while Steven Peoples added 56 yards.

“Well mostly, it was the inside zone,” said head coach Justin Fuente. “I thought Deshawn did a really good job of cutting it back when it needed to be cut back, and bouncing it out the front a couple times when it all collapsed. I thought we handled the line of scrimmage fairly well, but I thought the backs did a really good job. All three of them really.”

“Practice. It started in practice all week,” McClease said. “We ran the ball a lot in practice. Coach overemphasized what we were going to do out here. Just the O-line, they did a great job. The tight ends did a great job, they made our job easier. I just went out there and did what I was supposed to do.”

The Hokies’ rushing attack was pivotal in their gameplan against the Cowboys. Virginia Tech planned on grounding and pounding Oklahoma State into submission, while winning the time of possession battle and keeping the Cowboys’ third-ranked scoring offense on the sideline.

“Yeah, that’s what we went into the game thinking,” Josh Jackson said. “We would run the ball, try and impose our will on them and that’s what we tried to do.”

Not only did Tech run all over the Oklahoma State defense, they controlled the clock. Virginia Tech held possession for 38:13, their second-highest time of possession total of the season.

Mistakes, turnovers derail otherwise successful gameplan

If I had told you Virginia Tech would average five yards per rush, and would win the time of possession battle by nearly 17 minutes, you would have thought that the Hokies would be in the game until the end. However, that wasn’t the case. Virginia Tech turned the ball over twice, and trailed by two scores on their final drive.

The mistakes mounted for Virginia Tech, starting in the second quarter and continuing throughout the game.

On Tech’s first drive in the second quarter, the Hokies had a chance to extend their 7-3 lead. Virginia Tech had a first-and-goal opportunity from the 1-yard-line, and fumbled away their scoring opportunity. Quarterback Josh Jackson and running back Steven Peoples fumbled on a handoff exchange, and Oklahoma State recovered.

After allowing a field goal, Virginia Tech’s offense drove to midfield before being forced to punt. Freshman Oscar Bradburn, who averaged 42.4 yards per punt in 2017, hit a 27-yard punt to give up a field position advantage.

Right before halftime, Virginia Tech had 45 seconds to cut into Oklahoma State’s 13-7 lead. After a 15-yard run by McClease, Jackson overthrew receiver Henri Murphy, who was able to take the top off of the Cowboys’ defense. If Jackson had hit Murphy, he would have walked into the end zone. Sure enough, the Hokies finished the first half without adding any points.

Virginia Tech football
Josh Jackson (17) had an uneven night vs. Oklahoma State, accounting for three touchdowns and two turnovers.

After cutting Oklahoma State’s lead to 20-14 in the third quarter, the Hokies’ defense gave up the first big play of the night. Biletnikoff Award winner James Washington caught a 65-yard touchdown pass, putting the Hokies’ down 13 points yet again.

The start of the fourth quarter brought more misfortune. Virginia Tech faced a fourth-and-eight from Oklahoma State’s 11-yard-line, and head coach Justin Fuente decided to go for it. The play failed, as Eric Gallo’s snap went past Jackson. The Cowboys recovered, seemingly ending the Hokies’ chances to win.

Tech’s defense would bow their necks and force a turnover on downs, but another turnover doomed the Hokies. Jackson threw a pass to Phil Patterson that was slightly off target, and Patterson wasn’t able to haul it in. The ball bounced off of Patterson’s hands, and was intercepted by Darius Curry. It was Tech’s second turnover of the night.

Virginia Tech forced another turnover on downs following the turnover, and the Hokies cut State’s lead to 27-21 in the fourth. Down 27-21, Virginia Tech’s defense then forced a third-and-11 with time running out in the fourth, and had a chance to give their offense one more chance. Instead, Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill ran for 31 yards deep into Virginia Tech territory, allowing Oklahoma State to kick a field goal and extend their lead to 30-21 with roughly two-and-a-half minutes left.

All of these mistakes ruined an otherwise perfectly executed gameplan, and those mistakes left Virginia Tech wondering what could have been.

“We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” McClease said. “That’s a great team, especially on offense. Like I said, we made a lot of mistakes. Well not a lot, but we made a few mistakes that were costly and they really didn’t make any.”

“If we could have held them under 30, I felt like we would win the football game. And we didn’t hold them under 30, they got 30,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “I think we might have held them to the second least amount of points they’ve had all year, but like I said, we didn’t capitalize on a couple of opportunities and gave up a couple plays, and that was the difference in the football game.”

Coaches, veterans impressed with play from young Hokies

Virginia Tech’s loss marks the end of the careers for several Hokies. Fourteen players on Virginia Tech’s roster have exhausted their eligibility, while underclassmen Tremaine Edmunds, Terrell Edmunds and Tim Settle are all candidates to declare for the NFL Draft. Among those players not returning for 2017 is senior linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka, who started 42 games for Virginia Tech.

“Just a whole bunch of mixed emotions,” Motuapuaka said. “It was tough, taking off that jersey, seeing the guys’ faces, young guys and old guys. Just seeing how much, I guess, the seniors meant to them. Seeing the young guys crying and stuff like that. It kind of hit home with me. We’re all family, and we’ll be brothers for life.”

“I’m disappointed for our seniors, who’ve been a great group of leaders for us, and have done a great job with the transition of the new staff, and have really risen to change this program back to what Virginia Tech fans like to see and what we’ve done and where the future is going,” Foster said. “But these guys were great examples to their teammates, great representatives of this program and the institution, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Virginia Tech football
Houshun Gaines (11) was one of several young Hokies to make big impacts vs. Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Despite players like Motuapuaka, Greg Stroman and Cam Phillips leaving Blacksburg, Virginia Tech remains confident in their returning players. McClease, a redshirt sophomore, has run for 70 yards or more in his last three games. Sophomore Eric Kumah caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Phil Patterson caught seven passes for 59 yards. Sophomore Reggie Floyd led Virginia Tech in tackles with 6.5, and redshirt sophomore Houshun Gaines registered two tackles for loss and a sack.

“I saw a lot of great things out there today, especially from younger guys, like wide receiver,” McClease said. “I’m looking forward to getting back out there, getting back in the lab and getting better.”

“I think the young guys know, they see what it takes,” Motuapuaka said. “They see how hard we work, speaking like seniors, and I think the future is still bright. There’s a lot of hungry guys in there, just waiting for their opportunity, and I think they’ll be fine. We’re just part of the building blocks. It was eventually going to have to come to an end, and it’s kind of sad that we went out that way, but we can still use it as something we can learn from.”

Among those returners is Jackson, a redshirt freshman quarterback who’s play down the stretch has come under heavy criticism. Jackson got off to a hot start in 2017, throwing 11 touchdowns and one interception in the first four games of the year. Since Sept. 23, Jackson has thrown just nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Jackson suffered multiple injuries vs. Miami on Nov. 4, and played with an injured shoulder and elbow for the last four games of the season.

After Thursday’s loss to Oklahoma State, Jackson was unsure on his level of play in year one.

“First year? Nine and four, but I hopefully got better as the season went on. But a lot for me to get better on,” Jackson said.

One thing is for certain — head coach Justin Fuente has confidence in his quarterback. Despite Jackson’s uneven play in recent weeks, Fuente believes Jackson still gives the Hokies their best chance to win.

“I think off the cuff, I would say at times he made a lot of plays. He competed his tail off, he was tough,” Fuente said. “He absolutely, right now, gives us the best chance to win. There’s probably a couple plays out there that he wishes he had back or had made, but there’s a lot of plays he did make out there too.”

However, if Jackson wants to keep the starting job, he’ll have to fend off a few challengers. Hendon Hooker redshirted this season, and was a competitor for the starting job in fall camp. AJ Bush is expected to return for his redshirt senior season, and Ryan Willis will be eligible to play for the Hokies for the first time since transferring this offseason. No matter what happens, the position should only get better in the future.

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24 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. It appears that we can live life always seeing the cup half full or half empty. The consistency IMO was the game plan seemed to put our team (players) in a position to win or succeed if you will. The plan was flawless given the young team execution was the issue and not just players but coaches. External forces will get you. Just as in life best laid plans do not always work out. This team played their hearts out and left every ounce of effort on the field. They represented VT showing tremendous character as can happen a few flaws were found. These are young people maybe some of us should remember we were young once. Winning is not always the numbers on a score board. But for the grace of God and the integrity of those that play and their leaders we could be UNC, Tenn., Louisville etc. I will take VT and have hope and have seen reason to believe the future is bright.

  2. Will no one address what was painfully evident to those of us who watched the elite teams perform last week? The better teams (Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State) all have QBs who are excellent passers and elusive runners, and they are loaded with quality athletes. We are not there yet.

    To the pessimists who insist we are eternal losers, please take your complaints and dark clouds somewhere else. I am thrilled to have good coaches, players who play hard, winning seasons, and a national ranking, even if it’s not top 10.

  3. A little disappointing to read some of the negativity regarding the “hype” that never seems to come to fruition … It seems rather clear to me that our last 2 years are better than the last 2-3 prior to these last 2 … We must take into account what Fuentes started with (50% of the players not Top 25 caliber by any means)
    Compare Dabo’s recruiting his first couple of years and we are on the same track i.e. Top 15 class in Fuente’s 2nd year … We have a renewed spirit and younger coaches that are attracting and relating to these young recruits.
    So we certainly are 2-3 years away from taking the next big step ..and as someone said earlier how a great team has a great quarterback and right now we have 2-3 that can make this difference and we are also attracting the skill players to complement them that we have not been able to get in the last 5 years+ … AND we have been able to do this while maintaining the culture that Frank instilled in the program …some very high quality young men that seem to put the TEAM first and represent our university in way we should all be proud of.
    We all look forward to having a truly more competitive, talented and disciplined team …making us HOIKIE PROUD! Thanks Whit, Justin and Bud for your effort, ethics and skill!

  4. I will tell you why it is all good! JukeBox summed up what many of us think. The Coach will open up the position of QB next year to the best man! Hooker and Patterson are the wave of the future. Every great team has a great QB. The current Coach will get the best recruits back in Virginia to go to Tech. UCF showed us last night on the type of offense we want, couple that with Foster and it is a win / win for all of us! Go Hokies!

  5. We were 14-12 in Beamer’s last two seasons and 19-8 in JF’s first two. We have been restored to the level we were prior to FBs last 4 years. And it was done with first year QBs. So, I am encouraged. We will compete for the ACC title again when we get QBs and RBs at the level we had under FB. We did not have top players at those positions every year under FB but we had them most.

  6. While it was to paraphrase coach “a 3.5 hour stomach ache” , I have a good feeling about the character and direction of things. Sadly, i did not get my wish when the opportunity presented itself. Ball inside the one yard line, coach puts Tim in the backfield….peoples lead block run behind teller. Tim gets the hand off, Boom. OSU players flying like bowling pins. Would have been epic.

    Cheers and Happy New year to TSL staff

  7. Bottom line is the Hokies have to win the games we are favored to win first. We are getting there but we have to have players step up and make big plays in big situations-we need playmakers. Fumbling on the one yard line in a game we could have won is not the step forward we have to make. A lot of good things happened statistically in the Camping World Bowl but top level programs find ways to win on the scoreboard. We need consistent playmaking first and foremost!

  8. I’m tired of learning from loses or embracing the encouraging signs for the future. We need to just start beating teams we should beat (Ga Tech) and teams we could have beaten (Oklahoma State), then we can take the next step and upset some teams no-one thinks we can beat.

    1. Agree. The team/program needs to get over the hump — win the games they’re supposed to win and win some they are not favored to win. Need to smooth out some of the big swings in inconsistency on offense from quarter to quarter, game to game.

    2. What a really great post that I didn’t have the ‘balls’ to initiate. Ever since the infamous 7 to 7 tie score after the 1954 William & Mary football game, the HYPE has never seemed to change. “VT is always headed in the right direction”. “VT came sooo close”. “If only the offense had shown up” ? “If only the referees had gotten it right”. “If only VT wasn’t sooo young” ? “If Bud could only handle GIT or if he could only handle a mobile QB or if he could only contribute more to his recruiting duties” ? It seems to be ‘only this or only that’ which is keeping the athletic programs from some degree of splendor.” ? For the poor ole VT Alums that have been around long term (50 years), this never ending ‘bag of worms’ has turned into a proverbial ‘soap opera’ NIGHTMARE. The VT football drums are already beating for the 2018 season (again) and strangely, how things are once again looking so good for the boys in orange & maroon.

      Some VT fans actually believe that Fuente has Tech on the way to being the next Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Okie State, etc. For 2017, the team that I saw could only muster one quality win, against WVU. The loss (again) to non-bowl bound GIT was sooo ‘painful’ for my Atlanta family that we barely ever speak of the GIT series.
      For the other losses to Clemson, Miami and Okie State, each was solid for the football opposition; i.e. Virginia Tech actually was embarrassed. In my ‘eyes’, VT repeatedly shot themselves in the foot in each of the four losses ! It could be argued that the 9 wins were certainly ‘nothing much to write home about’, based on the quality of the opposition ! The 2016 team really had it all over the 2017 squad, particularly at the QB position !!! In Closing, the Very Best 2018 Wishes to ALL VT Hokies !!!

      1. That post could’ve been so much better. Each team is different. This one happened to have Fr playing QB, TE, WRx2, and occasionally one at RB

      2. The optimism is about meeting expectations. Preseason we all look at the schedule and see who is coming back and what new players will contribute and then make a prediction. If the Hokies have youth and inexperience and play a poor schedule then 9 wins is good. If you have senior All American players and you play a top ten schedule then 9 wins can also be good. This schedule is more daunting than anything we ever faced in the old big east. all power five teams are richer and better so 10win seasons are the goal.

      3. What a long winded post filled with backhanded complements (and plenty of flat out insults). If you can’t see the strides we’ve made since 1958 then I can’t help you. I’m sure the coaches and players who worked their butts off and never quit appreciate you labeling a 9 win season as “nothing to write home about “. Just a completely ignorant post.

      4. Juke – interesting points – especially on the point of the 2016 team being much better than the 2017 team especially at QB.

        For fun

        QB – 2016
        RB – Even
        WR – 2016
        OL – 2017

        Offense – 2016

        D-Line – Even
        Linebackers – 2017
        Corners – Even
        Safety – 2017

        Defense – Even

        Field Goals – 2016
        Punts – 2017
        Coverage – 2017

        SP – Even

        I hope we surpass the 2016 level, and I think we will.

      5. You make a very good point. The national media tried to make many of those games sound as if they were “embarrassments”. But you’re correct, and all of those games we were very competitive against much more talented teams and actually made mistakes that cost us any chance of winning. You have to give credit to the other team but it really burns me up to see ESPN and others classify them as blowouts. The Miami game was neck and neck well into the third quarter when we had several turnovers in the red zone. The Georgia Tech game, well that was one blown coverage. Oklahoma State was a better team that had no mistakes against us and we still almost pulled it off despite catastrophic errors. These must be fixed, but you make an excellent point. Thanks for pointing that out.

    1. 9-4 and 10-4 in first two seasons = consistently inconsistent?

      I would think the inconsistency, when applied consistently would = 7-6 and 7-7, unless there is another factor of inconsistency I have missed consistently.

      1. To be a Champion, you must believe you are a Champion and then perform as a Champion. Our biggest issue is execution. (example the fumble on the 1 yard line).

        There is a difference between Good and Great and it doesn’t include rationalizing mediocrity.

        1. I’m not sure it’s rationalizing it. Remember the first step back from mediocrity is beating the teams you should be able to beat. That was the problem at the end of the Beamer years. We were not able to defeat east Carolina, North Carolina, Duke, Boston College, Wake, and other ACC teams that should be automatic wins. Now that we have established that we are doing that on a regular basis, and over the last two years had some good wins over teams such as Arkansas, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Miami, that have better talent than us, and been competitive and other games such as Clemson, Oklahoma State and others where we were very competitive but outclassed in terms of talent, we have reversed the trend. That’s the first thing you have to do. It’s like the old saying, if you have dug yourself into a ditch step one is putting the shovel down. We have done that, and we are slowly but Shirley going step-by-step back towards what we need to do to be a regular top 20 team. People think this is an overnight process but it is not. Go back and look at our record versus the teams I mentioned earlier like Duke and Carolina over the last four years of coach Beamer’s tenure here and you’ll realize that the first step is stopping the bleeding by beating those teams on a regular basis.

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