I went into the Military Bowl not expecting to learn anything new about this team, and in hindsight, I don’t think I did. The issues we knew existed still exist, and the positive parts of the program are still there as well.
Tech lost the game for a few reasons. First, they couldn’t tackle or shed blocks. Second, because they had a golden opportunity to go up by double figures late in the game, but they failed. Third, they had a few unlucky bounces when Cincinnati fumbled three times, and recovered every single one of them.
Still, it shouldn’t take lucky bounces to beat Cincinnati, and I believe that 31 points is plenty good enough to beat an AAC team with a backup quarterback. Tech gained more yards against the Cincinnati defense (443-402) than unbeaten UCF, and scored nearly as many points (31 to 38) This one is mostly on the defense, in my opinion, and that’s what I’m going to spend my time talking about today. I’m not really going to focus on the game itself, but where the defense stands following the season. We’ll also discuss Tech’s very small senior class, and throw in a few other topics as well.
The Senior Class
We all know that Virginia Tech only had six seniors on this year’s team, but in reality, due to injury they were operating for most of the season with fewer than that. By the end of Monday’s game with Cincinnati, the Hokies were literally down to just three seniors who were actually healthy enough to play in games, and I use the term “healthy” loosely.
Steven Peoples got knocked out of the game on his touchdown run, and I thought that was particularly bad luck. I thought Peoples got into the endzone on his previous run, and had the officials agreed with me, then the next play never would have happened, and Peoples never would have gotten hurt. That’s a tough end to the career of a guy who developed into a pretty good player for the Hokies.
Ricky Walker got hurt in the first game of the season against Florida State, and didn’t regain his old form until late in the season. Then he got hurt again in the second quarter against Cincinnati, and couldn’t play in the second half. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Tech’s front didn’t offer much resistance once Walker got hurt. Walker was known as Tech’s “bellcow” this year, but the reality is the Hokies went though nearly the entire season with him hurt and ineffective.
You can pretty much say the same for Vinny Mihota and Yosh Nijman. Mihota wasn’t the same player after his torn ACL, and he limped to the finish line. He made 11 tackles in 13 games, with no tackles for loss. Nijman never got over his broken leg from late last season, and by the end of this year he had been completely benched in favor of redshirt freshman Silas Dzansi. It made Tech’s running game better, and it probably should have happened earlier in the season.
Overall, of Tech’s six seniors, only three (Peoples, Chung and Pfaff) were healthy enough to get the most out of their ability for the majority of the season. Of those three, just two actually finished the bowl game. Upperclassmen make a difference. Just look at Texas.
Tom Herman went 10-4 in his second season at Texas, and they upset Georgia yesterday. However, Herman had 26 seniors on that team, most of which used to be top-100 type recruits. Tech got similar results in Justin Fuente’s first two seasons, when he went 10-4 in 2016 and 9-4 in 2017 with more experienced teams. In a year where the Hokies had to rely on so many freshmen and sophomores, and when half of the six seniors were ineffective...
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