Virginia Tech-Duke Review: Hokie Offense Falters

Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech quarterback Grant Wells was pressured too much by Duke. (Ivan Morozov)

Author’s Note: I wrote the bulk of this article before the shooting in Charlottesville/before the details came out, and what I wrote was goofy in a way that doesn’t match the mood. I’ve trimmed most of the silliness from the writing, though I’m not in a spot right now to edit the videos, most of which have Monty Python clips attached to their ends.

It’s hard to overemphasize how well things started for the Hokies. Duke decided to come out and throw the ball all over the place, and while they’d scouted well, the execution was lacking. Then, the Hokies got Lofton open, and Wells put up a beautiful ball with DeWayne Carter—an absolute force at defensive tackle—getting ready to tee off on him. The Hokies earned a bomb touchdown, and Duke got an injured player: Carter hurt himself on the rush. The Hokies created a gut-punch score and inadvertently hobbled Duke’s best defender for the rest of the game, and they did it on the same play with thirteen minutes left to play in the first quarter.

It got better. Duke had a long touchdown called back after an unnecessary hold (and TyJuan Garbutt walked away from an ugly chop block on the same play), and when the Blue Devils closed the distance anyway, quarterback Riley Leonard chucked up a pick to Mansoor Delane. The Hokies had the momentum. By gawd, it almost looked good for Hokie fans.

And then Tech put up the most uninspiring post-pick drive in the history of football, after which the game was effectively over. The Virginia Tech Hokies—a clear and rightful road underdog—were gifted an interception, and they spent three plays making room for the punter.

I picked Duke to win 35-13 in part because I figured the Blue Devil offense could grab Tech’s defense by the hair and caveman-drag it around the field for fifteen minutes unless the Hokies had a good lead going into the fourth quarter. The Hokies needed points, and they needed them early. Instead, we got three plays like this:

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a nice run…if it’s on first or second down. Here, it’s capitulation. There’s no one being optioned, no packaged pass play or RPO. It’s Holston up the middle into a layered front. Duke will let him grab a few yards as long as the flow and fill stop him short of the sticks, and that’s what happens.

Meanwhile, the defense put up a valiant fight, but they were outmanned:

NFL execs watching this game are going to ponder paying Duke’s blockers a whole lotta’ money come draft time. On the right edge, Garbutt tries a spin move, but all-everything tackle Graham Barton (#62) sticks with him like they’re a tango duo and eases the Hokie on into the ground. In the middle, Mario Kendricks is victim to center Jack Burns (#68) and his supremely physical clear-and-drag technique. Burns (a Cornell transfer, and one of several transfers on the rebuilt line) rips Kendricks so hard that the big DT stumbles forward and chop blocks his own defensive end. It’s like Duke was building a wall, and the Hokie defenders were human logs or something. Neither move is ever