Virginia Tech took care of business this weekend with a dominant, 38-0 victory over Old Dominion. With Saturday’s win, the Hokies jumped to 12th in the polls heading into their showdown with #2 Clemson.
There were a lot of positives from Saturday’s dominant performance so with that said, here are our takeaways.
1. Virginia Tech has proven they are a top 15 team and the second best ACC team.
Through non-conference play, the Hokies have faced a wide variance of teams from offensive juggernaut West Virginia to FCS Delaware. The Hokies picked up the big win over WVU to start the season while comfortably taking care of business the past three weeks against weaker competition the way a top 15 team, and the ACC’s second-best team, ought to.
Outside of the Hokies’ poor first quarter against ECU, this team has shown that they are a top 15 team no matter what happens against Clemson.
First, the Hokies stepped up and got the big win over West Virginia at a neutral site with a quarterback who was making his collegiate debut. There are always challenges to opening the season against a quality opponent like WVU with a new quarterback, but the Hokies passed the test and Jackson showed that he can be a star for the Hokies.
Over the past three weeks, the Hokies have shut out opponents in 11 of the 12 quarters they have played. Virginia Tech slept-walk to their first shutout against Delaware followed by a dominant 64-17 win over ECU and a 38-0 shutout against ODU where the Monarchs made it as far as the VT 49. The only time Virginia Tech’s defense struggled was the first quarter against ECU where they simply didn’t show up.
When you’re a top 15 team, you should beat other quality top 25 teams like a WVU while also dominating weaker competition as they’ve done all three times in non-conference play as shown by how they’ve shut out those opponents in 11 of 12 quarters of play. Virginia Tech is ready for Saturday night’s showdown with Clemson and have established that they are a top 15 team and the second-best team in the ACC this year.
2. Virginia Tech’s by committee RB rotation is working.
Last year, the Hokies struggled to establish a rushing attack outside of Jerod Evans scrambling and having some big runs on broken plays. This year, the Hokies are establishing a solid rushing attack via their by-committee approach that is working well through the first four games.
The Hokies have already seen notable jumps in major team rushing statistics with VT jumping from 55th to 34th in rushing yards per game (183.1 to 218.3) and 95th to 55th in yards per carry (4.0 to 4.5). These are encouraging improvements for an offense looking to do a better job of establishing the run after living and dying on the playmaking ability of Jerod Evans for their rushing offense.
The Hokies have put up these numbers while having four players with 31 to 36 carries: Josh Jackson, Travon McMillian, Deshawn McClease, and Steven Peoples. McMillian, McClease, and Jackson are all averaging 4.5 yards or more per carry this season with McMillian leading the way with 5.1 yards per carry.
We’ve seen Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen rotate backs in and out fairly regularly to keep a fresh back out on the field and so far, its paid off. McClease and McMillian have both shown they can make plays on the outside and between the tackles while Peoples has been a bulldozer that has helped wear defenses down.
This success has not only been because of the Hokies’ solid rotation of fresh running backs, but also because VT has their best offensive line in years especially on the left side. Yosuah Nijman and Wyatt Teller both have futures on Sunday and are both putting together strong cases to receive lots of All-ACC recognition.
Virginia Tech is back to having a solid, well-rounded rushing attack in year 2 of the Justin Fuente era.
3. Bud Foster going with Vinny Mihota as 3rd DT, Houshun Gaines as 5th DL.
On Saturday, we saw Bud Foster use Vinny Mihota some as a backup defensive tackle to give Tim Settle some rest, bringing in Houshun Gaines at DE instead of leaving Mihota at DE and bringing in Jarrod Hewitt. Hewitt did play some with the first team defense and has been somewhat productive, but it’s clear that for now, Foster is more comfortable moving Mihota inside and bringing in Gaines when Settle or Walker needs a break.
Jarrod Hewitt has been the one “true” backup DT that has shown signs of being someone who Bud Foster can trust. Hewitt has been decently productive and shown lots of promise in garbage time situations with 7 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss this season.
However, Foster has a preference for Mihota at DT, allowing him to bring in his top backup defensive lineman, Houshun Gaines. Gaines hasn’t been flashy in terms of production, but he has been solid so far and hasn’t caused much of a drop-off in production when he comes on the field.
Going forward, you can expect to see a lot of Mihota at DT while Jarrod Hewitt remains the fourth DT that can come in when both Settle and Walker need rest. While this isn’t ideal for Bud Foster, the Hokies are making it work and will be ready to keep this rotation going against Clemson.
Extra Point: Will Devon Hunter’s role grow?
Yesterday, Justin Fuente announced that Divine Deablo is out for the season. With Deablo out, we saw starting rover Reggie Floyd play much more after he and Deablo started the season rotating in and out fairly regularly. Going forward, Floyd is likely to play a significantly higher number of snaps with Deablo done for the season.
However, we could see Devon Hunter start to gain a role on the first team defense as the third safety.
Now I wouldn’t expect Hunter to have as big of a role as Divine Deablo did, but I think you’ll start to see Hunter receive some first team defensive reps to give Reggie Floyd a break. Hunter has been limited to special teams and garbage time defensive reps this season with Hunter not playing in last week’s game for an unknown reason.
Hunter started behind the eight ball due to a concussion suffered early in fall camp, but Hunter has proven to be useful on special teams and with Deablo out, Hunter should start to gain some first team defensive reps to give Floyd or Terrell Edmunds a break. However, that may not come till after Saturday night’s showdown with Clemson.