Virginia Tech finished the 2017 season 9-4 as they came up just short of their tenth win with a 30-21 loss to Oklahoma State in the 2017 Camping World Bowl. Mistakes proved costly in this game, but the Hokies’ offense showed lots of promise especially on the ground. With that said, here are our takeaways from VT’s loss to Oklahoma State.
1. Virginia Tech’s Inexperience on Offense Showed
Virginia Tech’s offense showed that they have a bright future with 512 yards despite only having four juniors and seniors who played at QB, RB, WR, or TE against Oklahoma State. The fact that an offense could put up that type of yardage against a power 5 defense on a top 20 team, even if Oklahoma State’s isn’t that good, is impressive and should excite Hokie fans about the future. However, the Hokies’ youth also showed with some mistakes that proved costly in the end.
VT’s youth showed multiple times including on the major second quarter fumble. When looking at that play, Jackson made the right decision to keep, but it became the wrong decision because he made it too late. That’s the type of decision you’d expect to see from a young QB who, does have 12 games under his belt, but is still a young freshman who hasn’t had many opportunities to make split-second decisions where timing can turn the right decision into the wrong one.
While this was the mistake that stood out the most, this wasn’t the only one as the Hokies had some drops that can be improved upon with good coaching. VT also had chemistry and timing issues including on the missed deep ball from Henri Murphy that, while being a TD the Hokies should have had, can be attributed to just not having a lot of in-game reps together.
However, things like timing are things that can only be improved with more reps, something that is inevitable for a young team who hasn’t had that many reps. Most players also simply get better with age as we’ve seen with guys like Greg Stroman going from a struggling backup CB as a freshman (who didn’t have to play much) to being an All-ACC First Team CB as a senior. Unlike Stroman, the Hokies’ young offensive playmakers are getting thrown into the fire early but like Stroman, they still have those high ceilings even if most of them won’t develop into All-ACC First Team players like Stroman.
Yes, there were some things that are long-term concerns that showed like the lack of arm strength for Josh Jackson. However, there were some teachable moments for the young Hokies’ offense that they’ll benefit from this offseason. More than that, this offense didn’t quit on this game when they easily could have. That’s the character of a team that will be a contender for ACC titles and playoff spots for years.
2. Deshawn McClease Has Star Potential
After struggling to find a running game all season, the Hokies found one in their final three games led by Deshawn McClease. After only having double-digit carries twice during the Hokies’ first 10 games, McClease had at least 13 carries and 70 yards in each of the Hokies’ final three games.
However, McClease saved his best performance for last with 124 yards on 18 carries, the most rushing yards for any VT player this season. His standout performance earned him the well-deserved honor of being a Hokie of the Game after the best rushing performance from any VT player this season.
McClease’s performance may be seen by some as a breakthrough moment, but the breakthrough started with his strong 14-carry, 71-yard performance against Pitt one week after only having a two-yard carry against Georgia Tech.
Deshawn McClease finished the season with 530 yards on the ground, but his 4.9 yards per carry are definitely promising. More than that, his final three games were impressive as 50% of McClease’s rushing yards this season came in those final three games, and McClease averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry in those games.
Over the final three games, McClease gave the Hokies a jolt in the backfield with the burst to take advantage of any hole he could go through and the speed to be dynamic in space. Against McClease put up similar numbers to Travon McMillian, but his patience and vision shined when you watched the tape. That vision and patience has made a difference and is a big reason for McClease’s late season success. This vision and patience is something that should also have fans confident that McClease can keep this level of play up.
McClease isn’t a big back that can run through guys like Steven Peoples or Jalen Holston, but McClease isn’t as small either and has the toughness of a power guy to be unafraid to run between the tackles and fight through contact.
Looking ahead to next year, there’s no doubt that McClease should be leading the charge for a VT backfield that, all of a sudden, is showing signs of life with McClease, Steven Peoples, and Jalen Holston. While Peoples and Holston have shown lots of potential, VT have found themselves a back with star potential in McClease.
3. Virginia Tech’s Defensive Line Will Be Really Good Next Year.
The Hokies’ defensive line had a strong night against Oklahoma State with Ricky Walker, Houshun Gaines, and Trevon Hill each having 2 tackles for loss including a sack for each of them. This trio of players was also able to get some pressure on Mason Rudolph even when it was only those three players rushing the passer with Tim Settle banged up.
VT’s defensive line has been really good the past few years despite losing multiple starters every year. However, that may not be in the case in 2018 with VT able to return their full starting defensive line for the first time in years if Tim Settle. Even if he doesn’t, VT could simply move Vinny Mihota inside and start Houshun Gaines especially with how much he has improved and how well he played in his two starts in Mihota’s absence.
The emergence of Gaines has been big as he has gone from a borderline backup to a reliable starter who may be stuck on the bench for another year if Tim Settle returns. However, Gaines has shown the talent to push Vinny Mihota and has given VT five strong defensive linemen with Jarrod Hewitt being a solid backup DT.
Beyond that, the Hokies also brought in a talented freshman class that simply got to watch and develop behind those guys with all five getting a valuable redshirt year. Those guys have the potential to improve the depth behind those top 6 guys and give VT a two-deep that can be comparable with other top programs.
However, the focus should be on a defensive line that could return a pair of DTs who each had 12.5 tackles for loss (Walker, Settle) while Hill had 9.5 tackles for loss and Gaines finished with 7 tackles for loss despite only starting two games. There aren’t very many teams that could be able to return a defensive line that has been as productive as the Hokies have been including the return of 4 starters, 3 of whom had at least 9 tackles for loss plus a backup who had 7 tackles for loss.
If Tim Settle returns, the Hokies have a chance at having the best defensive line in college football and should have one of the best defensive lines in school history. Now the question is will arguably the most talented guy on that defensive line, Tim Settle, choose to leave or stay for another season? Even if he doesn’t, this defensive line should still be one of the best in the country.
Extra Point: The Incredible Fake Punt
Virginia Tech hasn’t been afraid to pull out some fake punts and field goals under Justin Fuente with James Shibest designing some interesting plays. We’ve seen them worked well like Mitchell Ludwig’s fake punt pass to Terrell Edmunds for a first down in last year’s ACC Championship. We’ve also seen them fail like the fake field goal against Clemson that flopped badly.
However, Shibest and Fuente pulled off their finest trick play that, if there was a trick play Hall of Fame, would be a unanimous first ballot selection.
— Treadmill Horse (@treadmillhorse) December 29, 2017
There are a lot of things to analyze, but the first thing is that is was a fairly well-designed play to get Shegog to sneak out of the punt block to find space for an easy completion for Chase Mummau. The actual play design wasn’t that innovative though it was well-designed to only have Shegog on that side of the field with the rest of the blocking shifting towards the other side along with Mummau taking a step or two in the opposite direction.
However, the most creative part of this play is the fact that Virginia Tech changed the number of a walk-on QB from 18 to 95, changed his position on the roster from QB to “holder” (first time I’ve seen someone listed as a holder), and helped him blend in to make it harder to notice that it was Mummau and not Oscar Bradburn.
The decision to do that was absolutely genius. To change the number of a walk-on QB knowing that it likely wouldn’t be noticed by anyone, list him as a holder, and then sneak him in is incredible. It shows that this trick play wasn’t simply something Virginia Tech pulled out of the bag but was well thought out. Changing Mummau’s number was simply genius that takes this play from a well-designed fake punt into one of the greatest trick plays I’ve ever seen.
James Shibest and Justin Fuente came up with a fake punt play that we may not see again for years, but what a masterful, thought out play it was by Shibest and Fuente.