It took lots of grit, determination, and toughness but the Virginia Tech Hokies came back from a 17-0 deficit seconds into the second quarter to beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 34-31 in South Bend. This game was far from perfect, but the Hokies were able to get a big win and now are back in Blacksburg preparing for a second chance to win the ACC Coastal and win the Commonwealth Cup for the 13th-straight year against 2-9 Virginia.
There were plenty of potential takeaways from the Hoies’ win over Notre Dame, but here are three that stood out to us.
1. Henri Murphy Should Be The Hokies’ Kick Returner
Virginia Tech hasn’t as fast of a kick returner as Henri Murphy and the former JUCO player showed why he should be the Hokies’ full-time kick returner even when Greg Stroman comes back.
Murphy was electric on kick return averaging over 32 yards per return and showing off his great speed with how he seemed to get into holes that most times would be closed for most return man. Murphy also has some vision and with his combination of speed, that makes him extremely dangerous to make big things happen.
Murphy also knew on one return that there weren’t any good options for him to try and make something special happen so he instead put his head down and went right up the middle to get a few extra yards over going for the small chance of doing something fancy to break a big play. Murphy was quite productive on his kick returns and gave the Hokies some of the best field position that they’ve had all season off of kick returns while also knowing when to just take a knee.
While Greg Stroman has also been solid on kick returns, Murphy proved in that game that he is the Hokies’ best kick returner and should be the Hokies’ top kick returner going forward as the sophomore has a very bright future returning kicks for VT.
2. How good could have Ken Ekanem been if he was healthy?
Ken Ekanem still isn’t 100% but he is continuing to get closer to 100% every week, and it showed in this game as Ekanem has one of his best games of the season, and the best since injuries began to pile up and affect the banged up senior from Northern Virginia. Of course, Ekanem seemed to have a big chip on his shoulder also given how he believes Notre Dame rescinded his scholarship offer due to an injury he suffered his senior season and not because Notre Dame’s class didn’t have room as Brian Kelly has said.
Ekanem had 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack while also earning our Defensive Hokie of the Game honors for his great performance against Notre Dame. While Ekanem wasn’t perfect and there were times early when the defensive line struggled to get pressure, Ekanem kept working against a talented Notre Dame offensive line that may have two first round picks on it and ended up having quite a strong performance.
Ekanem’s performance while not being fully healthy against a talented Notre Dame offensive line has to make you wonder how good could Ekanem have been this season if he didn’t get banged up over the past few weeks? Ekanem got off to a strong start averaging over a sack per game in the month of September before an injury against Syracuse seems to have slowed him down as a pass rusher until this game against Notre Dame.
Ekanem seems to be close to 100% now and that will make him a very big challenge once again for Virginia on Saturday.
3. Virginia Tech is now using Sam Rogers the right way.
A few weeks ago, Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen were not using Sam Rogers in the right way using him more as a primary ball carrier than a utility player. However, Fuente and Cornelsen have adjusted to use Rogers in a better way and now are doing a great job of maximizing the skills of Rogers.
Sam Rogers is best used as a utility player in both the passing and running games along with being a quality blocker and that’s what Virginia Tech has been doing with Rogers having 4 carries for 26 yards and 4 catches for 30 yards in what was another productive game for the senior runner.
Rogers is best used as a passing down back that can make some things happen as a receiver over the middle or on the wings while also bringing a change of pace and be an effective runner in four receiver sets with only 6 in the box. Rogers may not have great seed but he has the toughness and power that can get 5 or 6 yards in some 2nd or 3rd and 5 situations effectively and fairly regularly as long as he gets a couple of blocks.
Rogers is not a primary ball carrier but a utility back that can do a lot of different things and after trying to use him as a primary ball carrier, the Hokies are fully taking advantage of Rogers’s skill set as a utility player.
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