Virginia Tech took care of business Saturday night with a 24-3 win over Duke. The Hokies had some strong performances that stood out on offense and special teams while there is still a minor weakness on the defensive line that could cause problems if it can’t be avoided.
1. Deshawn McClease can be an offensive spark plug.
Against West Virginia, Deshawn McClease didn’t start but once he came in, he provided a spark in the running game that helped the Hokies’ offense get going as a whole. After missing the North Carolina game due to an unspecified illness, McClease didn’t start but once again, he came in and was a spark plug for the Hokies’ offense.
McClease provided a spark on the ground on the Hokies’ first touchdown drive with 13 yards on 3 carries including a four-yard touchdown run. On that touchdown run, McClease showed great patience and vision sitting behind his offensive line before bouncing outside to the hole where he went into the endzone untouched.
McClease wasn’t afraid to run between the tackles, but wherever he did go, he ran with plenty of decisiveness that helped him have a strong game. McClease also showed plenty of toughness when he did go between the tackles fighting for extra yards and proving to be a little more powerful than his size would suggest.
While Travon McMillian should still be the top back, Deshawn McClease should continue to consistently receive a significant number of carries. If McClease can become more consistent, he might just end up becoming VT’s lead running back before the end of the season.
2. Oscar Bradburn is really good.
Oscar Bradburn has proven to be a steal for Virginia Tech as the best punter the Hokies have had in years. The Australian hasn’t had a bad game this season, and seems to be improving every single week, with an impressive performance this past week against Duke.
Bradburn only averaged 39.2 yards per punt, but that was more due to where he was punting from rather than having short punts. Bradburn’s impressive performance is shown best when you look at where those punts were downed. Four of Bradburn’s five punts were downed inside the 10-yard line, an insanely impressive stat line that few punters in America could replicate.
What Bradburn did Saturday night was something that deserves plenty of praise. When you can consistently pin a team inside their own 10-yard line, you make their life more difficult by forcing them to focus some on simply getting the ball away from their endzone, taking away some of their focus on getting a first down.
Bradburn has been consistent throughout the season and was deservingly named to the Ray Guy Award watch list this week. While Bradburn has had lots of good games, Saturday night was his best game yet.
Throughout the season, Bradburn has become a weapon for Justin Fuente to pin teams deep and help win the hidden yardage battle. Bradburn is making an impact as the Hokies’ best punter in years, and could make a big difference Saturday night against Miami.
3. Defensive Line Depth is still a concern
Virginia Tech has one of the best defenses in college football, but there is one weakness that still remains, the backup defensive line. While Bud Foster has found ways to limit the number of backup defensive linemen in a game at one time, it’s still hard to go a full game without having the full backup defensive line in at any point in the game.
When the backup defensive line has come in fully, there has been a noticeable difference in the amount of pressure they can put on an opposing quarterback. Houshun Gaines and Jarrod Hewitt have proven to be reliable players, but the Hokies have big questions marks at their fourth DTs and DEs. When the Hokies have all backups out there, Gaines and Hewitt aren’t talented enough on their own to carry the unit to being somewhat productive.
Looking ahead to Miami, you can expect that Bud Foster will try to limit the use of his backup defensive linemen outside of Gaines and Hewitt. However, the Hokies will likely need full-unit changes against Georgia Tech’s triple-option that will look to win the battle in the trenches. Over the next two weeks, Virginia Tech’s backup defensive line will have to grow up and not give teams a break when they’re on the field.
If they can, it will take away the one minor weakness from one of college football’s elite defenses.
Extra Point: VT-Duke should remind us that football is just a game.
Saturday night’s game should serve as a beautiful reminder that football simply is a game. For those who stayed in Lane Stadium for the monsoon second half, we were treated to a delight of something that didn’t seem like the intense football we know, but something that brought us back to our childhoods both for players and fans.
Josh Jackson said it was like “being a kid again” playing in the downpour on Saturday night. For players and fans alike, it was like reliving their childhoods all over again. We saw players sliding across the field after tackles with water spraying from the field with every step a player took. After the game, VT players turned the field into a slip and slide as they went down to the North End Zone to celebrate with the Marching Virginians and a few of those who remained in Lane Stadium (including myself).
Away from the action, we saw Lane Stadium become a place of weird fun. Male cheerleaders slid through the endzones during TV timeouts while a group of students imitated a canoe in the East Stands. Though we were soaked, there was no stress, but the freedom to enjoy conditions that in almost every normal situation, you would be hunkered inside to avoid with the biggest umbrella you had ready to go in case you had to go outside.
In all of this, Saturday night’s game reminded us that this football, at its core, is a game. Whether tens of thousands fill a stadium and millions more watch on TV or not, what will never change is that football started as a game. When football becomes so highly valued that a team creeps into your identity and it affects your outlook, that’s unhealthy and dangerous.
Saturday night reminded us that we shouldn’t take football so seriously. The monsoon brought out how football shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Yes, it’s okay to be a diehard fan and be disappointed when your team loses or ecstatic when they win; but football should be fun whether the result is in your favor or not. It’s not to be taken so seriously that it makes the difference in your life.
Saturday night reminded us of that. Those fans in attendance won’t remember a specific play in that game, but they will remember the fun they had watching a game in the middle of a monsoon without a care in the world. For many fans, they may look back at that game more fondly than games against WVU and Clemson with the weather making it more memorable.