Despite being underdogs, Virginia Tech put together their best game of November beating Virginia 34-31 in an overtime thriller to extend their reign of dominance over the Commonwealth to 15 years. With that said, here are 3 of our takeaways from the Hokies’ dramatic win over the Cavaliers.
1. Ricky Walker is Finally Healthy
Ricky Walker hasn’t had the senior season that many expected him to have with injuries slowing him down. In addition, Walker has had to adjust to being the guy on the Hokies’ defensive line and receiving many more double teams on the interior. Both of those things caused him to struggle during the first couple months of the season.
However, Walker has finally started to become fully healthy in recent weeks. Combine that with how he has appeared to develop as a focal point player and the senior defensive tackle is showing us how good he could have been this year if he was 100% healthy for the whole season.
During the past three games, Walker has had 6 tackles for loss, 16 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and 1 forced fumble. Those are the type of numbers that many believed Walker could put up at the beginning of the season and have come against three teams that are all going to play in bowl games with Pittsburgh being the only one not to be guaranteed of finishing with a winning record.
While Walker disappeared in many games early in the season, his presence has been much more noticeable in recent weeks with his Senior Day performance against Virginia being his best game of the season, earning him Defensive Hokie of the Game honors. Walker’s improved play has helped the Hokies’ defense have some life even if their struggles are still significant almost regardless of their opponent.
Even though Virginia Tech has struggled and injuries have plagued him, Ricky Walker hasn’t quit on this season and because of that, we’re getting to see how good Walker could have been over a full season and seeing how some team will find a quality backup defensive tackle whether that’s in the late rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft or as an undrafted free agent.
2. Tre Turner is Already a Playmaker
Ryan Willis’ nickname for Tre Turner, “Big Play Tre,” seems likely to stick after his big plays propelled the Hokies to a 14-0 lead at halftime.
Turner took over the second quarter starting with a 43-yard jet sweep that showed off his speed and quickness. Then, Turner claimed his spot at the top of SportsCenter’s Top Play with an incredible one-handed touchdown catch on All-ACC First Team CB Bryce Hall. Turner capped all of that off with a big play on special teams blocking a punt that Jovonn Quillen recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
While Turner didn’t have any more spectacular plays, he continued to be productive with a couple more long receptions to finish the night with 4 receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown, and a total of 112 yards of offense. That is simply incredible productivity for a true freshman regardless of position and shows how bright of a future the former four-star WR has.
Part of what makes Turner so good is the fact that once he’s in space, he knows how to manipulate defenders around him to gain at least a few more yards or even make just the right move to either break a tackle or find the gap that can allow him to break out for a touchdown. In addition, Turner has shown a competitive passion that has helped him become a difference maker on special teams and not just on offense.
Much of the true freshman talk started on Dax Hollifield and Quincy Patterson, but Tre Turner has stepped up and claimed part of that spotlight not only for the Hokies, but also across the ACC. Though Turner may not have enough stats to earn Freshman All-American honors, it’s clear that it won’t be long till he’s earning All-ACC honors and possibly All-American status.
3. Virginia Tech’s Offense Carried By Its Running Game
Ryan Willis has regressed over the past few weeks with the numbers backing it up as his completion percentage has fallen from 64.7% at Pitt to 50% against Miami and 42.4% against Virginia. While Willis has struggled immensely over the past two weeks, Virginia Tech’s running game has given the Hokies some life recently.
Against Virginia, the Hokies averaged 5.6 yards per carry with Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease each averaging over 5 yards per carry. When you take out each of their longest runs, both Peoples and McClease still averaged over the minimum standard of 4 yards per carry, another great sign that not only are Peoples and McClease breaking out some long runs, but that they are being consistently productive on the ground.
McClease has struggled immensely this season with it possibly stemming from the Hokies’ second game where he was pulled for much of the game after an early fumble against William & Mary. However, McClease looked like the speedy back that broke out at the end of last season and if he can find that form once again without some of the confidence issues that have plagued him earlier this season, he has the potential for a big season in 2019.
Meanwhile, Peoples has been quietly productive over the past few weeks, but this was his best game going for 96 yards on 19 carries. Brad Cornelsen does deserve some credit for some of the run play design (though the repetitious use was an issue later in the game) along with the Hokies’ offensive line and their improved play. However, Peoples clearly worked to improve his speed and explosiveness this offseason, and it’s shown whenever he’s had the ball.
The Hokies’ running game has had their struggles but similar to last season as the Hokies’ passing game has regressed, the Virginia Tech rushing attack has found life with Peoples and McClease leading the way.