Virginia Tech football made its return to the gridiron in the Hokies annual spring football scrimmage. Enter Sandman returned to the airwaves of Lane Stadium for the first time in the calendar year. Prior to kickoff, much was made about how evenly split the Maroon and White team were on paper.
Well, the final result certainly told a different story as team Maroon swamped team White 34-0. Tech saw many players show out so let’s count down the five biggest takeaways from the 2023 Virginia Tech spring game.
1. Grant Wells' Improved Accuracy and Decision-Making
Plenty of Hokies fans groaned on social media at the notion that Grant Wells was leading the first team offense in spring practice and subsequently doing the same in Saturday’s spring game minus a few transfer WRs and Malachi Thomas. Despite the noise, Wells showed why he’s still the frontrunner over Kyron Drones to be the Hokies' starting quarterback in the fall.
The redshirt senior led the Maroon team on three consecutive scoring drives in the first quarter, all for touchdowns and not field goals. Wells went 12-18 passing for 148 yards through the air with one passing touchdown plus one 10-yard rushing score. After the game, head coach Brent Pry shared how he was impressed with what he's seen from Wells today and this spring as a whole.
“He came out strong, that’s how he’s been all spring. He made good decisions, throwing the ball well. He’s operating the offense really well right now,” Pry said. “He’s more efficient with his timing and tempo, everything looks better to me.”
Wells finished with a completion rate of 66.7% and looked poised and polished as a thrower. Accuracy and decision making were two areas Wells struggled with last fall but has improved on throughout this spring in his view.
“I thought I was pretty accurate, a lot of that comes with understanding the playbooks a lot more, having my eyes in the right spot, having the right footwork, a lot of that works together.” Wells said postgame.
2. Rushing Attack Will Lead the Hokies' Offense in 2023
The Hokies ground game was a potent part of the Maroon squads opening quarter offensive onslaught. Tech as a whole rushed for 250 yards on the ground when you strip away lost yardage from sacks. Even with Malachi Thomas and Bhayshul Tuten expected to be the headline backs for the Hokies in the fall, it was the rushing of two players further down the depth chart that paved the way for Tech’s solid day on the ground.
Chance Black and Bryce Duke tag-teamed the White defense for 157 combined yards. Black found the end zone twice, once as the recipient of Wells’ lone touchdown pass and the other as the ball carrier on a 12-yard touchdown run. Duke broke out several explosive runs and finished with a game-high 91 yards rushing.
“Chance and I were having a good time battling, we’ve had a competitive spring this year and that showed today,” Chance Black said postgame. “The whole offense with the new people we’ve added, we’ve been doing really well and I’m happy with how I did today.”
Tuten hardly saw the field for the Maroon team and Thomas only saw three carries for the White side. Despite their lack of carries, it’s a great sign to see others in the running back room have a big day and should lead to lots of depth at the position group for the fall.
“That room has developed as well as any, we haven’t had a hitch with coach Brooks coming in. There’s a lot of things with him and coach Crook that we all align philosophically on and I think you’ve seen improvement in the run game from that standpoint.” Tyler Bowen said.
3. Pair of Returning Receivers Have Stepped Their Games Up
The Hokies trio of transfer wide receivers were all placed on the White team but it was the play of a pair of returnees that caught the eyes of the fans. Last year’s punt returner Tucker Holloway caught three passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, Stephen Gosnell racked up three receptions for 53 yards to aid in the Maroon team’s dominance.
Offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen has been particularly pleased with the growth of Stephen Gosnell this spring.
“Gos (Stephen Gosnell) when healthy has played really well, I think you saw that at times last year,” Bowen said. “Since he’s been here he's been one of the most improved players on the team and now he’s taken another step where he’s a guy we can count on.”
What's clear is that the Hokies will have a multitude of options at wide receivers with Gosnell and Holloway taking big steps forward this spring.
4. Strong DL Play Headlines Defenses in This Year's Spring Game
On the defensive side, there appeared to be quite the disparity as team White couldn’t stop Maroon’s offense more than they could a gushing nosebleed. On the flip side, Maroon’s defense didn’t allow team White to even crack the scoreboard.
The competition along the defensive front has been a talking point among Tech fans this spring and they gave them plenty more to discuss after Saturday’s spring scrimmage. Each side had four sacks on the day, totaling eight for the Hokies. Of note were Keli Lawson’s two sacks on the same drive and Norrell Pollard’s first sack for the White team.
“It’s been great, the competition pushes one another… you have to perform that day to keep your spot,” Norrell Pollard said. “We’re going to go out there as maroon and white together on Saturdays in the fall.”
Factor in a trio of interceptions on the day; one from Mose Phillips, another by Derrick Canteen and the final one from Miles Ellis, and there were plenty of splash plays on defense. Ellis’ pick was even tipped at the line by Wilfried Pene, proving that the defensive line was the highlight of the game on that side of the ball.
5. Pop Watson Flashes Plenty of Potential
While Kyron Drones was excepted to show off his dual threat ability in the spring game, it ended up being William “Pop” Watson who popped (pune intended) for the Hokies. Watson threw a dime off a touchdown pass to Holloway for the only second half score for six and extended a couple of plays for positive yards with his legs.
He finished the day going 3-4 for 49 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 27 yards on 3 carries showing off his true dual-threat capabilities.
“He was pretty poised all spring, he’s a confident kid and has a lot of savviness. He can do it with his feet and can throw it well.” Pry said.
There's been plenty of excitement about Watson since he's arrived in Blacksburg and his performance Saturday will cause that to start growing in a more public way.