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Run Defense Hobbles Hokies as Virginia Tech Loses 35-16 to Rutgers

Kyron Drones 1 VT Rutgers 2023 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

Virginia Tech's run defense took strides from a week 1 mess to general competency in week 2 even if it wasn't that great. Well today proved to be a regression defending the run for the Hokies for various reasons nullifying their second half comeback efforts after Tech scored the first 14 points of the final 30 minutes to cut the Rutgers lead to 21-17.

Rutgers beat Virginia Tech 35-16 with the Hokies dropping to 1-2 on the season while the Scarlet Knights improved to 3-0. Tech will head to Marshall next weekend really needing a win to have a reasonable path to getting to 6 wins and a bowl game this season.

There were various issues that hurt the Hokies today starting with their run defense. After improving last week, Tech had a major regression this week allowing an abysmal 7.7 yards per carry including a pair of 30+ yard touchdown runs. Both of those touchdown runs came when the Hokies had a safety combination of Jaylen Jones and Mose Phillips with both seeming to make gap mistakes on those big touchdown runs.

With Jalen Stroman suffering a late first half injury and not returning, Tech may have a big issue at safety on their hands without Stroman and Nasir Peoples. VT did use Mansoor Delane and Derrick Canteen some at safety this game and going forward, I would start Delane as one of my two safeties.

The safety play may be the biggest issue for the Hokies' run defense but it's far for the only one for a unit that gave up too many good holes for the Scarlet Knights in this game. Tech's run fits will understandably receive plenty of questions this week while their tackling did show some signs of improvement.

Tech also had first half issues with allowing mistakes to compound as all three of Rutgers' touchdown drives started with a mistake. The first came right after the opening fumble, the second TD drive got going via a bad roughing the passer penalty by Keonta Jenkins, and the third came after a bad punt that took a worse bounce.

Tech's ability to bounce back seemed to improve some after that was an issue for much of last season but in this game, it seemed to pop back up in a bad way in the first half.

Tech's pass defense was strong as they held Gavin Wimsatt to a weak 7-16 for 46 yards. There's plenty for those cornerbacks and this pass defense to hold their hats on as it continues to be a strength of this team.

Kyron Drones made his first career start and was one of the strengths of this game. Though he was far from perfect, Drones was pretty competent overall going 19-32 for 190 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception while also having 79 rushing yards on 18 non-sack carries. Overall, there was a lot to be pleased with Drones given that it was his first career start and for now, I think Tech may be better off sticking with Drones.

Tech's rushing attack wasn't great but was much better than it's been averaging 3.3 yards per carry with that jumping to 3.8 yards per carry when excluding sacks. Tech's also used screens and swing passes which consistently worked to at least keep Tech on schedule and at times produced some bigger plays including the Da'Quan Felton screen that set up 1st and goal at the 2 to start the fourth quarter.

Da'Quan Felton had a brutal drop but was otherwise good today with 6 catches for 84 yards including a 39-yard touchdown. Felton took a big hit late though and while he was jogging off by the end as he crossed the field after being down, his status is one to monitor especially with Ali Jennings out for an extended period and Jaylin Lane not playing today.

Bhayshul Tuten had a solid game with 11 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown while Malachi Thomas added 5 carries for 12 yards. Dae'Quan Wright had 4 catches for 21 yards while Da'Wain Lofton added 3 catches for 26 yards in which was a solid game for Tech's receivers without Jennings and Lane. Ayden Greene also had his first career catches going for 24 yards and showing promise. Xayvion Turner-Bradshaw also had his first career reception while Takye Heath made a brief debut before leaving with an injury.

There were some solid defensive performances led by Keli Lawson who had 11 tackles including 1 for loss. Derrick Canteen played a lot whether as a true CB with Mansoor Delane at safety or even himself at safety with 6 tackles including 0.5 for loss. Jaden Keller had 4 tackles in his start for Alan Tisdale while Mansoor Delane had a tackle and pass breakup.

The pass defense as a whole was strong with Gavin Wimsatt being held to only 7-16 for 46 yards and a touchdown with a couple near interceptions in this game. Tech's cornerbacks are a strength of this team and the more of them that they can have on the field in their secondary at one time, the better at this point.

Drones gave Tech a chance today and while he was far from perfect, he performed pretty well especially for a guy making his collegiate debut today. There will be plenty to clean up but you can see the skill set that he has especially working with a group that was without Ali Jennings and Jaylin Lane today.

However, there are still plenty of issues from a rushing attack that was improved but medicore to an offensive line that continues to be the biggest weakness by far of this team from bad blocks to untimely penalties and more.

Additionally, Tech's run defense continues to have issues with run fits on the back end especially at safety where Tech is really feeling the loss of Jaylen Jones and Mose Phillips. Going forward, Tech has to make an adjustment there and move Mansoor Delane full-time to safety while the Hokies are without at least one if not both of Nasir Peoples and Jalen Stroman.

The numerous injuries are undoubtedly going to hurt this team going forward on a schedule where there isn't a game that isn't at best a toss-up. It's an uphill climb now if they want to reach a bowl game or avoid anything worse than a 5-7 season that even with the injuries, would heap a lot of pressure on Brent Pry entering 2024.

It's back against the walls time for the realistic goals of the Hokies in 2024 that are shrinking with every loss. That's created a must-win at Marshall next Saturday afternoon to keep any glimmer of hope for reaching a bowl game this season.

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Adam Seehaver

Can we bring in Bud in a Jerry Kill type of role? I think Coach Pry would appreciate some mentoring.

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