On a day where lightning filled the Blacksburg sky in the afternoon and caused a 5-hour, 27-minute delay; it was the ground game that defined this one between the team that could run it in Purdue, and the team that came up short and couldn't run it in Virginia Tech.
The Hokies lost to the Boilermakers 24-17 to fall to 1-1 on the season with Purdue improving to 1-1 on the season. Tech remains winless against Power 5 non-conference opposition since 2017 with only one more chance to end that drought next week at Rutgers.
The difference in rushing attacks largely defined this game with Purdue able to run it and the Hokies flopping to say the least.
After averaging only 2.5 yards per carry last week, Tech's rushing attack was a mess this week with 44 yards on 19 carries excluding the Boilermakers' 3 sacks equaling a measly 2.3 yards per carry. This was on a day where 6 of their 19 carries went for loss and 27 of their 44 rushing yards came on 2 carries. Malachi Thomas had only 18 yards on 6 carries while Bhayshul Tuten had 4 yards on 8 carries despite having a 14-yard carry.
Tech was also stubborn not using some of the "perimeter runs" that have been effective for them via screens to guys like Da'Wain Lofton or HB swing passes that went into witness protection after the first half despite scoring a touchdown on one to Bhayshul Tuten. Yes, Tech threw the ball 40 times compared to 22 carries in this game which Brent Pry said was due in large part to what Fresno State did last week which is a positive, but Tech still didn't take advantage of space to use those perimeter runs enough.
The failure of Tyler Bowen and Brent Pry to adjust and use things that work for the sake of an "identity" when Tech doesn't have the offensive linemen yet to back that up is unacceptable and maybe even a pride issue. If Tech wants to maximize this team, they have to embrace where their strengths are and use the perimeter run game as a replacement.
Will these young guys on the offensive line get better over time? Yes, but that will take time which the Hokies don't have ahead of a pair of toss-up road games at Rutgers and Marshall due up next. This is also a unit that could use some transfer portal upgrades this offseason as well regardless.
That helped cause a significant imbalance in the time of possession of 38:01 for Purdue compared to 21:59 for the Hokies.
That showed to some extent as the Hokies wore down in the fourth quarter with the Boilermakers getting more gains on the ground as the game progressed. Tech's tackling was also problematic as Purdue ran for 179 yards. While Tech did improve holding Purdue to only 3.9 yards per carry with sacks and 4.5 yards per carry adjusted, their tackling issues helped Purdue get some important big gains.
Grant Wells didn't have his best game having a lot of inconsistency with his inaccuracy going 16-33 for 243 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Those interceptions weren't punished as bad as they could have been though with Purdue only turning one of those two into points. Kyron Drones also came in on the final drive for unknown reasons and had his moments but also struggled some with an offensive line that didn't have a good night all-around. Drones went 2-7 for 32 yards while adding a 13-yard carry on that drive.
Tech's receiving corps took some hits in this game with Ali Jennings suffering an early injury before the weather delay and then leaving the Lane Stadium locker room via cart with a boot on his left ankle. Jaylin Lane also had to be looked at trainers during the second half and didn't return after what had been a solid night for him with 5 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Lane's injury appeared to be a leg injury of some sort with his status being more unclear. Brent Pry did not provide any additional insight after the game on those injuries.
Other receivers did step up including Dae'Quan Wright who had 4 catches for 77 yards while fellow tight end Benj Gosnell had 3 catches for 21 yards with both being consistent threats. Stephen Gosnell added 3 catches for 72 yards in what was a solid night for him while Tucker Holloway had a 6-yard reception late. Despite only having 4 rushing yards, Bhayshul Tuten did have 2 catches for 45 yards and a touchdown plus a pair of kick returns for 64 yards. Malachi Thomas added 6 carries for 18 yards.
Purdue outgained the Hokies in the end 427-286 led by Hudson Card doing his job going 23-34 for 248 yards. TE Max Klare was a popular target with 8 catches for 64 yards while TJ Sheffield added 4 catches for 60 yards and Abdur-Rahmaan Yassen had 4 catches for 58 yards. Devin Mockobee had a big night with 21 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown while Tyrone Tracy Jr added 4 carries for 51 yards and a TD.
Keli Lawson was all over the field in this game with 14 tackles including 0.5 sacks plus a pass breakup while Jalen Stroman added 14 tackles including 1 for loss plus a QB hurry. Antwaun Powell-Ryland had another solid game with 4 tackles including 2 for loss while Alan Tisdale added 7 tackles including a sack with Jaylen Jones having 3 tackles and 2 pass breakups.
There are maybe some things you can write off from this game given the bizarre situation of a 5.5 hour weather delay after only just over 9 minutes of action. Tech also showed some improvement tonight with their run defense holding Purdue to only 4.5 yards per carry not including sacks though the tackling issues that plagued them down the stretch need to be worked on.
However, at the core of this game tonight is the stark reality that Virginia Tech doesn't have the offensive line to run the ball as they would like. Tech basically had a 2:1 pass-run disparity on the stat sheet yet that seems like a not severe enough split given the offensive line issues Tech has in run block even if the Hokies are without Ali Jennings and possibly Jaylin Lane long-term.
For Brent Pry and Tyler Bowen, the question has to be how they can keep establishing the smashmouth identity they want to have while maximizing what this team can be this season. After tonight, that has to be embracing the need to humble themselves on what they have and put together a patchwork rushing attack that utilizes screens and HB swing passes to get guys like Bhayshul Tuten in one-on-one situations where they can forced missed tackles and create big plays. When guys like Tuten and Jaylin Lane and Dae'Quan Wright got those chances tonight, they usually created big plays.
So that's the question, let down your pride in what you run on gameday to maximize what you do on the field this season while giving your offensive line time to develop to become what you fully want to be or stay focused on the long term and trying to be something this year that you're not? This is a choice that Pry and Bowen have with the answer set to emerge over the next couple of weeks.