Virginia Tech had a strong first 40ish minutes defensively against #24 N.C. State, but the Hokies took their foot off the gas some and ran out of gas as the Wolfpack rallied in the fourth quarter to come from behind 21-3 to win 22-21. Despite the loss, there's plenty for Tech's defense to be encouraged by so with that said, here are my 3 takeaways from VT's loss in Raleigh.
1. Mansoor Delane's Promise and Youth Show
Mansoor Delane's performance against N.C. State was another example of why the excitement about his potential is so high. However, his late game struggles also reminded us that Delane is still only a true freshman who arrived injured in the summer and is still getting adjusted to the college level.
First, there's the fact that Delane had a pair of pass breakups including a near interception before halftime that, if caught, likely has the game at 0-0 at halftime instead of 3-0 N.C. State. He also had a nice forced fumble while making good open-field tackles when he needed to prevent some completions becoming big plays.
Overall, it was a solid night for Delane including in coverage, but down the stretch is where he reminded us that he is still a freshman who is still growing and developing into not just a flashy player with some consistency, but a consistent high quality CB.
Young N.C. State WR Terrell Timmons Jr specifically was the one who gave Delane issues in a battle that may be lots of fun to watch in the coming year now that it won't be 6 years between matchups for these two teams.
No one should be surprised to see Delane struggle and make mistakes in a game where he played 79 snaps. There's very few if any true freshmen across America who could play with the consistency that was required for someone playing that many snaps. The fact is that he was pretty good for a whole lot of them making some spectacular plays that showed the potential he has.
There's no doubt that Mansoor Delane is the leader of the next generation of DBU at Virginia Tech, but he's also still a true freshman who has plenty of room for growth.
2. Alan Tisdale's Value Continues to Show
Part of why Virginia Tech's defense has bounced back in a big way over their past two games defending the run has been the return of Alan Tisdale at a will LB spot plagued by inconsistency prior to his return.
Since his return after the nightmare at Pittsburgh where Israel Abanikanda ran for well over 300 yards, Tech's rush defense has sharpened up with Tech not allowing a single N.C. State runner who ran the ball multiple times to average 4+ yards per carry. Additionally, the Wolfpack were held under 3 yards per carry as a team among their 32 non-sack rushes in this game.
Tisdale has proven to be a big reason for that in addition to making plays as a blitzer and in pass defense on his way to having 11 tackles including a sack on a great blitz last Thursday night in Raleigh. Having an experienced veteran like Tisdale was guaranteed to give the Hokies a higher floor at the will LB spot even if the ceiling is likely lower compared to a Jaden Keller or Jayden McDonald or Keli Lawson.
However, Tech's defense needed some stability and a high floor guy at that spot to try to boost that struggle. Combine that with a healthy TyJuan Garbutt in the trenches, and we've seen Tech's defenses find some form especially defending the run after the nightmare at Pittsburgh.
There have been plenty of criticisms about Tisdale over the years with a few being fair, but many being hyperbole which Tisdale is proving to be more hyperbolic every game with his strong play to start this season after missing the first 6 due to an eligibility issue.
3. Out of Gas
Once again, time of possession that favored Tech's opponent caught up to the Hokies on defense, but they started to run out of the gas tank before passing the true equilibrium overall mark for time of possession in this game.
Yes, a long touchdown doesn't help for the defense to get rest and an offense that then goes 3 and out on its only 2 drives in the fourth quarter is less than ideal. However, it's not great to see this defense again appear to run out of gas hurting their ability to close games out and being part of what cost them in this one.
Now some areas are more understandable like at cornerback where Tech only had 6 CBs available without Dorian Strong, Cam Johnson, and Devin Alves who seems like a guy who could play anywhere in the secondary with his size. That led to Armani Chatman and Mansoor Delane playing all 79 snaps with that wear and tear seeming to show down the stretch at least for Delane while Chatman quietly had maybe his best game of the season.
Meanwhile, Tech's pass rush lost their footing with true freshman QB MJ Morris getting the time in the pocket he needed to find his rhythm and make the Hokies pay. It's hard to make the same depth chart excuse in the trenches when TyJuan Garbutt played the most defensive snaps at 53 among the DL.
Yes, you would like a little more depth and the struggles of young guys like Cole Nelson and CJ McCray against the Wolfpack don't help, but the pass rush running out of steam including on some blitzes gave Morris the time he needed to make some big plays and flip this game back to N.C. State. There's a mixed bag of questions and reasons here both on the depth front but also some of those questions being specifically on the conditioning front to some extent (though the depth questions may provide some of the answers to the latter).
Going forward, Tech is going to have to be better about producing some long drives, but Tech's defense can't afford to run out of gas like they did if they want to break through to end their longest losing streak in three decades and close a win out. Maybe it's taking more risks with blitzes and hoping that your secondary can make enough plays in the future to close out games.
In some ways, maybe just maybe pulling a Ross Chastain and trying to floor it with aggressiveness in regards to staying heavy on the blitz packages will help solve this if Tech gets in a pass rush rut late in a competitive game. Yes, it requires some risks and unlike Chastain, we're talking about when Tech is in the lead but sometimes, taking those risks help keep you going more than sitting back.
Regardless, Tech can't afford to run out of gas especially with their pass rush if they want to have a much better November than October.