Virginia Tech's defense led the way Saturday night as the Hokies picked up their first win of the Brent Pry with a strong 27-10 victory over Boston College.
1. TyJuan Garbutt's Biggest Game Yet
TyJuan Garbutt has shown plenty of potential over the years starting back in 2019 with a breakout seeming to be likely in 2020. However, off the field difficulties with some family health concerns understandably led him to take time away from football returning midseason before returning to his starting role in 2021 and showing more of the potential to develop into a star that he had shown previously.
This offseason, Garbutt had the normalcy that he unfortunately didn't get to have in 2020 building on starting in 2021 with an offseason of being the guy at DE leading up to 2022. That combined with Garbutt just having loads of talent and potential is being unleashed and may have him on the verge of the breakout season that has seemed inevitable for a while.
Garbutt was dominant both as a run stuffer and a pass rusher with 3 tackles for loss including a sack plus 4 QB hurries, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. Garbutt was doing so not just by beating guys around the edge as is the stereotype for a smaller, speedier edge rusher like Garbutt but also with loads of good inside moves on tackles to blow up several plays especially in run defense.
There's no doubt that Garbutt has been through a lot of adversity during his collegiate career that has maybe slowed him from reaching the potential that so many saw when he was a four-star recruit back in the 2017 class.
The question that many may have is whether this is the sign that the Garbutt breakout into stardom that a four-star rating promises has arrived? Early signs are that it has.
2. CJ McCray, Cole Nelson Show Their Potential
There's been plenty of hype about the future at defensive end headlined by Cole Nelson and CJ McCray with both of those guys flashing their potential during the game against Boston College.
CJ McCray stood out most prominently earning the second-highest grade of any Virginia Tech player while putting up strong numbers with 4 tackles including a sack. McCray showed off plenty of various skills from his edge rushing ability to his strength bull-rushing right through a Boston College offensive tackle on one play in this game. For a guy known as primarily as a speed rusher, he showed the type of refinement he can bring to the table.
McCray also brings loads of versatility in areas that most defensive ends can't given his background at linebacker with McCray dropping into coverage at times. Additionally, we've seen Tech bring in McCray as a 5th defensive lineman at times in both games especially ODU as well this season. One thing that seems clear is that Brent Pry loves the unique skill set that McCray can offer with the Hokies doing whatever they can to use him best, and the former Marshall transfer starting to take off.
Meanwhile, Cole Nelson also showed of what he can do both with good edge rushing and a tremendous work ethic on the field having 2 tackles including a sack. His sack showed his combination of skill and work ethic as he continually worked all the way around the outside of the offensive tackle before having an easy sack of Phil Jurkovec.
Virginia Tech's future looked quite bright at defensive end on Saturday night with CJ McCray and Cole Nelson both not only making splashy plays but also consistently playing at a high level throughout their snaps.
3. Jalen Stroman's Large Role
Jalen Stroman may not be a starter on the depth chart, but Brent Pry confirmed what we saw on Saturday night, that Stroman is considered a starter in terms of actual playing time for the Hokies.
"I do consider him a starter. He's a starter in our nickel package. Chamarri (Conner) goes up in the nickel and Stro comes in. He's really put together a nice camp and start to this season. Our confidence in him I expect to grow and grow," Pry said.
CBs coach Derek Jones had previously mentioned that Tech wanted the best DB to come in as the fifth guy in a nickel package generally speaking whether that was a cornerback or safety. That also meant making sure that him and Pierson Prioleau had their DBs ready to do just about anything that a DB could be asked of.
Sure enough, that has included Chamarri Conner taking on a familiar role as a nickelback at times and especially against Boston College with Stroman playing 40 snaps per Pro Football Focus data. For comparison, Tech's 3 will linebackers (Keonta Jenkins, J.R. Walker, Keli Lawson) played a combined 27 snaps.
Stroman looked more than comfortable alongside Nasir Peoples at safety with Pry clearly having tons of confidence in what the younger brother of former VT standout Greg Stroman can do. Even with the potential of guys like Keonta Jenkins as a will linebacker, it seems like Tech's defense is at its best when Stroman is on the field along with Conner and Peoples.
There's no doubt that Jalen Stroman is the leader of the Hokies' future at safety, but he also has a big part of the now for the Hokies' defense.