Photo Credit: ACC Media
Virginia Tech suffered a stunning setback losing at Wake Forest 23-16 on a day where turnovers, penalties, mental mistakes, and more doomed the Hokies. With that said, here are three of our offensive takeaways from the Hokies' loss in Winston-Salem.
Passing Game Issues Have Many Roots
The passing game issues on Saturday had plenty of roots with some being of an off day nature and others being more serious concerns.
There's been plenty of attention on Hendon Hooker who definitely had an off day with his accuracy being a little off while also making some bad decisions on his way to 3 interceptions. Based on what we've seen from Hooker in the past including this season, this data point seems way out of line with his normal performance and a fluke bad week in general.
However, Tech does have issues with their wide receiver depth (or at least what's utilized), their struggles getting separation, and the schematic roots of it.
Outside of Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson, Virginia Tech doesn't seem to have much they trust in terms of healthy wide receivers with Kaleb Smith gaining some but showing some inconsistency. That's a big reason why James Mitchell has been regularly used as a jumbo receiver and Tech has gone with a 12 package with 2 tight ends, taking away some of the speed that the Hokies need to stretch the field.
Additionally, Tech's passing game just isn't very complex schematically which is somewhat bizarre given that we've seen Tech run more complex pass plays and route packages. Instead, Tech seems to be running a lot of similar route concepts over and over with loads of vertical routes that have become predictable for defenses.
Tech has the talent to add some more route diversity and utilize the depth of plays they have in their passing playbook both at QB with Hendon Hooker and with their star receivers in Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson.
Going forward, Tech has to stretch their passing playbook to take away some of the predictability. Additionally, the Hokies need some backup wide receivers to step up like Changa Hodge and Evan Fairs.
On top of that, there's no reason why the Hokies shouldn't be using Raheem Blackshear more as a slot receiver. The fact that he's only had 5 receptions in 5 games this season after having 29 receptions in four games for Rutgers shows how Tech is underutilizing him as a receiver, something that may be a bigger strength than his traditional running back skills.
Mental Error Example in the Red Zone
This next part isn't to point fingers at one player because there were plenty of errors and mistakes but this subtle mental mistake is a great example of the small things that can destroy red zone efficiency and cost games, especially when it is repetitive.
During the first half, Tech had a 2nd and goal around the Wake Forest 4 and gave the ball to Raheem Blackshear on a sweep to the outside. Wake blew it up effective in closing off the edge forcing Blackshear inside and having him contained for a loss. However, Blackshear made a poor decision backtracking to try to push further outside and lost 7 yards in the process, creating a 3rd and goal at the 11.
Now this may not seem like a big deal but if he would have simply tried to negate his losses rather than turn absolutely nothing into something that really wasn't there, Tech may have had 3rd and goal at around the 6 or even gotten back to the line of scrimmage. The odds of converting and scoring from 4-6 yards out will always be a lot better than 11 yards out and in a game where Tech lost by only 7, that adds up.
The bigger issue was that it either wasn't addressed or the lesson to learn wasn't received on the sideline as the same thing played out in the third quarter.
Tech had a 2nd and 9 at the Wake Forest 18 and ran a similar version of the sweep to Blackshear to the near side with the exact same result playing out as the outside was closed off. Once again, Blackshear tried to backtrack and go farther outside only to lose 7 yards to set up a 3rd and 16 rather than turn up field to salvage what he can.
While 3rd and 9 or 10 is still tough, 3rd and 16 is almost impossible with an 11-yard completion to Tayvion Robinson not being enough, once again forcing Tech to kick a field goal rather than being able to get a touchdown in the red zone.
This may be a subtle thing but the fact is that either this was somehow missed from sweep 1 to 2, or not well-coached on the sideline. In the end, it put Tech far behind the sticks on third down and turned both promising red zone trips into field goals instead of touchdowns.
Of course, if those drives would have been touchdowns instead of field goals, Tech would have had 8 more points in a game they lost by 7.
Hokies Finally Get Tre Turner More Involved
One positive from the passing attack was the fact that the Hokies finally tried to get Tre Turner, their most talented receiver, much more involved and the results were good.
Turner recorded a season-high 5 receptions for 61 yards after having only 8 receptions in his first 4 games. The need to get Turner more involved to grow the passing offense has been clear with Tech finally getting their most explosive receiver more involved.
Tech's use of Turner more going forward is critical especially if they want to stretch teams out so they can't stuff the box with 8 as they try to contain star running back Khalil Herbert. Turner also has a valuable role in the rushing attack with the jet sweeps that he has tons of success with in the past and have been valuable in stretching the defense out, creating space for the jet sweep read option keep for Hendon Hooker.
However, the fact that the Hokies are finally utilizing and prioritizing Turner in the passing game is a plus and will be important for Tech's success in continuing to improve their passing game to compliment their rushing attack going forward.