Virginia Tech stepped up and pulled off the biggest win of the Justin Fuente era with a 17-10 victory over #10 North Carolina. Tech's offense was strong in the first half, but slowed in the second half doing enough to hold on with the help of a strong defensive performance.
With that said, here are my three offensive takeaways from Tech's win over the Tar Heels.
1. Braxton Burmeister Has Improved, Inconsistency Still An Issue
There's no doubt that Braxton Burmeister has improved and that the QB who dominated UVA last year was the Burmeister we saw last night, not the one who struggled against North Carolina in 2020 and lost the job for several weeks after that.
Burmeister was dominant in the first half with only one incompletion via a Tre Turner drop while scrambling and running effectively and executing Tech's intentionally slow tempo to shorten the game perfectly. Tech also converted their first six third downs which is insanely impressive for any team and Burmeister deserves plenty of praise for.
If you only knew that one of the two QBs was a Heisman contender, the first half would have made you think it was Burmeister.
However, Burmeister had some inconsistency in the second half making some great throws and smart scrambles but also missing a wide open Tre Turner who appeared to be right in his line of sight while also trying to force a couple other things. Now the third quarter conservative playcalling didn't help Burmeister find his rhythm to some extent either, but Burmeister was definitely inconsistent during the second half.
There's no doubt that Burmeister has improved especially with his downfield accuracy throwing some beautiful balls in that intermediate to long pass range. Burmeister also showed some inaccuracy missing a couple of easy checkdowns with overthrows on looping passes in addition to downfield struggles.
Tech's defense was more than able to cover the gaps that Tech's offense had in the second half for a few reasons, but Tech will need Burmeister to continue to become more consistent if the Hokies want to make a run at their first 10+ win season since 2015 and only second since their run of eight-straight 10+ win seasons ended.
2. The Raheem Blackshear Show Has Arrived
Raheem Blackshear may have somehow only had 82 total yards of offense but when Blackshear actually had a chance to make a play, he usually made the play and then some helping him earn Offensive Hokie of the Game honors as well.
One of the best examples came on a first half third and long where Blackshear got it on a checkdown over the middle from Burmeister and had three defenders in his way of the 5 yards he needed to get the first down.
What if I told you Raheem Blackshear made his way out of this for the 1st down pic.twitter.com/xCzVFhd6J8— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 3, 2021
The fact that Blackshear not only got the 5 more yards for the first down but then another five on top of that is absolutely insane.
Much of that was toughness but a ton of that was also the fact that Blackshear is an elusive, speedy weapon on offense who can dominate and manipulate space with ease breaking multiple tackles.
Tech failed to utilize Blackshear receiving ability last season, but last night showed a major change in utilizing the versatility that Blackshear brings to the table as a space playmaker who can win one-on-one matchups with ease and even a one-on-three matchup. Going forward, it would be coaching malpractice for Blackshear to not be a regular receiver and the checkdown guy who can give you an extra chance for a significant gain.
While Raheem Blackshear can't fill the Jalen Holston power running role as a bell cow back, there's no reason not expect Blackshear to be the lead back at least for now going forward dominating third downs and commanding lots of early down snaps.
3. Head Scratching Conservative Playcalling Before Halftime
When you have the momentum, you have to give your team a chance to blow the game wide open but instead, Justin Fuente slammed the brakes on the Hokies' offense right before the halftime despite having 90 seconds, 2 timeouts, and good field position.
With Tech up 2 touchdowns but North Carolina getting the ball to start the second half, this was a great opportunity for Tech to be aggressive against a UNC defense that had no first half answers and make it a three-score game even with a field goal.
Instead of trusting Braxton Burmeister to either find an open receiver or tuck it and run to keep the clock going, Tech went with a couple basic run plays not even working in the read option, jet sweep, or even faking motion that would force UNC on their heels. Eventually, even UNC burned one of their timeouts sensing a potentially opportunity for themselves to maybe get on the board before the half which they failed to do.
This has been a trend for Justin Fuente over the past few years that has unsurprisingly kept some doors ajar that shouldn't have been or at least not allowed the Hokies to slam the door shut. While I could have understood Tech trying to get to halftime if they got the ball to start the second half, the conservative playcalling gave UNC a chance to get two scores before Tech touched the ball next which fortunately for the Hokies, they had the best unit for either team last night with their defense.
At some point, you have to take some risks to slam the door shut and trust your QB to either find an open receiver or tuck the ball and run to keep the clock going especially when it's someone like Braxton Burmeister who has the legs to do just that.