Well it was a roller coaster to say the least as Virginia Tech had 46 yards of offense in the first half, and then blew a 21-3 lead to #24 N.C. State over the final 20 minutes after a third quarter where Tech had 21 points and 251 yards of offense before having fourth quarter with 2 3 and outs plus -4 yards of offense.
Unpacking this game is going to be complicated to say the least, but here's a look at three of my takeaways from maybe the weirdest offensive performance I've ever seen in person for Virginia Tech.
1. Lots of Vanilla
One of the big talking points starting after the Miami game was wanting to make the Virginia Tech offense less vanilla.
Well in the first half and fourth quarter, it was much of the same flavor: vanilla.
Yes, we can't deny what we saw in the third quarter that was far from vanilla. From multiple deep balls to play action that really got Tech's first drive going, Tech actually had some creativity and risk taking in their playcalling that opened things up for things like the QB draw. This looked like the offense we hoped to see more often in terms of the approach.
However, Tech's was pretty bland outside of that reverting back in the fourth quarter. Even Dan Mullen on the broadcast was getting frustrated with the lack of risk-taking and the consistency at which Tech ran their inside zone runs. They also pulled out that one play action pass but didn't use it again despite their heavy commitment to the run even as they struggled to produce too much with it outside of Grant Wells scrambles and his QB draw TD.
Yes, these type of adjustments are easier said than done in the middle of the season, but it's clear that the options are there and yet they were rarely used outside of that impressive 21-point, 251-yard third quarter.
2. Kaleb Smith Continues to Shine
If there's one player on VT's offense who is having a clear breakout year, it's Kaleb Smith.
Tech's top returning WR from 2021 has continued to show that he is a true WR1 bouncing back from a quiet game against Miami with an impressive 3 catches for 141 yards and a TD.
Smith has developed into a home run hitter for the Hokies this year averaging an impressive 18.4 yards per reception while having 569 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on his 31 catches. For reference, there's a realistic chance that Smith will have the most receiving yards in a single season by someone not named Isaiah Ford or Cam Phillips since Marcus Davis had 953 in 2012 doing this likely in only 12 games with Tech not on pace to get to a bowl game for a 13th.
He's also currently sixth in receiving yards in the ACC with Florida State's Johnny Wilson and UNC's Antoine Green being the only receivers averaging more yards per catch among those in the top 15 in receiving yards. His yards per catch average ranks fifth among the 60 receivers who are eligible albeit two of those players have under 20 catches in UVA's Lavel Davis Jr (16) and UNC's J.J. Jones (15).
Smith told me and other reporters after the Miami game that DBs were focusing on taking away his outside release though his 85-yard TD was a great example of how dangerous he is when he gets that and can use his speed to beat the DB over the top. The second long play proved to be a good inside release something that Smith has been focused on more heavily knowing defenses would key in on that. If Smith can keep making plays like that with his inside releases, then DBs will have even more problems and constant double teams may be required from opponents.
Regardless, what's clear is that Smith has taken some big steps forward and is a clear playmaking WR1 who is going to need to keep this play up if the Hokies are to end their longest losing streak in 3 decades soon and finish this season with a strong November.
3. The Concerning Regression of Parker Clements
Virginia Tech's offensive line has seen a significant regression that goes beyond just the departures from last year to a regression in play from a lot of players. Chief on that list appears to be right tackle Parker Clements who has gone from promising prospect who broke through to take the right tackle starting job midseason to a player who both seems to be not fitting well in this system and taken big steps back on the field.
Clements hasn't had a great season at all, but this may have been a low point as there were multiple times where he was beat pretty badly or missed his assignment in a very obvious type of way. There was scramble that Wells had to make in the first half in particular where Clements seemed to completely miss his blocking assignment or just try to play the system rather than make the clear and obvious block that was needed.
Jump ahead to around the 1:35 mark of this clip to see the play I'm specifically mentioning.
While this was the most obvious bad moment for Clements, it was far from the only one in a performance that he'll certainly want to forget along with the whole OL as a unit. His PFF grade backs up what I saw on site in Raleigh with a team low 42.7 grade.
Clements has clearly regressed this year and it raises this question: if he can't find his rhythm over the final 4 games, might it be best both for Clements and VT to go separate ways both for VT's production and for the development of his game in a system that fits his style better?
Might be worth asking that question soon for both Clements and the Hokies.