Virginia Tech's offense was a mess as the Hokies fell at West Virginia 27-21 with plenty of problems, some of which have easy solutions and others that either don't have easy fixes or fixes that don't seem likely to actually be put in place. There were also some positives as well so here's my offensive takeaways from the Hokies' loss in Morgantown.
1. Offensive Line Struggles
Virginia Tech's offensive line did not have a great day whatsoever as the Hokies were humbled in many ways by a three-man WVU front and the athletic linebackers who blitzed and had plenty of success especially Jared Bartlett who had 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble dominating Tech's right side of the offensive line.
While the injury to Silas Dzansi at right tackle definitely didn't help the situation, Tech's offensive line struggles against West Virginia were not about just one injury.
Of course, it's undeniable that the right line of the offensive line struggled as Kaden Moore's youth showed some at right guard while Tyrell Smith had a brutal day with multiple penalties and struggles in pass protection that led to a few sacks. Tech also tried out Brock Hoffman at right tackle with Parker Clements also out and that also went poorly.
Now the good news for Tech at right tackle is that early indications according to Justin Fuente point to Silas Dzansi and Parker Clements being available this week. It wouldn't be surprising though if Tech tried to limit Dzansi's minutes if he's good to go especially with a bye next week before Tech's big showdown with Notre Dame.
However, Tech's offensive line had struggles beyond just the injury at right tackle and the domino effect that it caused allowing 6 sacks on the day as they struggled in pass protection. The run blocking was fairly good as a whole with Raheem Blackshear and Jalen Holston each averaging over 4 yards per carry but also couldn't come up with the goods on the first and second downs at the end of Tech's final offensive possession.
Tech's offensive line may not be as good as last season, but they are better than the performance they had on Saturday, and the Hokies will need them to eat their humble pie and bounce back going forward.
2. Kaleb Smith Establishes Himself Even More as Starting WR
Kaleb Smith may have not been seen as a long term starting WR for the Hokies in 2021 by many on the outside given the young talent behind him, but he made it clear that he has no plans on relinquishing his spot anytime soon.
Smith led the way for the Hokies' receivers with 6 catches for 58 yards coming up with multiple big catches to keep the Hokies' offense moving in key moments. Smith had shown flashes throughout the past two seasons, but he's started to show a lot more consistency that is allowing him to establish himself well alongside Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner.
Before 2021, Smith was primarily known as a very good blocking receiver, but he's taken his receiving skills to another level. One thing that's helped him is his improving speed which he ranked in the top 10 on the team in during some athletic testing over the summer.
Now, Smith has refined his game and is playing like that bigger, outside receiver that Tech always has liked to use for curls and other 50-50 ball like plays while also showing versatility beyond that.
Going forward, expect Smith to not only be the third starting receiver in name only but a major contributor especially with James Mitchell's season-ending injury opening the door for increased receiving opportunities for a well-rounded player like Smith.
3. Something Has to Change With Playcalling
There were some good playcalls from Brad Cornelsen in this game including the RPO pop pass that, if Burmeister waits a second longer to throw, is likely a touchdown and the big wheel route play for example. However, there were lots of issues with poor situational playcalling, poor directional choice, and rushing plays that went from effective against UNC to barely used against MTSU and abandoned against WVU.
The first part is the undeniable fact that Tech had 3 separate opportunities inside the 10-yard line and scored no points. That is completely inexcusable and isn't just about execuution but also about bad situational playcalling.
Now there are some plays where you can see the misses and the offensive line struggles didn't help, but there were also some poor decisions especially the nearside 3rd and goal jet sweep when Tech wasn't even that close. Those nearside jet sweeps were bizarre throughout the game especially since there were none run to the far side, something that Justin Fuente said was due to the numbers though I would have to do a deep dive to see because in thought, that doesn't make much sense.
One of the issues I had focuses on what wasn't called which was any sort of read option or jet sweep read option play outside of a couple of rare moments. Some people one of the earlier goal-line plays where Burmeister had a big gap if he kept was a read option, but Justin Fuente's comments at his Monday press conference indicated what I thought when watching that play, that it was a designed run.
Fuente said there are a number of plays everyone wishes they had back Saturday.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) September 20, 2021
Said he doesn't recall any issues on zone read calls near the goal line with Burmeister. #Hokies
If that was a read option, it's hard to imagine the aggressive shift on snap from the offensive line or the ease of Burmeister handing it off there given the collapsing pass rush. It's also hard to imagine Fuente not remembering that it was a read option type play since if it was, it would have been easy to notice the missed chance on tape.
Now some argue that the reason for the decrease in read option and other option plays is because Burmeister is actually hurt despite Tech coaches saying otherwise. Of course, he isn't injured enough to be warned against scrambling for big plays so if he's not in those cases, then there is a clear disconnect. Even if he is, there's no reason why they can't use an option on the jet sweep of having that be one of those pop passes to the WR or hand it off to the RB, or run play action off of it.
Given all this, there needs to be some sort of rethink at playcalling especially given how Brad Cornelsen has seemed to tighten the playbook for no good reason with the rushing attack especially given what we've seen this season.
Either there needs to be a complete philosophy rethink by Cornelsen to open back up the playbook or Tech needs to make a playcalling change whether that's Justin Fuente taking over or Fuente switching to someone like Adam Lechtenberg similar to how Ohio State's Ryan Day switched his defensive playcaller from his DC Kerry Coombs to his secondary coach coach Matt Barnes.
Now for those pushing for a complete offensive coordinator change, the only reason you'd do that is if you were actually going to change the offense in a big way and at this point, it's clear that this is the Fuente offense not the Cornelsen offense. Bringing in a whole new OC is going to cause more confusion so if a OC change happened, it would be internal and simply reduce the staff size and stretch personnel which doesn't seem worthwhile.
However, a playcalling change of some sort needs to happen whether that's a complete philosophical shift to being more aggressive and expansive for Cornelsen or putting someone else in that position.