Three Offensive Takeaways From Virginia Tech's 56-45 Loss at North Carolina

Three Offensive Takeaways From Virginia Tech's 56-45 Loss at North Carolina
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Oct 13, 2020

Photo Credit: Nell Redmond-USA Today

#19 Virginia Tech may have fallen to #8 North Carolina 56-45 but it wasn't because of their offense which had almost 500 yards of offense and averaged 6.43 yards per play, keeping the Hokies in this game especially with a 23-7 third quarter that cut UNC's lead to 5.

With that said, here's our offensive takeaways from Tech's loss at UNC.

James Mitchell's Sunday Future

It won't be long till James Mitchell is playing on Sundays with this Saturday being the latest example of that.

Mitchell earned Hokie of the Game honors along with fellow standout Khalil Herbert after Mitchell led the Hokies with 4 receptions for a career-high 103 yards and 1 touchdown plus a 1-yard rushing touchdown on his first goal-line end around carry of the season.

Before we get into his continually improving rushing ability, any conversation about Mitchell developing into a future NFL tight end and one of CFB's best in 2020 has to start with his significantly improved blocking.

Coming into college, Mitchell was considered a plus receiver but a minus blocker who would be primarily a receiving tight end at least early in his career. With Dalton Keene operating as the h-back, Mitchell wasn't called in to block too much but he showed some promise during that time.

This season, Mitchell has taken the next steps as a blocking tight end becoming almost as much of a threat as a run blocker as he is in the passing game.

However, any conversation with Mitchell has to include his passing game prowess as he leads the Hokies in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns while also sharing the lead in receptions with Tayvion Robinson. There have always been promises of tight ends having a large role in the offense and that is being fulfilled with James Mitchell taking advantage of it.

His versatility from being someone who can stretch the field and win plenty of 50-50 balls to being an effective checkdown and underneath receiver has made him hard to defend and hard for opponents to match up against him.

James Mitchell has become one of college football's best tight ends and it wouldn't be surprising to see him break Dalton Keene's record as the highest-selected Hokie TE in the NFL Draft in either 2021 or 2022.

Feed Khalil Herbert Early As Well

It took a while but after only having 2 carries in the first quarter, Virginia Tech started feeding Khalil Herbert especially in the second half as Herbert finished with 18 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown.

However, when you have a player as talented Herbert along with one of, if not the best offensive line in America, there is no reason why you shouldn't be feeding him early and often, allowing him to get started early wearing down the opposing defense.

Now I get some of that may be whenever Herbert returns a kickoff, the Hokies want to get him a breather on the sideline but at some point, Herbert needs to be the primary guy early rather than Raheem Blackshear, the speedy Rutgers transfer who can be a big play guy like Herbert against a worn down defense while Herbert can break a big run between the tackles or on the edge at any time of the game.

The good news is that Tech is making sure they do feed Herbert as a primary back rather than a rotation with the past two weeks being great indications of that. However, Tech should try to get Herbert more carries even earlier in the game especially with an offensive line that is giving Herbert the space to make the plays that he wasn't able to as much elsewhere.

Tech Needs Their Non-Star WRs

Virginia Tech only had 2 receivers catch passes this past week in Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson who have both had solid starts to the season with each averaging at least 17 yards per reception. However, the Hokies need their backup receivers to step up with Kaleb Smith's 11-yard reception against N.C. State being the only reception by a wide receiver not named Tre Turner or Tayvion Robinson.

Tech needs their non-star wide receivers to step up with Justin Fuente among those who agreed with that sentiment when asked about his expectations for how grad transfer Changa Hodge's role may grow in the coming weeks.

Hodge is obviously the top candidate on any list to step up as the third receiver, but he always faced an uphill challenge given his August transfer that has given him limited time to learn the offense while also missing most of fall camp as he had to get through COVID procedures to get inside the building. However, Tech will need Hodge to start embracing his role more and become a factor in the coming weeks.

Tech also needs more from some of their bigger receivers including Evan Fairs and Kaleb Smith. For now, Tech has had plenty of success with James Mitchell but given Mitchell's versatility, Tech would likely want to also be able to use a guy like Fairs, who fits the 50-50 ball receiver Tech likes to have on the outside, to allow Mitchell to work more in the slot and at the traditional TE spot to get some matchups against linebackers.

They also need these guys and their other non-star WRs to step up simply for depth to allow Turner and Robinson to rotate out to catch their breath without creating a significant decrease in quality.

Tech needs their non-star WRs step up though don't be surprised to see Changa Hodge be a main part of that answer as he gains more time in Tech's system.