Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Virginia Tech put together their best performance of the season as the Hokies dominated at-the-time 19th ranked Wake Forest 36-17. The Hokies were by far the better team in all three aspects of the game as they gained over 470 yards on offense and held Wake Forest to just over 300 yards.
With that said, here's 3 of our offensive takeaways from the Hokies' 36-17 victory over Wake Forest.
1. Damon Hazelton Shows One Of His Best Roles in VT's Offense
Damon Hazelton may have not had a lot of highlight reel plays, but Hazelton was dominant on the outside on his way to leading the Hokies with 7 catches for 86 yards. The thing is that much of Hazelton's success came on one thing that he has always done well, curl routes against man coverage.
There may not be a more consistent receiver with curl routes than Hazelton who has the size to box out smaller cornerbacks like a big man going for a rebound in basketball. Additionally, give Hazelton too much room and he has the ability and athleticism to turn a 7-10 yard gain into a 15+ yard gain as he showed on a 19-yard reception against Wake Forest.
There's also been improved timing between Hazelton and Hendon Hooker than has led to Brad Cornelsen utilizing one of Hazelton's best plays to Tech's advantage often.
While Hazelton has great speed for his size, one of his best traits is that he knows how to use his size advantage effectively on the outside whether on curl routes or 50-50 balls with Brad Cornelsen calling more plays to fit that not only this week but last week against Notre Dame.
Going forward, expect Hazelton to get plenty of curl route looks with the likely evolution being the wrinkle of a stop-and-go route at some point when the defense starts to bite too much on the curl.
2. The Jet Sweep
The jet sweep has received plenty of criticism with its usage, some rightful and some not, but the jet sweep was a valuable part of Virginia Tech's rushing attack that helped VT's rushing success both because of the play and the wrinkle that was added in.
Getting the ball in Tre Turner's hand is dangerous any time, and that was the case again Saturday as Turner's 57-yard run best showed. Turner also received great blocking on the edge and from Deshawn McClease who had a great block to launch Turner's big gain. However, Turner was also able to consistently pick up 4-6 yards on his other jet sweep runs that were well-designed, but also Wake Forest to spread out given the jet sweep.
The effective jet sweep set up the space for the interior running game by forcing Wake Forest to defend the edges. That helped Deshawn McClease and Keshawn King get going as the game went on with Wake Forest having adapt to trying to contain the jet sweep.
However, the most important wrinkle came as the Hokies combined the jet sweep with the read option. That wrinkle forced Wake Forest to put more towards the edge or try to stuff the middle creating space for one or the other. The play design was smart in creating that space, but the most important part was Hendon Hooker's execution as again and again, he made the right decision especially the multiple he chose to keep and take it up the middle, usually for at least several yards.
That jet sweep read option play kept Wake Forest off balance and on their heels all night with Hooker running it excellently. Going forward, the Hokies should absolutely continue to make the jet sweep a significant part of their running game while using this jet sweep read option wrinkle as a way to confuse defenses even more especially with the threat that Hooker poses as a runner.
3. Keep Using The Tight Ends
After the tight ends were M.I.A. at Notre Dame, the Hokies used their tight ends significantly against Wake Forest, especially James Mitchell.
The sophomore Mitchell has proven to be a versatile playmaker and was one of the most dynamic parts of VT's offense Saturday with 3 catches for 58 yards and a 1-yard rushing touchdown.
Virginia Tech's increased tight end usage has coincided with the Hokies' improved 4-1 stretch during which Mitchell and Dalton Keene have combined for at least 3 receptions in all but 1 game, their 21-20 loss to Notre Dame. The four victories during this stretch have also been the Hokies' four highest scoring outputs, a fact that isn't coincidental and not just because of the QB change.
We saw it Saturday with Mitchell as him and Keene both give the Hokies' athletic checkdown options who can turn that short pass into a double-digit gain. Having that threat forces teams to at least give it some attention which creates more space on the back end that could be exploited more as the season goes along.
Of course, VT could use their tight end advantage more especially given the versatility Mitchell offers in the slot. Going forward though, tight ends must continue to be a significant part of the passing attack to help maximize the offensive potential for the Hokies.