Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics/Atlantic Coast Conference
Virginia Tech made a strong opening statement that they will be a serious contender in the ACC in 2020 with a 45-24 victory against N.C. State despite not having Hendon Hooker, Jermaine Waller, Justin Hamilton, Keshawn King, and numerous others.
Tech's offense was as impressive as we've seen in a while with a dominant rushing attack and outside playmakers stepping up in big ways. Here's a look at my three offensive takeaways from the season-opening victory.
Khalil Herbert Is Ready To Be A Star
Khalil Herbert had about as good of a game that anyone could have imagined with the only thing holding him back from putting up even crazier numbers being an overthrown wheel route pass by Braxton Burmeister in the second half. Otherwise, Herbert was as good as you could be with 104 yards and a TD on only 6 carries along with 2 catches for 46 yards.
He was the complete package as a running back starting with doing his main job well as an explosive runner who can be a major threat between the tackles and on the edge fighting for extra yards and making guys miss. The offensive line does deserve plenty of credit, but Herbert was playing at another level as a decisive, aggressive runner who played with a chip on his shoulder and tons of explosiveness to take advantage of big holes and make sure plays that should go for 10+ yards go for 20 at least.
He's also a dual-threat player in the passing who has to be accounted for as a receiver and also is an above-average blocker who gave Tech's QBs extra time multiple times with some great blocks. While we can expect to see plenty of Raheem Blackshear on passing downs as well, Blackshear may be mostly in the slot given how well Herbert did as a passing down back.
Expectations were high for Khalil Herbert and on 8 touches Saturday night, he showed that he can exceed even some of the loftiest expectations.
Now the only thing that needs to change going forward is that Herbert needs to get more like 20 touches instead of 8.
James Mitchell's Breakout Season Begins
James Mitchell had a really good game Saturday night with 3 catches for 68 yards and a touchdown with all three catches being really, really good plays.
His touchdown will undoubtedly stand out the most for how he fought through the N.C. State defender in their one-on-one matchup and turned what was a 50-50 ball into a seemingly easy win on the edge in the endzone. Mitchell clearly knew he was the bigger player and he used his physicality to his advantage against the smaller defensive back about as well as you could on that play.
Another catch that stood out was in the first half via a reception right over the middle of the field with Mitchell first high-pointing the football on his jump to grab it, and then holding on after taking a solid hit from the N.C. State defensive back on the way. Not only did Mitchell show off his growth as a receiver, but he showed a ton of toughness taking a big hit and still holding on when plenty of tight ends across America likely wouldn't.
In some ways, Mitchell was used as a Bucky Hodges-like jumbo receiver with that comparison being easy, but not accurate given that while Hodges was a better athlete, Mitchell is a more complete football player and tight end who has grown a ton as a blocker over the past two seasons.
Our Jawhar Ali chose James Mitchell as his breakout player for the Hokies in 2020 and his opening performance showed that he's ready for a big year to prove he's one of the best tight ends in America.
The Offensive Line Lives Up To The Hype
Virginia Tech's offensive line has received plenty of hype preseason especially around the Blacksburg, but that hype may have somehow underestimate how good this offensive line is.
Tech broke 300 rushing yards for the third time in an ACC game since joining the conference while averaging over 7.5 yards per carry in what was an absolutely dominant rushing attack that gave Tech's talented runners plenty of great holes to attack.
The national plaudits have since come in with right tackle Luke Tenuta earning Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week honors and Tech's offensive line ranking sixth nationally of those who have played so far, and third among the Power 5 (all of which are ACC teams).
The only surprise may be the lower grade for Brock Hoffman who had the toughest matchup against Alim McNeill and performed well given the opposition. However, Hoffman rightfully earned the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honor after his strong performance against McNeill.
Former Clemson offensive lineman and ACC Network Eric Mac Lain was also extremely impressed with what he saw from the Hokies in the trenches against N.C. State.
I'll be honest in saying I'm not the most trained offensive line evaluator, but this unit looked strong overall with Christian Darrisaw making a couple standout blocks to create holes on the left side of the line and show why he not only is an All-ACC candidate but potentially an All-American sleeper.
Virginia Tech has their best offensive line in a long, long time with this unit being a big reason why Tech is a serious threat in the ACC in 2020.