Virginia Tech fell 37-30 to Kentucky in a heartbreaker of a Belk Bowl on Tuesday. Here are a few takeaways for the Hokies' offense from the season-ending loss.
Virginia Tech Passing Game is Not Perfect
When Hendon Hooker took over the reigns of the Hokies' offense, he injected a new life into the team. Virginia Tech won the first six games that Hooker started, including one against North Carolina in which Quincy Patterson finished the game due to a Hooker injury.
On Tuesday, Hooker faced the best pass defense he has seen as a starter, and the cracks began to show. Hooker went just 12-22 for 110 yards against a stout Wildcats secondary. However, he did have 2 touchdowns against a Kentucky defense that allowed the fewest passing TDs in the nation entering this game.
A deeper dive into the stats further reveals that Hooker struggled in this game. According to Bill Connelly on Twitter, Hooker threw for just 4.48 yards per attempt.
For comparison, Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr. threw for 5.31 yards per attempt. Bowden is not exactly known as a passer, so the fact that he was arguably more successful through the air in this game was a big factor in the result.
In addition, Virginia Tech had just a 22% success rate on passing downs, compared to 38% for Kentucky. While the Wildcats did not throw the ball that often, they capitalized on their opportunities better than the Hokies.
There is still plenty of hope for Virginia Tech in the passing game. The Hokies are set to return all of their top five receivers from this season, and Hooker will have the benefit of a whole offseason with first team reps. If Hooker continues on his current path, off games like this one should become more scarce.
Hokies Have Options at Running Back
While the passing game left a little to be desired, Virginia Tech's running game had one of their best outings of the season. Deshawn McClease led the the Hokies with 126 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
McClease was not the only player to have success on the ground for the Hokies. Freshman Keshawn King had seven carries for 25 yards, but he showed some great vision with the ball in his hands once again. As a whole, the Hokies had a 47% success rate in the rushing game, which is 5% above the national average.
King has a bright future with the Hokies, and a full offseason should help him get closer to his full potential. In addition, Virginia Tech has multiple experienced backs joining the team next season.
First, Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert will be immediately eligible for the Hokies. In addition, JUCO transfer Marco Lee will bring another experienced presence to the backfield.
With so many options at running back, there will be a possibility of attrition during the offseason. Deshawn McClease was a bit vague about his future after the Belk Bowl.
"I still have some discussing to do with my family and the coaching staff," McClease said. "I'll take as much time as I need to reevaluate things."
Virginia Tech certainly hopes McClease will decide to return next season. A successful senior running back combined with talent like King, Herbert, and Lee would lead to a very dangerous backfield for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech Should Utilize Tight Ends
It's no secret that Virginia Tech has one of the best tight end duos in the ACC, and maybe the country. Tuesday's Belk Bowl solidified that title.
James Mitchell led the Hokies with 36 receiving yards on three receptions. While Kentucky's cornerbacks did a good job locking down Tech's wide receivers, Mitchell was able to slip open on multiple occasions.
While Dalton Keene only had one reception, it was a big one. Keene made an impressive diving catch in the end zone and secured it with his bicep as he went to the ground. It gave Virginia Tech a 17-7 lead at the time.
Both Mitchell and Keene are set to return next season for the Hokies. Keene will be a senior, and after serving as a captain already this season, he will be a leader for next year's Virginia Tech team.
The Hokies also have some young talent at tight end that should develop this offseason. The coaches have spoken highly of Nick Gallo all year, and he will most likely have an increased role for his sophomore season.
Three star tight end Wilfried Pene also signed with the Hokies last month though he is expected to redshirt next season.
Overall, Virginia Tech returns a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. The Hokies certainly have things to work on in the offseason, but the potential is there for next season.