Virginia Tech suffered a tough, 31-17 loss to Clemson Saturday night. Clemson made it clear that they are still the ACC's best while the Hokies remain the top challenger to the Tigers along with possibly Miami.
Virginia Tech didn't have a great game, but they weren't as bad as the score may suggest, especially with a defensive performance that was encouraging overall. With that said, here are our takeaways from the Hokies' loss to Clemson.
1. Brad Cornelsen struggled Saturday night.
Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen had probably his worst game as a play-caller since arriving in Blacksburg. Justin Fuente said after the game that Brent Venables and Clemson had a completely different defensive approach than anything the Hokies were expected.
Now this is reasonable for some of the early offensive struggles, but Cornelsen struggled to adjust and stuck with a lot of things that simply weren't working.
Virginia Tech heavily emphasize their screen guy but it started to become predictable and Cornelsen was never able to adapt it or add some wrinkles that made it less predictable. This was best showed on the fourth down in which Virginia Tech called a timeout, used the same formation as they had before the timeout, and then lost several yards on a screen that was a complete bust.
By the end of the game, the Hokies started pushing the ball more down the field, but it came a quarter or two too late. Cornelsen's failure to adapt or even experiment when the offense was clearly not working is on Cornelsen's failure to adapt more than the youth of the offense.
While this is a young offense, it's time for the Hokies to start to open up the playbook more and find ways to push the football down the field more through the air. It's also time for the return of the run-pass option which worked quite well against West Virginia, but have rarely been used since, not even against Clemson.
Cornelsen has called plenty of great games including against West Virginia, but Saturday night was a low point in his time in Blacksburg. The good news is that the Hokies won't have to deal with a defense as good as Clemson during the rest of the regular season.
2. WR Depth is improving, but still has room to grow.
Virginia Tech had five different receivers with at least 3 receptions against Clemson, but the Hokies still have room to improve their receiving corps. Cam Phillips is one of America's best wide receivers, but there is still a lot of needed growth behind him. However, a couple of guys are starting to establish themselves.
Sean Savoy had 4 catches for 35 yards and a TD and 2 carries for 8 yards and a TD in what was a solid night for the true freshman. Savoy has shown lots of promise including on his late 30-yard TD, but he still has room to grow and become a more consistent, dangerous playmaker down the field. However, Savoy has shown that he can be a reliable secondary target through the first five games.
CJ Carroll had 3 catches for 45 yards and was able to find space throughout the night whether Josh Jackson saw him or not. Carroll was the only other proven guy and it's showing as the former walk-on has been reliable in the slot. However, Carroll and Jackson do need to improve their chemistry some for Jackson to better take advantage of the talented speedster.
Henri Murphy had somewhat of a breakout game with 3 catches for 43 yards. Outside of his drop that turned into a pick 6, Murphy showed that he should get regular playing time for the Hokies, and that his speed can cause lots of problems. Eric Kumah still has a lot of room to grow into the Hokies' tall, perimeter threat, but his 3 catches for 17 yards is a sign that he's starting to become more reliable. However, Kumah needs to become much more consistent.
Virginia Tech's receiving corps is improving, but there is still room to grow. The good news is that they have Cam Phillips leading the charge.
3. This is still the ACC's second best team.
Miami is starting to make a strong case that they are the ACC's second-best team after Clemson with their blowout win over Duke. However, there was nothing that Saturday night indicated to suggest that Virginia Tech still isn't the second-best team in the ACC.
Virginia Tech has a better quarterback than Miami does while the Hokies and Miami both have very strong defenses. However, you can make a strong argument that the Hokies have the league's second-best defense behind Clemson on a night in which Kelly Bryant's legs were the only consistent way for Clemson to move the football.
Louisville is in this discussion purely because of Lamar Jackson but if you take away Jackson, this is a 6-6 team at best. You can take away Josh Jackson or Tremaine Edmunds and Virginia Tech would still be a top contender in the ACC Coastal and possibly still the ACC's second-best team.
It would be easy to hit the panic button, but it can't be forgotten that Clemson is the number 2 team in America. Clemson's depth may be better than even Alabama as Dabo Swinney has built a program that can simply plug and replace players without having to rebuild. Virginia Tech is getting there but in the meantime, they have built a strong defense and quality offense that remains the favorite in the Coastal.
Extra Point: Virginia Tech's fans made a statement.
Virginia Tech and Lane Stadium once again showed why it's arguably the toughest place to play in college football. Lane Stadium was full for most of the game even when it seemed almost certain that the Hokies would not win this game. Fans didn't really start leaving until after the Clemson pick 6 that made the score 31-10 well into the fourth quarter.
In talking with recruits who visited for the game, the atmosphere is consistently something that stood out to them while some have also mentioned being impressed by the loyalty of Hokie Nation including 2019 four-star WR Jacoby Pinckney.
If you want to know how a Hokie fan can really make a difference, it's by making Lane Stadium insane like they did Saturday night and staying even when a comeback seems almost impossible as Hokie Nation did Saturday night.
Tweets at recruits are extremely temporary (personally, I think they're kind of stupid). Creating insane atmospheres and being loyal even when a comeback seems almost impossible makes a lasting impression.
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