Virginia Tech picked up their biggest win of the Justin Fuente beating Florida State 24-3 in Tallahassee in a dominant performance. The win was a statement that led to the Hokies jumping from 20th to 12th in the AP Poll.
With that said, here are our takeaways from the Hokies' big win over FSU.
1. Never Doubt Bud Foster
Entering this game, Virginia Tech was replacing six players on defense who are on active NFL rosters and seven total starters, something that gave almost everyone concern about VT's young defense would handle the big stage. Given that FSU returned star playmakers like Deondre Francois and Cam Akers to go against this defense, the Seminoles became the popular pick.
However, Bud Foster showed why he's America's best defensive coordinator and reminded us why you never can doubt him.
Bud Foster's defense put on a dominant performance forcing 5 turnovers and recording 14 tackles for loss including 5 sacks. In addition, the Hokies' 14 tackles for loss were 2 more than the 12 first downs Florida State recorded in the entire game. This was with a defense starting only one senior overall (Ricky Walker) and only one junior in the back 7 (Reggie Floyd).
The fact that Bud Foster and his defensive staff were able to not only develop the talent that they had but also prepare a bunch of players with limited or no collegiate experience for playing on a big stage in a tough environment is incredible.
When you have a defense with as much youth as the Hokies have, you would expect a timid defense that had some moments of confusion especially on the road. In this game, the Hokies' defense did have moments where they had some youthful issues with calls, but there was no timidity from this defense whatsoever. Instead, this was a defense that looked like a classic Bud Foster defense.
Most wondered and doubted if Bud Foster's defense would be ready given the youth and the massive road challenge. Instead, Foster reminded us why to never doubt one of his defenses as long as he coaches.
2. Special Teams are Helping the Hokies Win Games Once Again
While the focus is rightfully on the Hokies' dominant defensive performance, Virginia Tech showed that under Justin Fuente and James Shibest, special teams are once again helping them win games.
The Hokies had one of the best special teams units last season, and James Shibest's units continued to impress with a strong performance against Florida State.
The best special teams play came via Chris Cunningham's blocked punt that Eric Kumah recovered and returned for a touchdown. Obviously, a blocked punt is big at any moment but given how the Hokies were only up 7 late in the first half with an offense that was struggling, getting that touchdown was a huge momentum swing that VT's defense took advantage of on the next play from scrimmage via Caleb Farley's interception.
However, the Hokies' special teams success went beyond that one play.
Oscar Bradburn had one of his best games pinning Florida State 4 times in the 20 while FSU was unable to return a single punt in part because of the impressive hang time Bradburn had on his punts.
Bradburn's best punts came in the third and fourth quarter when VT's offense sputtered and had 0 points on 4 possessions that started in Florida State territory. During that series of events, Bradburn kept the field position advantage that the Hokies had on his three punts with all three being downed inside the 15 including 2 inside the 10.
Beyond that, C.J. Carroll had a solid 18-yard return while also doing well to recover his muffed punt. Brian Johnson made his only field goal of the night from 29 yards while Jordan Stout had 4 of his 5 kickoffs go for touchbacks with Khalan Laborn only having a 25-yard return in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
Bud Foster deserves the most praise for his job preparing Virginia Tech's defense, but James Shibest has coached up a special teams unit that is helping the Hokies win games and is a favorable x-factor for the third-straight year.
3. The Offense Has Room to Grow
Virginia Tech's offense was inconsistent coming out firing on their first few possessions, but struggling for most of the game after that. Virginia Tech's offensive struggles came to the forefront in the second half when the Hokies had four-straight possessions that started in Florida State territory and scored 0 points, missing 4 opportunities to extend the lead to three possessions with a touchdown or field goal.
Whether you win or lose by 30, not scoring a single point when you start four-straight possessions on your opponent's side of the 50 is a major problem. While the Hokies didn't have a single turnover during that stretch, they only had one decent possession within those four possessions which was ended by a poor playcall on fourth and 1.
While those four possessions stood out, the Hokies' offense struggles went beyond those four possessions with Josh Jackson showing some discomfort in the pocket and going 9-for-19 to start his game before finishing strong with seven-straight completions. Jackson also made some poor decisions to hold on to the football and taking a significant loss instead of throwing the ball away, though one sack did give Oscar Bradburn some more room to punt.
Meanwhile, Brad Cornelsen and the Hokies' playcalling appeared inconsistent with some questionable shotgun run calls (especially slightly delayed handoffs) that VT seemed to stick with for too long and didn't appear to use to set something else up. In addition, the Hokies seemed to not stick with some things that showed that they would work as shown by how the Hokies ran few plays where Damon Hazelton and Eric Kumah could use their size to box out larger cornerbacks as Hazelton did for his opening touchdown.
The good news for the Hokies is that they have arguably the easiest schedule in college football over the next three weeks to get things fixed as they face William & Mary, an East Carolina team that was beat by FCS North Carolina A&T, and an Old Dominion team that was blown out by Liberty.
While the Hokies' offense showed plenty of promise, the Hokies have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks before a road trip to Duke and the huge home showdown with Notre Dame.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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