Virginia Tech got the win over North Carolina this weekend, but it was a tough game to watch for Hokies fans. The offense struggled mightily for a majority of the game, penalties seemingly came on every play and the defense allowed 522 yards. Only at the very last seconds of the game could Hokie Nation take a deep breath and feel confident that Virginia Tech would leave Chapel Hill with a win.
A game as back-and-forth as this one provides a lot of commentary, but here are our three biggest takeaways from the victory over UNC.
1. The Virginia Tech offense can be clutch
This was not a good game for the Virginia Tech offense by any means. The Hokies gained 375 yards, far less than their average of 456 in 2018. Tech put up just 22 points against UNC. The average this season is 33 points per game. Ryan Willis threw two interceptions, the most he’s thrown in his three games as a starting quarterback this season. The Hokies were forced to punt the ball away seven times in the game, including five times in the first half alone.
But if you put all of that aside and look at the last six minutes of the game, the offense looked phenomenal. Willis led his team on a 98-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with less than 20 seconds left in the game. The Hokies ate up nearly six minutes of game time to take a three-point lead and give UNC its fourth loss of the season.
Willis completed eight passes on the final drive of the game, throwing for 69 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. He also ran the ball six times for 27 yards as the Hokies marched downfield with the clock ticking down.
Steven Peoples contributed to the drive, running the ball twice for a total of five yards. The Hokies were faced with either third or fourth down five times on the drive, converting four of those plays. One of the more memorable plays came on a third-and-14 from the VT 40-yard line when Willis threw a sideline pass to Peoples, who ran the ball 19 yards to set up a first down.
The game-winning drive was Tom Brady-esque as Willis was able to stay calm the entire time and skillfully guide his team to a comeback win. While UNC is not the biggest rival or the toughest opponent the Hokies will play this season, this drive will go down in Virginia Tech history as one of the most clutch moments the team has had.
The question going forward will be whether or not the offense can continue to pull through in key situations. With tough opponents looming in Georgia Tech and Miami, the Hokies will need to be able to put together drives like this over and over in order to take down the ACC foes on their schedule.
2. Penalties still need to be fixed
One of the biggest issues that plagued the Hokies against Notre Dame last week was penalties. The offensive line was consistently flagged for false starts, which should not be the case when they are playing with their home crowd. Numerous other flags were thrown throughout the game as the Hokies dug themselves into a hole behind the Irish, but penalties are fixable and can change week to week.
Not this week.
Virginia Tech committed eight penalties against UNC, resulting in 59 yards. It’s nice for the Hokies that their offense was able to make a late-game comeback and still give them the win, but that shouldn’t have to be the case. Some of the penalties against UNC ended in missed opportunities for Virginia Tech while others gifted UNC with a better chance to score.
The Hokies were flagged with a false start in the first quarter on a drive that ended with Oscar Bradburn punting the ball away. A pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter allowed UNC to continue driving down the field as the Tar Heels kicked a field goal to extend their lead to 19-14. If you take those penalties away, the story of the game could have been a lot different. While the Hokies ended up getting the win, games will be a lot easier going forward if they can fix the little mistakes.
3. Defensive Issues Continue
Overall this wasn’t a bad defensive game, especially when you consider how many points the defense gave up to Old Dominion and Notre Dame. Giving up 19 points is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s less than the season average and the Hokies still came out on top. The 287 passing yards given up are also less than the season average. However, the defense still needs to work some things out before it can reach the next level.
Just like in previous games this season, there were too many missed tackles and too many times when the secondary got burned by receivers. The Hokies were bailed out by the offense in the last minutes of the game, but they can’t always play that way. The defense is going to have to step up at some point this season and make the stops that they should be making.
I get that this is a young defense and it takes time for new players to adjust to the game, but if Virginia Tech wants to stay on track and come out on top of the ACC Coastal this season, the last stretch of conference play is going to be critical and the defense needs to bring it’s A-game. The defense did make some key stops in critical situations against UNC, but the issues that I’ve mentioned need to be fixed going forward for this team to see some real success.