Virginia Tech made clear improvement after a slow 1-3 start with a trio of ACC wins, putting themselves in a stunning spot in third in the ACC ahead of a big showdown with #13 Louisville. Many wondered how much the Hokies had truly improved with this matchup with the Cardinals for second in the ACC proving to be a litmus test.
Well, that litmus test failed spectacularly for the Hokies against a Louisville team that showed why they are top 15 in the country.
#13 Louisville beat Virginia Tech to improve to 8-1 on the season including 5-1 in the ACC while the Hokies fell to 4-5 on the season including 3-2 in ACC play.
Let's be honest, Virginia Tech was never competitive in this game. While it was only 14-3 at halftime, that was a symptom of a fast first half where there were only seven total possessions including only three from Louisville. On those three, the Cardinals had a pair of touchdowns and a missed field goal in the redzone while putting up 213 yards of offense.
This will be a day to forget for just about everyone on this Virginia Tech team minus John Love who had a career-long 44-yard field goal and Bhayshul Tuten who was effective despite not having a lot of room to work with.
Tech's offense was anemic at best struggling to get ahead of the sticks and then unsurprisingly failing to convert any third downs of significance that were beyond 8 yards. Tech allowed four sacks in this game leading to only 68 yards officially on the ground though they did have some good moments running the ball.
The pass blocking struggles hurt the passing game though with Kyron Drones being held under 70 passing yards with a few times where he had to just throw it away to avoid being sacked. The offense finished with 140 total yards, the first time under 200 yards for the Hokies since Pitt in 2015.
Drones finished the game going 12-21 for 69 yards with 1 INT off an unfortunate deflection while running for 46 non-sack yards. Drones had some misses, but largely was on the run constantly whether it was scrambling, getting sacked, or throwing it away.
Bhayshul Tuten was one of the few bright spots with 11 carries for 57 yards, averaging over five yards per carry plus three catches for three yards. Da'Quan Felton had a team-high four catches for 34 yards while Jaylin Lane had three catches for 13 yards and Stephen Gosnell had two catches for 19 yards.
Tech's defense had their own struggles with the Cardinals running for 231 yards while completing 12-13 passes. The Cardinals averaged 6.1 yards per carry in this game with the Hokies' run defense having some issues once again in the front 7 while allowing multiple 30+ yard rushing touchdowns for the first time since Florida State. If there is a positive, Tech did hold the Cardinals 2-8 on third down and had some decent moments in this game, but those were few and far in between in this game.
Nasir Peoples was a bright spot in this game with seven tackles including one for loss while Derrick Canteen had a game-high nine tackles. Cole Nelson had a sack while Pheldarius Payne had three tackles including 1.5 for loss.
Today's result doesn't change the reality that Virginia Tech has made significant strides on the field this season, especially given how they lost to a Purdue team earlier this season that is at the level or worse than Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Syracuse.
This was still a regression game though on multiple fronts from the run defense to the offensive line. The third level of Tech's defense was busy trying to salvage things on the ground while also worrying about the RPO threat that loomed given Tech's struggles defending the run.
The offensive line may have improved slightly, but offensive improvements were in large part to good schematic decisions that got Tech's playmakers in space quickly and stretched defenses well. That will only get you so far and against a very good defensive front for Louisville, that caught up to them.
Tech also still has a long ways to go with how they play on the road with this game being a step back from what they did at Florida State earlier this season where they showed some great fight back in that game. The fact that this team never really got off the mat after that bad start is very disappointing. There were moments including the nice defensive start to the second half, but they never could string multiple positive possessions together.
This is also a Tech team that simply doesn't have the same level of talent that Louisville has in the trenches and defensive front 7 as a whole which was exposed badly in this game. The priorities for the transfer portal seem clear to include a few offensive linemen plus a true mike linebacker and a couple defensive tackles (though that was inevitable with at least 3 of the top 5 gone after this season).
The ACC Championship Game hopes are all but dashed, but there is still plenty of opportunity to reach a bowl game in the second year of the Brent Pry rebuild. That would be a great achievement for this team, and one that is still just as attainable despite today's result.