It was a tale of two halves as a depleted Virginia Tech defense shined in the first half and a Khalil Herbert-led rushing attack and special teams stole the show in the second half. But in the end, that combination was more than enough for the Hokies on a day that saw Tech not have Justin Hamilton, Ryan Smith, Divine Deablo, their top 4 cornerbacks, Alan Tisdale, and more.
Virginia Tech beat Duke 38-31 with the Hokies improving to 2-0 on the season and the Blue Devils falling to 0-4. This win will almost certainly push the Hokies into the top 25 and sets up a huge showdown with North Carolina after the Tar Heels survived a close one at Boston College.
Tech's rushing attack broke 300 yards on the ground for the second-straight game with 324 rushing yards, more than they had last week against N.C. State. Tech's offensive line wore down the Duke front 7 and gave Tech's running back some good holes, but this performance was even more about their star running back.
Khalil Herbert was the Hokies' biggest star tonight as he was a force both running the football and returning kicks with the best performance for a Tech running back since at least David Wilson as he had 20 carries for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns while also returning 3 kicks for 150 yards including an 83-yard kick return right after Duke briefly claimed the lead early in the third quarter.
Tech finally fed Herbert as they should have last week, and Tech's offense thrived as Herbert proved he's the best running back that Tech has had since David Wilson. If he has more performances like this, he may start making a case that he deserves to be alongside Wilson, Kevin Jones, Lee Suggs, Ryan Williams, and others as one of the great Tech running backs.
Braxton Burmeister had his struggles in the first half, but found his rhythm in the second half and played solid overall finishing 9-24 for 163 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT along with 54 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs, and a fumble. Burmeister did prove good enough, but he didn't do enough today to make the case that he maybe should receive regular playing time over Hendon Hooker once Hooker is back in game shape after a somewhat extended absence due to further medical testing that cleared up some worries.
Raheem Blackshear had a solid game with 13 carries for 47 yards. Meanwhile, Tayvion Robinson led Tech's receiving corps with 85 yards on 2 receptions plus a 10-yard carry and a muffed punt that saw Blackshear replace him on puts. Meanwhile, James Mitchell had 3 catches for 23 yards and a TD. Tre Turner found his rhythm with 3 catches for 47 yards and a 5-yard carry.
Tech's defense had a great start to the game, but then had their struggles as they wore down during the second half. However, they finished strong with a late three and out right after the Burmeister fumble to help Tech hold on to victory in the end. Tech's pass rush was a big reason for it as they had 7 sacks against a Duke team that had only allowed 10 sacks prior to today's game.
Rayshard Ashby was one of the biggest stars today as he led the Hokies with 10 tackles including 1.5 for loss, 1 of which being a sack. Veteran Emmanuel Belmar had a big game tonight as well with 3 sacks while Amare Barno had a coming out party with 4 tackles including 2 sacks.
The secondary had a strong first half and some second half struggles, but walk-on Tyler Matheny proved to be a surprise standout as he had 7 tackles including 2 for loss along with a big first half interception. Meanwhile, Dorian Strong had some tough moments but the true freshman put in a respectable performance with 5 tackles and a pass breakup.
Overall, this was a tremendous performance from a Virginia Tech team that was vastly undermanned on defense especially in the secondary and a resilient offense that wore down Duke and found a way to win even in unprecedented cicumstances.