Virginia Tech was considered the underdog going on the road to face #19 Florida State with a defense that had 7 new starters and only 6 seniors on the two-deep. Given the youth of the team and Florida State returning a veteran QB, most believed that this would be a big opportunity for FSU to get a big win to start the Willie Taggart era.
Instead, the Hokies came out and made a statement, picking up the biggest win of the Justin Fuente era.
#20 Virginia Tech beat #19 Florida State 24-3 in a game that was defined by one of the most dominant defensive performances from a Bud Foster defense in recent memory. With the win, the Hokies should likely see themselves jump into the top 15 in the polls while also emerging as the early frontrunner in the ACC Coastal with their win and a poor performance from Miami in their loss to LSU.
Virginia Tech came out firing taking a 7-0 lead on their opening possession with Damon Hazelton running a beautiful route and scoring a 10-yard touchdown after a great pass from Josh Jackson. The Hokies would tack on a field goal and extend the lead to 10-0.
After that, the Hokies' offense struggled for the rest of the first half, but the defense picked up the slack keeping the Seminoles out of the end zone when they reached the red zone. Florida State did pick up a field goal after one of those two stops while Ricky Aguayo missed a field goal from inside 35 yards as well.
FSU had some momentum, but the Hokies' special teams stepped up and made a big play with Chris Cunningham blocking a punt and Eric Kumah making the short return for a touchdown to extend the lead from 17-3 before halftime.
In the third quarter, offense was at a premium with the Hokies' defense holding Florida State to -7 yards. Meanwhile, VT had four-straight possessions where they failed to score despite having the ball in Florida State territory during the third and fourth quarter. Even with those poor offensive possessions, Oscar Bradburn kept pinning Florida State inside their own 15 while the Hokies' defense was able to force them to punt from their own end zone for three-straight possessions.
However, Florida State flipped the momentum with Cam Akers breaking out for an 85-yard run with Bryce Watts making an almost improbable touchdown-saving tackle. At that moment, FSU seemed poised to score with all the momentum in their favor but as VT's defense did all night, they stepped up in a big moment when they didn't have the momentum.
After back-to-back stops on first and second down, Florida State tried to go with a gimmick play that went as poorly as it could have with Houshun Gaines recovering for a fumble. After that, the Hokies put together their best drive of the second half moving down the field easily for several plays before a false start set up a third and long.
On that third down, Josh Jackson made one of his most aware plays of the night escaping the pocket and keeping his eyes down the field to find an open Eric Kumah. From there, Kumah shedded a defender and was off for the races with Kumah breaking away from the FSU defense with Hezekiah Grimsley putting a great block to give Kumah all the seperation he needed.
From there, the Hokies sealed the deal with two interceptions by Caleb Farley and Vinny Mihota, their fourth and fifth turnovers of the night.
Virginia Tech's dominant defense was the story of the night in this game. Despite the fact that the Hokies lost 7 starters, 6 of whom made NFL rosters, the Hokies' young defense played with an intensity that has become a trademark of Bud Foster's defense and were absolutely ready to play on the big stage. The Hokies did give up 327 yards, but Virginia Tech made plenty of big plays with 5 turnovers (3 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries), 14 total tackles for loss, and 5 sacks.
Caleb Farley had an impressive debut with 2 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions; the second of which was a fantastic football play. Meanwhile, Trevon Hill led the Hokies with 3 tackles for loss including 2 sacks and 4 total tackles on the night. Reggie Floyd led the team with 9 tackles including 2 tackles for loss while Rayshard Ashby had 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 forced fumble. Divine Deablo was also very good in his first game back from injury with 4 tackles including a pair of tackles for loss.
For Bud Foster, this was an absolutely impressive performance by his defense. Foster deserves tons of praise for preparing a young defense that came out firing on all cylinders and playing with an impressive intensity that couldn't have been imagined by any fan or analyst before this game. Foster once again showed why he is arguably the best defensive coordinator in college football with a defense that has scary potential given how there are only two seniors on the whole defensive two-deep.
Offensively, the Hokies had some struggles with some questionable playcalling at times along with some poor decisions from Josh Jackson on not throwing the ball away. Overall, Jackson had a solid statistical night going 16-for-26 for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, Jackson and the Hokies' offense has plenty to work on especially after having four-straight possessions that started in FSU territory and not scoring a single point.
On the ground, Deshawn McClease built on his strong finish to last season with 13 carries for 77 yards including an average of 5.9 yards per carry. Steven Peoples provided some tough runs down the stretch on his way to 44 yards on 13 carries while Terius Wheatley provided a spark with 22 yads on 2 carries.
Eric Kumah stepped up as a top receiver for the Hokies with 4 catches for 86 yards including his impressive 49-yard touchdown. Hezekiah Grimsley shared the team lead in receptions with 4 catches for 28 yards while Phil Patterson had 3 catches for 26 yards. Damon Hazelton had a solid debut with 2 catches for 22 yards and a touchdown while Tre Turner had a 26-yard reception in his collegiate debut.
This win is definitely the biggest of the Justin Fuente era and the type of statement road win over a marquee program that the Hokies have been seeking for a while. While last year's win over West Virginia was a quality, close win over a ranked opponent on a big stage, that win is incomparable with tonight's dominant performance on the road in a hostile environment against a ranked Florida State team with one of the ACC's best quarterbacks.
Now, the Hokies get a breather in their schedule with games against William & Mary, East Carolina, and Old Dominion with the Tribe being the only team who beat a team that is currently in FCS or is in their first season of FBS after being in FCS. After that, the Hokies will have to be careful to not look past Duke towards their showdown with Notre Dame but if they can avoid doing that and take care of business, VT's showdown with Notre Dame is poised to be the showdown of the weekend of the sixth week of the season with College GameDay being a serious possibility.
Virginia Tech entered this opener with the Hokies being a popular pick as a team that shouldn't be in the top 25. Now, the Hokies leave Tallahassee as the ACC Coastal favorite and the second-best team in the ACC with their best win of the Justin Fuente era.
Photo Credit: Jake Roth
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