Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Virginia Tech's reign of dominance over Virginia ended yesterday as the Hokies fell to Virginia 39-30, handing the Coastal title to UVA as well. There were definitely some disappointing things for the Hokies, but also plenty of reasons to be excited about what the Hokies showed.
With that said, here's three offensive takeaways from Virginia Tech's loss at Virginia.
Tech's Dyanmic WR Trio
Virginia Tech's passing game went primarily through the dynamic WR trio of Damon Hazelton, Tre Turner, and Tayvion Robinson; with all three showing their talent and why this passing attack has massive potential to be one of America's best in 2020.
Hazelton and Turner had their best combined game this season with Turner having 7 receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown to go with 25 yards on 3 carries while Hazelton had 7 receptions for 118 yards. Additionally, Tayvion Robinson provided a viable third option again out of the slot with 3 catches for 45 yards while showing his big play potential even more on special teams with a pair of punt returns for 20+ yards.
With Hazelton, Turner, and Robinson all appearing to be 100% at the same time for the first time this season, the Hokies' passing offense showed tons of potential with a trio of playmakers who have All-ACC type talent.
The trio also fit well as Turner and Hazelton both are complete outside receivers with Hazelton providing more of that big target and Turner being more of the home run threat over the top as his 61-yard touchdown. Additionally, Robinson gives Tech versatility in the slot with speed that demands attention from the secondary and can be used as a distraction on fake screens that we've seen turn into big plays down the field for Turner and others.
Add this trio to the talented TE duo of Dalton Keene and James Mitchell along with another offseason of growth for Hendon Hooker, and the Hokies' passing attack could be one of the most dynamic in America. That is, of course, if the Hokies embrace the passing game more and open things up especially with a leading pair of RBs that would fit a more wide open spread offense better.
Where Were The Tight Ends?
There are plenty of things to praise and criticize in regards to the offensive strategy and playcalling from Brad Cornelsen yesterday, but one of the biggest head scratchers was the lack of use of tight ends in the passing game.
Over the 6-2 closing stretch, Tech's tight ends have combined for one reception or fewer twice; at Notre Dame and at Virginia.
Yes, the Hokies' passing game was much better in this game than against Notre Dame, but the tight ends could have provided a quality checkdown option. Having that could have kept UVA's pass defense honest with the underneath options, creating more space down the field for Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton to have even bigger plays against a UVA secondary that they were dominant against.
The use of the tight ends in checkdown roles, especially on delayed routes would also add a greater amount of predictability that could have helped the running game as well. Additionally, using Dalton Keene and James Mitchell down the field in the slot would have required more attention from UVA's safeties, creating more space for home run threats like Tre Turner.
Going forward, the Hokies need to consistently utilize their tight ends in the passing game if they want to maximize their offensive potential. If not, the Hokies can still put together big numbers, but might hold themselves back unnecessarily from taking that jump to being among the top offenses in the country.
Tech's Offensive Line Shows Its Potential But Also Its Youth
Virginia Tech primarily had three freshmen starting on their offensive line to go with a pair of sophomores, something that no head coach wants to have. However, the Hokies' young offensive line showed why there's reason to believe this unit will be one of the best in the country within the next year or two while also showing their youth in a couple big moments.
Overall, the Hokies held up well against Virginia's pass rush giving Hendon Hooker plenty of time 75% of the time. Additionally, the Hokies' rushing attack seemed to wear down UVA's defense with the Hokies' running game coming alive in the second half not only because of the increased use of screens and jet sweeps, but also because of the offensive line creating more room for Deshawn McClease to attack.
However, giving up 6 sacks is impossible to overlook especially the three consecutive sacks that came on the second-to-last possession where Hooker fumbled it for a UVA touchdown after the third sack, putting the game out of reach. The Hokies have become more consistent in their blocking, but there is still some inconsistency including with communication that led to mutliple free rushers who sacked Hooker or force quick throwaways.
There's no doubt that this offensive line is loaded with potential including multiple players who already seem likely to be playing on Sundays in the future including Christian Darrisaw, Doug Nester, and Bryan Hudson. Combine that with another full offseason and an eligible Brock Hoffman, and Virginia Tech's offensive line has the potential to be one of the best for Tech in a long time.
Before then, the Hokies' young offensive line has an important offseason ahead to take those important next steps.