A Virginia tech offensive unit that struggled mightily the last two seasons put the rest of the college football world on notice Saturday night: They're back. En route to a stunning win over the eighth ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, the Hokies moved the ball with ease at times, and converted on third downs with regularity. Leading the offensive charge for the Hokies were tight ends Ryan Malleck and Bucky Hodges, both emerging as favorite targets for junior quarterback Michael Brewer this season.
The tight end duo were the toughest targets for the Buckeyes secondary to contain as they combined for eight receptions, 85 yards and one touchdown reception. After two games this season the pair has 163 receiving yards on 17 receptions with two touchdowns. To put this into perspective, last season the Hokies lone tight end Kalvin Cline caught 26 passes, accounting for 321 yards and two touchdowns, over the entirety of 2013.
What the box score doesn't do justice in illustrating is the timeliness of those eight receptions. Brewer was able to find Malleck in open space seemingly every time a drive was in danger of stalling on third down. Malleck led the Hokies with six receptions, a career high for the junior, and also had he most receiving yards with 64. He appears ready for the breakout season many predicted in 2013, before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season in training camp. Along with making crucial catches in the Hokies upset win, Malleck was also provided effective edge blocking, showing his evolution into the well-rounded tight end Virginia Tech was expecting him to be when they recruited him oh so many moons ago.
Redshirt freshman Bucky Hodges was converted from quarterback to tight end by the Hokies in a "reverse-Logan Thomas maneuver", who felt his 6'6", 245 pound frame would be better suited as a red zone target. The move has paid dividends as Hodges has eight receptions and a pair of touchdowns this season, while flexing both speed and a great pair of mitts. Saturday he was held to only two catches, but one was the biggest of the game for Tech. With their backs to the wall, and the Horseshoe rocking following Ohio State tying the game at 21, Hodges pulled in the go ahead 10-yard touchdown reception to conclude a 65 yard drive. Hodges is the perfect compliment to the efficient Malleck, a big target who can exploit his size difference to elevate above the secondary inside the 20 yard line.
The emergence of the tight ends spotlights the Hokies desire to spread the offense to every possible target. Receiving trio Willie Byrn, Isaiah Ford, and Joshua Stanford accounted for nine of the Hokies 23 total catches, and fullback Sam Rodgers contributed five receptions as a surprising target. Rodgers added a touchdown and 23 yards, while also providing effective blocking in the backfield for the running game.
Hokies fans had a quiet confidence this week, believing the prospect of handing Ohio State it's first home opening loss since 1978 was in the realm of possibility. The game turned out to be more than an upset, it was an early statement game. Virginia Tech dominated large parts of the game, and survived a second half flurry like an experienced fighter, coming back to deliver the knockout blow after his opponent punched himself out. The defense was predictably stout, "Beamerball" returned with big returns on INTs and a key punt return from Greg Stroman. and THEIR KICKER missed easy FGs. An offensive unit that struggled to find ground under Logan Thomas has threats from all comers that get down field. Asked after the game if he now knows what a Hokie is, quarterback Michael Brewer replied "I am." After Saturday's performance Tech fans can proudly say Brewer is a Hokie, and leader of the teams rejuvenated offense.