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Virginia Tech Football: 5 Takeaways in the Hokies’ Loss at Syracuse

Nothing went right for Virginia Tech last week as the Hokies fall to 4-2 on the season after a disappointing performance at Syracuse.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse
Virginia Tech wide receiver Cam Phillips in the Hokies’ loss at Syracuse
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Just one week ago, the Virginia Tech Hokies were back in the top 25, ranked No. 17, after coming off a 34-3 shellacking of North Carolina. Then, on Saturday, Hokie Nation was stunned after Tech went to Syracuse and were soundly defeated, 31-17, by the Orange.

What exactly happened to the Hokies?

Well......everything.

Virginia Tech looked unprepared on both sides of the ball and the defense, which looked so mighty through the first five games, suffered a letdown, giving up 561 total yards. The previously stingy pass defense gave up over 400 yards to Eric Dungey. Yes, Eric Dungey. With all due respect to Dungey, he isn’t going to remind anyone of Tom Brady.

On offense, Tech’s numbers were great, however, the Hokies struggled to sustain drives. A big part of that is VT’s inability to find a consistent rushing attack. Once again, quarterback Jerod Evans led the team in rushing.

Here’s are five takeaways from Virginia Tech’s loss to Syracuse:

The Hokies Are Far From a Finished Product

For most fans, this is not a shock. No one expected this team to go 11-1 in head coach Justin Fuente’s first season. Big wins over East Carolina, Boston College and North Carolina had many thinking Fuente had this team in store for big things already. And while the Hokies may still win the ACC Coastal, this squad could have a few more letdowns this season.

While the Hokies are talented, several years of recruiting misses have affected the team’s depth. The offensive line is a prime example.

More Travon McMillian, Less Sam Rogers

Look this isn’t to criticize Sam Rogers. He is a terrific all-around player and a tremendous team leader. However, he shouldn’t be Tech’s primary back. Sophomore Travon McMillian, VT’s leading rusher a year ago, led the running backs with nine carries on Saturday. Rogers chipped in with eight carries. McMillian had one solid drive and then was inexplicably rarely used again.

A solid running game requires rhythm. McMillian is the team’s best back. He’s strong between the tackles and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. A big reason McMillian may not be seeing as much time is because he needs to improve his pass blocking. That’s understandable, but this team must run the ball better. And McMillian can help the rushing attack.

Fuente should also look to get Shai McKenzie more involved, too. While McKenzie may not be as powerful as Marshawn Williams or as fast as McMillian, he’s arguably Tech’s most patient runner and possesses the best vision.

Fourth-Down Woes

It is embarrassing to watch a team go for it on fourth down as many times as Syracuse did and convert each time. For Bud Foster, embarrassed is probably not strong enough of a word.

Here’s some stats that will make you sick. The Orange converted on four of five fourth-down attempts. That’s an 80-percent conversion rate.

Tech wasn’t much better on third down, as the ‘Cuse were 10 of 21.

Those are the types of numbers you’d expect from Alabama against the Citadel.

Moving forward, Tech’s defensive backs must get up and challenge wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. Too often on Saturday, Syracuse wideouts had several yards of cushion. That led to some easy pitch-and-catch from Dungey to his receivers.

Mobile Quarterbacks Continue to Haunt the Hokies

It’s not uncommon for athletic quarterbacks to wreak havoc these days. With so much read-option, dual-threat passers are often hard to contain.

For Virginia Tech, though, these athletic quarterbacks continue to confound Foster and his troops on an annual basis. Generally, great coordinators such as Foster find ways to neutralize the opposition. However, Foster never appears to have an answer for these type of quarterbacks.

Dungey rushed for 106 yards on Saturday. In the past four years, nine quarterbacks have rushed for over 100 yards against VT. Tech is 0-9 in those games. Dungey is the second passer this season to go over 100 yards against the Hokies. Joshua Dobbs did it in Week 2 in Tennessee’s win.

Foster needs to fix this—and fast.

Jerod Evans Continues Solid Season

Evans had his moments on Saturday. He missed a few throws, but took care of the football for the most part. He did throw one pick—just his second of the season. On the year, Evans is completing 63 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns. He’s also second on the team in rushing with 319 yards and two more scores.

Coming into the season, the quarterback position was a major question mark for the Hokies. Evans has assuaged those concerns with a strong performance. His command of the offense is excellent.

What Tech needs more from Evans in the second half of the season is for him to be more accurate down the field. He’s missed Isaiah Ford several times deep. If Evans can shore this part of his game up, it could help the running game, too.