On Thursday night, the Hokies’ defense, led by Senior DT Woody Baron, wrote Brad Kaaya’s obituary for him.
It was a far cry from the 2014 Thursday night game in Blacksburg. The numbers are staggering. The talented QB for Miami was sacked eight times (most in a game since 2013 by LPD), as the Hurricanes’ OL was thoroughly outmatched by a defensive line missing two key starters. Virginia Tech kept Miami behind the chains as they posted 12 TFLs on the night. Kaaya took multiple big hits, and by the end of the third quarter, it looked like he had enough. His eyes dropped, he saw ghosts in the pocket, and seemed content with simply falling to the turf when there was just a sliver of pressure around him.
The intensity and dominance was present just two plays into the game. The duo of Trevon Hill and Woody Baron got to Kaaya, forcing an early three-and-out. Hill, who lost his grandmother under two weeks ago, clearly played with fire and emotion, and the rest of the defense seemed to feed off of it. He finished the game with 5 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Against Syracuse, the Hokies did not start strong both on offense or defense, but the mentality Thursday was simply different. Fuente mixed it up, calling an even number of runs and passes. Virginia Tech drove the ball 35 yards, and Joey Slye opened up the scoring with a 47-yard field goal.
The Hurricanes showed some life on their next series. A combination of stretch runs and short passes got the Hurricanes all the way to the Virginia Tech 36-yard line, but this time it was Ricky Walker and Vinny Mihota getting to Kaaya for the sack and forcing Miami to punt. Mihota, who had to pop his shoulder back into place mid-game according to Bud Foster, had another strong performance, showing his excellent motor and burst off the ball. He was one of three Hokies with multiple sack-games.
Evans and the offense started their next drive on their own 5, but managed to flip field position and Ludwig – who had a solid game punting the football – pinned the Hurricanes down at their own 10. Miami would drive all the way down to the VT 12 before settling for three. However, the Hokies were lucky to give up just three. Miami’s David Njoku caught the ball 30 yards downfield and had nothing but green grass in front of him. Little did he know the turf monster was waiting for him – this moment produced a collective laugh throughout the press box.
The Hurricanes’ next offensive possession went much smoother for the Hokies. On a 3rd and 7, Kaaya eyed his receiver up the seam in double coverage, but Motuapuaka deflected the pass away and Terrell Edmunds came up with his third interception of the season, and his second in as many games. This was a great play by Motuapuaka, exemplifying his increased awareness. At second glance, it looks like he intentionally tips the ball to Edmunds. The Hokies’ defense turned a poor decision by Kaaya into an opportunity for points, but Virginia Tech failed to capitalize on a drive that started in opponent territory.
The Hokies were able to retake the lead on their next series. On the first play, McMillian pulled away for a 34-yard gain. Travon had a strong outing, strengthening his push for more touches. On the night, he totaled 131 yards on just 18 carries. He found creases that were slim, and showcased his elusiveness and explosiveness on multiple occasions.
Despite the big play, the Hokies’ drive stalled due to an illegal block below the waist. Another short Joey Slye FG gave the Hokies their second three-point lead of the night.
Woody Baron essentially ended Miami’s next possession single-handedly. On first down, he chased down a Yearby run, and knifed into the backfield on second down and dropped Yearby for a six-yard loss. He was easily the team’s defensive MVP this game with 2.5 sacks/4.5 TFLs, and added at least three or four more hits on Kaaya. Bud Foster had nothing but high praise for the senior defensive tackle.
"He’s playing great football," said Foster. "Not good football. Woody’s playing great football."
The Hokies finally put a touchdown on the board following the defensive stop. In a matter of just 51 seconds, the Hokies went 83 yards, finishing the drive with an Evans to Hodges hookup. Virginia Tech was aided by a roughing the passer penalty, one of a multitude of mental mistakes by the Hurricanes. Sam Rogers provided the longest play of the drive, however. The do-it-all back caught a pass over the middle, evaded two defenders and broke two more tackles for a 52-yard play, the longest reception of his career. He finished the game with 2 catches for 72 yards.
After another Miami punt, the Hokies began moving the ball effectively once more. Rogers provided another big play, and Isaiah Ford’s first reception moved the ball all the way to the Miami 29. Slye concluded the drive with his third FG, this one from 38 yards out.
Kaaya showed why he is considered one of the top QBs in the conference on the ensuing Miami drive. With 1:28 left in the half, he threw two dimes for huge plays. The first one was to Ahmonn Richards who caught the ball despite good coverage by Greg Stroman, and the second was a ridiculous pitch-and-catch on 3rd and 14 for 15 yards. The catch went under further review, but it was (rightly) upheld.
Virginia Tech committed their second huge coverage blunder of the game, leading to a 25-yard TD pass from Kaaya to Braxton Berrios. The Hokies tried to invert their coverage, but Kaaya found the hole on the deep sideline and delivered a perfect throw. However, it was not Miami’s night as place kicker Michael Badgley missed the PAT. The Hokies went into halftime with a 16-9 lead.
One of the improvements the defense had to make after the debacle in Syracuse last week was third down defense. They were much better in that facet of the game last night.
#Hokies allowed Syracuse to go 10/21 on 3rd down Saturday. Held the Hurricanes to 1/8 in 1H. Big reason why defense looks so much better.— Jawhar Ali (@soundslikejafar) October 21, 2016
Miami finished just 3-15 on third down, which can be attributed to the constant pressure in the face of Kaaya.
The two teams exchanged punts at the beginning of the third quarter. Like in the first half, the Hokies scored first. The scoring drive began with an impressive cutback run by Travon McMillian along with a helping of Jerod Evans as a lead blocker. That defender will have a hard time looking at the film this week.
A late hit tacked on an extra 15 to the end of the run. Evans found Hodges for 18 and again for a 12-yard score on a corner route. Bucky led the way for Hokies’ receivers with 7 catches, 66 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.
The 23-9 advantage would not last for long. Kaaya, who had been beaten up all day in the pocket, led the Hurricanes down the field for a second TD drive. However, it was another coverage breakdown by the Hokies’ secondary. Facyson had a concentration lapse, and failed to stay in his zone as Miami ran a switch concept between their two receivers. Miami’s Christopher Herndon was wide open and walked in for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
The problem for the Hurricanes was that the Hokies’ offense had found their rhythm as well. Fuente’s playcalling at this point was very good. Miami’s defense had no idea what was coming at them. Perhaps this touchdown was the most memorable of the game. Fuente took a page out of Syracuse’s playbook as Rogers threw a touchdown pass to fellow FB Steven Peoples. It was something Coach Cornelson told Rogers to be ready for, and he didn’t disappoint.
RB turned QB for a TD?!— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) October 21, 2016
Sam Rogers can do it all#RogerThat @VT_Football | #MustSeeACC ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/N4dRS1g6aE
"Coach Cornelson asked me if I would be ready and I said yes," said Rogers. "You could tell he was nervous because I actually overthrew him a couple times at practice."
Luckily, Rogers was on point with his throw, which put the Hokies up by two scores and really allowed the defense to pin their ears back and attack Kaaya. Baron tacked on another sack to his already impressive night, and Andrew Motuapuaka broke up another pass 30 yards down the seam. He really has become an excellent leader and playmaker at the MIKE position for Foster’s unit.
Two drives later, Miami faced a 3rd and 5 on their own 12. This was the play where you could tell Kaaya was rattled. For once, the Hurricanes’ OL actually held up okay in pass protection. But Kaaya saw ghosts and bailed even though there wasn’t any pressure, ending up in the arms of Vinny Mihota. The Hokies got the ball back in good field position, but Slye’s FG attempt was blocked by Miami.
The block looked like it could be the spark the Hurricanes needed to fuel a late comeback. An explosive 41-yard run by Yearby had the Hurricanes back in business, but another sack from Trevon Hill on third down forced Miami into a 4th and 20 situation. This was the game – a stop here would make a comeback close to impossible. Kaaya threw one up into the end zone for Stacey Coley, but the receiver failed to get a foot down in bounds resulting in a change of possession.
Evans put a bow on a phenomenal team performance with a 34-yard touchdown run. He finished the day with 106 yards on the ground, in addition to 259 yards in the air. But let’s get this straight: Evans did not have a great night. He missed open targets, simply did not see open receivers, and should have been picked off at least once. There were timing issues as well. But he has been a leader of this team and has been very effective leading this offense.
Sometimes after a terrible loss, the best thing for a team is to have a short week to correct their mistakes as quickly as possible. That was certainly the case for Virginia Tech on Thursday. With the win, the Hokies move to 5-2 on the season, and 3-1 in the ACC. Virginia Tech remains undefeated at home (4-0), but they travel to Pittsburgh next Thursday to break yet another tough streak at Heinz Field.