It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy, but the Virginia Tech Hokies survived a trip to Duke last Saturday to improve to 7-2 (5-1, ACC) on the season. The game got interesting late when the Blue Devils were driving for a potentially game-winning drive, but the defense held and preserved a tough, hard-fought victory.
With the win, the Hokies must defeat Georgia Tech this weekend and Virginia in the regular-season finale to get back to the ACC championship game for the first time since 2011.
The game wasn’t pretty; however, Tech’s rushing attack showed up to the tune of 207 yards and two scores. Interestingly enough, the Hokies ran the football 52 times versus 27 passing attempts. Entering the game, Duke wasn’t really strong against the run or pass, so head coach Justin Fuente may have been trying to get his inconsistent ground game going.
Now that we’ve had a few days to let this one sink, here are five observations from Tech’s win over Duke.
Why run Jerod Evans so much?
The Hokies’ junior quarterback injured his ankle in the win at Pittsburgh the week before, yet carried the ball 18 times against the Blue Devils.
Perhaps it was part of the game plan to attack Duke’s defense. It worked, as Evans led the team 83 yards and one score. However, why would you risk re-injuring your starting quarterback’s ankle with the ACC Coastal Division on the line?
Backup Brenden Motley seems like the perfect option to run some of those plays with Evans nursing an injury. An improved passer, Motley could keep the opposition honest while churning out big plays on the ground. Fuente likely felt it would be obvious what the Hokies were doing if Motley was under center.
In the win at Pitt, Evans was struggling on that ankle in the fourth quarter. It was so bad he had to leave the game twice. Obviously things worked out for the best, it just didn’t seem like a prudent strategy just nine days after suffering the injury.
Running quarterbacks continue to shred Bud Foster’s defense
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones entered last week’s game with 276 rushing yards on 82 attempts and three scores. Not exactly Lamar Jackson-type numbers. However, the 6’5”, 210-pound freshman passer blazed through Tech’s defense for 99 yards and two scores on 18 attempts.
Fortunately for the Hokies, they won the game. Of course, Jones didn’t get over 100 yards, so Tech’s streak of losing to opposing quarterbacks that rush for 100 yards or more is still intact. Foster even joked about it after the game, per Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times.
"OK. There you go," Foster said. "That doesn’t count then, I guess."
It’s a good joke because the Hokies won; however, it is still a major flaw for Foster’s group. They will be tested in a major way this week against Georgia Techs triple-option offense, led by talented senior quarterback Justin Thomas.
Was it targeting?
Virginia Tech defensive back Terrell Edmunds was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter after being called for targeting. With that, Edmunds will miss the first half of this weekend’s game against Georgia Tech.
There was much debate after the game of whether it was targeting or not. Originally, when Edmunds hit Duke running back Shaun Wilson, it was not called. However, targeting can be reviewed, which it was, forcing Edmunds from the game.
If you go back and watch the play, it’s clear Wilson lowers his head right before impact. This, of course, led to the crown of Edmunds’ helmet colliding with Wilson’s. So if we go by the rule, technically it was the right call. Unfortunately, this is just a bogus rule.
Edmunds wasn’t head-hunting. Wilson lowering his head is what created the impact. Edmunds isn’t a dirty player and most players who are called for this aren’t either. This is a rule college football needs to tweak in the offseason. Players should not be ejected and certainly shouldn’t have to miss half of the next game.
Why didn’t Bucky Hodges get the ball more?
Bucky Hodges finished Saturday’s game with just two catches for 24 yards. How is it possible Hodges gets just two catches, especially against Duke’s defense?
One of Hodges’ two catches was an amazing grab where the ball was thrown behind him and Hodges reaches out with his left hand and brings the ball back in for a phenomenal catch.
In the two weeks prior to the Duke game, Hodges had caught 13 balls for 211 yards and two touchdowns. It appeared the coaching staff was finally figuring out how to use Hodges best. Unfortunately, that didn’t appear to be the case last week.
This offense is at its best when Hodges and Isaiah Ford see plenty of targets. If the defense is bracketing one of the two with a safety over the top, Fuente must find ways to get the two open. Hodges is a mismatch every time he steps on the field. It’s understandable that Fuente doesn’t want to force things, but sometimes that’s what it takes.
Hokies showed resiliency in the win
The Hokies struggled a few weeks back in Syracuse after getting off to a slow start. While they battled back to tie the game late, they just couldn’t pull away. It snapped Tech’s three-game winning streak where the Hokies had won each game by at least 31 points.
Against the Blue Devils, Tech struggled to sustain anything, especially in the second half. Yet, the Hokies were able to survive, thanks to contributions from all three phases.
Greg Stroman’s blocked field goal, which led to Adonis Alexander’s 75-yard return for a score, was the type of play Virginia Tech has always been known for. On that same play, Stroman had a key block that helped Alexander score.
Travon McMillian chipped in with 72 yards on the ground—105 total—and a score after coming off his worst career game last week where he rushed for -3 yards. And Evans, of course, showed grit, toughness and leadership in carrying the ball 18 times.
Defensively, it was bad. This looked like a completely different unit from the one we saw earlier in the season. But when this group needed a stop, it came through.
You can debate on how ugly of a win this was, but who cares? Virginia Tech won this game when the team clearly wasn’t at its best. That’s progress.