The historic Battle at Bristol is over. The spectacle of 156,000-plus fans packing into Bristol Motor Speedway to watch a college football game is in the rearview mirror and for the Virginia Tech Hokies it’s time to get back to work.
Saturday night wasn’t a good one for the Hokies, although it started out fairly well. Tech jumped out to a 14-0 lead and thoroughly dominated Tennessee on both sides of the ball, especially at the line of scrimmage.
Then, a fumble happened and the game was over.
Essentially, the game did end when the Hokies mishandled the football deep in their own territory, allowing the Volunteers to recover at Tech’s five-yard line. Tennessee would go on to score 31 unanswered points and easily dispatch of the Hokies.
Now that we’ve had a couple of days to think about it, let’s take a look back at the Battle at Bristol and discuss the good and bad in Virginia Tech’s 45-24 loss to Tennessee on Saturday night.
The Offense Can Move the Ball: We saw it for a good portion of the night, the Hokies could move the football. However, any progress was stunted by turnovers or penalties.
On the night, Virginia Tech committed eight penalties for 101 yards and it seemed like a lot more. And, of course, the turnovers. The Hokies inexplicably fumbled five times, losing all of them. Sophomore running back Travon McMillian had two long runs called back by offensive penalties. It was just that kind of night.
Despite all of this, Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee 400-330 in total yardage. The Hokies were six of 13 on third-down conversions and were balanced on offense. Quarterback Jerod Evans passed for 214 yards and the team rushed for 186 yards.
Despite all that went wrong, there’s a lot to be encouraged about on the offensive side of the ball. Turnovers and penalties can be cleaned up, and the sooner it happens, the better for head coach Justin Fuente and the Hokies.
Travon McMillian Should Get 20 Touches Per Game: The sophomore who broke out last season with 1,000 yards and seven scores, had himself a good game against Tennessee on Saturday night. McMillian ran 14 times for 127 yards and a touchdown and showed his breakaway speed on 69-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Yooo Travon McMillian broke Reeves-Maybin's ankles https://t.co/H318XmCyHW— Jack McGuire (@BigDaddysCourt) September 11, 2016
Yes, McMillian fumbled once—who didn’t—but he’s easily VT’s top running back. He has the speed and power to make this offense complete. Whatever the reasons were behind McMillian not being the starter this summer, should be a distant memory now. Fuente knows what he has in McMillian and it’s time to leave him in the game and feed him.
The Defense Was Ready to Play: More often than not, Bud Foster’s defense comes to play in big games. They did again on Saturday night. Despite the offense committing five turnovers, Foster’s defense kept fighting.
Defensive end Ken Ekanem looked particularly strong against the Volunteers. The senior defensive end lived in UT’s backfield, finishing with 1 1⁄2 sacks. Overall, the Hokies held Tennessee to just 91 yards passing. That’s good enough to win any game. Sure, you’d like to force more turnovers, but anytime you hold the opposition to under 100 yards passing that should win you the football game.
Ken Ekanem "I'm proud how our defensive line played."— Gobbler Country (@gobblercountry) September 11, 2016
One problem with Tech’s defensive performance: Allowing quarterback Joshua Dobbs to rush for 106 yards. In recent years, dual-threat quarterbacks have found ways to exploit Foster and his aggressive defensive schemes. The Hokies always lose these games. Inside linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka wasn’t in good position on two of Dobbs’ runs, leading to big plays.
Overall, though, the oft-criticized Motuapuaka looked better than he did last year which is a good sign for Virginia Tech moving forward.
This Team Was Not Mentally Tough: It’s not just a slogan or an old-fashioned saying, football is truly a game of momentum. Generally, during a game, momentum goes back and forth between the teams until one seizes it and doesn’t look back. In Bristol, Tennessee seized momentum at the beginning of the second quarter and the game was over.
Did the Hokies press too much once Tennessee got on the board? Or were nerves an issue?
Not really sure the answer on this one, however, once things went against Tech the game changed. The Hokies looked overmatched in every aspect of the game after thoroughly outplaying the Volunteers in the first 15 minutes.
That should not happen.
During the course of a season, things—both good and bad—will happen to a football team. The good teams rise above it and thrive. The average or bad teams don’t. It’s important for Fuente to have this team prepared to react to adverse situations moving forward.
It’s Just One Game: For as much as Hokie fans want to dwell on Bristol’s outcome—and rightfully so—it’s just one game. Virginia Tech has 10 regular season games left and all eight of its conference games.
This team has talent on both sides of the ball and one of the brightest young coaches in college football. Things are going to be OK. Sure, the Hokies may not win the ACC this season, but that doesn’t mean this campaign won’t be a success.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2015 Virginia Tech Hokies. The ball security issues will improve, Fuente will get more comfortable in his position, Foster’s defense will get stronger and Evans has a chance to be a good quarterback.
“First of all, we are fumbling the ball too much. We must, it’s not an option, get that fixed.”— VT Football (@VT_Football) September 12, 2016
As far as the Battle at Bristol goes, it’s time to turn the page as the Hokies open up ACC play this weekend in Blacksburg.