It’s been a good two weeks for the Virginia Tech Hokies on the gridiron. Last week, the Hokies won their ACC opener by demolishing Boston College, 49-0, and then on Saturday, Tech exorcised some recent demons by routing the East Carolina Pirates, 54-17.
So, what’s next for the Hokies?
Tech gets a week off before traveling to Chapel Hill next week to face the defending ACC Coastal Division champion, North Carolina Tar Heels.
But, before we start looking ahead to that matchup, let’s look back at VT’s dominating win over ECU in Blacksburg. Here are five takeaways from Tech’s victory:
Yes, you read that right. Beamerball is back in Blacksburg. Well, unless you want to call it Shibestball or Fuenteball. That just doesn’t sound the same. Anyway, the Hokies looked like a vintage Virginia Tech squad on Saturday.
Greg Stroman got things going early with an 87-yard punt return to put Tech up 7-0 in the first quarter. Then, freshman defensive tackle Tim Settle blocked a field-goal attempt, which led to a Jerod Evans touchdown pass. Starting receiver Cam Phillips blocked a punt that set up another Evans’ TD pass.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Hokies stopped a ECU fake punt and Anthony Shegog recovered an ECU fumbled punt. So, in total, the Hokies made five huge plays on special teams.
It’s been awhile since Virginia Tech clicked in all three phases on the same day. The Hokies did on Saturday and they looked unstoppable.
And the best part of Saturday’s game? Stroman was wearing Beamer’s No. 25 for the day.
Jerod Evans continues to get better.
Heading into the season, quarterback was arguably Tech’s biggest question mark. People knew how good Evans was in junior college. But to play at that level against much better competition was going to be quite the challenge for Evans.
So far, he’s passed with flying colors.
Evans completed 13 of 20 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. He also rushed 10 times for 97 yards, including a highlight-reel 55-yard touchdown run.
For the season, Evans has completed 69 of 103 passes for 970 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception. His lone pick was off a tipped ball. He’s averaging over nine yards per attempt, while completing 67 percent of his passes. He’s also rushed for 209 yards on 40 attempts.
Evans is ranked No. 4 nationally in passing efficiency and we’d likely hear more about him if not for Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The 6’4”, 235-pound junior will face a stiff test next week at UNC. If he leads the Hokies to another victory, people around the nation will start taking notice of Evans.
Ken Ekanem is quietly having a big season.
Virginia Tech is off to another great start defensively. What’s new, right?
The Hokies are No. 9 in total defense, getting after the quarterback and forcing turnovers. That’s what longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster is accustomed to. Leading the charge for this year’s group is senior defensive end Ken Ekanem.
Through four games this fall, Ekanem has 17 tackles, 5 1⁄2 tackles for loss and 4 1⁄2 sacks. After Saturday’s performance against ECU where Ekanem registered five tackles and two sacks, he was named ACC defensive lineman of the week.
In recent seasons, the Hokies’ defensive ends struggled to generate a lot of pressure, leading Foster to depend even more on the blitz. With Ekanem getting to the quarterback often, fellow defensive end Vinny Mihota is also having a strong season. Virginia Tech’s defensive tackles are also good at creating pressure.
Ekanem, though, is arguably Tech’s defensive MVP through the first month. He’s making everyone around him better and opposing quarterbacks extremely uncomfortable. Sacks are sometimes a deceiving stat, as Ekanem has often lived in the opponent’s backfield. If you don’t believe that, go back and watch Ekanem against Tennessee.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ekanem has generated QB pressure on 18 of 89 pass-rush snaps. That’s the highest number in the ACC.
VT's Ken Ekanem has generated a QB pressure on 18 of 89 pass rush snaps so far, the best Pass Rush Productivity of any ACC edge defender. pic.twitter.com/5KRsqPwYvf— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 26, 2016
If Ekanem keeps that up, he will earn a place on the All-ACC first team, or even more.
Big plays on defense must be stopped.
The Hokies won by 37 points and have one of the top defensive units in the nation. So there’s not a lot you can say about them on that side of the ball.
Except that both of East Carolina’s touchdowns were over 70 yards. Both scores came when the majority of Tech’s starters were still in the game. Against better competition, that won’t cut it.
Call it blown coverage, missed assignments or Foster being too aggressive, the Pirates still made some big plays at Tech’s expense. Sure, the game was out of hand, but Tech’s aggressive style sometimes creates big plays for the opposition.
It didn’t hurt them against ECU—a fairly good offensive football team—but it could come back to hurt them against a team like North Carolina. The Tar Heels are an explosive bunch and are more apt to take advantage of aggressive play-calling.
Hokies need more from the running game.
Evans had the exciting 55-yard touchdown run against ECU and 97 yards total on the ground. As a team, the Hokies rushed for 167 yards on 45 attempts.
If you look closely at Tech’s total rushing numbers you’ll see players other than Evans combined for 70 yards on 35 rushes. Consider backup quarterback Brenden Motley ran the ball five times for 26 yards and you’ll see VT’s rushing numbers were meager.
Four Virginia Tech running backs combined to carry the ball 25 times for 58 yards. Senior fullback Sam Rogers led the way with nine carries for 29 yards. Last year’s leading rusher, Travon McMillian, found things difficult as he carried the ball nine times for 10 yards.
That’s just not going to cut it.
Part of the problem is the Hokies need to settle on a running back. Sure, it’s OK that several different players get involved in the game. However, a strong running game often depends on one player getting enough opportunities to get going. It’s tough for any runner to have a big game—especially against a strong defense—when they’re only getting a few touches.
Marshawn Williams brings power to the table and he looks all the way back from two knee surgeries. Shai McKenzie, a former top recruit, has also had two knee injuries. He, too, looks all the way back. But Tech’s most talented and explosive runner is McMillian. The offensive coaching staff must keep him more involved, including in the screen game.
As the Hokies get into the meat of the ACC schedule they’re going to need to run the football with more consistency. If they can manage to do that, this offense could be unstoppable.