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Virginia Tech football: 5 takeaways in 31-17 loss to Clemson

A look back at Virginia Tech’s loss to Clemson.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson against Clemson
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Tech Hokies finally lost their first game of the 2017 season on Saturday night to No. 2 Clemson, 31-17. It was expected, however, it was disappointing nonetheless.

Clemson is the No. 2 team in the nation for a season. They have multiple first-round picks on the offensive and defensive lines, speed and power at the running back position and playmakers on the outside. Quarterback Kelly Bryant isn’t Deshaun Watson, but he’s pretty good in his own right. His legs gave the Hokies trouble all night.

Here are five takeaways from Tech’s first loss of the season.

Josh Jackson had his ups and downs

The freshman quarterback faced the first elite defense of his career against Clemson and acquitted himself nicely. No, he wasn’t great, but neither was his teammates. Jackson completed 29 of 44 passes for 251 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. His first pick was right off the hands of receiver Henri Murphy and it was easily returned for a Clemson score.

Despite heavy pressure, Jackson stood in the pocket and made several big throws. His touchdown pass late to Sean Savoy was a thing of beauty.

This was a tough loss for the Hokies but could prove to be a learning experience for Jackson. Never once did the freshman look overwhelmed. He took some big hits and kept getting back up.

Tackling was an issue

There seems to be a game or two every year where Bud Foster’s defense forgets how to tackle. Let’s hope this was that game and it doesn’t happen again in 2017. Numerous times on Clemson scoring drives, would-be tacklers failed to wrap up the ball-carrier and it led to big plays by the Tigers.

The Hokies really struggled to bring down Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. The 6’4”, 220-pound quarterback is a nifty runner, but too often the Hokies had him in the backfield and couldn’t bring him down. It cost Tech four points on one drive. Had the Hokies tackled Bryant, Clemson likely settles for a field goal. Instead, Clemson scores a touchdown on the next play. Emmanuel Belmar, Andrew Motuapuaka and Houshun Gaines all missed him. Motuapuaka failed twice to bring Bryant down.

There was sloppy tackling by the cornerbacks on more than one occasion, too.

Travon McMillian’s fumble costly

The junior running back showed flashes early in this game that he was going to break a big play and take it the house. He hit holes with speed and looked decisive. However, his third-quarter fumble was a back-breaker. There was some momentum on the side of Virginia Tech and that fumble essentially ended the game.

This is exactly why the coaches don’t completely trust McMillian. He has tremendous talent with the football in his hand, but fumbling has been an issue with him. Pass-protection has also been an issue. If McMillian could prove to be more consistent, head coach Justin Fuente would rotate the backs with less frequency.

Sadly, this just appears to be who McMillian is at this point. He will continue to rotate at running back, but will never be trusted to be the bell-cow.

Fox and Murphy impress

Virginia Tech’s quest for playmakers may have found two more contributors on Saturday night. Murphy, despite the drop that led to a pick-six, caught three balls for 43 yards. Going into the season, we’d heard Murphy was still green at the receiver position and lower on the depth chart. However, anytime Murphy gets the ball in his hands he looks like the fastest guy on the field.

Against Clemson, he looked much more comfortable at the receiver position. Fuente must continue finding ways to get him involved in the offense. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

The other surprising contributor on Saturday was redshirt sophomore running back Coleman Fox. Fox got on the field late in the game and carried the ball five times for 39 yards and caught four passes for 13 yards. Fox didn’t just gain garbage yards, he was making guys miss. He is a natural at catching the football and can certainly help this offense given more opportunities.

Moving on to Boston College

The Hokies were amped up for this one. It was a national stage and a prime-time game against the nation’s No. 2 team. They lost. Now, Virginia Tech must move on from the disappointment and frustration of its first loss of the season.

Trips to Chestnut Hill have sometimes been an issue for the Hokies over the years. The Eagles play solid defense and it usually keeps them in games. Outside linebacker Harold Landry is one of the better players in the country. So, while the Hokies are a much, much better team than Boston College, winning won’t be as easy as just showing up.

If the Hokies can dispatch BC, they’ll get a week off before two consecutive home games against North Carolina and Duke. Those are critical games. Tech can still win the ACC Coastal Division and get another date with Clemson, but first must take care of business, one week at a time.