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Virginia Tech football: 5 takeaways from the Hokies loss to Notre Dame

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There are plenty of things to discuss from last week.

Notre Dame v Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech RB Steven Peoples with a big run against Notre Dame
Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

The Virginia Tech Hokies rolled out the red carpet on Saturday for just about everyone. Frank Beamer, ESPN, Hokie Nation and well over one hundred potential recruits enjoyed the Hokies’ hospitality. Lane Stadium was an amazing place to be on Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Virginia Tech football team couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain and fans were left with another disappointing, high-profile defeat.

Make no mistake, Notre Dame was the better team. The Fighting Irish were more talented and much more experienced. Notre Dame was much bigger in the trenches and as the game wore on, that difference played a large part in the outcome.

So, with Saturday in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look back at our five biggest takeaways from Tech’s disappointing 45-23 loss to Notre Dame.

Ryan Willis tried to do too much

Quarterback Ryan Willis had his moments in his first home start at Lane Stadium. Willis completed 31 of 52 passes for 309 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also had a critical fumble in the first half that was returned for a touchdown and allowed the Fighting Irish to go up 17-9.

But right after that turnover, Willis led the Hokies down the field on an impressive eight-play, 75-yard drive that lasted just 56 seconds to make it a one-point game just before the half. Willis showed impressive resilience in bouncing back from a turnover that could’ve changed the game immediately.

It didn’t. And that’s because of the poise Willis displayed on Tech’s first touchdown drive of the night.

In just two weeks, we’ve seen enough from Willis to know that he’s the best quarterback for this team in 2018. He gives his receivers a chance and is never afraid to attack downfield. Now, we just need to see Willis involve the tight ends more. And I don’t necessarily blame Willis for that, as I believe it is more of an issue with playcalling and play design.

But as head coach Justin Fuente said after the game, at times his quarterback was trying to carry the team on his back. And it resulted in a few mistakes. However, Hokie Nation should be encouraged by the play of Willis.

Another big home loss

There are lots of stats out there about how the Hokies have performed in Lane Stadium over the last decade. The Hokies haven’t beaten a ranked team in Lane Stadium since 2009. Yes, that sounds a lot worse than it probably is, however, it is still a bit alarming.

Remember when opposing teams feared coming into Lane Stadium? That doesn’t exist anymore. It’s up to the Hokies to change that. It is going to take beating a big-time team to change the perception about the Hokies and their home-field advantage.

You have to give Virginia Tech credit. There are plenty of people doing a great job in creating an amazing environment. Now, it’s up the coaches and players to do their part. The Hokies still have home games this season with Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami and Virginia. While those teams aren’t Clemson or Notre Dame, running the table would go a long way in re-establishing Lane Stadium as a place visiting teams want to avoid.

The pomp & circumstance is great, but fans want—and deserve—more.

The secondary is bad

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book took shot after shot against the Hokies on Saturday night. Fortunately for Tech, Book missed far more than he connected. The Fighting Irish had receivers running free all night and the score could’ve been worse.

Two defensive backs who had particularly rough nights were cornerback Jovonn Quillen and safety Tyree Rodgers. Quillen, a junior, and Rodgers a redshirt sophomore, both had their issues against Notre Dame. Quillen has had some positive moments this season in his first extensive playing time at corner. Rodgers, in for injured safety Divine Deablo, was behind on several passes in the first half. He appeared to calm down as the game progressed.

Caleb Farley was terrific in the opener at Florida State. Since that time, he’s battled throughs ups and downs. That’s normal. He is a redshirt freshman playing a new position. Farley has the chance to be a special player, but you have to expect the occasional struggles his first year.

It is amazing how much this team misses Deablo when he is out. Much like Farley, Deablo was mostly an offensive player before making the switch. Deablo is outstanding when he is on the field, unfortunately he misses a lot of time and we may never see him realize his full potential.

This group needs a good pass rush. They didn’t get that against a strong and powerful Notre Dame offensive line. You have to believe the secondary will be much better next year as these kids gain more experience and the Hokies experience another influx of talent in the offseason. But for now, expect this group to have those same ups and down on a weekly basis.

Offensive line cost the Hokies

Whether is was Zachariah Hoyt, Kyle Chung or Christian Darrisaw, the offensive line had its share of mistakes on Saturday. Hoyt had two more snapping infractions. He has the potential to be a solid center for the Hokies, but he must get his snaps under control. That’s kind of important for a center. At this point, the Hokies should continue to stick with him if he can continue to show improvement in that area.

Chung, the sixth-year senior, had a costly false start that stalled another promising drive.

Darrisaw’s penalty was probably the most costly. VT called for a trick play where receiver Hezekiah Grimsley would take a reverse and then pass it to receiver Sean Savoy. It worked to perfection and the Hokies answered Notre Dame’s opening touchdown drive.

Sadly, Darrisaw went too far down the field, costing the Hokies four points in the process as they would eventually settle for a field goal. This was a huge blow. Savoy was wide open and Grimsley threw a perfect pass.

Final thoughts

There are so many takeaways from this game that it can’t be just five. Missed opportunities was the theme of the night for the Hokies. Steven Peoples had a beautiful 41-yard run where he got all the way to the Notre Dame 1-yard line. Unfortunately, he fell just short of the end zone. Tech had three straight chances to get it in and couldn’t do it. The third-down play was particularly embarrassing as Willis went back to hand off to Peoples and they bumped into one another.

Why did Brad Cornelson call three straight runs up the gut? I get his thinking on one point: if you can’t get it in from one yard out you don’t deserve to win. However, why not line up in a heavy formation and go play action to one of the many talented tight ends on the roster?

The Hokies have Dalton Keene, James Mitchell, Chris Cunningham and Drake Deiuliis. How about they use them? I cannot stress that enough.

Speaking of questionable coaching decisions. With the Hokies down 15 in the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech faced a fourth down and instead of going for it, Fuente sent the field-goal unit on the field to attempt a 52-yard kick. No offense to Brian Johnson, but he isn’t Shayne Graham—at least not right now. And you could’ve been in the game had you went for it and converted. For the most part, Tech had no trouble moving the ball up and down the field.

I would like to hear Fuente’s thinking on the two long field-goal attempts. College kickers aren’t very accurate from around 50 yards and you’re often better off just lining up and going for it. You were down two score anyway, so why not?

The Hokies didn’t embarrass themselves on Saturday night. They played well for awhile, however, the better team won and there is no shame in that. At some point, Fuente is going to need a statement win at home. With the loss, the Hokies fall to 3-2 and they are still undefeated in ACC play. All of Virginia Tech’s six remaining games are in conference play and they have a shot at running the table. I wouldn’t predict that, of course, as this is a very unpredictable team.

Buckle up, Hokie Nation. The remaining six weeks of the season should be fun and you should continue to support this squad.