Labor Day 2018 will likely go down as one the best nights in Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente’s tenure thus far in Blacksburg. The Hokies dominated Florida State on the road and walked away with an impressive 24-3 victory and moved up to No. 12 in the polls.
This game was important for many reasons. There was a lot of doubt about this team. Mainly, it was about the unknown. How would the young defense handle their first real action? Could the Hokies run the football? Would Josh Jackson make enough plays in a hostile environment?
The answer was yes to all three questions. Jackson wasn’t perfect, but he took care of the football, managed the game and had a few nice throws. Deshawn McClease gave Tech a lift in the running game and Bud Foster kept adding to his legend.
Overall, it was a splendid night to be a Virginia Tech fan. Now that we’ve a couple of days to think about it, here are five takeaways from Virginia Tech’s impressive win.
The Hokies were starting new faces all over the defense. All new group of linebackers and three new starters in the secondary and one new starter on the defensive line. Fortunately for the Hokies, Ricky Walker and Trevon Hill were two of the returning starters. The ‘Noles couldn’t block Tech’s front four all night. Hill dominated FSU’s tackles, finishing with two sacks and three tackles for loss. He could be set for a big year.
The secondary was outstanding, in large part due to the Hokies ability to get to the passer. Overall, VT forced five turnovers.
Florida State could get nothing going. When the Seminoles tried to get wide, VT’s speed was too much and the Hokies stopped them with ease.
ESPN had an amazing stat; 35 of Florida State’s 63 plays went for 0 or negative yards. That is a clip of 55.5 percent.
Of Florida State's 63 offensive plays tonight, 35 went for 0 or negative yards (55.5%).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 4, 2018
That is the highest percentage of negative plays for the Seminoles since Nov, 25, 2006 against Florida. pic.twitter.com/qKWcOfgFlK
Foster pitched a masterpiece.
Running Game was Strong
Steven Peoples got in some time and churned out some tough yards. That’s who Peoples is and why he is appreciated so much. However, he’s probably not going to break the big run.
McClease can do just that. McClease also looks like a stronger runner. Most around the program believe in McClease as he showed late last season he has the ability to be a solid back at this level. McClease had several big runs. The only problem was why the coaching staff didn’t give him more carries. On the night, McClease carried the ball 13 times for 77 yards. That is almost six yards per carry. The staff must do a better job of feeding McClease, especially when he is hot.
Deshawn McClease is having a nice start @saicko_slim pic.twitter.com/rJ9yRxiCmd— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 4, 2018
Freshman Terius Wheatley looked good, too. He has another gear and as the season moves forward he should definitely be more involved in the game plan.
The Hokies have made it a point to go after bigger and stronger receivers in recent recruiting cycles. There were several examples Monday night of why that strategy is a good one. Eric Kumah is becoming a very good receiver and the 6’2” junior looked like a future NFL player on the third-down catch he took to the house in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Damon Hazelton showed us what the hype was about on his touchdown catch, beating Levonta Taylor in the end zone. That felt good, right?
Hezekiah Grimsley was tremendous all night. And speaking of Taylor, did anyone catch that block where Grimsley rocked him? It was a clean and beautiful football play and is exactly why the sophomore receiver will quickly become a fan favorite.
Keep your head on a swivel... pic.twitter.com/OvSMNRELuc— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) September 4, 2018
Freshman Tre Turner made a huge catch to get the Hokies out of their own end zone at one point, going up and beating two defensive backs for for football. And as good as each of these guys looked, Phil Patterson could end up being the best of the bunch.
This is an exciting group and they’re only going to get better.
Young Guys Stood Out
Caleb Farley made his college debut and was one of the stars of the night. He picked off two passes and also had a sack of Deondre Francois. Farley’s size and speed is impressive and you can almost guarantee he will take one of those to the house soon. He certainly looks like the next great Virginia Tech defensive back.
Three sophomores started at the linebacker spots in Rayshard Ashby, Dylan Rivers and Khalil Ladler. All stood out. Ladler’s final stat line do not indicate how much of an impact he made on this game. The combination of him and Devon Hunter is an exciting one. Ashby was terrific in his first start at Mike and was around the ball all night, finishing with seven tackles, two for loss and a forced fumble. Rivers was equally impressive.
And remember the big play where Cam Akers broke the tackle and raced over 80 yards? Guess who ran him down? Sophomore cornerback Bryce Watts. This was such a momentum shift in the game and was one of the more unsung plays in the game. It showed terrific speed and hustle.
Difference between a good and a great defense! Great effort and pursuit resulted with a turnover to end the drive. Bryce Watts! pic.twitter.com/NWeH7sUHbA— WeAreDBnation (@WeAreDBNation1) September 4, 2018
Bradburn a Secret Weapon
If you just take a look at punter Oscar Bradburn’s final stats you probably wouldn’t be too impressed. Bradburn punted the ball 9 times for an average of 39.9 yards per kick. However, the key stat you should know is that four of his punts landed inside Florida State’s 12-yard line and in. He’s a big reason the ‘Noles had such terrible field position all evening.
Bradburn is capable of banging out 50-yard punts on the norm, however, in this game he showed his versatility. If you have a punter like Bradburn combined with an outstanding defense that can create turnovers that is clearly a recipe for success.
There were so many heroes on Monday night it’s impossible to mention them all. One thing is for sure, it was a great night to be a Hokie and don’t let Willie Taggart tell you any different.