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Virginia Tech football: 5 takeaways from Hokies’ loss at Boston College

It wasn’t all bad.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Virginia Tech at Boston College
Virginia Tech vs. Boston College

The Virginia Tech Hokies opened the 2019 season with a 35-28 loss at Boston College on Saturday. The game featured explosive offense, bad defense, a plethora of turnovers followed by a much better defensive effort in the second half. It was an unfortunate beginning to the season for the Hokies who are looking to forget last season.

Now that we’ve had a couple of days to digest that tough season-opening loss, here are five takeaways from the Hokies’ performance at Boston College.

Offense was explosive

If we do a simple glance at the box score from Saturday’s game, you’ll see some pretty gaudy numbers from Virginia Tech’s passing game. The Hokies passed for 344 yards and four touchdowns. Multiple receivers had big games, whether it was Hezekiah Grimsley’s four receptions for 98 yards and a score, or Tayvion Robinson catching six passes for 72 yards and a score.

Boston College had a defense that returned just four starters and the Hokies attacked. Quarterback Ryan Willis was aggressive and moved the ball at will. If not for self-inflicted mistakes, Virginia Tech would’ve put up over 40 points against the Eagles. That’s an impressive beginning. We know the strength of this team is the offense, specifically the wide receivers and tight ends. It was nice seeing everyone involved on Saturday.

Impressive debuts

Robinson, a true freshman, was outstanding in his first career game. We’ve heard all summer long that he was going to play a major role this season. In his first game, he led the Hokies in receptions and finished second on the team with 72 yards. He will only continue to get better and that’s a scary proposition for opponents trying to contain Tre Turner, Damon Hazelton, Grimsley, Dalton Keene and James Mitchell.

Another receiver who made his debut was redshirt freshman walk-on Kaleb Smith. Playing primarily in Hazelton’s spot, Smith caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. He ran crisp routes, showed solid speed and outstanding hands. Add him to the mix as another impressive receiver for the Hokies. Quarterbacks are going to love Smith because he is reliable.

While it wasn’t his debut, James Mitchell was more involved in the passing game than at any point last season. Mitchell caught two passes for 22 yards and a score. He will continue to be featured either in multiple tight-end sets or lining up in the slot for the Hokies. Mitchell has enormous potential and he is only scratching the surface.

Willis’ turnovers decided the game

You can’t turn the ball over four times and expect to win the game. Overall, the Hokies turned the ball over five times, one of which came on a Grimsley fumble during a punt return. The other four were on Willis. He was picked off three times, including twice in the end zone, while his other two turnovers came in Virginia Tech territory, making it a short field for Boston College.

Willis can excite you with the way he moves the ball with ease up and down the field. It’s clear the receivers love playing with him because he gives his guys a chance and is never locked in on one guy. However, anything positive he does will always be nullified if he is turning the ball over.

If he turns the ball over on Saturday, we need to see Hendon Hooker get some time. You are wasting a potentially elite offense if you are losing the turnover battle each week. Hopefully, Willis bounces back and performs much better against ODU on Saturday than Josh Jackson did last September.

Defense shaky early but settled down

If you watched that first half and saw the Boston College receivers get behind the Hokie secondary on multiple occasions, you probably had flashbacks from a year ago. Well, after a rough start, Bud Foster’s group settled down and did a nice job. The Hokies effectively shut down Boston College’s passing game in the second and, most importantly, held A.J. Dillon to 81 yards on 23 carries. If you had asked me one week ago those would be Dillon’s stats I would have been confident in a Virginia Tech victory.

Early in the game, the Hokies weren’t getting penetration up front and the secondary appeared a step slow. Foster adjusted as the game wore on and some notable young players were impressive on defense, including defensive tackles Norell Pollard and Mario Kendricks.

This was a positive step as the young defense overcame adversity to play fairly well, outside of Boston College’s game-winning 3rd-and-9 conversion late in the fourth quarter.

Where’s the pass rush?

Bud Foster’s defense has always been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and create turnovers. In the loss at B.C., the Hokies struggled in both areas. They did pick off one pass, a trick play, but outside of that they did very little. The Hokies finished with just one sack on Saturday, by Rayshard Ashby, who was everywhere.

We know Tech’s prospective top pass-rusher, TyJuan Garbutt, was taken out by a very questionable play and could miss a few weeks. That’s not good. Garbutt could be back soon or it could be a few games, we must wait and see. In the meantime, the Hokies need Emmanuel Belmar, Jaevon Becton and Eli Adams to step up. This is a thin group and there’s next to no experience at the position. But if the Hokies can’t get after the passer, it could make life even more difficult for a secondary trying to gain its footing, too.

I would like to see Adams get even more time this weekend as I do believe he could be a true gem for this defense.