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Virginia Tech football: 5 takeaways in Hokies’ 38-31 win over Duke

Virginia Tech is now 2-0 on the season.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Duke
Virginia Tech RB Khalil Herbert
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Tech Hokies narrowly defeated the Duke Blue Devils 38-31 on Saturday to move to 2-0 on the season.

Much of the talk regarding this game centered on revenge for the Hokies, who suffered an embarrassing blowout loss to the Blue Devils last September.

Unfortunately for the Hokies, they were entering this game down 21 players and two coaches, including defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton, due to COVID-19.

To make matters worse, it was one position group that suffered the most. Virginia Tech’s top four cornerbacks and starting free safety were all out of action. While Duke doesn’t possess an elite air attack, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Tech’s defense.

Ultimately, the Hokies persevered and pulled out a gritty 38-31 win to keep the Blue Devils winless.

Here are five takeaways from Virginia Tech’s win.

Khalil Herbert is ridiculously good

The senior running back who transferred from Kansas may have a spot reserved on this list for the remainder of the season.

It was another amazing performance from Herbert, who rushed for 100 yards in his debut. Against Duke, Herbert carried the ball 20 times for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

Herbert’s impact wasn’t just on offense.

He also returned three kickoffs for a total of 150 yards. One such kickoff he took to the house from 99 yards out, but after further review his left toe barely stepped out around Duke’s 16-yard line. That play sparked Tech’s offense in the second half.

Through two games, Herbert has rushed for 312 yards on just 26 attempts with three touchdowns. Herbert has also caught two passes for 46 yards, in addition to his outstanding work on special teams.

How about that offensive line?

For as much praise as Herbert deserves, how about this Virginia Tech offensive line?

The Hokies are blowing defenders off the ball, dominating the line of scrimmage, while also giving quarterbacks time to operate in the pocket.

For the second straight week, the Hokies rushed for over 300 yards as a team. When was the last time we could say that about Virginia Tech’s offense?

While many Hokie fans were screaming at their respective TVs in the first half due to the lack of productivity on offense, the offensive line completely took over the game in the second half. Not only did Tech’s line block everyone in sight, receivers such as Tayvion Robinson, Tre Turner and Kaleb Smith were springing big runs with blocks on the edge.

This Virginia Tech team is tough. Physically tough. Mentally tough.

The offense needs Hendon Hooker

For the second straight week, Braxton Burmeister got the start at quarterback. Last week, it made sense. This week, not so much. We believe the reasoning to be head coach Justin Fuente didn’t feel starting quarterback Hendon Hooker had enough practice time.

Ok. But for the Hokies to defeat a North Carolina team next week that is now one of college football’s darlings, they’ll need Hooker under center.

Burmeister had some struggles passing the football. He completed just nine of 24 attempts for 163 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for two touchdowns. He did seem to get going in the second half as Tech’s offense took off.

Next week is a must-win game for the Hokies for several reasons. UNC — to a lesser degree than Miami — is always overrated. However, this version is good. Tech will need Hooker’s arm next week to create more big plays in the passing game.

Burmeister has proven he can play — and win — but Hooker is the right guy for this team.

Tyler Matheny has himself a day

The Virginia Tech program was built on overachievers and hard work. The legacy of the walk-on is special at Virginia Tech. So many great defenders in program history began as a walk-on before becoming starters and even more.

Enter Tyler Matheny.

Pressed into duty at safety with Divine Deablo and J.R. Walker sidelined, Matheny delivered.

The 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore from Lake Braddock High in Fairfax finished third on the team in tackles with seven, including two tackles for loss and an interception.

Presumably, Deablo and Walker return next week against the Tar Heels, however, Matheny showed on Saturday he belongs at this level.

It was truly an outstanding performance by the defense

You can ignore Duke’s final offensive numbers if you are looking for a way to judge Virginia Tech’s defensive performance on Saturday. The Blue Devils passed for 271 yards while rushing for 139 yards.

Impressive enough, right?

Considering much of Duke’s yardage came on two scoring drives late in the second half, Virginia Tech’s undermanned defense really had a special effort in this game.

The Hokies were without Jermaine Waller, Armani Chatman, Brion Murray, Devin Taylor, Divine Deablo, J.R. Walker and Alan Tisdale on Saturday. All are either starters or major contributors to Tech’s defense.

The Hokies were left with a walk-on at one safety spot, and a true freshman and inexperienced sophomore at corner. They took their lumps, but overall acquitted themselves quite nicely.

Tech’s defensive line continues to thrive as Emmanuel Belmar recorded a career-high three sacks and Amare Barno showed his massive potential at defensive end with two sacks.

This was a team effort from the coaches, to the players, to the medical staff.

It wasn’t easy, but Virginia Tech is now 2-0 on the young season.