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Virginia Tech football: 5 takeaways in Hokies’ 25-24 loss to Miami

The Hokies are now 4-4 on the season.

Virginia Tech v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Virginia Tech Hokies led the Miami Hurricanes all day in Saturday’s loss until late in the fourth quarter. Miami went ahead by one point at 25-24, but the Hokies had plenty of time — and opportunities — yet fell short and dropped to 4-4 on the season.

The loss is Tech’s second straight and third in four weeks. A once-promising season is now off the rails as the Hokies travel to Pittsburgh next week. Does anyone remember Virginia Tech’s last trip to the Steel City?

The win over N.C. State back on Sept. 26 feels like so long ago. This Virginia Tech team, despite all of the issues with COVID-19 in the early weeks of the season, looked like it could compete to be No. 2 in the ACC in 2020.

Now, the ACC is clearly a race between Clemson and Notre Dame. The rest of the league is a mess.

Sound familiar?

Anyway, let’s take a look at our five takeaways from Virginia Tech’s loss to Miami.

Kudos to the defense

We’ve been plenty critical of the defense. And rightfully so. That unit, with first-year coordinator Justin Hamilton has had its share of issues this season.

Against Miami, the defense did its job. The defense played well enough to win the football game. And for over 50 minutes, it appeared the offense was doing its job, too. More on that later.

The Hokies limited Miami’s running game, as the Hurricanes finished with 131 yards but only 2.7 yards per attempt. Of course, those numbers were helped by six Virginia Tech sacks.

Several times on third down, the Hokies got off the field because of a key sack. That’s been missing. The Hokies got most of their pressure on the inside with defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt having the best game of his career with 2.5 sacks.

Hamilton showed a lot of growth as a defensive coordinator yesterday. It was encouraging to see. Sure, there were things you could nitpick, but I liked the way he was mixing coverages and sending pressure from all angles. It was encouraging — and it worked.

Here’s hoping the defense has a strong finish to this season.

Dax Hollifield was fantastic

Junior linebacker Dax Hollifield came to Virginia Tech in 2018 hyped as a future star. Things haven’t always been easy for Hollifield with the Hokies, in part because he has often played out of position. He has some very good moments, but lacked consistency.

In the loss to Miami, Hollifield left it all on the field.

Hollifield had, arguably, the best game of his Virginia Tech career. He was active all day in both the running game and rushing the passer. He finished the game with 13 tackles, including one for loss and a sack. The one sack was actually two half-sacks. Hollifield was around the quarterback a lot on Saturday.

Hollifield also saved the Hokies four points as he singlehandedly made two plays on both of Miami’s two-point conversion attempts.

Hollifield is the ultimate Hokie — and teammate. It was nice to see him have a strong game on Saturday. Hopefully, it’s a springboard for the final stretch of the season.

All-ACC linebacker Rayshard Ashby also had his best game of 2020, too.

Offensive playcalling remains an issue

I get it. Everyone wants to complain about the offensive coordinator. Only it is warranted for Virginia Tech’s Brad Cornelsen.

There are so many issues we could point to in our critique of Cornelsen. On two different third downs late in the second half, Cornelsen called a zone-read where quarterback Hendon Hooker would either hand to the running back or keep. On both occurrences, the Hokies ended up punting.

There is nothing wrong the zone-read. It fits this offense. But where is the imagination on third down? These were obvious passing situations, too. Cornelsen and head coach Justin Fuente — a noted offensive guru before arriving in Blacksburg — lack imagination on offense.

When the Hokies are running the ball down the throats of their opponent, Cornelsen will call three straight pass plays. When the Hokies need a first down badly and the running game is sputtering, Cornelsen calls for three straight runs.

At some point, Fuente needs to take ownership of his offense. Yes, it is his offense. Regardless of how much fans blame Cornelsen, deservedly I admit, it’s still Fuente’s offense. The blame lies at his foot as well.

This is a good group of players on offense. There are multiple future NFL players on the offensive line. James Mitchell, Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson, Khalil Herbert, Raheem Blackshear and Hooker are a really talented core of players.

Help them out.

Jalen Holston has himself a day

Junior running back Jalen Holston didn’t have an eye-popping day when looking at the statistics. He ran the ball four times for 36, for an average of nine yards per attempt, and two touchdowns.

You would’ve had to watch to understand Holston’s impact.

With Khalil Herbert slowed by a hamstring injury and Raheem Blackshear not finding much running room, Holston saw more playing time on Saturday. He ran with power, speed, vision and played angry.

It was a delight to see.

Holston was one of several Hokies who deserved a better outcome on Sunday. He deserves more playing time and looks like he could be Tech’s top back in 2021 if he decides to return.

Make no mistake, Herbert is — and should be — Virginia Tech’s starting running back when healthy. But Holston has worked hard and deserves more opportunities moving forward.

Two other things you won’t see in the stat sheet was a block Holston had for Hooker on one of his runs. Also, when Hooker was in the pocket looking for an open receiver, Holston came back to his quarterback and got the much-needed first down.

Former players sounding off on Twitter

After another loss on Saturday, some former players took to Twitter to share their thoughts on some members of this coaching staff.

Trevon Hill, who was dismissed by Fuente two years ago, said he loved Virginia Tech, but has no love for the head coach.

He had even more to say.

We’ve all heard why Hill was dismissed and we aren’t getting into that on here. If the stories are true, and I have several people telling me they were, Fuente was absolutely correct in this situation.

However, when a former player says things on a public forum such as Twitter, others listen — right or wrong.

Former receiver Hezekiah Grimsley was commenting on how well Holston played when a fan responded that Cornelsen should be gone ASAP.

Grimsley, who was a respected leader during his time in Blacksburg before entering the transfer portal last offseason, had this to say.

Again, Grimsley did everything right during his time with the Hokies before transferring to Hampton for his final season. His words carry weight.

The Hokies aren’t the only team whose former players go to social media and trash them. It is 2020. It happens in a lot of places for various reasons. The presence of social media creates another avenue for the disgruntled. But that’s not to say everything they say is wrong.

If the Hokies don’t finish strong on the field, expect a lot more of this in the final month of the season.