The Virginia Tech Hokies fell to 4-6 on the season after an ugly 45-10 loss to the No. 3 Clemson Tigers on Saturday.
While the final score is ugly, the Hokies were actually within one score of the mighty Tigers into the third quarter. However, with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence had a seven-yard touchdown run to make it 24-10 Clemson.
That’s all the Tigers would need.
On the very next possession, the Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker would fumble the snap, which Clemson returned for a touchdown to blow the game open.
Clemson would go on to score two more touchdowns en route to the decisive 45-10 victory.
Here are our five takeways from the game.
It was clear, the Hokies planned to burn as much clock as possible to keep Clemson’s offense off the field. For awhile, it worked brilliantly. The Hokies had a 7-3 lead early and were only down 17-10 at halftime.
Tech did some good things on offense, such as feeding star running back Khalil Herbert the ball over 20 times and getting Raheem Blackshear in space.
For the first time all year, Blackshear was actually moved around and he excelled. He caught four passes for 68 yards, one of which was the hail mary at the end of the first half. While it was nice to Blackshear involved, you couldn’t help but lament about why this wasn’t happening in the first nine games?
We’ll get to that last offensive sequence in the first half later.
As the game moved into the third quarter, the offense fell flat. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. The Hokies were once again let down by offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen. While other teams adjust at the half, Cornelsen does not. At this point it’s clear he just isn’t capable of making adjustments.
That’s unfortunate with all the talent Virginia Tech has essentially squandered on offense in the last few years.
Khalil Herbert was outstanding
When the NFL goes to evaluate Khalil Herbert this winter, they will put in the Clemson tape.
And that’s great news for Herbert.
Yes, Virginia Tech has an outstanding offensive line, but Herbert is such a patient runner with elite vision. He has good speed, too. On more than one occasion, Herbert appeared to be stuffed for no gain, yet stopped, cut back inside and picked up positive yardage.
It’s a shame we don’t get him for more than one season.
Herbert rushed for 96 yards on 21 attempts and scored Virginia Tech’s only touchdown. He also went over 1,000 yards on the season, despite missing a large portion of two games.
For a good portion of this game, it was Virginia Tech’s own mistakes that were killing any shot at pulling the upset.
On the first possession of the game, quarterback Hendon Hooker had the Hokies driving deep into Clemson territory before fumbling the snap and losing over 20 yards. While Tech did not lose the ball, it killed the possession and the Hokies had to punt two plays later.
Then there was center Brock Hoffman. On another promising Tech drive, Hoffman jumped on a Clemson player after the whistle and cost the Hokies 15 yards. Another drive-killer. Later in the game, he also had a chop block which cost Tech valuable yards after forcing a Clemson turnover.
He was benched.
#Hokies coach Justin Fuente on Brock Hoffman's two big drive-killing penalties, pulling him from game: "I thought they were unforced errors, and you can’t have those when you play teams like this...He’s probably not very happy with me right now. I understand that."— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) December 6, 2020
Armani Chatman made a few nice plays on the ball, however, there was one in the first quarter that him in the hands and he couldn’t hang on to the football. There was nothing but green grass in front of Chatman had he caught the ball as Clemson was on its side of the field.
Hooker, who was replaced by Braxton Burmeister after the first snap issue, reentered the game in the second half. He mishandled another snap and left the game with an injury. That would essentially end any shot Virginia Tech had at winning the game.
There was also the Blackshear catch that literally came just inches short of tying the game at the half. You can’t blame Blackshear on that as he made an outstanding play, but it was another example of the Hokies coming up short in many aspects.
End of first half
After Clemson scored to make it 17-10, Virginia Tech would get the ball back with 1:06 remaining in the first half and three timeouts.
That’s a lot of time to at least get into field goal range.
So what does Justin Fuente do?
Sticks with the same plan of holding onto the football and trying to melt the game away.
First of all, you are 4-5, playing one of the top two programs in all of college football and you are in the game. What do you have to lose?
Instead, he coached scared. What’s even worse, he defended it after the game.
Despite that, Herbert had a long run which set up one more play before the half. Burmeister tossed a hail mary that bounced off a Clemson defender into the hands of Blackshear who was mere inches from scoring.
Give credit to Burmeister and Blackshear. They almost pulled the impossible.
It’s another instance of the coaches failing their players.
All season long, the defense has struggled. New defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton was thrust into a position where he had no experience and a lack of talent.
As the season has progressed, his defense has had some good moments and some really bad moments.
Against Clemson, Hamilton called a strong game. He was aggressive in his pressure packages and his group tackled well early in the game. His defense kept this game close until they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter.
When you look at the final score and see 45 points, it’s not a complete reflection of this defense. Divine Deablo picked off Lawrence in the end zone and the Hokies also held the presumptive No. 1 overall pick to just 192 passing yards and 12 completions.
In the end, the Hokies lost. This is a team game. However, Hamilton’s defense came out fired up and played a good game for much of the evening. Most importantly, they didn’t play scared.
The Hokies could be in trouble at quarterback for next week’s game against Virginia. Hooker was beat up entering the game, only played a couple of series and really struggled. He looked dazed and hurt on the sideline after being pulled.
His health is something to monitor this week.
Burmeister played well. He is limited as a passer, but he is not afraid. Burmeister hit on a few big plays, including one to Tayvion Robinson to set up Tech’s only score. He also took a bit hit in the second half and had to exit the game.
Redshirt freshman Knox Kadum entered the game for his first action. The moment didn’t appear too big for Kadum and he could be in line to make his first career start next week.
We are all hoping for good news on Hooker and Burmeister this week.