The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Virginia Cavaliers, 29-24, Saturday to ensure the Commonwealth Cup will remain in Blacksburg for another year.
Things didn’t look good for the Hokies early as they had to punt on the opening possession. Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong quickly marched down the field for a touchdown to give the Hoos an early 7-0 lead.
Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister would have none of it, connecting with wide receiver Tayvion Robinson on a 61-yard touchdown pass that was arguably his best throw of the season.
However, Virginia’s offense kept the pressure on the Hokies, as it continued to march up and down the field with ease and would go into halftime with a 21-17 lead.
The second half was a different story altogether as Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton made adjustments to create more pressure on Armstrong — and it worked.
Meanwhile, Tech’s running game did the bulk of the work on offense as Burmeister and running back Raheem Blackshear combined to rush for 284 of VT’s 320 rushing yards.
In the end, the Hokies held on for the win with an impressive second-half showing.
Here are our takeaways from Tech’s huge win to become bowl eligible.
The Cornelsen Effect
Let’s get this one out of the way so we can discuss more pleasurable topics. I liked Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen’s game plan in the first half. He was running the football, mixing it with the occasional pass. The run was working, so Cornelsen didn’t get too cute — and it was effective.
However, things changed in the second half. The continued rotation of quarterbacks Blumrick and Burmeister was a head-scratcher. Yes, he rotated the quarterbacks in the first half, but the timing of the substitutions was just bizarre in the second half. Multiple Virginia Tech drives stalled in the second half when Burmeister came out. Blumrick has a role on this team, but it’s not to come in and out on every series. Pick a guy and ride with him. Last week, it was Blumrick. This week, it was Burmeister.
There was one Hokie drive where Blackshear and Burmeister dominated early, getting the team across midfield, and it looked like those two would end the game. Inexplicably, in came Blumrick. The Hokies punted shortly thereafter.
Then, there was the fake reverse, QB run with Blumrick, where he fumbled, giving the Cavaliers another chance at a game-winning drive. The fumble wasn’t on Blumrick as he and tight end Nick Gallo collided. But the entire play was not needed. Why get too cute there? Run the ball down their throats. You are averaging seven yards per attempt, and they are gassed and defeated.
Again, Blumrick has a role here, but Burmeister gives the Hokies the best chance to win.
Ok, enough about Cornelsen. It’s over soon.
Congrats to J.C. Price
How can you not be happy for interim coach J.C. Price? An All-American defensive tackle at Virginia Tech, Price is ALL HOKIE. And it’s beautiful to see. Check out his postgame interview:
I’m not lying; I got a little misty-eyed watching that interview. And the more I watch it, the more I get fired up. How can you not love Price? This is a regular dude, who loves his school, the players, the area, etc. And he isn’t afraid to show it. Then there was the moment of him embracing his daughters.
No one deserved this more than Price. He understands his role here. But EVERY member of Hokie Nation is united behind Price, from the fans to the former players. He’s united a fractured fan base like no else in the last two weeks.
Sure, he’s not going to be the head coach, but he absolutely deserves a role on the next staff.
And check out his postgame tweet:
Havnt aged a bit…1995-2021— JC Price (@jcprice59) November 28, 2021
Same place same result
Let’s Go Hokies pic.twitter.com/aZM2kDpC2B
You are forever a legend in Blacksburg, Coach Price.
Kudos to Justin Hamilton
Hey, if we are going to honor former Hokie players, next up is defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton. It looked like the Hokies would allow 50 points to the Cavaliers in the first half. There appeared to be no answer. The Hokies got no pressure on Armstrong, wide receivers were constantly open, and it looked like some players wanted no part of the Hoos on their first touchdown.
As he has shown at times this season, Hamilton made some halftime adjustments, and his defense was much better in the final 30 minutes. The Hokies allowed just three points after halftime, getting more consistent pressure on Armstrong, while the defensive backs played tighter — and more aggressive — coverage.
Cornerback Dorian Strong had a rough showing early. Watch Strong in the second half. He looked like the player we saw in 2020. He was instrumental in Tech’s defensive dominance. Then, there was safety Tae Daley. Daley played the game of his life for the Hokies. He had one interception and was a physical presence on the back end of Virginia Tech’s defense. He broke up Armstrong’s final pass to preserve the win.
Let’s stop attacking Hamilton and whether or not he deserved the job. That’s irrelevant now. It was a good day for Hamilton on Saturday, and he played a significant role in the win.
Congrats, Coach Ham.
The offensive line
It was a dominant performance by Virginia Tech’s offensive line. Anytime you rush for over 300 yards and average close to seven yards per attempt, that means your offensive line was winning. The Hokies battled some injuries up front as All-ACC guard Lecitus Smith was hurt, and freshman Kaden Moore left for a bit.
This was a mix of veteran players like Smith, Luke Tenuta, Silas Dzansi and Brock Hoffman, combined with younger stalwarts like Moore and Parker Clements, dominating Virginia’s front seven.
For Virginia Tech fans, it’s exciting to see a dominant offensive line. And nothing is better than dominating your hated rival, breaking their will, and doing anything you want on offense.
First off, there were so many outstanding individual efforts Saturday to possibly name them all. Burmeister, Blackshear, Robinson, freshman wide receiver Da’Wain Lofton, Kaleb Smith, Daley, Strong, Norell Pollard, Amare Barno, Keshon Artis, Dax Hollifield, Jordan Williams and Amare Barno are just some of the players who made critical plays in the win.
I like some of the young talents on this team. Players like Lofton, Malachi Thomas and Moore are just a few of the players who have bright futures in Blacksburg. It’s a shame it took so long for Lofton and Thomas to see the field.
With the win, the Hokies are going bowling. At this point, who cares where the bowl is played. Let’s support Price and this team. This team has battled adversity all season, and Saturday was a special day for everyone from players and coaches to fans. They all deserved a happy ending. Now, they have one more shot at another happy ending.
We don’t know who the next Virginia Tech coach will be — or when it will be announced. Hopefully, the sooner, the better, so they can hang onto some promising players in a 2022 recruiting class that is still ranked in the top 20 nationally.
This coaching search has been full of twists and turns, but we can only trust athletic director Whit Babcock to find the right guy and give him all the support he needs to succeed as head coach.
I don’t know about you guys, but I am excited for the future of Virginia Tech football. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that way.