The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels, 17-10, on Friday at Lane Stadium to open the 2021 season.
Wow, what a night.
In front of a loud, jam-packed Lane Stadium, the Hokies beat up the Tar Heels early, going into halftime with a 14-0 lead.
However, as expected, the Tar Heels and quarterback Sam Howell weren’t going to go away quietly, and a third-quarter touchdown pass quickly made this a 14-7 game.
Too many times in recent years, fans have seen the Hokies control a game, only to lose it in the end. There’s also the disappointing home record against ranked opponents. It felt so many things were going against the Hokies on Friday, but this group fought like no other and helped the Hokies come away with a 1-0 record.
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente is now 6-0 in season-openers at Virginia Tech.
Now, here are five takeaways from Virginia Tech’s win over UNC. We could do more, but we’ll stick with five.
Braxton Burmeister did enough to win
In the first half, I was thoroughly impressed with Burmeister. There were multiple plays where you’d see Burmeister drop back, scan the field and take off when he saw nothing open. He also looked confident throwing the football in the first half. His touchdown pass to James Mitchell was a thing of beauty.
Braxton Burmeister to James Mitchell for the HOKIES TOUCHDOWN— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 3, 2021
VT leads #10 UNC 14-0 pic.twitter.com/Q0SCZMfeHt
This was a 3rd & goal from the 11-yard line, and the Hokies desperately needed another touchdown after dominating the first half. Burmeister drops back in the pocket, shows excellent pocket awareness, and rolls to his right. He sees Mitchell in the end zone and throws a dart for a touchdown. He was calm yet decisive and made the right read.
He also had a 34-yard completion to Tre Turner that was on the money.
He wasn’t perfect, though. He had Turner streaking down the left sideline while he rolled and completely missed him. The Hokies were forced to punt. With the offense struggling later in the game, Tayvion Robinson broke loose, and Burmeister didn’t see him either. Another missed opportunity that left the door open for the Tar Heels.
Overall, there was a lot to like, and I look forward to seeing Burmeister progress over a full season.
It wouldn’t be a big Virginia Tech game without talking about the playcalling, now would it?
It was a spotty night for Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen. He was on a roll on VT’s first two drives. If Keshawn King didn't fumble deep into UNC territory, the Hokies are leading 14-0 in the first quarter. Cornelsen mixed things up, gave Burmeister some easy throws, and schemed receivers open.
I get the game plan by Fuente was to melt the clock the entire game. It was the same strategy the Hokies employed against Clemson in December, and it worked for a bit. I had no problem with that.
But where was the aggression?
You had North Carolina on the ropes for the entire first half, holding the ball for 21 minutes, yet with 1:30 left in the half, you sit on the ball. Ugly. The Hokies run on the first two plays and, predictably, pass on third down giving the UNC offense another opportunity.
Cornelsen has to be better. The coaches need to do a better job of getting Mitchell more opportunities. When you have a tight end as talented Mitchell, he is a matchup nightmare. Take advantage.
Dominating the trenches
Make no mistake, this game was won up front on both sides of the ball. Virginia Tech’s offensive line was blowing UNC’s defense off the ball. This was a UNC defense that brought back 10 starters. Tech’s offensive line kept Burmeister clean, as he was only sacked one time in the game.
On defense, all four members of Virginia Tech’s starting defensive line were dominant. Defensive tackle Jordan Williams made his presence felt all night. His pressure on Howell late in the game led to the decisive interception by Chamarri Conner. Norell Pollard looked like a star. He was blowing up the running game, pressuring Howell and getting his hands up in the passing game.
Virginia Tech DT Jordan Williams causes the pressure on Sam Howell and DB Chamarri Conner gets the INT— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 4, 2021
3rd INT of the game for Sam Howell pic.twitter.com/l9vnh3LA0O
Amare Barno looked like a future top-10 pick in the NFL draft. He was credited with 3.5 tackles for loss and was everywhere. TyJuan Garbutt returned after missing last season and finished with two sacks. What a game from Virginia Tech’s defensive line. It was reminiscent of the glory years under Bud Foster.
If this group stays healthy, they are going to cause problems in 2021.
Justin Hamilton pushed all the right buttons
Remember all the criticism when Virginia Tech hired Justin Hamilton to replace Bud Foster? Yes, and it was warranted. Hamilton’s experience didn’t necessarily warrant him replacing a coaching legend. In his first year as a coordinator in 2020, Hamilton’s defense had its struggles. Most of that was to be expected with COVID-19 wiping out the spring as Hamilton was trying to implement his new defense.
In the season opener against the Tar Heels, Hamilton did everything right. When the offense continued to stall and you just knew Howell and the Tar Heels were going to get hot, Hamilton’s defense kept answering the bell. The Hokies sacked Howell six times and intercepted him three times.
Hamilton trusted his corners against the UNC wide receivers and always knew when he needed to bring pressure. He had his guys ready — all of them. Can you name one player on Virginia Tech’s defense who had a bad game? I can’t.
There is a long way to go to see if Hamilton was the right choice. But you got a glimpse of it on Friday night. He has changed the type of players he recruits to more longer and faster players. He wants bigger defensive tackles. And he, and his staff will coach them up.
Fans crush the coordinators when they struggle. This time, you should tip your cap to Hamilton. It was a great night for the proud former Hokie.
Once upon a time, teams feared coming to Lane Stadium. The Hokies rarely lost. Unfortunately, things have changed over the past decade, especially against ranked teams. Too often the fans brought their A-game, but the coaches and the players struggled to deliver.
That changed on Friday.
Lane Stadium was the talk of social media and for good reason.
It was nice to the Hokies play an important game, in front of a sold-out Lane Stadium with the lights on — and win.
Lane Stadium on Friday night is why we all love college football. There is nothing like it. And, with bias, I admit, there is nothing quite like Lane Stadium.
Congrats, Hokie Nation. You showed up. And the team didn’t let you down.