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Virginia Tech football: 5 takeaways from Hokies’ 20-14 loss to Miami

The offense was dead for three quarters.

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NCAA Football: Miami at Virginia Tech Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Do you remember the days we all looked forward to Virginia Tech football? We literally went from January to August, begging for the Hokies to return to gridiron because it was the best time of the year.

We are living in a different era, folks. Oh, how we would give anything just to be competing for an ACC Coastal Division championship — at the least. And seeing Hendon Hooker thrive at Tennessee doesn’t help Hokie fans trying to move past the disastrous Justin Fuente era.

The Hokies lost their fourth consecutive game to the Miami Hurricanes Saturday, 20-14, and dropped to 2-5 on the season. As with last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, there were some good moments to come from each game. Look, we aren’t excusing the losing or the state of program right now, but we can look for signs of hope in what will be a long couple of years.

Let’s review our takeaways from Virginia Tech’s latest loss.

Catch the —— ball

When you lack talent across the board, you need to do all of the little things. One of the little things is catch the football. In the loss to Miami, I counted five dropped passes. I am not going to get into each one, but I do want to focus on one that could’ve changed the game.

The Hokies were still trailing, 17-0, when sophomore wide receiver Da’Wain Lofton broke free down the right sideline and quarterback Grant Wells escaped the pass rush and fired downfield for what would’ve been a 79-yard touchdown. Lofton dropped it. It was a terrific throw.

I am a fan of Lofton. I believe he will be a good college player. But the drops are an issue. Remember against Pitt last week? Tech already has issues at wide receiver and Lofton is supposed to be one of the best on the roster, but if this continue to happen it may be time to see what others can do. Do I think Lofton should be benched? No, because I still believe he is a real talent, but others deserve an opportunity if the players in front of them are struggling.

The Hokies can’t continue to beat themselves with dropped passes, sloppy tackling and penalties. The drops were a huge factor in Saturday’s game.

Sadly, even the reliable Kaleb Smith dropped a pass Saturday.

Wells is improving

People make a lot of jokes about Grant Wells. I don’t get it. It’s not his fault Hooker is at Tennessee and looking like a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. Wells got off on the wrong foot with four interceptions in his first game, two of which weren’t really his fault. Since that time, Wells continues to get better. His timing is better and he has been more comfortable taking off with the football and running. Yes, he still fires balls behind his receivers on 3rd & 7 and you aren’t sure where he is trying to go with the football. But let’s not act like he’s terrible.

Ideally, you’d like a four-star passer under center. Guess what, Virginia Tech doesn’t currently have that and it may be a while before it happens again. Wells has talent. The ball jumps off his hand and he is a terrific runner. The coaching staff needs to do more to utilize Wells’ athleticism. Call more rollouts, boots, etc. Use more QB keepers to utilize Wells’ running ability. It’s up to the coaching staff to build a game plan around Wells.

About that.....

Pry’s postgame comments were interesting

Two comments Pry made after the game, stood out to me. And both seemed to be pointed toward the offense. Let’s check out each of those quotes, courtesy of Andy Bitter of The Athletic.

“Number one, we’ve got to make sure we’re playing the right personnel that can make the plays that are necessary,” Pry said.

And the second comment:

Number two, we can’t just line up and be vanilla. We’ve proven we’re not that offense that can just line up and say we’re going to run it and play action. I think we’ve got a quarterback that’s pretty accurate and can throw the football. We’ve got a running back and I think when we’ve got Keshawn (King) — we’ve got a 1-2 there that we’ve got to do a little bit better job, even some two-back stuff. We’ve got to get our best people out there. There’s some things we’ve done well over seven games, and we need to go back and take a look at those and make sure that they’re a big part of what we do.

That second one is certainly directed at the offense.

Pry essentially called his offense “vanilla.” He’s right. We’ve been saying it for weeks. When you lack talent, you need to scheme up your opponents, put your best players in a position to succeed. Offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen should be questioned. So should running backs coach Stu Holt. Bowen’s playcalling is predictable more often than not.

Yes, he’s a young OC who is also learning on the fly, but this is where you wonder if Pry had been best served going with a veteran coordinator to run the offense. He doesn’t necessarily have the time or patience while Bowen learns.

There are so many things Virginia Tech could do on offense when they match up against more talented teams. Stop running the ball up the middle twice and then putting yourself in a predictable third and long on every possession.

However, it was good to see Pry put his coaches on notice, even if he did it nicely. Fans need to see he is frustrated too and willing to make any necessary changes.

Mansoor Delane is an impact player

Remember how we’ve banged the table all season for the Hokies to play some of their younger players? We first saw true freshman corner Mansoor Delane against North Carolina. He made an immediate impact. Since that time, he has continued to see the field and had a really good performance in Saturday’s loss to Miami.

In the first half, it looked like every Tyler Van Dyke pass could go for a touchdown. Miami’s passing offense couldn’t be stopped. However, in the second half, things changed. And a big reason for that was Delane. Delane could already be Tech’s top corner, especially with Dorian Strong still out. And the youth movement didn’t stop with Delane. Fellow true freshman, Cam Johnson, and redshirt freshman, D.J. Harvey were all on the field together. And all held up well.

That’s how you improve. By playing. After the game, Pry praised Delane.

Delane has a bright future in Blacksburg.

Second-half adjustments bring hope

I’ve already went over the offense in-depth. It is inexcusable to be scoreless into the fourth quarter against a team that allowed 45 points to Middle Tennessee State only weeks ago. The Hokies weren’t just scoreless, but they were a three-and-out machine.

However, in the fourth quarter, the offense came back. Multiple players made great individual plays, from Wells, to Malachi Thomas and Nick Gallo, to almost bring the Hokies back.

On defense, the Hokies allowed only three second-half points. If you are looking for positive signs, these show the coaches are making adjustments and the adjustments are working — at least this week. The good teams adjust on the fly.

I look at a team like Duke, with new head coach Mike Elko, who was reportedly also a contender for the Virginia Tech job. The Blue Devils lack talent, but they are competing and winning. Coaching matters. I believe we’ve seen growth from Pry throughout this season, but at some point we need to see some wins. Everyone understands this Virginia Tech team is not a contender, but if you want to sell hope, turn some of this promise into victories and people will start believing.

The Hokies have five games remaining in the regular season: N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Duke, Liberty and Virginia. There are some opportunities for wins in there — and there is also a chance the Hokies may not win again. Pry needs to finish this season strong because you can’t continue to sell hope and promise if you only win two or three games.