The Virginia Tech Hokies suffered their second consecutive blowout loss after Saturday’s 41-10 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Just like in last week’s 33-10 loss to West Virginia, the Hokies went into halftime still in the game. However, this one felt far different. The Hokies only trailed WVU 13-7 last week. This time around, UNC was up on the Hokies, 24-10, after a last-second field goal before halftime.
This game never felt close. Sure, the Hokies stopped North Carolina on the first possession of the game, and then the offense went down the field and scored the first three points of the game. The Tar Heels, behind redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye drove the length of the field, going for it twice on fourth down, to take a 7-3 lead and never looked back.
UNC continuously went for it on fourth down, proving it had no respect for Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels knew if they failed to convert, Virginia Tech’s offense wasn’t going to do anything with the football. And, quite frankly, the Heels knew they’d get the first down anyway.
On the day, UNC finished with 527 total yards, while the Hokies finished with only 273 yards against one of the worst defenses in the FBS. Maye passed for 363 yards and three touchdowns and also led UNC with 73 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Here are some of our takeaways from Virginia Tech’s latest loss.
Let’s start with the good. Did you notice all of those freshmen on the field for the Hokies? The most notable being four-star tight end Daequan Wright. Wright was pivotal on Tech’s first drive and finished the day with four receptions for 31 yards. He’s clearly one of the more talented players on the team and should be on the field. Glad to see coaches realize this and feature him moving forward.
On defense, freshman DB Mansoor Delane played and made an impact. There was a UNC drive in the first half where Delane stopped a North Carolina running back for a loss and on the next play made another tackle after a short gain. He singlehandedly helped force a rare North Carolina punt.
Cornerbacks Cam Johnson and D.J. Harvey, along with linebacker Keli Lawson were among those playing defense for Tech. Were they all perfect? No, but this is the only way they will get better. It’s time for head coach Brent Pry to play the younger guys. See what you have. This is clearly a rebuilding job, and these games are valuable from an evaluation standpoint.
Freshman running back Bryce Duke also played a lot and thrived as a short-yardage runner. Duke has been active all season.
Watching the young players can be exciting for Virginia Tech fans who are looking for something, anything, to be excited about over the next two months.
Lack of talent
Virginia Tech’s lack of talent was never been more obvious than Saturday. North Carolina is a school that Virginia Tech should be 50/50 against on the recruiting trail. And, for the most part, that’s how it’s been over the years. However, since Mack Brown took over as head coach, the Heels are dominating the Hokies in recruiting, and it’s not close. Look at UNC’s roster and see all the kids from Virginia.
Then there is the quarterback. Carolina goes from a record-setting quarterback in Sam Howell, who was outstanding, to Maye, who will be even better. This highlights everything the Hokies lack right now. Sure, UNC will likely squander much of the talent, but make no mistake, the Tar Heels have talent.
It’s not going to improve overnight. That’s why Pry and his staff must play the best players. Forget senior loyalty. If a freshman is better than a senior in front of him, the freshman plays. This is about fixing the program. Nothing more, nothing less.
Pry coached scared
This is not meant to disrespect Brent Pry or call his hiring a mistake. You don’t say that five games in when he inherited a mess. Pry is a first-year coach who is figuring out how to be a head coach, and he’s doing it with a team that lacks talent. Now, before we move on, I do think Pry would’ve been better served to hire more experience with some of his position coaches.
Now, back to Saturday. One sequence sticks out to me. The Hokies, coming out of halftime with the football down 24-10, receive the ball first in the second half. Tech faces a 4th & 1 from its own 45-yard line. Sure, Tech’s offense is struggling, but again, UNC’s defense was abysmal heading into this game. Instead of going for it, Pry punts.
That essentially ended the game. I did not understand why Pry punted. Sure, you are on your side of the field, but you needed one yard. Had the Hokies ran and gotten that one yard, who knows what might happen? No, I am not predicting a win, but the Hokies would’ve kept Maye off the field and perhaps found some points.
Pry has nothing to lose this season. Why not be aggressive? Show your team you believe in them, even though you likely don’t. Tech punted, and UNC scored anyway.
This also leads to me a questionable play call at the end of the first half. The Hokies had a 3rd & 8 from the UNC 15-yard line. Offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen calls a draw. Wait, what? Remember, Tech was down 21-3 at this point. The draw got one yard, and the Hokies faced a 4th & 7. Pry went for it here, and quarterback Grant Wells made a terrific throw to wide receiver Da’Wain Lofton for a first down.
In the second half, Pry continued to punt. Why? I think Pry will figure it out, but there were opportunities to be more aggressive Saturday.
Defense was exposed last week
Through the first three games, fans believed one thing Pry had going right was the defense. Then you look at the opponents. I do think Boston College is better than it has performed, but Wofford and Old Dominion made it easier on Virginia Tech’s defense. Once the Hokies played a legit offense in WVU, we began to see some cracks.
North Carolina busted those cracks wide open. Did you see all of the receivers running free? No wonder Maye’s numbers were fantastic.
Looking back, we can see that Virginia Tech’s defense probably fattened up its numbers against weaker competition. The hope is Pry, and defensive coordinator Chris Marve can build off this and improve throughout the final two months. Tech does have some talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Long season ahead
Everyone has looked ahead at the remainder of the season and wondered how many games the Hokies will win. At least for the rest of this month, it looks ugly for the Hokies. They are at Pitt next week, home vs. Miami on the 15th, and end the month at N.C. State. The Wolfpack are the best team in that bunch. Sure, Miami is once again overrated, but they are much more talented than this version of the Hokies.
Here’s what fans want to see: improvement. If the Hokies can show incremental improvements in each game, even the loss, that is encouraging. What’s not encouraging is continuing to play seniors and getting blown out. Play the seniors if they are the best player, but don’t play them if a younger player is behind them who has a higher ceiling.
What Virginia Tech fans should look for is individual improvements from players. What fans also want to see is coaches putting their players in the best position to succeed. We don’t have confidence in that right now because this is a new regime.
After the loss, Pry had a message for the fans, courtesy of Andy Bitter of The Athletic:
This isn’t going to be an easy process. It’s not going to be an overnight process. It’s going to take time. We’re going to do it the right way. We’ve got to recruit better, we’ve got to create better practice habits, and we’ve got to keep working on our culture. All those things. And we are. We’re making progress in all three areas. Sometimes it’s hard to see. But we are. And that’s what leads me to tell this football team that we’re closer than they think. Just keep notching it up in all those areas and one of these things all of a sudden starts swinging our way and we’re in it in the fourth and we’re finding a way to win it. They’re giving their all. We’re not always playing very smart. We’ve got to continue to get better in that area. But they’re giving it our all.