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Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Liberty Flames: Good, Bad, and Ugly for a Dangling Participle of a Win

Well, how about that? To quote Pittsburgh Dad... 3... 2... 1... WIN! The Hokies tote a W back west on US460 and salvage just a tiny shred of some sort of dignity for the season with an ironic 1-point win over Liberty. Let’s look at some of the good, bad, and ugly stuff for this one - which might be the last game of 2022. GO HOKIES!!!

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Liberty
What happened? Dunno but we won for a change.
Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t too much doubt about the day, yesterday. There was a good deal of reflection and a bit of celebration of life as Liberty donned their all-Navy Blues, and Tech took the field in a rare showing of the All-Orange uniform in tribute to the three fine young men from UVA’s team who lost their lives in a senseless act of violence. The picture of Coach Mines carrying the UVA flag on to the field was a touching tribute to his alma mater and classy for the AD’s department to allow.

There was Somber Tribute, but Hard Football Played

Cavalier stickers on the backs of helmets and pregame tributes aside, the Flames and the Hokies were meeting in Lynchburg to play football, and neither team seemed to be too interested in giving up the action or the pursuit of the ‘W’ ultimately the Hokies made it on top by one point, but it was really 8 since they tried the two-point conversion and lost by an arguable replay, and then deferred with enough time on the clock to score another touchdown to close the game. The Hokies ultimately took some knees instead of scoring an unneeded touchdown. Gestures like not grinding things in often work out to a program’s benefit in future contests.

The Good Stuff

The Defense was very good this game, at least in the second half. We’ll talk about the first half a bit later, but there was a definite step up and change in the tone and tempo of the defense in the game and especially the second half. Virginia Tech did something that we haven’t seen all season in any systemic fashion. It put consistent pressure on the quarterback. It also shut down the Liberty running game and forced its two quarterbacks (they played two in the game: Kaydon Salter and Jonathan Bennett) to scramble, abandon patterns, and throw incomplete passes. Though there were no picks for the Tech defense, there were two forced fumbles. The first ball on the turf was a punch by our rising star true Freshman Cornerback Mansoor Delane (which was recovered by redshirt Freshman Linebacker Keli Lawson). This led to the critical 4th quarter touchdownt that put Tech in the lead. The second was caused out by Defensive End TyJuan Garbutt and recovered by Defensive Lineman Jaylen Griffin which ended a potential field goal drive to end the game in the Flames’ favor.

The second unexpected, good was a stellar 99-yard run performance by Jaylen Holston who scored 18 of Virginia Tech’s points on 3 touchdown runs in close. That was a 3.8-yard average, yes, but Jaylen had been struggling to gain much of much for most of the season and this game gave him a measure of redemption. Right behind him, was Keshawn King with 11 carries for 78 yards. King did fumble late in the game, but Tech had some luck as quick Tucker Holloway was on the field to cover it and that save kept the final touchdown drive going. Grant wells added 68 critical yards but gave up way too many (64) to sacks. All in all, it was a much better run game than Tech has mustered in quite a while.

The third good is a coaching switch up that we’ve been harping about all season. Brent Pry finally gave the defensive reins to his DC. Chris Marve, and went to start working on doing head coach things. Marve’s first half was a bit shaky and ended with a give up that allowed Liberty to tie the game up 17 all before the half. He played that overly loose very pedestrian prevent defense that netted at least three losses for the Hokies on the ‘D’ side of the ball. Maybe Marve just got tired of the defense getting run over late, because he did not repeat the mistake at the end of the game. Coach Marve dialed up blitzes that pressured and harrassed the Flames’ quarterback combo, frustrated their passing game, and shut down their running attack. Other than the safety (on Wells) and a field goal, the Tech defense was aggressive and lights out for a change. It was tonic that we should have been seeing for the last five games, now.

The Bad isn’t Horrid, but it was There

The offense, other than the much-improved run blocking and surprisingly effective run game, was still not even close to good, or good enough. It was barely adequate for modern football. It’s time for Pry to fix his offense. He has a really excellent coach on the defensive side of the ball, and every defensive position is getting steady improvements across the depth chart. There are some legitimate stars on that side of the ball, and Chris Marve deserves his confidence. Marve made major adjustments and called a fabulous 2nd half effort even if there were some slip ups in the 1st half. He did not repeat those mistakes and that’s good. But we already covered that in the good section, and this is for the bad stuff. The Virginia Tech Offense is bad. It’s not even a “make a few better plays here and there so we’re just on the back side of good” sort of situation. The Hokie offense is terrible. Shading and lying to ourselves about it is just not going to make things better.

The center of the problem is the coaching and play calling. On the coaching side, there just hasn’t been any progress in getting Grant Wells to improve. He still, 11 games into the season, cannot read a defense either pre-snap or downfield. He consistently misses even seeing wide open receivers, and most of his six sacks were complete failures to recognize and react to blitz pressure - either detecting the blitz before the snap and checking out of the play, or seeing it develop and moving away to either dump the ball off without a grounding penalty (of which he was called for one) or salvaging some yards on a scramble. Wells has some serious guts. He’s all heart and really wants to play. There have been a couple of games where he willed the team down the field to score something, but overall, his lack of skill reading defenses is not being solved. Add to that his tragically slow release is creating more situations like the safety in the 3rd quarter, than a struggling team can survive. There may not be another game this season, but if the Cavaliers show up to play on Thanksgiving weekend, it might be wise to look at playing Brown and maybe even Farrell since the only real thing on the line will be the Commonwealth Cup.

King has to get better control over the ball. His fumble late in the game nearly cost Tech. His last one changed the game momentum and wrecked a scoring drive. We all feel for Keshawn, but a huge part of the game for a halfback is keeping possession of that ball in heavy traffic. That’s something that can be cured, and the coaching staff really needs to work with him in the off-season to strengthen his grip and increase his ball control awareness in traffic. He’s just too good a running back to have this happen to and the Offensive coaching staff needs to do positive things to help him deal with it. King in combination with Thomas could have great years in 2023.

The Uglies Just Won’t Go

The Offensive and Special Teams coaching is just not there. For Tech to suffer a mediocre offensive coaching effort was par for the course for the program, but this season there just seemed to be no cure for the really leaden and ineffective play calling and methodology. The Offensive line needed help to take advantage of some improvements in size and speed, but overall, in this game their pass blocking was shaky. There are ways to beat that by rolling the quarterback out, quickening the pace of the play execution so that the ball is out quickly (under 4 seconds) and in general having a quarterback who can recognize blitzes and audible coverages from the pre-snap line of scrimmage. Wells was not doing either of those things. He wasn’t recognizing the blitzes, neither was he reading receivers well downfield. When the camera was focused on his face, his eyes were nearly always looking right at the backs of the linemen and not downfield enough to see the linebackers and defensive backs. There were several opportunities that he missed reading outright. One was an all-out blitz where Holston (who might struggle at halfback but is a solid receiver) was wide open for a tunnel screen on a blitz and Wells turned his back on him and was eaten by several rushers for serious negative yardage. The other was a shallow crossing route to a tight end, Gallo, who was wide open and headed for the flag (it would have been a touchdown). Wells had time to see him and make a good throw in stride... but Wells saw nothing of the waving gesticulating tight end and the play failed. There were others but those two were just ugly.

The O-line is still too shaky. Their run blocking was much improved, that’s good to see, but six sacks are bad. Again, that goes to coaching. Rudolph looks to be making progress re-teaching the basics, but the other coaches involved need to step up and help the offensive line with better plays, patterns, and quicker execution speeds.

Which is the last ugly. Learning has been too slow and too broad based to hang too much of a hat on. Everyone is learning or re-learning something, and there might just have been a miscalculation as to the general effect of too many inexperienced coaches at one time. Other than Price and Rudolph everyone was new to that particular level of job at this level of play. That’s a choice on the AD and the new, inexperienced Head Coach. Taking a chance on Marve was a good gamble. I think he’s going to be a super DC and might even end up being a head coach at some time in the future. Rudolph will eventually pay off as he re-trains the offensive line depth chart to block at the collegiate FBS level. Price will be on the warm seat unless he gets some new recruiting success in the door to get the interior of the D-Line much bigger, and both Tackles and Ends bigger and faster.

The remainder of the coaching staff on the Offensive side of the ball - and the Special Teams unit - that gave up an embarrassing 90+ yard kickoff return touchdown - needs some serious attention. Yes, there were some good things on Special Teams. Peter Moore was excellent in most games, but the punt formation is from a trick high school playbook, and he was too heavily pressured too often. Who knew John Love could be a credible speed halfback in picking up that 4th down faked field goal? But the fact remains that Virginia Tech’s Special Teams have not lived up to the Beamerball reputation.

The offense is just not good. It’s not even “not good” it’s really bordering on awful, and that’s so serious a problem that it’s going to require radical surgery and some heavy chemotherapy in the off season.

Is this the Final Part of the Requiem or the Penultimate Act?

There is still some amount of speculation going on in regard to the Commonwealth Cup Game, next Saturday. The reality is that the UVA athletic department will need to notify Tech soonest. Pry will definitely prepare like they’re going to play, but the speculation is all over the place and predicting what they will decide is not even close to a sure thing.

Do we have one more football game and set of articles for 2022 or not? It would be disappointing not to finish the season on the sideline and see a final win for the 2022 season, but it would certainly be understandable if UVA takes a flyer and closes up shop for 2022.

We’ll keep you up to date.