All of that excitement for the first game of the Brent Pry era was gone after Virginia Tech’s ugly 20-17 loss to the Old Dominion Monarchs. We’d call it an upset, but is it really at this point?
Now, that’s not to say Virginia Tech fans shouldn’t be excited about Pry and the 2022 Hokies. Former head coach Justin Fuente left a barren roster and broken recruiting relationships throughout the state, both of which will take time to rebuild.
For a while on Friday, it looked like the Hokies may cruise to a win. Tech jumped out to a 7-0 lead on its second possession of the game after quarterback Grant Wells connected with wide receiver Kaleb Smith on a 40-yard play before calling his own number and scoring from 18 yards out just two plays later.
Virginia Tech would lead for much of the game until Old Dominion’s go-ahead touchdown with around 30 seconds remaining.
Despite mistake after mistake, the Hokies should’ve still won this game. Let’s explain why.
Here are our five takeaways from Friday’s game.
Bad snap changed the game
The Hokies had an opportunity to go up 10-3 in the second quarter, but a high snap through the hands of holder Peter Moore saw the ball going in the wrong direction. Moore tried to fall on the ball but pushed it further downfield when ODU defensive back Robert Kennedy III picked up the loose ball and ran it in for a touchdown and suddenly the Monarchs were up 10-7.
That’s a 10-point swing that went against the Hokies. Instead of a seven-point lead, Virginia Tech was down three points. ODU’s offense was lifeless at this point. Quarterback Hayden Wolff looked like he didn’t belong on the field while Tech’s defense clamped down on Old Dominion’s top three playmakers in running back Blake Watson, wide receiver Ali Jennings and tight end Zack Kuntz.
What would’ve happened if ODU had never scored on this mistake? So many mistakes in one play. A bad snap and then the Hokies couldn’t simply fall on the football.
Speaking of mistakes......
Penalties and turnovers
When you turn the ball over five times and commit 14 penalties for 100 yards, you aren’t going to beat anyone. It’s understandable for a new coaching staff with new players to struggle in the opening game. However, 14 penalties are inexcusable. How many procedural penalties did the Hokies commit Friday?
Wells and the offense often faced third and long situations. A big reason for that was penalties. And when you are facing 3rd-and-11 repeatedly, the defense can drop eight and make the quarterback impatient. That’s what happened.
Wells had four interceptions, a problem that followed him from Marshall. Wells has a terrific arm, and he can run, but he fits that gunslinger type to a tee. And that’s not always a good thing. Wells’ first two interceptions were the result of either a terrible decision or throw. His third interception — the one that led to ODU’s final touchdown — bounced off the hands of a teammate into the waiting arms of an Old Dominion defender.
While that wasn’t wholly on Wells, he probably should’ve run it or tossed it out of bounds instead of throwing it into traffic. Quarterbacks need to consider the situation they are in at the time. Virginia Tech was facing third and long but in ODU territory. Had Wells just thrown it out of bounds, the Hokies had a chance to pin the Monarchs deep, and perhaps the end result would’ve been different.
Wells did some good things, but those turnovers overshadow everything positive.
When ODU had a first-and-goal with 1:07 remaining, why did Pry wait until there were 41 seconds left to call timeout? A timeout there could’ve given Virginia Tech’s offense at least 45 seconds on offense — plenty of time to get into field-goal range.
Another questionable decision involved the personnel. Where was Connor Blumrick all game long? We heard all offseason how he was one of Tech’s top 22 overall players and he would a lot. And he’s not targeted until Virginia Tech’s hail mary drive? He made an outstanding catch on the sideline but was pushed out of bounds.
Blumrick could be a valuable offensive piece for the Hokies. Why not get him involved sooner? The threat of Blumrick on the field is enough to create headaches for the defense because he can run or pass.
Another play that stands out happened on Old Dominion’s final drive. Wolff scrambled for around eight yards when Virginia Tech safety Jalen Stroman hit him, jarring the football loose. The Hokies recovered. However, the play was overturned via replay. It was the correct call.
So, on the next play, the Monarchs faced a 4th-and-1. The Hokies guessed right, as Wolff handed off to Watson and multiple Tech defenders swarmed the backfield. Somehow, Watson escapes and gains around three yards for a first down. Had the Hokies finished this play, the game is over.
Just really poor execution from a defense that played well until late.
A positive: Nowhere to go but up
This loss feels like rock bottom. We’ve had several losses that feel like rock bottom in recent years. Even though this one hurts, there are reasons to be positive. After all, this is Pry and his coaching staff’s first game. And many of the mistakes that plagued VT are correctable. How often are the Hokies going to turn the ball over five times? How often will Virginia Tech commit 15 penalties? Will the long snapper continue to struggle? All of these things are fixable.
The Hokies didn’t lose on talent Friday night. They truly beat themselves over and over. Give credit to Old Dominion as the Monarchs took advantage of every opportunity they were given. Every ODU point came off a Virginia Tech turnover.
As stated earlier, Wells did some good things. His arm talent gives the Hokies something they lacked in recent years. And Wells is tough. How many times did he hang in the pocket and make a throw, knowing he was going to get hit? However, the turnovers cannot continue. Unlike previous seasons, the Hokies have a capable backup in Jason Brown, who can win games. While Brown may present the dynamic big-play ability of Wells, he’s a steady veteran who will take care of the football.
It was nice seeing Wells read through his progressions. Remember when we were told the previous staff didn’t allow the quarterbacks to go through progressions? You were to look for your top target on the play and if he wasn’t open, then run.
Overall, the defense played well. One issue I have is why can’t the defensive backs track a ball in the air. Wolff was terrible Friday, yet his biggest plays came when he just turned it loose and hoped for Jennings to save him. On two of those plays, VT defensive backs weren’t tracking the football.
The Hokies also need more from their pass rush. You can’t live and die by the blitz.
The Hokies have a stiff test next week when Boston College comes to Blacksburg. They are going to have to be a lot better against a good B.C. team.