The Virginia Tech Hokies improved to 3-4 (2-1 in the ACC) with Saturday’s 30-13 win over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in Blacksburg. It continued Virginia Tech’s recent momentum of playing well outside of last week’s first-quarter performance at Florida State.
Was this Virginia Tech’s most complete performance of the season?
The Hokies have next week off before hosting Syracuse the following week in Blacksburg on Thursday night.
As for the win over Wake Forest, here are five takeaways from the Hokies’ latest win.
Another strong effort from Kyron Drones
I think we are past the point of asking, “Will Grant Wells get his job back?” It’s not happening, folks. If head coach Brent Pry turned back to Wells at this point, Hokie Nation would revolt. But he’s not. Pry sees Drones’ growth each week and how his legs have opened up Virginia Tech’s offense.
Drones’ five-touchdown performance against Pitt two weeks ago earned him ACC player of the week honors. However, I thought his performance against Wake was more impressive. Drones completed 20 of 29 passes for a career-high 321 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the Hokies with 59 rushing yards.
It would be nice to see a healthy Ali Jennings with the rest of the offense because Drones is. progressing before our very eyes.
Defense playing with a different energy
The Hokies look different on defense. Look, we know the talent isn’t going to change during the season. However, players can improve throughout the season, and that’s what is happening for the Hokies. Tech’s defenders are playing more confidently, from the defensive line to the secondary. Players trust their assignments more, and the secondary is becoming a strength.
The defensive line has improved since Pheldarius Payne has been more involved in the rotation. Also, defensive coordinator Chris Marve is gaining more comfort in his role. VT’s linebackers and defensive backs swarmed Wake Forest’s offensive players on Saturday. It’s something we haven’t seen a lot of in recent years.
This unit will continue to be tested and have its ups and downs. But since the first quarter at Florida State, the Hokies look vastly different on defense. Playing against a superior opponent can do one of two things: Cause you to fold up and quit or push you to become better. It’s clearly the latter for the Hokies right now.
What a day for Antwaun Powell-Ryland
Everyone was excited when the Hokies landed APR out of the transfer portal in the offseason. He was an in-state player with a lot to prove and wanted to come home. The Hokies knew they had found one of their starting defensive ends and a legit pass rusher. On Saturday, Powell-Ryland did something rare: He had four sacks in one game.
APR now has seven sacks on the season with five regular-season games to go. That number currently leads the ACC. That’s impressive. It feels like it’s been a while since the Hokies have had a defender with double-digit sacks. While we sometimes can make too much out of sack numbers when so many come in one game, it’s clear Powell-Ryland is different. His speed-power ratio off the edge is ridiculous. For APR, it’s about consistency. If he can finish strong, he could give the Hokies their first All-ACC pass-rusher in some time.
And check out this nugget courtesy of Andy Bitter of Tech Sideline:
Antwaun Powell-Ryland had four sacks for the #Hokies. The only other Virginia Tech player with four in a game since 1987? Defensive line coach J.C. Price, who had four against Miami in 1995.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) October 14, 2023
Pretty amazing, huh?
Hokies crushed the transfer portal
It’s clear the Hokies did an outstanding job in the transfer portal last offseason. Let’s look at some of these names: Drones, Bhayshul Tuten, Jennings, Quan Felton, Jaylin Lane, Derrick Canteen and Powell-Ryland. Apologies if we’ve left someone else notable from the list.
Each of these players are making the current team better, and most can and should be around next year, too. In Drones, dare we say the Hokies have a quarterback for the next two years? Jennings’ impact was clear in the first game. Hopefully, he gets another year to return and show himself off to the NFL.
Tuten is outstanding. Imagine if the run blocking was better. It’s getting better, but Tuten is a 1,000-yard rusher waiting to happen. He has good size, he’s fast and runs with tremendous vision and patience. He can catch passes and return kicks, too.
Felton is big and fast. It’s good to see the Hokies forcing the ball to him some recently. He has NFL measurables. Lane is electric and the best playmaker on the team. Every time he touches the ball, you feel a big play is coming. Canteen had one of the best interceptions in years against Wake Forest.
And we already mentioned Powell-Ryland.
If Pry can strike this much gold in the transfer portal each year, it bodes well for him to turn this program around. He needs to have some better luck in the trenches, but it can be hard to land those guys sometimes. Kudos to Tech’s coaching staff for identifying these players who could help them in 2023.
A look ahead
Who watched the Hokies in those losses to Purdue and Rutgers and thought, “This team may not win another game?” I can’t deny my concerns. But if you can’t see that the current team is improving, then you are either blind or stubborn. Pry has things going in the right direction. So, looking ahead at the schedule. how many more games can the Hokies win?
Here are the final five opponents: Syracuse, at Louisville, at Boston College, NC State, and at Virginia. I hate looking ahead at the schedule and calling games wins or losses. It’s a worthless exercise. But based on how Virginia Tech has been playing, they can win any of these games. I wouldn’t have said the Hokies could beat Louisville until I saw them lose to Pitt. The Cardinals remain a tough foe, but I think that game will be competitive.
NC State is playing much better after a quarterback change. We all know the Hokies should have beaten the Wolfpack last year. Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia are all winnable games, too, but far from certain. The Hokies aren’t yet good enough to become too confident. Yet, we can start looking ahead and believing again. That seemed like a dream four weeks ago.