The Virginia Tech Hokies fell to 1-1 on the season after Saturday’s 24-17 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers at Lane Stadium.
It was a game that featured two weather delays, including one that lasted for five hours. The game was scheduled to kick off at Noon but didn’t end until around 9:00 p.m. ET on Saturday night.
There is a lot to take from this game. Yes, it was only the second game of the season, but there were things that should have fans concerned. Let’s get to it.
Here are five takeaways from Virginia Tech’s first loss of the season.
Let’s start here. When the game began, Purdue marched up and down the field. Quarterback Hudson Card had receivers open throughout the secondary and Tech was struggling to bring down running back Devin Mockobee. It was a carryover from some of the things we saw last week against a less-talented Old Dominion team, where you can hide the negative.
There are still issues with run fits for Virginia Tech’s linebackers. While I do believe some of that improved, more work is needed. Next is tackling. I am not sure how many tackles Mockobee broke, but it feels like he broke multiple tackles every time he touched the football. That’s inexcusable.
However, while we can blame the defense for some things, it was the defense that helped get the Hokies back in the game. After Purdue jumped out to a 17-0 lead, the defense settled down, sometimes employing a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy. I saw some good things during this stretch that, while not perfect, represent some signs of hope moving forward.
Unfortunately, when the Hokies needed a stop the most, Purdue had a 13-play. 74-yard drive in the fourth quarter that won the game.
While the Boilermakers represent a step up in competition, they aren’t Florida State. Plenty of work remains for head coach Brent Pry and defensive coordinator Chris Marve.
I want to be kind here, but watching Wells can sometimes be tough. He deserved praise for last week. Even though he left 10-14 points on the field, it didn’t matter last week. Tech forced three turnovers in the win over ODU. However, on Saturday, it wasn’t as much as the points he left on the field, but the receivers he missed.
Let’s start with the obvious. The pass protection was not good. And the Hokies could not run the ball — more on that later. However, Wells still missed open receivers or made the wrong reads. It will be tough to win with Wells against better teams. You can have arm talent, but just arm talent doesn’t win football games.
Wells was benched on the final drive for Kyron Drones. As it turns out, it was because Wells was beaten up. I believe he was hit at least 10 times. Wells isn’t the only reason Tech lost a winnable game, but he is a major part of it.
As for Drones, he entered a difficult situation and did some good things. He, too, wasn’t perfect, but to enter on the final drive of the game and need to score a touchdown is unbelievable pressure. He made a quick throw to tight end Dae’Quan Wright that had the offense moving. And his 13-yard scramble is reason for excitement.
Moving forward, the Hokies should live with Drones’ mistakes and see if he can lift the offense. He can at least give Tech some semblance of a running game. It’s clear through two games, they can’t run the ball. And while it’s easy to blame the backs or the offensive line, the play-calling lacks any creativity. Inserting Drones into the lineup could help there. At this point, what do you lose? We know who Wells is.
The running game had 11 yards
That’s an amazing stat. The Purdue defense has some talent, but it’s not the 1985 Chicago Bears or 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Virginia Tech should have been able to run the football. For one, there are too many unimaginative dive plays where the running back has no chance when he gets the ball. I believe Bhayshul Tuten and Malachi Thomas are talented backs. The lack of a running game does not fall on them. When they do break off a positive run, it’s often because they did it outside the structure of the play.
If the trend of this running game continues, Virginia Tech could have a historically inept running game. And that could impact Tech’s passing game if no one respects the run.
When you watch other teams, even bad teams, things don’t always seem so difficult. With almost everything Virginia Tech does on offense, it almost feels like a hail mary. There is no urgency. The Hokies don’t seem to play with any sort of tempo. Everything feels like a struggle.
It’s too early to say “Fire Tyler Bowen,” but thus far, what has he shown to say he’s the guy? He gets a pass for last year. Not this year. We know of the QB and OL issues, but he’s the guy making close to $1 million to coordinate the offense — a bad offense. And when you rush for 11 yards, that’s a bad return on investment for the Hokies.
There are still 10 games remaining. Bowen could turn things around. The offense has some good pieces, but question marks at offensive coordinator, quarterback and on the offensive line create a potentially difficult dynamic to overcome.
And here’s the bad news. Wide receiver Ali Jennings was a huge get for the Hokies from the transfer portial. In his Virginia Tech debut last week, he caught four passes and two touchdowns. He should have had another touchdown. In the first quarter of Saturday’s game, while Jennings was blocking downfield, fellow wideout Jaylin Lane made contact with him, rolling up on his leg. Jennings was down in pain.
WATCH: Virginia Tech WR Ali Jennings goes down after contact with his own teammate, Jaylin Lane.— Anthony Romano (@ARomanoWDBJ) September 9, 2023
Immediately grabbed his ankle and left the field on a cart with his foot in a boot. @WDBJ7Sports @BritMorganTV pic.twitter.com/tzXbvJhalS
It doesn’t look good. Even if it’s a high ankle sprain and not a break, Jennings will miss significant time. Jennings is one of the feel-good stories on this team. Let’s all hope for a speedy return.
Then there is Lane. The Middle Tennessee State transfer, who some believe could be the No. 1 wide receiver, went down with what appeared to be some sort of leg injury, but not as severe as the one Jennings suffered. It looks like more of a muscle injury for Lane. Still, Lane left the game, and the Hokies were without two of their best players.
Pry said after the game that X-rays were needed for both players. We hope for the best news on Jennings and Lane.
Despite what felt like a brutal loss because the Hokies had so many opportunities to win, some players stood out. Defensive end Antwaun Powell-Ryland didn’t record a sack this week, but he did add two more tackles for loss. Powell-Ryland is active and looks like the best edge rusher the Hokies have had in a while. Excited to see if he can hit double digits this fall.
Linebacker Keli Lawson was everywhere. The athletic Lawson tied safety Jalen Stroman with a game-high 14 tackles, including a half-sack. He also excelled in coverage, making a play down the field to break up a pass. Lawson’s continued development is one of the bright spots for the Hokies.
I was impressed with senior cornerback Derrick Canteen. Canteen is a smart and versatile player who seems to find the football. No one play stands out, but I believe Canteen will create some turnovers for the Hokies this season.
Wright, the sophomore tight end, caught four passes for 77 yards. He’s so dynamic. Bowen needs to scheme touches for Wright and fellow tight end Benji Gosnell. Having two athletic young tight ends like Wright and Gosnell can be excellent safety valves for a struggling quarterback.
If I’m Bowen, I want Wright and Gosnell to combine for 10-12 targets each week. They can help this offense.
Oh, and can we see more of wide receiver Tucker Holloway on offense? With these injuries, Pry may have no choice but to turn to Holloway more.