After the clock runs down and the game is reviewed, the sports section of the Collegiate Times likes to take a closer look into how Virginia Tech football played and analyze each position’s performance. Similar to a school report card, grades are assigned for both offensive and defensive positions based on execution against its opponent.
Senior quarterback Ryan Willis had a much better game in the home opener against Old Dominion on Saturday afternoon than he had against Boston College a week ago. Willis went 16/28 with 272 yards and two touchdowns. On an early offensive play of the game, Willis fumbled the ball before recovering and throwing the ball out of bounds. Willis made some good throws, but nearly had one intercepted close to the half, which was important to see against an inferior ODU defense. Willis took a big hit and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter and sat out the rest of the game with a head injury. Backup Hendon Hooker stepped in but did not attempt a single pass. He finished with three rushes for 7 yards. Overall, the quarterback group played pretty well, with Willis’ fumble being the lone turnover.
Running Backs: C+
The running backs struggled Saturday afternoon. Junior Deshawn McClease started for the Hokies and got most of the workload. McClease carried the ball 20 times for just 64 yards, an average of 3.2 yards per carry. McClease also struggled to secure the ball, fumbling in the fourth quarter. Freshman Keshawn King saw action for the second consecutive week. King finished with six carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Overall, the running backs were not able to find much running room against an ODU defense that stopped the run pretty well. Ball security also remains a concern, even when McClease’s fumble came late in the fourth quarter. The running back group must take care of the football as Tech gets closer to conference play. The Hokies’ 131 team rushing yards is not awful, but it’s not something to write home about.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-
The receivers and tight ends played well Saturday afternoon. Freshman Tayvion Robinson led the way and turned in a solid performance in the same way that he did last week. Robinson finished with four catches for 62 yards, including a 32-yard reception on the opening drive that set up a Hokies touchdown. Four other Hokies had multiple catches and accounted for two touchdowns. Overall, the receiving corps looks to be very promising this season. Collectively, they are dangerous when they get the ball in space, being that each wide receiver averaged at least 14 yards per catch. If the receiving corps can keep the big plays going, then there is no doubt that the Hokies can have an explosive offense this season.
Offensive Line: C-
The offensive line had its share of good plays and bad plays Saturday. On running plays, the line did not perform well. Holes for the running backs were hard to be found and ultimately led to the disappointing day on the ground. It did a better job in pass protection, giving up one sack of quarterback Ryan Willis. Overall, the offensive line needs to improve, especially in run blocking. The Hokies have some dynamic running backs, but they can not show their full potential if the offensive line doesn’t step up in the coming weeks.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line struggled at the beginning of the game getting pushed back on almost every rush attempt. It solidified later in the game, but giving up 202 rushing yards to Old Dominion is never great. On the other hand, the defense was able to dial up a pass rush that was mostly nonexistent a week ago, racking up six sacks on the day. This was thanks in large part to a Cover 0 scheme by Bud Foster that allowed the defense to have an extra blitzer on almost every snap.
The linebackers, which are the strength of this unit, uncharacteristically struggled against the Monarchs on Saturday, with both Dax Hollifield and Rayshard Ashby struggling to fill their gaps. Both were consistently pushed out of the play throughout the game. To compound, Ashby, who won ACC Defensive Player of the Week this week, struggled badly in coverage, getting beat on routes by tight ends, running backs and slot receivers.
Defensive Backs: A
Though they were not challenged much on the day, the Hokie secondary had a standout performance. Jermaine Waller and Chamarri Conner were outstanding. Waller played blanket coverage no matter who the matchup was, and Conner made play after play from the slot, whether bringing pressure or in coverage. Virginia Tech will need this to be the norm for this group if the Hokies are to have a respectable season this fall.