Unfortunately, Saturday's 23-16 loss to unranked Wake Forest is a common occurrence for the Hokies under Justin Fuente. In five seasons as Virginia Tech’s head coach, Fuente has lost six games to unranked teams while the Hokies have been ranked.
This is a trend that the Virginia Tech coaching staff needs to turn around if the Hokies are going to be considered playoff contenders in future seasons. Nonetheless, here are how the different position groups graded out in the disappointing loss to the Demon Deacons.
With Virginia Tech going down 10-0 in the first quarter, it was clear Hendon Hooker had to get the passing game going for the Hokies to have a chance. Hooker disappointed, completing only 52% of his passes and throwing three costly interceptions. You could argue this was Hooker’s worst game as a starting quarterback for Virginia Tech, but he still was able to get first downs and drive the ball down the field to keep the game within reach. Despite Virginia Tech surpassing Wake Forest in total yards, first downs and yards per play, Hooker and the offense’s inability to capitalize and score touchdowns loomed large in the loss.
Running Backs: B+
The running game was still a strength despite Wake Forest’s ability to contain running back Khalil Herbert to a season-low 64 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry. Hooker was also able to attack the defense on the ground as the leading rusher with 98 yards, but penalties and a struggling passing attack made the run game ineffective down the stretch. I would’ve liked to see Fuente and Brad Cornelsen establish the run earlier on in the game when it was still in reach, as this position group remains the strength of the Hokies.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
Hooker’s overthrown passes and interceptions outshined a spread out, balanced receiving attack for the Hokies on Saturday. Tré Turner was the leading receiver with five catches for 61 yards while James Mitchell, Tayvion Robinson and Herbert notched more than 30 receiving yards respectively. Mitchell caught the Hokies’ lone touchdown of the day with a nice roll out play design for 39 yards. I would like to see more consistency throughout games from the wide receivers in terms of getting separation from defensive backs. This is still a talented unit and they have shown that they can perform when given the ball.
Offensive Line: B-
Virginia Tech’s offensive line did not perform to its “Vice Squad” standards as the holes in the defensive line were not opening up for Herbert early on in the game and in the red zone. Nonetheless, Virginia Tech still out rushed Wake Forest with 210 rushing yards, and it showed its mobility when lead blocking on various designed screen plays. I expect the offensive line to look dominant in its next matchup against Louisville.
Defensive Line: C+
There were some moments where the defensive line showed some promise, but overall it was a slightly below average performance for the group, giving up 129 rushing yards to running back Christian Beal-Smith. Wake Forest’s scoring drive at the end of the first half exemplified this, as it converted three fourth downs, two being short yardage runs into the heart of the defensive line. It showed the ability to rush the quarterback in spurts, but the lack of a dominant run stopper has hurt the unit’s consistency this year.
The linebackers definitely deserve blame for the Hokies’ lack of a rush defense Saturday, a common occurrence early in the year. With Dax Hollifield not seeing the field much at all on Saturday, Hokies linebackers Rayshard Ashby and Alan Tisdale notched only 15 total tackles, and there weren't many plays to be made from the two.
Defensive Backs: B+
Arguably the best performing position group on the field, the defensive backs played solid. Chamarri Conner shined as a playmaker in the run game, leading the Hokies with 10 total tackles while flying to the ball all game. The Demon Deacons were unable to find a consistent passing attack in this game as quarterback Sam Hartman threw for only 110 yards, in large part due to the Virginia Tech secondary.