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Cheers and Jeers: Virginia Tech vs. Liberty

By Justin Cates | November 21
Photo by Will Trent
Screen Shot 2022 11 21 at 6 56 54 AM

I got roped into buying a month of ESPN+ right at kickoff in order to watch this one. I really thought I already had access, but what's one more moderately priced service to add on right? Just add it to the weird amalgamation of streaming apps we all have.

At the very least this game was worth the price of admission, and perhaps it will pay for itself further during hockey season.

Either way, the Hokies pulled off the first signature win of the Brent Pry era Saturday with a 23-22 road upset over Liberty.


Another Mixed bag on Special Teams

Tech pulled off a fantastic fake field goal that ended with an 11-yard run from kicker John Love that resulted in a first down run. There were also some nice kick returns from Cole Beck who finally got to flash his legendary homegrown speed on the football field.

It's never a great day though when you also give up a 97-yard kick return touchdown plus a couple of other nice returns. It's certainly worth noting that the wind difference was huge kicking in that direction. That's what made it possible for Liberty to field the kicks in the first place. Louis Shedro is also a real talent whoe burned the Hokies on returns and as a running back, but Tech's spotty coverage was once again a big issue.

It was also a bummer to see that Tucker Holloway burned his redshirt to mostly end up with fair catches and just two returns for three yards. It would be a real shame for him if that was the end of the year.

Passing Game Struggles

Grant Wells has often not really been the problem on offense. Most evaluators knew entering the season that he had a knack for big plays and too many mistakes. Outside of the four picks in the opener, Wells has limited the mistakes with nine total interceptions. That's perfectly workable. But he's only accounted for nine passing scores — though he does have six rushing scores and 441 yards gained there before sacks.

But the sacks have started to pile up. Wells has developed a nasty habit of taking a crucial sack on third down to push Tech out of field goal range. The problem has shown itself at other points on the field too with Wells opting to take sacks instead of pushing the ball downfield.

The Flames totaled six sacks with a couple of crucial gun shy moments mixed in by Wells. His 148 passing yards with no touchdown and no picks kind of sums up the recent trend. It's been a season-long search for consistency in the passing game and things have just never quite come together.


The Two Point Play

This was a good play call and it worked quite well. It was a tough break that the ground knocked the ball loose from the sure-handed Kaleb Smith. It was one of the few times on the day Tech actively targeted their top receiver, and he very nearly made a critical catch. He finished the day with just one catch for five yards. Far from ideal but it was the right call to go for Smith at the goal line.

Hokies Deliver by Ground

Jalen Holston had the game of his career Saturday with 99 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He's flashed some power against contact in recent games and showed plenty of that here, but Holston also showed some speed. It was an all around effort that included two short catches as well.

Holston paired nicely with Keshawn King who racked up 11 carries for 78 yards and brought down four catches for 31. That led Tech in catches and were the third most yardage on the team.

Grant Wells ran extensively too, which is a facet of the offense that doesn't always work but it sure did against Liberty. Well gained 68 yards, he just happened to lost 64 on sacks. This hurts the net numbers just a bit.

Defense Takes Control

The Virginia Tech defense racked up five sacks and forced multiple fumbles. They also did a nice job of containing two quarterbacks with differing styles who both had some nice moments on the day.

Brent Pry said after the game that he didn't give Chris Marve a choice about calling the plays this week. The forced field promotion worked wonders and sets the table for an intriguing future with some good young players and a promising young coordinator.

Final Thoughts

One of the few good points made by the broadcast crew came in the waning moments as they heaped praise on the Hokies. This was indeed a Brent Pry win. Create turnovers, run the football, win ugly. It's the Frank Beamer formula in its most embryonic form but that's the model. This is what Brent Pry wants.

For the first time in many months the team made enough winning plays at the end of the game to seal a victory. It's the tangible sign of progress everyone has so desperately been seeking and it came with payback against a rising in-state threat.

Chris Marve did a fine job with the defense Saturday. It was great to see him in control of a unit that only gave up 13 points — remember, there was a kick return for seven and a safety. I noticed he appeared to have a different play sheet early and he appeared in control but also his usual energetic self.

It also felt like the overall game management was improved under the new arrangement. Perhaps that's projection, or maybe handing over play-calling duties really helps there. It' probably a bit of both but Pry being free to fully be the head coach is huge going forward.

It's unclear if Tech will play against Virginia to end the season. They need to make whatever choice works for them and it will be the right one. We'll go with whatever there and try to help them as we can. Some Tech players have already expressed an interest in heading up to Charlottesville to visit if the game in cancelled.

For the Hokies if that was it Saturday it was an outstanding end to a miserable season. If there's one more chance to build momentum so be it, but some good signs are there already at the end of Brent Pry's first season in charge.


My Dad graduated from Tech in 1981 and I’ve been attending Virginia Tech sporting events since I first moved to Blacksburg in 1988. I myself graduated in 2008 with a Communication degree. During my time as a student I was the Sports Director for WUVT and helped establish and run Planet Blacksburg, an independent student-run news website. I’ve since written for numerous publications including SBNation, Inside The ACC, and Sports Illustrated's AllHokies. Currently, I host The Justin Cates Show in addition to other contributions here at Sons of Saturday and various other sites as the need arises. I now live in a fortified compound in upstate New York with my wife and numerous animals. The smell of popcorn makes me think of Cassell.

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