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Cheers and Jeers: Virginia Tech vs. Old Dominion

By Justin Cates | September 03
Screen Shot 2023 09 03 at 10 02 35 AM
Photo by Zach Ozmon. Alan Tisdale is one of the veterans hoping to help lead a young Hokie roster this season.

Just one day after the ACC announced a new and desperate bi-coastal expansion Virginia Tech opened the 2023 campaign —the last of the current era of college football— with a strong opening victory at home in a classic night atmosphere in Lane Stadium.

I don't use Twitter anymore, so this may be the only look back at the action you'll find that isn't infused with the rapid-fire observations of the emotional masses. Some bourbon was however harmed during the collection of these personal observations. Here then is an entirely self-centered set of thoughts regarding the positives and negatives —cheers and jeers if you will— of Virginia Tech's opening 36-17 win over Old Dominion.


Talent All Around

While the Virginia Tech rebuild is still a work in progress as everyone should expect, there are some clear signs that things are moving in the right direction. The coaching staff added a lot of talent in the offseason via the transfer portal and it was on full display Saturday night. It's pretty clear that depth is still a major issue and a lot of the guys who are in play are young. Still, it's obvious that Brent Pry's crew is bringing in talented, competitive guys. It will be a little rough as they learn on the job but sometimes that's not a bad way to do it. Talent has a way of taking over and Tech has more now than in recent years and continues to build momentum on the recruiting trail.

That mixed with a touch of patience is the winning recipe for a rebuild. I think we're already seeing some of the Hokie DNA return to the program from a cultural standpoint. The defense was flying to the football like a vintage orange and maroon swarm. There were so many hats around the football that when ODU coughed it up, Tech was there to scoop it up twice.

On a related note, Chris Marves seems quite comfortable in just his second full game as the lone play-caller on defense. That unit needs to improve against the run but there were some encouraging signs including five sacks and of course, those forced turnovers which came mostly from created fumbles.

As I often say, good things happen when you create mass chaos.

Catch Me If You Can

Speaking of transfers, the wideouts flashed in a big way Saturday night and it was a sight for sore Gobbler eyes. Jaylin Lane burst on the scene with a couple of downfield catches and a score that set a positive tone for an offense that struggled early in the game.

Ali Jennings meanwhile surpassed the hype and just a year after helping knock off the Hokies for ODU, he torched his former team for 72 yards on five catches with two touchdowns.

The sheer numbers were impressive as nine Hokies caught at least one pass for five or more yards against the Monarchs. That gives opponents plenty of weapons to prepare and account for as Tech switches personnel throughout a game. Remember that Tucker Holloway who had an exciting freshman campaign a year ago didn't make any noise until a big 66-yard punt return late in the game. The Hokies finally have some serious depth in terms of pass-catching again, and that includes running backs, wideouts, and tight ends. There will be fierce competition for catches which is a great thing.


Go For It?

To this point under Brent Pry, the Hokies have been fairly aggressive in trying to convert fourth downs. That's not a bad thing but much like last season, the Hokies were terrible at converting in this game. Tech went for and failed on two fourth downs in field goal range. It's quite an indictment of the offensive line that it continues to be a struggle to get one yard in the trenches when needed. That was clear in goalline situations as well which saw quarterbacks and running backs alike unable to break through the line.

The line play shouldn't be a shock as this is a raw group. There's potential there but the growing pains will continue. Hopefully, some improvement in short-yardage situations can develop quickly.

The Drones Package Lacks Lift

So far at least, Tyler Bowen seems content to use Kyron Drones like a late-stage Logan Thomas. Drones did complete one shaky swing pass for eight yards, but that was after he struggled to get the offense lined up correctly. It's useful to remember that Drones is still learning the offense while Grant Wells enters his second season under Tyler Bowen's instruction.

It's not fair to write off the two QB system just yet, though I'm sure that won't stop people. I'm interested to see if there's more to this than meets the eye on initial inspection. Obviously, nothing is in its final form in the opening game and there was no real need to experiment with this operation Saturday as Grant Wells played very well. There will likely come a time when that isn't the case however and Drones could prove a useful wrinkle.

At any rate, it gets the people going when there's a QB switch mid-drive. It's provocative and that's all that really matters! This is all just one big ratings grab after all. Sweeps are coming and you don't need writers for this kind of premium content...

Final Thoughts

It's almost always unwise to draw broad conclusions from the opening game of the season and after glancing over the copy above, it's clear I'm already a bit guilty of doing so. There are a couple of general takeaways that feel fairly safe though.

It's hard to ask for much more out of an opening game honestly. The Hokies equaled a full third of the win total from last season and turned an L from Brent Pry's first season into a victory in this one. The team experienced remarkably good injury luck it seems, though the unpredictable application of the targeting rule sure did have an impact on the depth chart.

There was something for everyone here including the coaches. There are still plenty of things to improve and build upon in practice but there's now good tape to watch too. It's a lot easier to keep pushing guys when you can point to positive results on film. Guys like Grant Wells had a good overall performance, yet he'll be the first to tell you he left a lot of plays —including one or two touchdowns— on the field with inaccurate throws.

He's already made a huge leap in turnovers from last season. Wells tossed four interceptions in the opening loss to Old Dominion and this time he had three TDs without a pick. You can live with his occasional inaccuracy if he can manage the turnover battle like that. Lots of encouraging tape here.

Sorry, I realize I keep referring to film and tape like it's 1987.

At any rate, it was a solid opening by any measure. It's tough to say much about how the season will turn out based on this, thankfully the schedule sets up nicely with manageable steps up in competition to start things off in non-conference play.

Nice start, now on to Prudue next week in Blacksburg.

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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