Cheers and Jeers: Virginia Tech vs. Purdue
That was a long road to walk just to end up completely disappointed at the end.
The weather showed shades of the 2000 season opener against Georgia Tech that was famously canceled due to lightning (apologies for the turn-of-the-century video clip below).
That incident famously prompted the upgrades to Tech's current
high-tech version of Worsham Field that can suck down a hurricane in
less than an hour. It's not always handy, but man, is it worth having a
vacuum under your field on a day like on Saturday.
Even in these Hellish times, it's not often that the first quarter
lasts six hours. Every Saturday truly brings something new in this big,
Students and Other Fans
Lane was sold out and near capacity at noon but it was a significantly thinner group once the clock started rolling post-storm. Despite the inclement troubles, Tech fans filled the north end zone and more of the lower stadium than I would have thought when action resumed. Honestly, even sitting at home I was ready to move on after a few hours. As someone creeping up on "old" I can tell you that one can only watch the radar for so long on a Saturday before you finally have to admit to your family, "This might not happen today".
So major props to everyone who stuck it out and came back to Lane for the matinee showing.
The offense is still a struggle, particularly as it appears once again that teams will be able to lay off the running game and sit back in coverage. That makes improving the passing game a challenge and the task becomes even larger if the top two targets Ali Jennings and Jaylin Lane miss any significant time. I don't care to speculate too much on injuries but with an ankle and hamstring issue at play, these are certainly concerning developments.
Where's the Beef?
The offensive line was a red flag entering the season and after showing some life in the ground game against Old Dominion, Tech was unable to open any creases or gain any traction up front against Purdue. The Hokies finished with 11 yards on the ground which hardly even computes. It was saved from being a negative number with a late 13-yard scramble from Kyron Drones.
Virginia Tech averaged a miserable .5 yards per carry. Tech entered the game tied for 97th nationally in rushing offense with Purdue, but after laying an egg on offense and getting gouged for 179 yards by the Boilermakers it's clear these offenses couldn't be more different.
The Hokies now sit tied with Kent State at 122nd in the nation. With a running game like this, the Hokies will start to see more stacked boxes like Purdue's attacking front five.
Maybe Just Punt On Third Down?
Dating back to last season the Hokies have been dreadful at converting on third down and things seem to be getting worse. An outing like Saturday's 2-for-12 in those scenarios wouldn't beat a dead horse and it certainly isn't going to cut it against a Big Ten opponent. It's no secret why this keeps happening. The offense, "gets off schedule" almost immediately which leads to third and medium to long, neither of which is likely to end well with this oddly horizontal passing attack.
Grant Wells had a recurrence of turnovers with two interceptions, neither of which were particularly good throws. He continues to be a little late on many of his attempts and completed fewer than half of his passes on Saturday. The whole unit feels like it's pretty close to getting it, just not quite there.
If Kyron Drones was the man for the most important drive of the game, it seems time to make a switch there, or at the very least start working him into the offense more often throughout the game. The sample size is still incredibly small for him, but apparently, the coaches have enough confidence to cut him loose when it matters. I'm not even sure making the switch will change terribly much. I also don't think it makes any kind of sense to have him on the sidelines the entire game and then toss him in at the end, but here we are.
He didn't play amazingly though he was decisive. He completed just two of seven passes but a couple of those were throwaways, something often less clear-cut on a Grant Wells pass.
Wells played fine and even well at times. He was certainly hampered by losing Ali Jennings almost immediately, and then Jaylin Lane as well after another nice day.
There's not enough depth anywhere on this team to sustain major injuries and this has been known all offseason. Hopefully, those guys can heal up quickly because the offense got bogged down in a concerning way without them.
Tech was in a position to win this game, which I'm not sure would have been the case last season. We'll call that progress. Ultimately, the result was the same as usual even though the defense handled Purdue's uptempo, air-raid adjacent attack admirably. The offense just couldn't put much of anything together outside of the 17 unanswered points the Hokies scored to tie the game.
I'm not sure how good Purdue actually is, but they do some cool things. Their five-man front destroyed any hope of running the ball and their quick, short-passing attack kept Tech on its heels for much of the game.
It's still a wait-and-see moment for me as far as these Hokies are concerned. They had chances and didn't capitalize. It happens. A road game against another Big Ten foe next week —which will feature many of us in person— will tell us plenty as well. Can these Gobblers bounce back?
I'm not sure but all is not yet lost. Just a bit damp after one of the stranger college football Saturdays in recent memory.