Returns to homepage

Hokie Football Focus: Rutgers

By Mike Holmes | September 19
Photo: © 2023 Virginia Tech Athletics

Another week, a second loss of the season for the Hokies.

Kyron Drones got the start, but did not have weapons on the outside in Jennings and Lane. The Hokies were also without Alan Tisdale and Nasir Peoples on defense. A lot of the same issues that have plagued the Hokies all season came back to hurt them this week. Offensive line struggles, lack of roster depth, and inability to stop the run continued to be detrimental to Coach Pry and the Hokies efforts.

My goal today is to hopefully put some perspective on what we saw from the Hokies, both good and bad. The crazy thing about football is it’s never as good as it seems when you are winning (although winning masks a lot of problems) and never as bad as it seems when execution errors are made that lead to losses.

Overall Bowen called a pretty good game and made some necessary changes in scheme to get the ball in playmakers hands. But inability to sustain drives late in the game and not capitalize on scoring opportunities make it tough on the defense. Defensively, the Hokies have spurts where they look really good. Getting pressure and stopping the run early allowed us to stay in the game while the new QB got the feel of the game in his first start. Bottom line, the Hokies do not have the depth necessary in the front seven to get through the entire game unscathed.

Let's take a look at some moments from the game:

1st QTR

13:55 1st QTR 2nd and 6 & 12:56 1st QTR 1st and 10 I’m not going to go over the ins and outs of the RB/QB exchange that led to the fumble on the first drive. Instead With these two plays I want to look at some early changes that were made in the Hokies rushing attack this week. The Hokies rushed for 129 yards on 39 carries averaging 3.3 YPC. This is a pretty big improvement over the last few weeks. The change, the Hokies altered their attack to an Outside Zone approach vs attacking the middle of the defense. This extends the D, and gets them on the run and allows the OL to take advantage of movement of the DL. Tuten's vision and ability to get up-field in a hurry opened up the middle of the field for Drones on many of his QB runs. Great scheme adjustment from the offensive staff and could be very promising moving forward.

11:43 1st Qtr 3rd and 11

This play shows the potential of the Defense. Byrgos and Keller, who was demoted earlier in the week in favor of Tisdale, does an excellent job of forcing the RB to make a decision on where to go with the ball. Canteen, who does it all in the secondary, does a great job of “running the alley” in run support to make the tackle with Lawson. This is what Peoples does so well and why we miss him so much. Run defense is not the sole responsibility of the DL or the LB, all 11 players on the field have to execute their responsibilities to be successful. It’s important to understand our youth and inexperience can lead to missteps, but the potential is there as you see here!

10:53 1st QTR 1st and 10

Great play design and execution by the offense. When you have injuries and new players it’s very important to use play design to simplify things while still having the ability to move the ball. Here is an example of Bowen taking half of the field away from Drones, and giving the QB an opportunity to get the ball to playmakers. 2 receivers to the right of the formation and Felton motions into trips. The two outside receivers run into the middle of the defense allowing Felton to come open underneath. Drones slides to his right and delivers a good ball, Felton (who had a much better game this week) makes a good catch and run.

5:49 1st QTR 2nd and 8

Example of defensive adjustments against a mobile QB. It’s no secret that the Hokies have struggled in the past against mobile QB’s and we did today as well at times. In this example, I want to show our potential to make plays moving forward. This snap, the secondary for the Hokies does a great job in coverage but the half slide protection used by Rutgers opens a gap for the QB to take off. However Jayden McDonald is spying the QB here and he realizes that he cannot take off and forces the errant throw on the run and help get the defense off of the field on the next play.

4:43 1st QTR 1st and 10

This is another example of adjusting the offense for your new QB. Designed rollouts for Drones, Makes the reading of the field easier for a new QB and also gives the QB an option to take off and run if things break down. This also takes pressure off of the OL hold blocks, like in a straight drop. Hits Lofton for a nice gain here.

2nd QTR

13:15 2nd QTR 4th and 1

Drones shows an added element to the offense, which is positive as we move into Marshall week. Pivotal 4th down and 1 where the Hokies have to go for it. Drones speed and toughness here is the reason the Hokies are able to convert.

7:57 2nd QTR 3rd and 7

Rutgers TD. I mentioned earlier how important it is for all levels of the defense to execute in order to stop the run. Here is an example where the Hokies do not keep their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and Rutgers OL takes advantage of this and washes the DL down and out of the play allowing the QB to make the play. There were multiple examples this week where there was not any gap integrity on the DL which can throw everything off for the rest of the D, which very well may be in the right position, but they get caught in traffic and cannot make the play.

7:50 2nd QTR 1st and 10

This is Drones’ Interception. Just like many of Wells’ turnovers, it’s not always solely on the QB. In this case while Drones throws into double coverage and the DB makes an outstanding play, there are two receivers in the same spot on the field. This error in communication and spacing leads to the extra defender being there to make the pick.

5:07 2nd QTR 3rd and 2

Ayden Greene Catch and run for 1st down. Part of what Pry mentioned this week was the youth movement. No better example than getting guys like Turner-Bradshaw and Greene in the game and them getting targets and catches. Big spot deep in the Hokies own end, and the freshman makes the play!

3rd QTR

Rutgers makes a concerted effort to shorten the game and minimize VT possessions. They run the ball 11 straight times to open the 2nd half. Excellent strategy by Schiano and meant that VT had to maximize their limited possessions in the second half.

4:05 3rd QTR 1st and 10

This looks to be one of the first true RPO's we've seen this season, where the QB truly has all 3 options (RB dive, QB stretch, WR slant) at his disposal. Drones completes a pass to Stephen Gosnell over the middle. Drones sets up nicely in the pocket and steps up under some pressure and delivers a strike to Gosnell who takes a shot and holds onto the ball! Lots of poise for a younger player and shows how Drones got more comfortable as the game went along.

3:47 3rd QTR 2nd and 1

TOUCHDOWN TECH! Drones to Felton. Similar concept as I mentioned earlier with clearing out one side of the field to open it up for Felton. Everything is in line here, good protection, good play action fake to hold the safety, good throw and good catch effort by Felton to get into the endzone!

2:55 3rd QTR 4th and 5

Tucker Holloway is proving week after week that he needs to be accounted for in the return game. All game long, Rutgers tried to limit his returns with little pooch punts with a lot of hangtime and little distance. This was a line drive that gave Holloway an opportunity. He get a couple of good blocks and sets up the Hokies in great field position!

2:40 3rd QTR 1st and 10

As the game progressed, Bowen seemed to get more comfortable with letting Drones take some shots downfield. There were opportunities a couple of times Drones tried to hit Felton on a deep ball. Felton dropped one and in this example, he earned a pass interference. This does a couple of things, makes the safeties play a little deeper which opens up the run game a little bit more and opens up the secondary for intermediate crossing routes.

10:52 4th QTR 3rd and 1

Don’t want to end this on a bad note, but on Rutgers second to last TD of the day, we appear to be out of alignment. When RU motions the receiver across and we run with him, Jaylen Jones is now our edge defender and He and the DE pinch inside and simply get washed down with no one else to help out in support. I mention this to say that I believe there is an opportunity to make adjustments and many of the Hokies mistakes are fixable with experience. The more snaps a player sees the more in game adjustments can be made.


Offense: C

Overall we did some good things, all things considered. Missing our top weapons on the outside hurts. Drones has an intangible quality that sparks the offense and I feel he will get better with reps. I feel he is the guy going forward. Run game struggled again (compared to VT standards), but Bowen and Co. adjusted the scheme to focus more on the Outside zone and we gained over 100 yards more on the ground vs last week. Young linemen got some reps against a good front 7. We are just overall a consistently inconsistent offense that got a spark this week from a new QB and should continue to grow.

OL: D+

Still WAAAAY too many blown assignments and missed blocks. Many instances where we run past the closest defender looking for work, and that guy makes the play. Pass Pro struggled more than in previous weeks. This unit has to get better.


Drones brings a spark to the offense, with everyone healthy and available we could be dangerous in the passing game. I understand the concerns with Drones from coaches' reports. He was indecisive at times and made a few reads that were bad, but as the game progressed he got more comfortable and led the Hokies on some good drives. It should also be noted that Rutgers is a substantially better defense than ODU or Purdue. I think you have to stick with him and allow him to continue growing.


Tuten has cemented himself as number one. I think he will excel in this outside zone scheme. Thomas is your more north and south runner, and it’s a good mix to have. Tuten does well in pass pro and got in the endzone for the 2nd week in a row.

WR: B-

With all the injuries taken into consideration, the group looked okay. Felton played much better than the previous weeks. Turner-Bradshaw, Greene, Gosnell, and Holloway all contributed. Gosnell’s downfield blocking is awesome on Felton’s TD.

Defense: C

Overall, Still too many blown assignments and lack of gap control. It’s a problem with the defense as a whole and you cannot blame one group more than the other. The Hokies miss Peoples, Jenkins, and Tisdale and overall just do not do a very good job against the run. Physically the defense can make more plays, but mentally the unit lacks discipline and technique. Lots of growing to do.


The Hokies do not have a very good D line. When the DL does get penetration, we run recklessly by the play and take ourselves out of it. The DL does not keep their shoulders square to the line and our opposition uses that leverage advantage to wash the Hokies out of the play. The potentially for big plays in there, but overall fundamentals and consistency are really lacking.

LB: B-

Slightly better play this week. Getting more comfortable in what the fits and assignments are each week, Getting caught in DL traffic in the run game and makes it difficult to scrape and make plays. Getting a healthy Alan Tisdale and Keonta Jenkins back will be a major boost to this unit, who will be tested in the coming weeks.


Played well on the back end. Canteen, and Stroman are playing at a high level. Delane and Strong are in good form and getting. Delane potentially playing more at safety will test his tackling, but give the Hokies some added coverage skills. Peoples looks to be out a few more weeks, so guys like Jaylen Jones will have to step up.

Special Teams: B-

Peter Moore had a 13 yard punt. Love missed a FG. Holloway’s a threat every time he touches the ball in the return game. Hokies are going to need the special teams units to be lights out in order to win some games this season.


I am a 5th Generation Hokie. I have Orange and Maroon blood coursing through my veins. I was lucky enough to attend VT from 1999-2003 and graduated with a history degree. I became a history teacher and football coach working my way to spending multiple seasons as Head Coach at schools in North Carolina and Colorado.

I now live in Colorado, with my wife and son and do what I can to follow the Hokies from afar. The outstanding team here at Sons of Saturday was gracious enough to let me talk some football and be able to impart some my knowledge gained from years spent on the sideline.

Aside from following the Hokies in all sports, I am a fan of the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Braves, and Carolina Hurricanes. I also try to play a lot of golf and enjoy skiing out here in the rockies!

Read More of Mike's Articles