That wasn’t a college football game last night at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.
It was an exorcism.
The demons that had turned a once-proud football program into a fumblin’, stumblin’, penalty-commitin’, can’t-get-out-of-our-own-way-on-key-plays collection of fine young men were driven from the souls of its players, coaches, fans and followers on an unseasonably warm night. So complete was Virginia Tech’s 38-10 win over Syracuse, it seemed like Lane became a time machine and transported everybody back to happier football times 25 years ago.
For one special night, it wasn’t about Enter Sandman. It was more like The Boys Are Back In Town Again.
It started with Brent Pry with a quick sideline interview. Gone was the aw shucks, we’re going to give it our best type of persona, replaced by an intensity one might confuse with someone who just finished a six pack of energy drinks with a pot of coffee chaser. “We need to get off to a fast start,” he said with fire in his eyes, and ended up predicting exactly what would happen next.
One thing Pry’s teams have lacked early in his tenure has been an identity regarding who they were. They’ve shown flashes of goodness on offense and defense at times, but they’ve never repeated those flashes consistently enough for you to say “that’s what we’re hanging our hat on.”
Not last night. After showing signs of better offense and defense against Pitt and Wake, the Hokies put a complete game together against Syracuse. And oh what a complete game it was.
In the first quarter, Syracuse had the ball 5 times and Tech’s defense stopped them all five times without a first down. The offense had six possessions in the first half and scored on all six. The defense scored a safety, and special teams had a long punt return. So automatic was kicker John Love whenever the offense crossed the Syracuse 40, it was if the Almighty himself was reminding everybody of a bible verse in First Corinthians, Chapter 13: Love never fails.
The offense continued its evolution where quarterback Kyron Drones and offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen have gotten on the same page and they both now trust each other. Gone were the 3 yards and a cloud of dust running into a brick wall plays. From the very beginning, Bowen had Drones throw deep to stretch the defense, and while he wasn’t close on many throws, it served its purpose of keeping the Syracuse defense honest.
In doing so, lanes started to open in the running game, particularly on plays to the wide side of the field. Bhayshul Tuten and Malachi Thomas found enough seams to combine for over 200 yards of rushing, and no longer were the previously predictable Hokies running the same 5 plays, as Malachi threw an option pass for a touchdown to Da’Quan Felton. As the Orange defense crept up to the line to try to stop this new-found Hokie running attack, Drones took advantage and zipped about as perfect a pass as can be thrown to Felton for a 62-yard score.
A team that I thought would struggle to score 21 points in a game earlier in the season had 30 points at halftime, meaning in the second half the defense could aggressively go after the Syracuse offense. It truly became a reincarnation of “The Terrordome” as Pry and company did their best Bud Foster imitation of old, blitzing and pass rushing the Orange into oblivion.
Bowen did a wayback impression of his own, as back in the glory days, the Hokies had the weapons to end a game early by going on long, time-consuming drives that demoralized opponents and kept their tired defenses on the field. With the running game working so well last night, the Hokies went back to the future, as time of possession was so lopsided, the Hokies had it for 41:42, while Syracuse had it for only 18:18.
The stats lines were amazing. Virginia Tech committed no turnovers and only had 5 penalties. They had 528 yards of total offense. The defense had 8 sacks. They were in the red zone six times and scored all six times.
At one point, the television announcers said “Syracuse did not see this coming,” and I had to laugh. The 65,000 at Lane and the millions watching across the country didn’t see this coming either in their wildest dreams. Hokie fans have been hoping for a game like this, but not confident it would ever happen. It was like asking your parents for an extremely exotic and expensive present for Christmas, knowing you wouldn’t get it, then screaming in delight when it appeared under the tree Christmas morning.
The win makes the team 4-4, but the most important thing after last night is the gift the contest was to the psyche of Hokie Nation. The players looked as amped and happy on the sidelines as I’ve ever seen. I got several texts from long-time Hokies during the second half with the phrase “starting to believe.” Pry is winning over even the most hardcore critics.
Hokie-on-Hokie violence on social media was at an all-time low, as an entire generation of Hokies were introduced to how it used to be. The older generation sat and savored every minute of the contest, realizing we all may have taken games like this for granted 20 years ago. Heck, you can call me a boomer all you want if I get to enjoy games like this again.
Last night was also another turning point as the ship is being righted. Since Brent Pry was hired, the team has been his job, but over the past month, it now it feels like the chemistry, the faith, and the identity are there.
The Hokies are no longer just his job. The Hokies are his team.
So begone, demons of the past. A new spirit is rising in Blacksburg.
The boys are back in town again.