In August, the goals for this Virginia Tech football team were pretty simple: Win 6 games, beat Virginia, play in a bowl game.
At times during the season it appeared they wouldn’t make it that far. At other times it looked like they might exceed those targets after putting a few good games together.
Saturday, after a convincing thumping of instate rival Virginia, they arrived at those milestones. Brent Pry’s Hokies – which at times this year looked hungry and at other times disinterested – came out of the tunnel looking famished and with fire in their eyes as they easily rolled all over Virginia 55-17.
The Hokies were so prepared from the opening kickoff, it appeared as if the team had been reading the scriptures in Blacksburg because they laid down a beating of Biblical proportions on the Cavaliers. Unlike last week, when the Hokies seemed to forget everything that worked earlier in the season, this time they remembered and never took their foot off the gas pedal.
The team that only gave Bhayshul Tuten 2 carries for minus 3 yards last week, gave it to him 16 times, as he gained 122 yards and scored 2 touchdowns, one on a 94-yard kickoff return. The team that threw screens from sideline to sideline last week, instead threw the ball down the field Saturday with Da’Quan Felton catching 3 balls from Kyrone Drones for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The defense that couldn’t get off the field last week on third down, consistently did Saturday, shutting out Virginia in the first half and running up a 31-0 lead before finally giving up points.
It was a complete and total reversal from last week’s loss to N.C. State. They used the weapons they had, offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen called a good game blending run and pass, and Drones controlled the tempo like he was waving a baton in front of orchestra. Even more impressive, if it had it not been for several questionable penalties, it could have been much worse.
The win completes an up and down season that has made this Hokie team hard to understand. They can come out one week, play with confidence and look very good, only to fall back the next week and look like it’s the first time any of them have met. As the season went on, you could see a chemistry forming between playmakers, but they were only as good as what was sent in from the sidelines. And some of those calls didn’t show a lot of trust in what could be executed in critical situations.
That wasn’t the case Saturday, particularly in the first half. Leading only 3-0, a Malchi Thomas run gained 2 yards and left the Hokies with a 4th and 2 at the UVA 44. Let’s go for it, Pry told his QB and the call sent in wasn’t a 3 yards and a cloud of dust play you hoped would work. Instead the call had Drones rolling to his right and drilling a perfect pass to Stephen Gosnell that hit him in stride on his fingertips. He caught it and strolled into the end zone for a touchdown.
A few drives later, it happened again. Faced with a 4th and 2 at the UVA 47, Virginia Tech called a timeout. When they came out, Drones led the offense, armed with Pry’s charge to go get the first down. He immediately fired a 15-yard completion to Felton for the first down, then on the next play handed off to Tuten for a 32-yard touchdown run.
Even more trust.
You can’t quantify what that does for a team, knowing your coaches trust you to make a critical play in a difficult situation, and you pull it off. Twice in the first half, in fact. It fires everyone up and transforms a group of strangers playing for a new coach into a team.
Virginia Tech would show what they are capable of the rest of the game, hitting on all cylinders and finishing the day with a lopsided win, in their state rival’s stadium, which was filled with more Hokie fans than Virginia fans. Which is quite a way to finish a regular season.
But I believe they accomplished a lot more than that. Many are suggesting this is the turning point in Pry’s tenure with the Hokies, but we’ve all said that more than once earlier this season. It’s just that every time the team has a good game and we say it, the Hokies come out the next week in some state of disarray and look awful, making us wonder who the real Hokies are.
We got a better idea as to the answer of that question Saturday. When you’re turning around a program, you first have to get the right people in the right seats on the bus, and after starting the season with a different quarterback, it seems they now have the right people in the skill positions they need. Then you have to get those right people to play together and trust each other, and I think after 11 games, they showed against UVA they can do that.
Lastly, they have to be consistent, which only comes about with practice, practice and more practice. By becoming bowl eligible, the Hokies now get an extra 30 days of practice (which they did not get last year by not making a bowl) which can buy a whole lot of consistency and trust. Not to mention having a much better feel for who will be playing next year going into the spring.
All that for putting double nickels up on Virginia.
After the game, Pry was so proud of the performance that he got the team back on the field to take a team picture. Virginia’s groundskeepers, emulating the south end of a north-bound horse, turned on the sprinklers to stop that, but Pry had them take the picture anyway. The team that seemed to play with storm clouds over their heads all year, looks like they’re posing in a thunderstorm.
It’s actually a nice symbolic picture, although the opposite is true.
Saturday’s rout of Virginia showed the rain may finally be stopping. The skies possibly are clearing. Brent Pry perhaps has turned a corner.
The sun shining on Virginia Tech football may not be that far away.