While Virginia Tech’s 27-10 victory over Boston College successfully reset the narrative surrounding Brent Pry’s first season in Blacksburg, it also got me excited about specific aspects of this football team.
Despite all of their flaws, the Hokies do have some position groups and players that have played well, if not great, in their first two games.
I’ll start with the defensive line, which has far and away been the most productive unit in Virginia Tech’s opening contests.
Statistically, Virginia Tech’s defensive front is off to a similarly hot start to last season, and that’s without Amare Barno in the fold. TyJuan Garbutt has assumed the No. 1 edge rusher role and broke out against Boston College, registering three tackles for loss and a sack. He’s gotten some help too — CJ McCray and Cole Nelson have combined for 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in two games as well.
But the numbers don’t tell the entire story. Against Boston College, the Hokies pushed Phil Jurkovec off his spot and outside the pocket consistently, which is something the Eagles would have rather avoided.
Whatever Tech’s adjustments were up front, they paid dividends.
“Yeah, it was a point of emphasis this week,” Pry said in his postgame press conference last Saturday. “We brought some pressure early and created some one-on-one situations. We tried to mix it up… We knew we had to get after the quarterback.”
Even when Virginia Tech didn’t get home, they made last Saturday night extremely difficult for Jurkovec and the Boston College offense. That’s an encouraging sign that this defensive front can be disruptive throughout the rest of the season.
I’m also encouraged by Connor Blumrick’s ability as a receiver. He hasn’t blown up the box score just yet, but he’s flashed serious skills as a receiver.
Blumrick is technically a tight end, but most of his value will come as a pass catcher and as a runner. He’s pretty fluid as a receiver and is wholly capable of running away from defensive backs.
He’s not just a burner either. Look at the move in space in the video below.
Blumrick is going to be a problem for Virginia Tech’s opponents. It’s a shame that the Hokies didn’t get him more involved in the offense against Old Dominion, and it’s something that Pry said the coaching staff immediately lamented after their loss to the Monarchs.
“We discussed it in the locker room last Friday night,” Pry said. “You saw what he did tonight. He’s a big, long athlete with good ball skills and he can do a lot.”
“I think it’ll go week-to-week, depending on the defense we’re facing and the matchups, but I did get more reps in practice this week,” Blumrick said after the win.
I think it’s safe to say that Grant Wells would like to see Blumrick more and more. Kaleb Smith is the only other Tech receiver that has matched Blumrick’s lethality downfield.
“I don’t really know how they’re going to defend him going forward,” Wells said. “He had some split-zone blocks today that are more like a tight end, then he runs routes like a slot receiver.”
Defenses will eventually adjust to try and slow Blumrick down, but until then, offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen and his staff must keep feeding the former quarterback the football. It’s a somewhat oversimplified statement — but football is more about Jimmy’s and Joe’s, not X’s and O’s. Get the ball to your best players and let them win you the game.
Last but certainly not least, Dax Hollifield is on the verge of completely rebooting his collegiate career. Through his first four seasons, Hollifield never quite lived up to the hype that came with him in 2018. But things look different this year.
Hollifield has registered 19 tackles through two games, adding three tackles for loss to go with it. Pro Football Focus has him as the nation’s fifth-best linebacker thus far.
He’s looked far more comfortable in this defensive system. Tech’s put him in better positions to make plays, but visually, Hollifield just looks more comfortable. He’s often seemed hesitant or a step behind throughout his career, but Hollifield is setting the tone in the middle of the defense this season. That’s important, considering Jayden McDonald and Keonta Jenkins are relatively new linebackers still learning the position.
Virginia Tech’s morning affair against Wofford is the final tune-up before the schedule gets serious. Building on the win last Saturday is important. This weekend is Tech’s final shot to shore things up before entering the more difficult portion of the season.