Wind: 1.01 m/h
It’s not often you can say that the key play of a game was the halftime interview.
But that may have been the case in Virginia Tech’s spread-covering 35-14 win over Middle Tennessee State today at Lane Stadium.
Despite last week’s impressive win over probably over-rated North Carolina, the Hokies did not come out for today’s first half with a fireball of emotion. While the defense continued to look sharp, the maddening offensive game plan used in the second half last week where the unit crawled into its shell to protect a lead was again on full display.
It was good enough to take a 14-7 lead at the half, as Braxton Burmeister threw a 6-yard fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone that Tayvion Robinson caught for one score, then new crowd favorite and designated wildcat quarterback Connor Blumrick scored from 2 yards out for the 14 Hokie points.
But it was also at times a ball of confusion when it came to the passing game. On some plays, Burmeister seemed as if he couldn’t find anyone open when he looked downfield, leading one to wonder if the Hokie wide receivers just couldn’t get any separation, or if Braxton wasn’t making the right reads and looking for completions in all the wrong places.
The offensive line initially looked emotionally disinterested, and when you combine that with not knowing what your quarterback is going to do, that made it even tougher for the OL to get some traction. All of this didn’t stop Virginia Tech from taking the lead, but it did lead to a series of short passes to the sidelines and quarterback scrambles that seemed to ignore bigger play opportunities down the field.
In addition, the danger in frequently running such plays is that teams can be prone to throwing pick-six passes if any of those sideline passes are errant. Scramble too much, many a team has discovered, and you may possibly get your QB killed. The Hokies didn’t do the first, but came pretty close to the second when Burmeister took off late in the first quarter after not being able to find anyone, and decided a half second too late to slide. It resulted in Knox Kadum playing for a series before Burmeister was able to shake the cobwebs from a fierce hit that left him laying on the turf for several minutes.
While watching this game of checkdowns and play calls that came close to removing Virginia Tech’s quarterback from active duty for a few weeks, I found myself wanting Justin Fuente to for once be like Joe Gibbs when his teams didn’t light the world on fire: He got angry. Like tipping tables over the in the locker room angry. He put the fear of God into every soul within listening range and persuaded them to get their heads in the right place in the second half.
Much to my surprise, as he stopped on his way to the locker room to do his mandatory interview with ACC Network Extra announcer Bill Roth (Editors Note: wasn't it great to hear Bill say "Touchdown Tech" just one more time?), Fuente was angry. Not only did he appear to be angry, he SAID he was angry. And he promised changes in the second half.
Finally, I thought. Even he’s tired of all this. Maybe we’ll see them take some deep shots, loosen up the defense for the running game, and the Hokies will look like the balanced team they need to be.
Daggone if that didn’t happen.
MTSU started the second half with the ball and eventually punted, leaving the Hokies to start deep in their territory at their own 7. This usually results in offensive play calls that include two short runs and an incomplete pass followed by a punt, but instead, we saw the fruits of Fuente’s anger. After a short run, the Hokies didn't play it safe, as Burmeister dropped back into his own end zone and threw a 10-yard strike to Tre Turner for a first down.
After another short run, the play I’ve been waiting for seven quarters this season finally happened. The Hokies took a deep shot, and Turner caught the 47-yard throw from Burmeister to put the ball in MTSU territory. He almost tried another on the next play but couldn’t find anyone, settling for a 6-yard scramble. But with the MTSU defense having to honor the deep pass, the offensive line was able to create a seam off tackle, and Jalen Holston slashed through it for a 29-yard touchdown run.
Order was restored in the Hokie universe. They proved they had big-strike capability, and it was clear Fuente had challenged them. The knock on the Hokie head coach from time to time has been he’s been too unemotional on the sidelines, but at that moment he took a bite out his team and they responded.
It wasn’t just offense either. Sparked by that 6-play 93-yard touchdown drive, the defense then took it up a notch. Jermaine Waller intercepted an MTSU pass and gave it back to the offense in great field position, which 5 plays later resulted in a Raheem Blackshear touchdown. When the offense got the ball back again, there was another long downfield shot, a 33-yard run by Blumrick, and still another Blackshear touchdown.
Three possessions. Three touchdowns. No jet sweeps or swing passes. Just good, hard, take it downfield football. The game for all intents and purposes was over.
As noted philosopher Mick Jagger has been singing about for the last century, you can’t always get what you want, as this was far from a perfect game by the Hokies.
But if you try some time – like taking deep shots on offense and inspiring your head coach to be a mad man in the locker room to get everyone’s attention – you just might find, Jagger sang, you get what you need.
Today, the Hokies tried, taking deep shots and getting some fire from their head coach.
They ended up getting just what they needed.