Mid-season, big game, high stakes, Hokie players running out onto the field beating their chests with frost rising from their breath, fans shouting deafening cheers that Lane Stadium's engineering is designed to trap...It's Thursday night football in Blacksburg. Does it get any better?
Thursday night the Virginia Tech Hokies hosted the Georgia Tech Ramblin' Wreck for a game that could have at regular season's end determined who wins the Coastal division of the ACC. The Hokies pulled out the win in the final seconds of the game with an interception in the endzone to stop a Yellow Jacket drive to tie the game. With the win, the Hokies planted a steak in the ground as the clear favorites to win the division. It's not a done deal yet. Contests against North Carolina, Miami, and Virginia still lay ahead. But our beloved Orange and Maroon have have nonetheless positioned themselves very well within the ACC. After the loss to James Madison, many made comparisons to Michigan's loss to Appalachian State just a few years ago. That loss marked the beginning of the Wolverine's program headed into steep decline. After a heartbreaking loss to Boise State just one week prior, many casted shadows of doubt on where this season could lead with a loss to James Madison. But the Hokies did the opposite. They regrouped and refocused. They knew they still had their entire ACC schedule ahead of them, and they set their sights on that. They've battled back and have played up to a level that has exceeded expectations. And after Saturday, there will probably be a few less two-loss teams, which means a bump in the rankings. But don't let those heads swell too big to fit into their helmets. Like I said, the Hokies still have formidable opponents ahead.
Turning our attention to the game, the Hokies opened the game they way they have against so many teams this season. They played on their heels for the entire first quarter. Georgia Tech unleashed the same offense they did a year ago with the triple option run. During the first fifteen minutes of the game, it worked like a charm. They earned 158 yards and 14 points. The game opened with the Virginia Tech special teams allowing a 44 yard kickoff return. On the Yellow Jackets' first drive, they methodically ran down the field where quarterback Joshua Nesbitt ran the ball into the endzone for a touchdown. The Hokies punted after their first drive, and on the ensuing Georgia Tech drive, Virginia Tech's defense broke down, and Nesbitt took advantage of it by running 71 yards for a touchdown. So just like that, less than ten minutes into the game, the Yellow Jackets commanded the game with a two-touchdown lead. Having seen the Hokies in this situation before and battle back several times during the season, I expressed discontent and disapproval, but I didn't really start to worry. The Hokies then put together a good drive to end the quarter. They didn't quite get into the endzone by the quarter's end, but they opened the second quarter with Ryan Williams, returning from his injury, punching the ball into the paint for a touchdown.
The rest of the second quarter went by largely without incident. Each team had a couple of drives, but we can essentially call the second quarter a draw. Jayron Hosley fumbled on a punt return, and that shifted momentum after a really big Hokie defensive stop. One thing I would like to say about the second quarter is that the Hokie offensive line looked great. At times, they didn't just give quarterback Tyrod Taylor a few seconds to find a receiver; they gave him until Friday morning! I don't think a gnat could have gotten through. This trend continued well throughout the game. This makes for quite a change from season past when a Virginia Tech offensive line collapsed under the blitz of the Ramblin' Wreck, albeit under different coaching, but let's give credit where credit is due. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, Josh Nesbitt left game due to injury and his backup quarterback, Tevin Washington entered the game. The third quarter went by fairly quietly as well. First, I want to credit the Yellow Jacket offense with their creativity. At this point in the game, I frequently noticed the camera man fooled by Georgia Tech offense and even wondering which runner had the ball myself. But the Hokie defense fortunately didn't go the way of the camera men and me. They made frequent stops on the triple option runs. Their intensity kept the Yellow Jacket's offensive line on edge. They committed false starts time and time again reacting to the Hokie defense's adjustments.
Moving into the fourth quarter, the Hokies finally earned a touchdown on a David Wilson rush. One note on David Wilson, I have to imagine that every Hokie fan has a new found appreciation for his abilities. I haven't really seen him shine like this, but he could have been Ryan Williams or Darren Evans with a different jersey number. After a few more changes of possession, the Hokies finally did something that I've been waiting seasons to watch them do. They methodically moved the ball down the field consistently with short but very controlled gains, and they capped it off with a go-ahead touchdown. Then, Georgia Tech dug deep and mustered a drive that tied the game with just over two minutes to go. Lane Stadium and viewers at home and in pubs could smell overtime, but then all of a sudden, David Wilson struck again. He ran the kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown, a big play for the Hokies' special teams. The Yellow Jackets had to dig deep once again, and they did. A non-passing team took to the air, and they got themselves within striking distance. With roughly 20 seconds to go, quarterback Tevin Washington dropped back to pass into the endzone. Virginia Tech corner Rashad Carmichael lost his footing leaving his man briefly open, but that ended up as only a tease for Washington. As Washington released the pass into the endzone, Carmichael unleashed a burst of speed to make up the ground he lost to intercept the pass and end the game.
Overall, this is a huge win for the Hokies. It more strongly establishes them as the leading team of the ACC Coastal division. They also remain as the only team in the ACC without an in-conference loss. I'm still worried about two recurring problems that I think the Hokies need to overcome very soon. First, mistakes on special teams are costing them. Fumbles, blocked kicks, and missed field goals have hurt, and if they face off against an SEC or Big 12 team, they will punish the Hokies severely for those types of mistakes. Second, the Hokies slow start is a problem. If they start slow against an offensive powerhouse like an Ohio State, USC, or LSU, that's going to be too deep of a hole from which to dig out.
Next up is North Carolina in a little over a week.
LET'S GO HOKIES!