Takeaways from the Hokies' loss to No. 2 Clemson

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By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – A disappointed Justin Fuente met with media members shortly after midnight following Virginia Tech’s 31-17 loss to Clemson, and he pretty much summed up the Hokies’ evening with his opening statement.

“I wish we could have played better,” he said. “We played a really good opponent today that highlighted some mistakes really quickly.”

Tech fell to 4-1 on the season with the defeat and dropped four spots to No. 16 in the latest Associated Press top-25 poll. Clemson showed why it is the defending national champion, coming into Lane Stadium, grabbing the early lead, forcing the Hokies into some mistakes and stymying Tech for the rest of the night.

The Tigers were too big, fast and good on this night. That statement boils things to the simplest of terms.

That said, here is some deeper game analysis in the following takeaways from Saturday’s game:

The importance of scoring first – The “Things to Watch” posted Saturday – and can be read by clicking here – discussed the importance of scoring first, and yet Clemson got off to the fast start instead of the Hokies. The Tigers scored on their first two possessions, and in turn, they took all the starch out of the Lane Stadium crowd. Thus, the Hokies fell to 3-4 under Fuente when they fail to score first.

Yes, quick starts establish momentum, but for the Hokies, scoring first is more important because this year’s team isn’t built to come from behind. Tech’s offense lacks a veteran quarterback like Jerod Evans. It lacks proven stars like Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. It lacks a versatile weapon like Sam Rogers. The Hokies’ margin for error simple isn’t as large as it was last season.

Young receivers still learning – Clemson essentially iced this one early in the fourth quarter when Dorian O’Daniel returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown. O’Daniel received a gift, as Tech quarterback Josh Jackson delivered a perfect pass to Henri Murphy, who bobbled the ball up in the air into the waiting hands of O’Daniel.

This isn’t meant to be critical of Murphy. Rather, the play serves as a perfect example of a young receiver trying to make a play before securing the ball. Murphy got in a hurry to get up the field and took his eyes off the ball. Keep in mind that Murphy only caught three passes last season – and none in the final four games. He’s learning, like the rest of the Hokies’ receivers.

Savoy strong in primetime – As a follow-up to the previous note about Tech’s receivers, it would be remiss not to mention freshman Sean Savoy, who scored both of the Hokies’ touchdowns – one rushing and one passing. The young receiver caught four passes for 35 yards, and he ran twice for eight yards.

Tech’s staff obviously feels comfortable with Savoy because offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen continues to call his number. More importantly, though, Savoy didn’t seem afraid of the Tigers or the stage Saturday night. The moment wasn’t too big for him, and he’s quickly emerging as the main weapon opposite Cam Phillips.

Fox emerging? – It caught many by surprise to see tailback Coleman Fox receive so much playing time against Clemson. Granted, Steven Peoples missed the game with an injury, and Tech’s staff sat Travon McMillian after his third-quarter fumble. That left the tailback duties in the hands of Deshawn McClease and Fox.

Fox, who did not play in a game last year as a redshirt freshman, ran the ball five times and led all Tech rushers with 39 yards. He received two more carries than McClease and true freshman Jalen Holston did not get a carry.

Is Fox working his way into a more prominent role? He has carried the ball 24 times in the past three games. That’s the exact same number of carries as McMillian and more than McClease and Holston. That’s even more than Peoples, though Peoples missed the Clemson game and almost certainly would have received several carries if he had played.

It will be interesting to see Fox’s role going forward.

Defense plays well – After grading the film Sunday morning, Bud Foster probably felt as if his defense played reasonably well against Clemson. After all, the Tigers entered the game averaging more than 500 yards of offense – and Tech held them to just 332. Tech’s defense sacked Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant three times, and Clemson’s running backs mustered just 52 yards.

But Foster still will be upset about the busted coverage that led to a 60-yard touchdown pass, and he wasn’t happy with his defense after giving up a third-quarter score following Travon McMillian’s costly fumble.

“We didn’t execute a couple of scheme things, technique things, on that drive that were disappointing,” Foster said after the game. “I thought that drive and obviously the big play [the 60-yard touchdown pass to Tavien Feaster], which was a busted coverage. Those were the two critical series in the game.”

Most fans and media members raved about Clemson’s defense, and for sure, the Tigers are very good. But Tech’s defense certainly kept the Hokies in the game.

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