Takeaways from Hokies' huge win over UNC

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By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football program made the Homecoming weekend a happy one, as the Hokies blasted North Carolina 59-7 on Saturday afternoon, scoring their most points in an ACC game and registering their largest margin of victory in an ACC game.

With the win, the Hokies moved to 6-1 on the season and moved up a spot in The Associated Press poll to No. 13. Also, the Hokies became bowl eligible for the 25th straight year. Of course, Tech has much larger aspirations, but took the next step and went 1-0 this past week – thus following its season-long mantra.

North Carolina looks really bad right now and lost its fifth straight game. The Tar Heels fell to 1-7 on the season, and their next step is going to be just as tough, as they gear up for Coastal Division-leading Miami next Saturday.

Tech looked rested and focused following its off week, and it played that way against the hurting Tar Heels. Here are some takeaways from Saturday’s 52-point rout:

Defensive line answers the challenge – Defensive coordinator Bud Foster challenged Tech’s defensive line during the off week. The Hokies entered the game with just 12 sacks as a unit in the first six games – and only 4.5 by the defensive line. The group responded with four of the Hokies’ six sacks Saturday, including 1.5 by Ricky Walker – his first of the season. Walker also scored Tech’s first touchdown on a fumble return.

“Yesterday [Friday], we got called out,” Walker said. “We took it personal. We needed to hit the quarterback and get him on the ground. Pressure is not enough. I think I came out and got the first one, and that just set the tone.”

Tech’s defense has two shutouts this season, but the Hokies’ defensive line played arguably its best game of the fall against UNC.

Offense disappointed in effort – It’s hard to be overly disappointed with a 52-point win, but several of the Hokies’ players on offense expressed that opinion following the game. Tech finished with 383 yards, which is a solid number, but the Tar Heels came into the game giving up more than 460.

After the game, Josh Jackson was asked if this was Tech’s most complete game of 2017.

“I think defense and on special teams, yes,” he said. “I don’t think we played that great offensively — the first couple drives we didn’t finish. But defensively and special teams, yes.”

Cam Phillips added, “For me, I was a little upset that the offense didn’t put up points first. We had a pretty good first drive and missed a field goal there, but shout out to the defense – great game. Even the special teams had a great game.”

The reality is Tech’s offense features a freshman quarterback, multiple freshman receivers and a freshman tight end. Each player figures to get better with each game, but the overall maturation process may take some time and may result in bumps in the road.

Run game lacking consistency – Along those same lines, Tech ran for 181 yards against a defense that allowed 144 coming in, and yes, tailbacks Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease missed the game with various ailments, but the Hokies only amassed four rushes of better than 10 yards and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Their longest run of 35 yards came from Coleman Fox with the game well in hand.

Head coach Justin Fuente seems to be resigned to idea that the Hokies are going to be a little inconsistent running the ball, and on offense in general.

“At times, we played well on offense,” Fuente said. “At times, it was a struggle. I think that’s going to be us, quite honestly.”

Special teams again outstanding – Aside from maybe Joey Slye missing a field goal, Tech’s special teams enjoyed a perfect day. Slye had another seven touchbacks, Oliver Bradburn placed all four of his punts inside the 20, and Greg Stroman returned a punt for a touchdown. The Hokies allowed no punt return yardage.

Tech owns an overwhelming advantage in hidden yardage this season – yardage related to special teams. The Hokies keep their opponents pinned through the kicking game, and Stroman keeps coming up with big plays.

Quite simply, one would be hard pressed to find a team that has played better on special teams than the Hokies this season. The players deserve credit for buying in, and James Shibest deserves credit for getting these units to perform at a high level.

Stroman may be Tech’s most valuable player – Name the player that the Hokies can least afford to lose, and it just might be Stroman, though Phillips certainly warrants being in the discussion. Stroman’s 91-yard punt return for a touchdown really broke things open, and he continues to play excellently in coverage. He’ll get challenged on defense in upcoming games – Miami looms – but the staff has to love what he has accomplished so far. The senior is having, by far, his best season.

The Hokies figure to be heavily favored next Saturday against Duke, a loser to Pittsburgh on Saturday. Then the “real” season begins, as November sets up each year to be the “money” month.

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