Takeaways from Virginia Tech's defeat in Atlanta on Saturday

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By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football team took to the practice field Sunday evening, and the 28-22 loss to Georgia Tech down in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon still stung – pun fully intended, but no less true.

The loss marked the Hokies’ second straight, leaving them at 7-3 overall and 3-3 in the ACC. They also fell out of the polls for the first time this season.

There was a lot to dissect in the aftermath of the six-point defeat to the Yellow Jackets. The Hokies fell behind early again, fought back to take the lead, gave up too many big plays and still had a chance to win in the final minutes.

Fans on message boards and social media are debating decisions to go for it on fourth down early in the game, going for two points twice and throwing the ball on the final drive when only a yard was needed for a first down. To his credit, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente explained those decisions in the postgame news conference following the game. Fans may not like the explanations, but they got answers from a guy who spent a week preparing for the Yellow Jackets and knows both them and his team the best.

Little went right for the Hokies, and some of that was their own doing, as Fuente admitted. That said, here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s game:

• Shegog played fantastic – Anthony Shegog made his first start of the season in large part because his skillset works well against a Georgia Tech offense that likes to run the ball. The fifth-year senior did not disappoint, recording a career-high 11 tackles – eight solo tackles – including three for a loss. He also forced a fumble. Bud Foster played Shegog at whip linebacker and moved Mook Reynolds to rover, though Reggie Floyd played quite a bit, too.

Shegog is a guy who makes the most of his opportunities (e.g. remember the Belk Bowl?). He’s also a quiet, unselfish young man and hopefully he gets to play just as much in the final two regular-season games and the bowl game as much as he did Saturday.

Stroman with another big play – Greg Stroman continued his incredible senior season by making yet another big play, intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter and returning it for a touchdown that gave the Hokies a 22-21 lead. The interception marked his team-best third of the season, and his touchdown marked the third of the season for him (two on punt returns). His nine pass breakups and 12 passes defensed lead the team.

Stroman has enjoyed an incredible year. Teams rarely test him. He may just be the Hokies’ most valuable player this season, as the words in this space suggested several weeks ago, and he certainly warrants All-ACC recognition.

Missed call on a fumble? – Virginia Tech’s coaches and several players expressed confusion over the officials ruling that Georgia Tech recovered a fumble on a punt return early in the second quarter. Shegog knocked the ball away from Yellow Jackets returner Brad Stewart, and three Virginia Tech players were around the ball in what turned out to be a mad scrum. Fuente thought the Hokies got the ball, but the officials gave the ball to the Yellow Jackets, with Jalen Johnson being credited with recovering the ball.

The call turned out to be a big one – Georgia Tech scored a touchdown on the drive and took a 14-3 lead. Virginia Tech’s inconsistent offense could have used the field position, practically starting the drive in the red zone. A touchdown there and the Hokies grab a lead and some momentum, which they needed.

Few people are talking about this particular play. Yet it turned out to be huge.

Virginia Tech defense strong against option – Yes, the Hokies gave up pass plays of 60 and 80 yards, and they gave up 261 yards rushing, with 69 of that coming on an end-around by Nate Cottrell.

But Georgia Tech’s two leading rushers, quarterback TaQuon Marshall and back KirVonte Benson, each averaged less than 4 yards per carry. In fact, Marshall had just 64 yards rushing on 22 carries – and average of 2.9 yards per carry. Benson finished with just 86 yards on 22 carries, an average of 3.9 per carry.

Without question, the three big plays really hurt the Hokies. But to hold Marshall under 70 yards and to hold the Yellow Jackets to just 4 of 11 on third downs (and 1 of 3 on fourth) was pretty solid work. Normally that type of work equates to a win, but the big plays were too much to overcome.

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