Outside of a total blowout or a game played in a stadium that doesn't represent all the worst parts of the traffic hellscape that is the metro D.C. area, I don't see how West Virginia week could've gone much better for the Hokies.
A thrilling 31-24 win has just about everybody in the college football world buzzing about Justin Fuente and Josh Jackson, and even if it's after just one game, man, does that feel nice.
I was personally skeptical of Tech's chances headed into this game, mostly because I was afraid that Will Grier had the right sort of skillset to bedevil Bud Foster's defense (and it didn't help any that French compared him to C.J. Brown, the Maryland QB who almost singlehandedly ruined my last home game as a student back in 2013).
But Jackson was certainly better than I expected, and the defense bent, but didn't often break. The coaches seem to think Terrell Edmunds and Steven Peoples won't feel any lingering effects from their injuries, so really, I couldn't be more pleased.
With a short(ish) week before the home opener against Delaware, this is the only media availability we'll get between now and Saturday, so let's do it.
Josh Jackson for Heisman
OK, maybe not yet, but the man looked good, is all I'm saying.
The most important stat of his night was a simple one: zero turnovers. That in and of itself was huge, considering he was playing his first game on a big stage against an unusual, 3-3-5 defense.
But, Fuente was still willing on Tuesday to praise his QB for producing more than just a clean stat sheet.
And make some plays he did, particularly in the run game — in a popularly circulated stat, Jackson was the first Tech QB to notch 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a game since 2013, which seems unbelievable until you consider that Jerod Evans came within just one or two yards of that standard on several occasions last year.
There was a lot of speculation in the preseason about Jackson might fare in the run game compared to Evans, and he did a fine job of answering them on Sunday. He wasn't always as quick as he could be making reads in the run game, especially early, but it's hard to argue with his performance on those Logan Thomas vs. Miami-esque QB powers that started opening up as the game progressed.
The passing game was more of a mixed bag, although still promising. A 15-of-26 performance certainly leaves room for improvement, and I think we could definitely see evidence that Jackson doesn't have the same arm strength as Evans.
But he was still generally accurate, and only took one sack, though he was on the run a bit more than the coaches might like.
The bigger question in my mind, and the minds of the coaches, is about who might catch Jackson's passes going forward. Speaking of which!
At Receiver, It's Cam, Savoy...And Everyone Else
The good: Cam Phillips had a huge game, with seven catches, 138 yards, a touchdown and several other chances to add to that total, perhaps if Jackson had a bit more seasoning.
Sean Savoy delivered on the preseason hype as well, with four catches for 42 yards, including the 22-yarder that came just before Jackson's big 48-yard run to set up the game-winning touchdown. He even got a few shots in the running game, though his three attempts only added up to nine yards.
And then after that, there's not much to say about the receivers. Chris Cunningham caught that big 39-yard bomb, and that's about it. Of the Hokies' 15 total receptions, Phillips accounted for seven, Savoy for four...and then it's just odds and ends.
Clearly, the Hokies are aware that's not sustainable.
It actually was striking to see Phillips get open as often as he did, considering that there just weren't a whole lot of other Tech receivers for the Mountaineers to focus on. All credit to Fuente and Brad Cornelsen for getting him those looks, but the Hokies can't count on that happening every week.
It was perhaps more worrying still that Phillips was the only deep threat of any note against the 'Eers, something that will surely need to change as the Hokies face stiffer defenses. Caleb Farley is certainly missed in this respect (to say nothing of Isaiah Ford), and someone will need to fill that void, be it Kumah, Hezekiah Grimsley, Phil Patterson or someone else entirely.
Bend, but Don't Break?
If someone from the future had told me that Bud's bunch would give up 592 total yards and asked me to guess the outcome of the game, I probably wouldn't feel terribly optimistic!
Yet the Hokies really did an admirable job of not allowing WVU to turn those yards into points, a sentiment that Foster echoed Monday.
Fuente noted, astutely, that Oscar Bradburn's early punting proficiency and Joey Slye's continued excellence on kickoffs helped give the Hokies a major field position advantage — WVU didn't get the chance to return a single kickoff, while Tech averaged an additional 10 yards per punt.
But, by and large, the defense played well against an offense that, while still clearly finding its footing, could be quite explosive by season's end. Foster's big problem came with some of the big plays the defense allowed.
He said two were "busted coverages": Gary Jennings' 60-yard touchdown and the 33-yard pass to Ka'Raun White that set up a third quarter field goal. The long runs, most notably a 42-yarder from Justin Crawford, he attributed to miscommunications between DEs and LBs.
"We had two plays that popped that were just basic plays, one was an isolation play and one was a counter," Foster told reporters. "We spilled the iso and didn't get over the top and a linebacker was supposed to be over the top. On the counter our defensive end leaked up the field, got kicked and actually blocked our linebacker who's supposed to also spill it to a free hitter. So those are things we can correct but those are the things we practiced to that was disappointing."
Part of that trouble comes from the lack of depth along the defensive line. Houshun Gaines and Emmanuel Belmar didn't light the world on fire in their backup duty, though Foster said he was still "encouraged" by their performances. He's less positive about defensive tackle, noting that "there's a drop off a little bit at defensive tackle, particularly size-wise right now," and I certainly remember the line looking decidedly different when Tim Settle and Ricky Walker weren't in the game (or as the contest wore on and they started to wear out).
But, that being said, both Fuente and Foster said they would've preferred to rotate in the backups on the defensive line more, but West Virginia's quick pace made that difficult. Foster was particularly clear that he "would have loved to have gotten into more of our 30 packages and done some blitzing," but couldn't due to the speed of the offense.
The Hokies won't really face that same sort of dilemma until the North Carolina game, at least, unless Clemson decides to get creative and push the pace.
As for the secondary, Foster and Fuente were both quite pleased with Divine Deablo's performance in relief of Terrell Edmunds — who seems to have only suffered some cramps Sunday — with Foster noting his "upside is tremendous."
Depth at DB never hurts my feelings, and it seems that the Hokies will have their full group of corners available for the Delaware game too, as little as Fuente wants to talk about it.
The Hokies didn't have much in the way of preseason hype headed into the year, but now it's all starting.
A compelling win on national TV against a ranked opponent definitely deserves a little recognition, and the Hokies got it in the form of a jump up to no. 18 in the AP poll.
Pat Forde of Yahoo even put the Hokies in his playoff four, and while that may be more of an indication of some disappointing performances by other Week 1 teams than anything else, it's worth flagging that this talk will only likely grow louder over the course of the next month.
By all rights, the Hokies should enter the Clemson game undefeated, raising the stakes even higher for what was already a super-hyped game.
Under normal circumstances, I might worry about the ECU game two weeks from now, particularly because it's on the road. But the Pirates aren't exactly off to the best start, dropping their opener to JMU, an FCS team, but a talented one nonetheless.
But, in any case, any Hokies fan can tell you that with expectations often comes disappointment. This team is super young still, particularly on offense, and anything can happen.
Hey, maybe winning a big season opening game in FedEx has dispelled these demons. All I'm saying is, keep your head on a swivel.
I leave you this week by urging Dana Holgorsen to make like Pat Narduzzi and pass the salt.
DH: Officiating was "the biggest deal" in the game. Said could add 5 VT penalties. Also got flag for stepping outside box. No warning.— Mitch Vingle (@MitchVingle) September 5, 2017