I feel torn. You probably do too. On one hand, the Hokies cruised to a relatively easy 27-0 win against FCS Delaware. On the other, there were a lot of areas of concern Saturday afternoon. The offense looked completely disjointed for the majority of the game; role players and backups failed to get the snaps the staff had hoped to provide; and Joey Slye continued to struggle.
Defensively, the Hokies rebounded well after they were gashed for 592 yards six days earlier. They collectively tormented the Delaware offensive line, bottling up the Blue Hens running backs and finishing the game with 4 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. The Hokies held QB Joe Walker to 116 yards passing, and for the second straight week they were able to tighten the screws inside the red zone. Only three Delaware drives ended in Virginia Tech territory, resulting in a missed field goal, a Terrell Edmunds interception and a punt. And Tremaine Edmunds, who struggled against the Mountaineers, put in a dominating performance on Saturday. The linebacker finished with 14 total tackles, 4 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
The defensive performance was closer to what everyone expected heading into this season. Sure, depth remains an issue. Bud Foster would have loved to have gotten his second stringers more playing time. But at the end of the day, the focus remains squarely on the offense's development.
I promised myself at the beginning of the season that I would maintain perspective with Josh Jackson's week-to-week performance. In the Hokies' win over West Virginia, there were plenty of holes in his play, many of which I chalked up to nerves and inexperience. But against a less talented opponent, many of those same traits reappeared.
Jackson still doesn't look completely comfortable on the field, as though the game continues to move a little too fast for him. He had moments of over-excitement, leading to overthrows on basic pitch-and-catch plays. He seemed hesitant, struggling to pull the trigger with guys in space. And when Jackson had difficulty finding open receivers against a three-man rush, he often broke the pocket and put himself under duress.
It's human nature to seek instant gratification. Heading into the WVU game, everyone held their breath when it came to the inexperienced Hokie offense's ability to keep pace with Dana Holgorsen's attack. But Jackson & Co. surprised everyone on that Sunday night, and suddenly those monumental early concerns dwindled into matters that could be addressed prior to Clemson's end of September visit to Blacksburg. "The offense is well ahead of schedule — they just need to work out the kinks, right?"
If anything, Saturday's offensive performance reminded everyone just how far they need to go, beginning with the quarterback. As Justin Fuente noted postgame, "I think we all need to keep in mind that [Jackson's] a freshman. We are quick to often anoint people and tell them how great they are. I think Josh has a chance to be a very good player. It's going to be an ongoing process, but I was pleased with how he battled. He didn't hang his head so to speak, he just kept plugging away."
Heading into this season, the word on Jackson was that he is a heady guy; the type that had the talent to make plays with his arm and legs but wouldn't make back breaking mistakes. Through two games, that seems to be a fair characterization. The problem is that in order for this team to truly maximize their potential, the guys around Jackson need to shine. James Clark and Sean Savoy missed early opportunities to break the game open, illustrating how — outside of Cam Phillips — the supporting cast has struggled to step up and make plays in space.
Following a poor 2016 season from the Tech tailbacks, Saturday's game seemed like the perfect opportunity to take another step forward, and establish rhythm and confidence; however, the offensive staff — at least publically — opted to take what they were given, rather than force plays to provide reps. When asked about the running game, Fuente stated, "I would like it to be more consistent, but a lot of it is a byproduct of how they line up. So we made plays in the passing game, we had plenty of opportunities with some big plays and just didn't execute them. We will continue to work and take what the defense gives us, and when they give us some things, we have to be able to execute."
He's nothing if not consistent. Regardless of whether that's coach speak or not, it's hard not to complain about the way things shook out. Success in the running game is an integral part of Fuente's offensive system, and his backfield left a lot to be desired on Saturday (60 yards on 19 carries). But identifying and developing contributors in the passing game has been and will continue to be the critical component in determining how far this team will go. On Saturday, the passing game took center stage and it sputtered.
The overarching positive is that the coaching staff has 60 minutes of additional game film to breakdown and review with the players. That's 60 minutes of teachable moments for a relatively young team looking to match preseason expectations that were (arguably unfairly) heightened after their Week 1 win over West Virginia.
The truth is, every game versus an FCS opponent is going to be taken with a boulder of salt. Blowout wins aren't typically showered with heaps of praise and talk of a College Football Playoff berth. Close wins (and especially losses) lead to immediate panic and a comprehensive re-evaluation of the program. Regardless of the outcome, the staff will find ways to make this team better.
It's only natural to wonder how this offense will stack up against a ferocious Clemson defense in three weeks time. Resist the urge. Remind yourselves that the season is bigger than one game in the opening month. There is still plenty of time for the staff to develop the talent currently on the roster, and plenty of opportunities for playmakers to emerge. Remember: It's still early September.