Slept On It: Despite Bowl Loss, Hokies Enter Off-Season With A Lot to Look Forward To

Looking back at Tech's 21-30 Camping World Bowl loss to Oklahoma State and looking ahead at what's to come after a good night's rest.

[Cory Hancock]

Run the football. Control the clock. Contain the Cowboys' offense. Limit mistakes.

It was the only approach that would provide the Hokies with a realistic shot of beating Oklahoma State. Not because the Pokes are leaps and bounds better than the Hokies, but because their offense is so explosive. Twelve games into the season, one thing was clear: Josh Jackson was not at a point in his development where Justin Fuente could lean on him to keep pace with Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill, James Washington and company.

Oklahoma State entered the Camping World Bowl boasting the No. 1 passing (392.3 yards per game) and No. 3 (46.3 points per game) scoring offense in the country. The Hokies' defense was no slouch either, but regardless of how tough the Tech defense played, points were going to be had. The question was whether the total would be low enough for Jackson's unit to hold serve. In the end, the Hokies' offense was unable to keep pace, but they certainly had their chances.

Brad Cornelsen devised a phenomenal game plan that created consistently advantageous matchups to churn out yards and use the clock. The Tech ball carriers — including a surprisingly healthy and spry Jackson — looked as shifty as they had all season, converting early and often versus a bewildered OSU team. In total control early in the second quarter, and on the verge of grabbing a two-score lead, disaster struck when Jackson attempted to pull the ball from tailback Steven Peoples on the 1-yard line. The ensuing fumble led to 17-straight Oklahoma State points over the next 20 minutes, and a 7-20 deficit that ultimately proved insurmountable.

While that turnover proved devastating, the night was characterized by several missed opportunities. The vast majority of those whiffs were the result of players missing their spots by a matter of inches. Jackson struggled with his ball placement and receivers made incorrect reads that made receptions difficult. It's easy to pick apart Tech's offensive performance and opine the game was ultimately littered with miscues that shouldn't be happening at the end of the season. In some cases, those are fair criticisms. But at the end of the day, we're talking about narrow errors, often between relatively inexperienced players.

The shortcomings we witnessed in the Camping World Bowl were a series correctable mistakes by a young offensive group. Many of those same young players whose collective performance we're dwelling on days later — guys like Eric Kumah (5 catches, 72 yards, 1 TD), Hezekiah Grimsley (5 catches, 63 yards), and Phil Patterson (7 catches, 59 yards) — balled out. While Jackson struggled with touch and precision when throwing the football, he reminded everyone how he can impact the game on the ground when healthy, and how much more versatile Tech's offense is with a run threat behind center. Deshawn McClease busted out with a career high 124 yards rushing and became Tech's only tailback to eclipse 100 yards rushing in a game this season. And that doesn't even get into the defensive performance.

It was a disappointing end to an otherwise positive season. Some will note the Hokies' 9-4 record is deceptive and that they didn't beat any quality teams. Those people aren't wrong. Tech went 3-3 against FBS teams with a winning record and had zero wins against current AP Top 25 teams. All three wins were against teams that finished with 7-6 records after their bowl games. The ACC Coastal was undoubtedly down this season, magnifying each of those high profile matchups as rare opportunities to earn signature wins. The Hokies failed to come through against their three toughest opponents — Clemson, Miami and Oklahoma State — but a rational Tech fan would admit the Hokies faced steep climbs in each contest.

Coming into this season, there were significant concerns about the young offense's ability to consistently punch above their weight. Key players, such as record-setting wideout Cam Phillips, played hurt for extended stretches while other major contributors missed substantial time (LT Yosh Nijman, S Terrell Edmunds, RB Steven Peoples, Nickel Mook Reynolds, and CB Adonis Alexander, to name a few). That's all while the Hokies remained competitive and simultaneously integrated a lot of fresh faces into the fold.

Seventeen players caught passes for the Hokies this season, including Anthony Shegog's 22-yard reception off a fake punt against the Pokes. Ten of those players were underclassmen and all but 4 (Phillips, Clark, Shegog, and McMillian) are expected to return next season. Sprinkle in the players who redshirted or were injured all season, as well as the incoming recruits, and you'll find a talented and diverse group of pass catchers at Fuente's disposal.

The fact that the widely anticipated offensive growing pains and the injuries that robbed the Hokies of important veteran leadership coincided with down years from most of their divisional rivals was almost a blessing in disguise. Tech was forced to play a multitude of inexperienced players regardless of their opponents' records. That young offense was able to log meaningful reps in competitive situations throughout the season to churn out 9 wins, at times leaning on a veteran defense to stabilize uneven performances.

Nine wins. Behind the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener since Michael Vick (in case you hadn't heard). Three of Virginia Tech's top four receivers and four of their top six rushers were underclassmen. Oh, and they surrendered less than four yards per return behind a true freshman punter, good for 18th best in the country.

Often times 'youth movements' are associated with down years, which is jargon for 'a lot of losing'. Tech's neighbors to the north have been using that as an excuse for a long time with little to show. When those young players become upperclassmen and they're expected to compete on a national level, many whither under the bright lights because they haven't experienced what it's like to be a winner.

That's not the case with this Hokies squad. They were a bowl win away from a second consecutive 10-win season, and many of this season's wins were incredibly convincing. Where many past Tech teams have failed, they took care of business against teams they were expected to beat handily. And behind a sound game plan, they were a few plays away from besting one of the nation's most prolific scoring teams.

Think back to those subtle miscues once more. A seasoned quarterback can bail out the young receiver who finds himself in the wrong spot. A veteran wideout can snag an off-target pass to give a developing quarterback confidence. The Hokies were without either of those against the Pokes and they still managed to hold their own. Everyone — players, coaches and fans — knows what needs to be improved during the offseason. Now it's time for the Hokies to put in the work.

Comments

I agree wholeheartedly. And next season should be good as well. Depending on players leaving early for the NFL, it could be a GREAT season next year.
Here's hoping!

Great write-up, Pierson. Now we just have to make it through, NSD, basketball, Spring Ball, NFL draft, hockey, baseball, and fall camp.
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I don't think I'll make it, guys.

rewatch the WVU, ECU, UNCheat, and LOLUVA games over and over

This is a question for a later article (depending on who declares early) but I'm curious about the outlook for next year's defense. Niether Alexander or Edmunds have done as well in the backfield as they did in their earlier assignments. Would both benefit from a return to their previous posts with Terrell at cb and Adonis at safety? Next year would be a chance to rescramble things a little with all the upcoming talent anyway. Thoughts?

Lets GO!!!!

usually the bigger you get the closer you get to LOS

Cam had struggles while at VT... he developed skills and that worked out for him... but big guys progressing from CB to closer to LOS is tough deal

hope it works out for both these kids... have wondered about Edmunds at whip but I am sure there is a reason why that is not a good idea (he might be too big, perhaps Mike, where he and his brother can line up together)

Disagree about Alexander being a letdown at corner. If anything his biggest issue has been staying healthy. Getting beat one very noticeable time in coverage against a great receiver in the bowl game creates a bad recent image, but he has been solid when healthy, especially against larger receivers.

Agree with you on this. He looked good early in the season, but hasn't seemed quite the same since his injury in the Miami game. He seemed to be a step slow in the bowl game like the injury may still be lingering a bit. Hopefully he can get healthy in the offseason and come back next year to play up to that first round hype he was getting early this year!

I like many others think the offense could be greatly improved in 18.
The bigger issue is how many holes will the defense have to fill. With new starters all over the back seven it will require more of "In Bud We Trust". Linebacker in particular looks to be very green next season.

With all the new starters in the back seven ? Depending on if some to NFL yes but let's not jump the gun yet . Motu, Stro, and Facyson graduate. I will miss Stro the most .

I'm excited for the future. As has been said, our young skill players got a LOT of experience this season. That coupled with the recruits we have coming in and our offense next season should be much improved! Now, if we can convince the Edmonds brothers, Adonis, and Big Tim to come back, our defense will be LOADED!!

I don't know what a Hokie is, but God is one of them!

I know I'm being redundant from previous threads but this year should be the low point from an overall roster talent standpoint. On paper, there will be more depth and speed across the board at the skill positions.

On O, when Phillips went down, I don't think we had anyone opposing DCs were afraid of.

On D, we need Timmy to stay

That game was frustrating as all hell as we should've stomped the Pokes. But this article puts things in proper perspective.

via GIPHY

Yeah, I'm going to be honest and say I'm still not over the opportunities lost in the bowl game...but a win in Tallahassee will go a long way to curing that. Wait, it's January? Son of a bitch....

Maybe once upon a time, nolies are pretty shitty right meow

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

It's still a name brand and I'm betting they're ranked to start the season....not high, but ranked.

OPERATION: 8 MONTHS OF SADNESS...INITIATE!!

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

This article is everything that I've been feeling since the day after the game. I'm excited about where this movement is headed. -Go Hokies

"...I'm getting a little tired of hearing how good everybody else is..." -Coach Fu [This week: 1-0]

I wish I could share your optimism, I guess it depends on whether or not QP is all that we hope for to get out O humming. Foster will get the D top 20 no matter how many we loose, it's what he does...

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

With all the potential changes on Defense, I will do a backflip if Bud can manage a top 20 defense next year. The turnover we had this year on offense, we have next year on Defense.

In Bud we trust

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

Depends on the Edmunds' and Settle. If they all return, we are looking at returning a lot:

DE: Hill, Gaines, Mihota, (DeBose), (Proctor), (Garbutt)
DT: Settle, Walker, Hewitt, Burke, (Porcher), (Glaze), (Goode), (Kane)

Mike: (Ashby), (Rivers), (Artis)
Backer: Tremaine, (Rivers), (Tisdale)

DB's: AA, Mook, Terrell, Deablo, Floyd, Lawler, Watts, Rodgers, (Hunter), (Webb)

If we lose Tremaine, the LB's will be rebuilding. If we lose Settle, then maybe Mihota can cover if he's healthy but we're a man short. If we lose Terrell, then we have a lot of trustworthy guys back there.

I want them all to return. I honestly think they all should. I haven't seen talent that will get them drafted high enough to go early. Even Tremaine I think would go second round at the earliest.

Second round at the earliest, or latest? I think he's a guaranteed at least second-rounder

Earliest. He has had enough off games and little enough body of work, I am doubtful he goes first round.

While it definitely is tough to get over those crucial miscues, I think you're right about this year's youth being a challenge this year and a strength for next year. On paper, things are looking good between returning a lot of experience on offense and having a fairly favorable schedule. FSU with a new coach; ND, GT, and Miami all at home, and no Clemson.
Also, is it just me, or did it seem like every time Deshawn McClease touched the ball this year, he picked up at least 10 yards?? Feed that man the rock!

"Stick it in, stick it in, stick it in!" - William Addison Caldwell, 1872

I think people are going to genuinely be surprised with the amount of receiving talent we are going to have on the field next year. We've done a good job at recruiting OL, we should have a little more direction at RB, and we are going to have an open competition at QB between an entity we know we can trust (JJ) and one one who supposedly has all the intangibles to fit in perfectly to our offense (HH).

Things are only looking up. Our best days are ahead of us. In fact, I think the next 5 years of VT football, really starting in 2019, but we'll get a taste of it next year, are going to eye opening for what we're capable of.

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

Yep, I'm thinking the depth chart at receiver looks something like this:

WR1: Hazelton, Kumah, Simmons, Patterson
Slot: Savoy, Carroll, Ellis, Denmark
WR2: Farley, Turner, Grimsley, Murphy

We lack Phillips, but that's a lot of depth with the chance that one or two of them become really elite players.

At QB, the worst we are going to get is an improved Josh Jackson. There will be a lot of discussion the next eight months about the QB race, but we don't know much more than it will be Jackson or someone better than Jackson. I'm really excited about that truth.

OL has guys with experience in Nijman, Chung, Pfaff and now Plantin. If Hoyt is ready to go at Center, then that's our five. If Chung needs to slide to Center, then we have Smith, Moore or Jackson who can step in on the outside. We may not have a Wyatt Teller, but there is potential that we have five starters who are dependable and some good depth.

RB feels better with McClease/Peoples/Holston and the chance to add Grant.

I'm expecting a big jump in production next year.


Crazy... Like, so many positive waves... Maybe we can't lose?

"Our job as coaches is to influence young people's lives for the better in terms of fundamental skills, work ethic, and doing the right thing. Every now and again, a player actually has that effect on the coaching staff." Justin Fuente on Sam Rogers

Even Oddball agrees.

Whoops.

Watched it in the book with a slew of okie dudebros behind me. Eventually had to leave. Had the feel that if we could have jammed that fumble into the end zone instead that things were going to be a problem for OkSt. Unbelievably huge change in momentum.

Left that game feeling genuinely optimistic about next year for the first time in a while. All the young receivers played really well, considering, even Murphy got some burn and looked good at times. Running game was miles above anything I remember recently. I'd been really down on this matchup and thought we were going to get stomped. If the quarterback for next year comes down to 'That Josh Jackson' or the guy that beat 'That Josh Jackson', even a step back on defense will be okay. We went toe to toe with the team that scored 55 on CFP participant Oklahoma.

(Vegas recap-killed it on football games, think I won everything except us and woovoo (I was too hungover to check the internet and see that mountain jesus was out until after kickoff) got STOMPED playing craps. Like, bad enough that I don't think I have a love for throwing dice anymore. 5 nights in Vegas is too many nights. Even in December Vegas is too hot. Venetian sports book is really nice, Harrah's had something weird with the aspect ratio and Mrs. Lwyr and I were both seconds from vomiting from motion sickness when we walked out. Craps tables are really fun (even if you're getting stomped) when they go from $10 to $25 and you can limp along and watch people lose thousands of dollars.)

I've been drinking.

Didn't have the chance to watch the game, but was glad to hear all of the positive takeaways. Solid season all things considering. Already looking forward to dismantling FSU next year!

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"