The misery of Virginia Tech’s slide into the depths of the ACC’s basement continued on Saturday. The Hokies took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter against an unremarkable Georgia Tech program led by freshman quarterback Zach Pyron. Moments of brilliance, notably a record-setting performance by punter Tucker Holloway, were offset by an all-too-common mix of pre-snap penalties, poor pass protection, manic quarterback play and late defensive meltdowns. With only Duke, Liberty and Virginia left on the schedule, Brent Pry’s honeymoon quickly turns into a nightmare.
Still, there were glimmers of hope. Virginia Tech’s running game looked the best it has all season. The key ingredient: offensive linemen finally started engaging second-tier defenders. The defense had moments of brilliance, when the defensive line in particular delivered a solid effort. And Holloway displayed the kind of ability to break open a long game that has been sorely absent in attack. As a fan, I’m still uneasy. Should we hope that the Hokies have become increasingly competitive with chances to win their last three games? Or should we focus on the repeated self-inflicted wounds, often the result of mistakes by their most experienced players? For the purposes of our collective mental health, I’m going to focus as much as I can on the former, and hope some of the next wave of players continue to make strides in the coming weeks.
Finally, you get second-level blocking
While there were points of continued frustration with offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen’s game plan (especially the heavy reliance on quarterback-designed runs), the offensive line turned in its best run-blocking performance of the season. While play design is always debated, the key to the improved running game was offensive linemen starting their combo block, then one of the linemen scrambling to engage a second-level defender.
On this variation of an isolation play, Bob Schick (No. 75) replaced left guard Jesse Hanson. Left tackle Silas Dzansi (#60) used a throw technique (using his right hand to “throw” the edge defender upfield, past the intended path of the running back) to run Kyle Kennard (#9) upfield. On the back end of the play, Nick Gallo (No. 86) does a fantastic job of jamming in the bubble on the inside of Kaden Moore’s (No. 68) block on defensive tackle Zeek Biggers (No. 88) to pick off linebacker Ayinde Eley ( No. 2.) On the inside, Schick and center Johnny Jordan (No. 55) blocked defensive tackle Akelo Stone (No. 97).
While Schick didn’t keep his feet as active as I’d like to see, he tied up Stone long enough for Jordan to improve his position and bury the d-tackle. Schick then dropped the block and scrambled to the second level to intercept linebacker Charlie Thomas (No. 1.) Schick’s block wasn’t pretty. He slipped too far inside and was almost caught holding Thomas. But just that little bit of movement on Stone and causing an obstruction for Thomas created a nice bubble for running back Keshawn King (No. 23). The space allowed King to win a one-on-one with the unblocked hat that the blocking scheme couldn’t account for, boundary safety Khari Gee (No. 23).