CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Virginia Tech carried some heavy weight into this past offseason—the burden of turning in the program’s first losing season since 1992, a 6-7 campaign undercut by an inexperienced defense, an ineffective running game and internal chemistry issues.
This year, the Hokies said, would be different. The defense had experience, the run game had potential, and the players who fractured the locker room were no longer on the team.
And 2019 may still be different – one clunky, discouraging opener doesn’t make a season – but for one afternoon at Boston College, the problems of last year and the questions that Tech was supposed to have addressed all offseason took the spotlight again.
There were missed coverages in the secondary by still-young and mostly unproven cornerbacks. There was shoddy offensive line play, both in protection in the pass game and in establishing a run game. The defensive line didn’t get much pressure on Eagles quarterback Anthony Brown.
Mix in the usual first-game slop – Tech committed five turnovers which led to 14 points – and the Hokies’ season-opening 35-28 loss didn’t do much to put 2018 behind this club.
The good news for this team, one that still has at least 11 more games to play and doesn’t need to let one road loss ring the panic alarm, is that there was plenty on display in Chestnut Hill on Saturday that is correctable.
The problems showed up early in this one, with Boston College (1-0, 1-0 ACC) targeting Tech’s cornerbacks.
Senior Jovonn Quillen got the start and couldn’t keep up with BC freshman Zay Flowers, who got behind him for a 33-yard touchdown that put the Eagles up 7-0 with 12:01 left in the first quarter. (Quillen later was injured and spent the second half on the sideline on crutches.)
On the Eagles’ next possession, Brown – feeling no pressure from the Hokies’ defensive line – eventually found Kobay White, who beat Caleb Farley, for a 56-yard gain. BC failed to cash in when Aaron Boumehri missed a 38-yard field goal.
On BC’s next drive, Jermaine Waller joined the long list of Tech corners torched on the afternoon, when he gave up a 58-yard throw and catch from Brown to Flowers. The Eagles again didn’t take advantage, going for a fourth-and-1 conversion at the Tech 16-yard line, but didn’t make it.
Had the Eagles turned either of those opportunities into points, they may have been able to bury Tech much earlier.
Instead, the Hokies proved resilient but overmatched as they fought to stay in their opener, even taking a 14-7 lead when quarterback Ryan Willis threw touchdown passes of 55 yards to junior wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley and 20 to true freshman Tayvion Robinson.
Willis finished 29 for 47 for 344 yards and four touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. The running game never got in gear, although true freshman back Keshawn King looked capable of being a major contributor this season.
Young receivers such as Robinson and tight ends Kaleb Smith and James Mitchell proved to effective weapons.
The Tech defense rotated at least nine linemen and didn’t allow BC star running back A.J. Dillon to have a monster game. (A 10th defensive lineman, tackle Robert Porcher, did not make the trip, a spokesman said. No reason was given.)
The Hokies (0-1, 0-1) held Dillon to 81 yards on 20 carries, including a 17-yard touchdown that tied the game 14-14 in the second quarter.
But Tech allowed 356 total yards in the first half and sacked Brown only once in the contest.
The Hokies’ schedule does offer a measure of relief, with home games against Old Dominion and Furman the next two weekends.