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 some experience, the run game had some 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.
“We can’t let this define us,” sophomore tight end James Mitchell said after the Hokies lost their opener for the first time in Justin Fuente’s four seasons coach.
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, especially on the defensive side.
In fact, longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who is retiring after the season, said the team had made strides in practice that didn’t show up on game day.
“That wasn’t the same group that practiced and how they performed,” Foster said. “You saw how we played the second half was kind of what I was hoping we’d play the entire game. We settled down and got our composure. Sometimes that happens in the first ball game.”
In the first half, the problems showed up early, 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.
Foster said he tried to get his corners to give more cushion to the BC receivers, to play off them to protect from the deep passes that were going over their heads, but the group was slow to adjust.
Tech allowed 76 total yards and one touchdown after half time.
The Hokies proved resilient but overmatched as they fought to stay in their opener. Quarterback Ryan Willis threw four touchdowns, but also three interceptions and lost a fumble.
“We got to be better than that,” Fuente said. “We’ve got to be more disciplined.”
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 Kaleb Smith and James Mitchell proved to be 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.
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.
Yes, the Hokies’ problems were as familiar as they are fixable. The Hokies’ schedule does offer a measure of relief, with home games against Old Dominion and Furman the next two weekends.
The 2019 season has just begun. One ragged opener doesn’t make a team’s year. But this one left plenty of questions.
Virginia Tech 7 7 7 7 — 28
Boston 7 21 0 7 — 35
BC—Flowers 33 pass from An.Brown (Boumerhi kick), 12:01
VT—Grimsley 55 pass from Willis (B.Johnson kick), 4:43
VT—T.Robinson 20 pass from Willis (B.Johnson kick), 11:29
BC—Dillon 17 run (Boumerhi kick), 7:58
BC—White 17 pass from An.Brown (Boumerhi kick), 6:20
BC—An.Brown 28 run (Boumerhi kick), 2:15
VT—Mitchell 11 pass from Willis (B.Johnson kick), 3:09
BC—Bailey 1 run (Boumerhi kick), 7:53
VT—K.Smith 11 pass from Willis (B.Johnson kick), 2:13
First downs 29 18
Rushes-yards 42-98 48-157
Passing 344 275
Comp-Att-Int 29-47-3 15-27-1
Return Yards 72 78
Punts-Avg. 6-41.66 6-37.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 2-0
Penalties-Yards 4-20 6-32
Time of Possession 33:58 26:02
RUSHING—Virginia Tech, King 10-33, McClease 11-32, Holston 4-15, Willis 13-13, Turner 1-7, Debose 2-4, (Team) 1-(minus 6). Boston, Dillon 23-81, Bailey 12-38, Flowers 3-25, An.Brown 5-15, Richardson 1-2, (Team) 4-(minus 4).
PASSING—Virginia Tech, Willis 29-47-3-344. Boston, White 0-1-1-0, An.Brown 15-26-0-275.
RECEIVING—Virginia Tech, T.Robinson 6-72, Turner 5-49, Grimsley 4-98, K.Smith 4-62, Keene 4-13, Mitchell 2-22, Belmar 2-19, McClease 1-6, King 1-3. Boston, Long 4-53, White 3-73, Flowers 2-91, Idrizi 2-20, Bailey 1-27, Dillon 1-9, Burt 1-3, Glines 1-(minus 1).
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Boston, Boumerhi 38.