A week after scoring three touchdowns against West Virginia on the road, Virginia Tech’s offense mustered two Saturday at home against Richmond.
That is not anyone’s definition of progress.
“Offense struggled,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said after his team’s 21-10 victory at Lane Stadium.
“Pretty inconsistent, to say the least.”
Indeed, after marching 65 yards for a first-series touchdown, Tech’s offense scored on one of its final 10 possessions. The Hokies’ other touchdown came on Tayvion Robinson’s 60-yard punt return.
Understand that Richmond, a Championship Subdivision program, yielded 34 points and 478 yards, 6.8 per play, in a loss at Villanova a week ago. Tech gained 318 yards Saturday, 5.1 per snap.
With right tackle Silas Dzansi sidelined by a foot injury, the Hokies had to rearrange their offensive line, but Fuente dismissed that as an excuse.
“We’ve got huge improvement to make,” he said. “Shuffling the offensive line around shouldn’t matter. All those guys have played a bunch of snaps.”
To the Hokies’ credit, the red-zone gaffes that sentenced them to a 27-21 setback at WVU did not emerge against the Spiders. The offense produced both times it neared the goal line, first on Braxton Burmeister’s 10-yard pass to a toe-tapping Tre Turner in the back of the end zone, later on third-string quarterback Connor Blumrick’s 1-yard run.
Blumrick’s third-quarter touchdown gave the Hokies (3-1) their first two-score lead and came a play after he converted a third-and-2 with a physical run on which he lowered his shoulder into strong safety A.J. Smith.
“He doesn’t have a lot of fear,” Fuente said of Blumrick. “I can tell you that much.”
Blumrick wasn’t the only reserve quarterback Fuente deployed, yet another sign of the offense’s issues.
Burmeister has been less than inspiring this season, and Fuente understandably planned to give backup Knox Kadum some first-half run Saturday, the time not preordained. In a one-score game with the offense pinned at its 6 was not the time.
But that’s what Fuente did early in the second quarter with Tech nursing a 7-0 advantage. Sure enough, on his second snap, Kadum, under pressure, threw a foolish pass that safety Aaron Banks intercepted.
On the next play, Savon Smith raced 16 yards for the tying touchdown.
The net result: Fuente and Kadum gift-wrapped not only seven points but also confidence for the Spiders.
“Where the ball was should be inconsequential to how he performs,” Fuente said.
Should be, perhaps. But we all know field position affects folks, especially seldom-used reserves. The interception was Kadum’s final play, and Burmeister rallied to finish with 212 passing yards and no turnovers, a dozen of his completions, for 178 yards combined, going to Turner and Robinson.
“I thought defensively we played good enough to win,” Richmond coach Russ Huesman said, “played excellent defense. Our front seven, we’ve got a bunch of older guys. We expect them to stop the run. We expect them to get after the quarterback.”
Spiders linebacker Tyler Dressler recorded a game-high 12 tackles, including a sack, but Richmond (2-2) played most of the afternoon without quarterback Joe Mancuso. Scrambling for 29 yards on the Spiders’ second play, he injured the index finger on his right (throwing) hand.
Beau English acquitted himself well in Mancuso’s absence. A transfer from the Air Force Academy and student at UR’s law school, he remain poised against a quality defense, though his inability to throw the ball downfield — 15 completions netted a meager 77 yards — limited the Spiders’ attack.
And therein lies the rub when an FCS program competes against the Bowl Subdivision. Yes, the exposure and money — Richmond collected $400,000 for Saturday’s game — are helpful, but you worry about injuries striking the less-stocked FCS roster.
Virginia Tech faithful are accustomed to listless performances versus FCS opposition. In 2019, the Hokies defeated Furman and Rhode Island by a combined 24 points.
That Tech squad won eight games. How good, or bad, are these 3-1 Hokies? We’re about to find out.
With an open date next Saturday, they have two weeks to prepare for an Oct. 9 home encounter with No. 12 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish defeated Wisconsin 41-13 on Saturday and host No. 8 Cincinnati before traveling to Blacksburg.
Then comes an Oct. 9 visit from Coastal Division rival Pitt. The Panthers scored 77 points Saturday against New Hampshire, a Colonial Athletic Association rival of Richmond’s.
The Hokies have scored 77 points in their past three games combined.
“I’ve just got to put it all together,” Burmeister said, “and we’ll be good.”