Mistakes, costly penalties doom Virginia Tech in loss against West Virginia. ‘We’ve got to better in a bunch of areas.’

BLACKSBURG — The Lane Stadium sellout crowd was at its height of frenzy on Thursday night as it cheered on Keshawn King’s dash into Virginia Tech’s red zone and toward the first-down marker.

The Hokies’ leading rusher found some open space after catching a screen pass from quarterback Grant Wells midway through the second quarter and was forced out of bounds a yard short of moving the chains and drawing another optimistic roar from the stands.


Virginia Tech had a four-point lead over long-time rival West Virginia and, following a Mountaineers turnover, the Hokies were again in striking position. But first, there was a third and 1 to convert.

Then a fourth and 1.


And then the mood suddenly changed.

There were plenty of mistakes and execution issues that contributed to the Hokies’ 33-10 loss to West Virginia in Thursday’s battle for the Black Diamond Trophy.

  • In a repeat of their opening-night loss at Old Dominion, Virginia Tech committed 15 penalties for 132 yards. Several of those flags allowed Mountaineer drives that would have stalled to continue.
  • While Wells did connect with Kaleb Smith for a dazzling 28-yard TD pass on the first play of the second quarter and completed eight of his first 12 passes for 106 yards, the Hokies quarterback struggled after that. He finished 16 of 35 for 193 yards and also saw his lone interception of the night returned for a West Virginia touchdown.
  • And Virginia Tech’s primary piece of its game plan — limiting the amount of time WVU’s offense was on the field — never got its footing. The Mountaineers had possession of the football for nearly 40 minutes as they ran 76 plays and picked up 32 first downs.

Nothing, in Hokies head coach Brent Pry’s opinion, is more fundamental than executing a running play that needs to gain at least one yard. He said he had no regrets for going for it on the second-quarter fourth-down play. But the execution was disappointing.

“I think everyone on that unit wants to feel like let’s go (for it),” Pry said. “I want to believe in those guys, and I struggle not going for it on fourth-and-1 down there. We’ve got to be the type of team that can get that. They were upset.

“You’ve got to have confidence in your running game. (West Virginia) did tonight. We didn’t. You feel a lot better calling the game when you’ve got people off balance.”

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The Hokies (2-2) are now a third of the way through the first season for the new coaching staff. With one of those victories being over Boston College, there are still plenty of possibilities ahead, but the tests get tougher over the next month, as Virginia Tech will play road games at North Carolina, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State. The only home game during that stretch is an Oct. 15 date with Miami.

With the short week now behind them, the Hokies have a few extra days to recover physically and assess their execution issues before their Oct. 1 game at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are another offensive-minded team that thrives on controlling the football. Expect Virginia Tech to not change its overall plans on how to be competitive.

“We didn’t play complementary football,” Pry said. “And we’re at a point right now as a team, we have to do that. And we can’t leave too much to overcome in any phase. And either we weren’t making them earn it or we were shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit. So, we’ve got to own it and we’ve got to be better in a bunch of areas. And we can be — that’s the encouraging thing. That’s a good football team.”


To play that complementary football, Pry and offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen both said that to do that, the Hokies needed an offensive attack that was balanced and able to sustain some drives. Instead, they gained just 35 yards on 18 attempts, with 15 of those coming on a fourth-quarter rush by Jalen Holston after the outcome had been decided. It was a stark contrast to how Virginia Tech had run the ball in the first three games, when it averaged nearly 140 rushing yards.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” said senior offensive lineman Silas Dzansi. “I do wish we ran the ball a little more, let us get a feel for the run game. But Coach Bowen, he has an idea of what he wants to do, and we’re just there to follow it.”

Pry said his emphasis will be to have the team focus on what they are supposed to do, and not try to do too much.

“We’ve got to be a team that plays with fundamentals and techniques,” Pry said. “I’m a big believer in that. And I feel like right now in tight situations, we have a tendency to press and not play with fundamentals and techniques. And we play outside the framework and we kind of get out of sorts. And we’ve got to fix that. And it’s fixable.”

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