Returning to Lane Stadium Saturday night to open up ACC play against the Pittsburgh Panthers, you can make the case at 1-3 that this is a game that sets the tone for the remainder of the final seven conference games of the season for Virginia Tech.
Coming off of three consecutive non-conference losses to Purdue, Rutgers, and Marshall, the Hokies badly need a win to change the vibes with the team and fanbase. If they are going to get a win, here are three keys to victory to close out the month of September.
Virginia Tech needs to get after Phil Jurkovec
Early Saturday morning, Pete Thamel of ESPN reported that sixth-year senior Phil Jurkovec will start at quarterback for the Panthers, one week after exiting Pittsburgh’s 41-24 loss at home to North Carolina following a hit on a targeting call. It is imperative that the Hokies get after the former Notre Dame and Boston College quarterback early and often.
Jurkovec has completed just over 50% of his passes this season in three and a half games with four touchdown passes and an interception. Like Virginia Tech, the offense has been an issue for the Panthers through the first four games.
Virginia Tech needs to win the turnover battle
I know I’m not breaking any news here, but after struggling to force turnovers last season and seeing what happens when they do in their season-opening win over Old Dominion, it’s essential that they win the turnover battle.
Against the Monarchs, three second-half turnovers from the Hokies’ defense set up the offense with good field possession and allowed them to pull away for the victory. Tech is still hampered with injuries on defense, but other than struggling to get off the field on third down last week and allowing one too many big plays, the defense did not play badly. They kept Virginia Tech in the game and gave them a chance.
Virginia Tech needs to control the ball on offense
This is easier said than done. As I wrote yesterday, the Hokies need to establish the run early with Bhayshul Tuten. One reason for the struggles on offense this season has been that no matter who is at quarterback, Grant Wells or Kyron Drones, Virginia Tech has spent a lot of the time playing behind the sticks. Third-and-long is never good and they are finding that out this season.
Running Drones over 20 times a game is not the answer, but his scramble ability is something that Wells doesn’t have, especially on an ankle injury. Offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen needs to make sure that the running game is established and that Drones is not facing too many third-and-longs. Ball control is going to be huge for both teams, but more so for Tech playing at home.
Both teams are 1-3 and someone is going to leave Lane Stadium late tonight feeling better with a second win and their first in ACC play. What a lift it would be for the Hokies to be that team after the way the last three weeks went.