BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech’s issues in the red zone Saturday were costly in a 23-16 loss to Wake Forest.
The Hokies made four trips inside Wake’s 25-yard line, and didn’t produce ideal results — missed field goal, field goal, interception and field goal. They ran 16 plays inside the red zone and managed positive yardage on only seven of them.
Coach Justin Fuente pinned the shortfall on Tech’s overall struggles in the passing game. Hooker was 17 for 33 for 223 yards with a touchdown and career-high three interceptions. The team only had two passes go for 20 yards or more and one was a delayed screen.
“They play a little bit of a bend, but don’t break defense, but they came out and challenged us a little more on the outside,” Fuente said. “We didn’t really make any big plays I thought in the passing game. We ran the ball still OK against a pretty loaded box, but didn’t make very many plays — I didn’t feel like — throwing the ball. You can look at the passing yards, but I don’t know we weren’t very effective down there.”
Hooker was 3 of 7 for 26 yards inside the red zone and threw an interception from Wake’s 15-yard line in the final seconds of the first half. The pass went right off Kaleb Smith’s fingertips into the hands of safety Nick Anderson, who was back deep in the end zone.
“Just didn’t execute,” Hooker said of the red zone struggles.
That was certainly part of the problem.
There was some confusion up front on Tech’s lone trip inside the 25-yard line in the first quarter with Wake bringing pressure multiple times. Wake linebackers Ja’Cquez Williams and Chase Monroe crashed down off the left side on second down to tackle Khalil Herbert behind the line for a loss of 2 yards.
Monroe and defensive tackle Miles Fox teamed up for a sack on third down with the linebacker blitzing up the middle. Left guard Lecitus Smith pulled off Fox to block Monroe and left tackle Christian Darrisaw was late to provide help with the defensive end dropping back in coverage.
Wake Forest also made key reads in the red zone that resulted in a pair of big losses when Tech handed the ball off to Raheem Blackshear.
Hooker handled Blackshear the ball out of a variation of the pistol formation when Tech had a fresh set of downs in the second quarter at Wake’s 4-yard line.
Blackshear lined up to Hooker’s right with tight end James Mitchell on the left and Herbert a few steps behind him. Blackshear tried to run off the left side and Wake Forest knew the direction of the play the entire time with defensive end Rondell Bothroyd and defensive tackle Dion Bergan bringing him down for a loss of 7 yards.
In the third quarter, Tech lined up with a bunch formation on both sides of the line with Blackshear and Tayvion Robinson to the right and Mitchell and Tre Turner to the left. They all shifted to the outside before the snap with Blackshear coming back in motion to take the ball off the left side again.
The movement didn’t trick Wake Forest with linebacker Traveon Redd reading it the entire time and tackling Blackshear for a 7-yards loss.
Wake Forest didn’t have any issues with Tech consistently rotating formations and personnel in the red zone. The Hokies used all three tight ends at various times (the most common formation was 12 personnel with Mitchell and Nick Gallo on the field), rotated Blackshear between the backfield and slot and rarely used a package with three wide receivers (only five of the 16 plays).
Herbert wasn’t a major factor in the red zone with four carries for 12 yards in the loss. His biggest run in the red zone was an 8-yard gain in the second quarter that he bounced to the outside (and broke two tackles) for a first down.
Tech has handed the ball off 42 times this season inside the opponent’s 20-yards for 133 yards with 10 touchdowns and Herbert has only accounted for 10 of those carries for 40 yards with one touchdown. The Hokies are only 5 of 17 passing (29.4%) for 57 yards with three touchdowns and an interception inside the 20-yard line this season.
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