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McFarling: For Hokies, going '1-0' has rarely felt so blah

McFarling: For Hokies, going '1-0' has rarely felt so blah

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Sorry about the all-caps. Just trying to kick it up a notch around here.

Virginia Tech has just finished off Old Dominion 31-17 on Saturday, and there’s this terrible feeling that the column you are reading is going to be as bland as the game was. Ninety-nine percent chance of that, actually. You might want to bail on it right now.

Plenty of fans did so on the game, right around halftime. On a beautiful afternoon at Lane Stadium, with the Hokies up by two touchdowns, a decent chunk of the announced crowd of 57,282 hit the transfer portal, presumably finding a more festive locale.

Those who stayed didn’t see much, as Tech and ODU played to a draw in the second half.

On the most basic level, the Hokies did what they came here to do: Fulfill their “1-0” mantra. That sure beats the alternative.

And there were moments of mirth sprinkled among the humdrum. Hezekiah Grimsley’s one-handed, juggling touchdown catch. Keshawn King’s first career score. Terius Wheatley’s 71-yard kickoff return just when things were starting to get dangerous for Tech. Five sacks by the defense.

But Tech fans can be forgiven if they showed up here or tuned into ESPNU yearning for a more emphatic victory than this.

Tech’s offense, with its speedy receivers and veteran quarterback, is supposed to be capable of pyrotechnics. That show apparently got postponed. Check your local listings.

The Hokies couldn’t run the ball. Again. Coach Justin Fuente benched King after his sixth carry, later saying that he was unhappy that the freshman wasn’t toting the ball high and tight.

That bequeathed the responsibilities to Deshawn McClease, who broke a 21-yarder but other than that was bottled up all day.

Tech’s offense can’t possibly reach its full potential until the running game becomes a bigger threat than this. That’s obvious to all, but it still needs to be said.

Quarterback Ryan Willis threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions but drew frustration from Fuente when he fumbled late in the game.

In other words, for every positive, there seemed a counterweight.

If the offense had played just a little better in the first half, perhaps this one does turn into a blowout. The Hokies limited ODU to just 70 yards before intermission. That was the time for Tech’s biggest strength to assert itself and put this one out of reach, but it didn’t happen.

“It was sloppy, but we all know we’ve got a lot to clean up,” Grimsley said. “We knew it could have been way better on our side.”

In the second half, Tech’s defense often seemed one missed tackle away from getting off the field. ODU extended the drives and finished with 324 yards.

“It’s definitely frustrating when you get in the backfield and you’ve got a great rush or you were great getting off the block” and don’t make the tackle, said defensive lineman Jarrod Hewitt. “That’s where we’ve really got to get better, especially making those TFLs and making those sacks.

“Those are big momentum plays, and those plays kind of take away from our momentum when we get in the backfield and he scrambles for a 6-yard rush and gets a first down. That’s definitely something we’ve got to get better at in the future.”

The good news is there’s time. When you’re playing the weakest schedule of any Power Five team this season — that’s according to ESPN’s Football Power Index — you get some mulligans. They got one Saturday.

Furman comes to town next. That’s a ranked FCS team, but an FCS team nonetheless — one of two the Hokies have left to play.

Come to think of it, maybe the goal needs to be a little bigger than just going 1-0.

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