With any coaching change and rebuilding effort, you’d like to start seeing concrete progress in year two, and to watch Brent Pry’s Virginia Tech team over the first month of this season, you wouldn’t think they had that in them.
The Hokies started 1-3 as they struggled to sort things out offensively, and while road losses at Rutgers and Marshall were forgivable, the nature of them—failing to score more than 17 points in either—was dispiriting. It looked a lot like 2022.
Since then, though, Virginia Tech is 4-2, scoring at least 30 points in all four—the Hokies didn’t crack 30 points all of last season. The schedule has helped, but Tech’s margin of victory in those games clearly shows a team trending in the right direction. They beat Pitt by 17, Wake by 17, Syracuse by 28, and BC by 26. Now they’re a win away from bowl eligibility, and from doubling their 2022 victory total.
Sophomore quarterback Kyron Drones has led the resurgence since taking over as the starter in mid-September, sparking the Tech offense with a dual-threat ability that Grant Wells lacked. Drones’ passing has been inconsistent, though he’s absolutely shredded the bad teams on the slate, but his legs have helped keep the offense moving regardless.
Drones is the team’s second leading rusher in terms of yards (541) and attempts (130) and has gone over 50 yards in six games. He is coming off a 135-yard performance in Chestnut Hill.
Alongside him in the backfield is NC A&T transfer running back Bhayshul Tuten, who has 613 rushing yards on 4.5 per carry, with seven rushing scores. Tuten ran for over 1300 yards with A&T in 2022, but his touches are down now that he’s essentially splitting carries with his quarterback.
Tuten and Drones have turned what was a glaring weakness into a genuine strength—Tech averaged 111 rushing yards and 3.1 YPC in 2022 and are up to 173 and 4.4 in 2023. The Hokies have run for 300+ in two of their last three games.
Containing that attack will be no small challenge for the Pack, but the good news here is that Drones has yet to show he can be an effective passer against quality opposition. In four games against teams with winning records, he averaged 6.0 yards per attempt and 145.5 yards, with three TD passes against two interceptions.
FSU and Louisville both limited him to under four yards per attempt, which is the sort of bottoming-out that he’ll need to remove as the next step in his progression. Those were really rough efforts.
He at least hasn’t been turning the ball over; he’s thrown only the two interceptions all year, and one of them came way back in mid-September. And the Hokies are capable of hitting on big plays through the air, what with play action becoming a genuine threat; their wins in league play have been characterized by a number of them. Leading receivers Jaylin Lane and Da’Quan Felton each have six grabs over 20 yards—and 10 receiving scores between them.
I’m really interested to see how this game shakes out if NC State’s cornerbacks continue their stellar play; can this defense entice Drones into making the big mistake that he mostly has avoided this year? Can Virginia Tech get enough offense from its ground game alone?
If State’s defense can keep big plays off the ledger, the Pack has a good chance of coming back to Raleigh with a win.