At Virginia Tech, losing six games in a football season is not a good thing. If it happens three times in four years, with the exception being a five-loss finish, changes will be made. That is exactly what happened this fall as Justin Fuente is out and Brent Pry is in as the Hokies’ head football coach.
Before we look ahead to the Pinstripe Bowl and the upcoming Pry era, let’s analyze the good and the bad of 2021.
Offensive MVP: Raheem Blackshear, RB
The Hokies were 90th in the nation in total offense, so there weren’t a lot of offensive MVP options that stood out. Blackshear was the team’s most versatile offensive threat, running for 711 yards and six touchdowns while catching 23 passes for 244 yards.
Defensive MVP: Jermaine Waller, CB
With four interceptions, Waller was voted onto the All-ACC second team for 2021 despite battling a foot injury for much of the year. Waller missed the final two games of the season but still ranked sixth on the team with 46 tackles.
Best Freshman: Malachi Thomas, RB
In the middle of the season, the running game was given a boost when Thomas burst on the scene. In successive games against Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Boston College, the freshman rushed for 324 yards and had three scores, with all three of the touchdowns coming against the Orange. For the season, Thomas had 433 yards on 88 carries.
Best Play of the Season: Tre Turner catch vs. Miami
The Chamarri Conner interception clinched the victory over North Carolina and Tae Daley’s deflection closed out Virginia. But the most impressive single play of the season was Turner’s one-hand touchdown grab at Miami. With a defender draped all over him, Turner somehow grabbed the ball and got a foot down in the end zone.
Best Performance (Player): Blackshear vs. Virginia
Turner’s 187-yard receiving day against Georgia Tech deserves mention, but considering the importance of the Commonwealth Cup, the nod goes to Blackshear. His 169 yards on 18 carries was the driving force in the Hokies’ victory.
Best Performance (Team): The win over Virginia
Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong threw for 400 yards so it wasn’t a perfect outing. But the Hokies had 320 yards on the ground and imposed their will on the Cavs. Bowl eligibility was on the line but this was more about extending the dominance over UVA and giving J.C. Price a victory as a head coach.
Defining Moment: Justin Fuente's departure
In reality, this was the defining moment of the past four years. From Fuente talking to Baylor to the names in and out of the transfer portal to the far too frequent losses (especially at home), the Virginia Tech faithful had been beaten down and 2021 was the lowest of the lows. But when it was announced that Fuente would not return in 2022, hope was renewed.
Biggest Surprise: Running game ascension in the second half of the season
Through the first six games, the Hokies were averaging 131 rushing yards per game and went over 134 yards just once. That included just 106 yards versus FCS Richmond. But Thomas had his impressive three-game stretch and Blackshear became a more consistent threat and the result was a Hokie rushing attack averaging 216 rushing yards per game in the last six contests.
Biggest Disappointment: Passing game
The biggest frustration isn’t necessarily that the Hookies struggle passing the ball. It’s that they can’t generate an aerial attack despite having guys like Turner and Tayvion Robinson out wide. Throw in the fact that Blackshear is a very effective receiver and it is even more mind-numbing. It is easy to point the finger at quarterback Braxton Burmeister, but the problem extends beyond him. The 209 passing yards per game registered in 2019 is the best the program has seen in the past three years and Turner, Robinson, and James Mitchell (who was injured for much of 2021) were on campus that entire time.
Senior that will be missed the most: Tre Turner, WR
With extra eligibility granted to everyone last fall, it’s hard to determine who’s a senior and who’s not, Turner has been at Virginia Tech for four years and will be moving on. Despite the lack of passing game production, the threat of Turner will be hard to replicate next season. Coupled with Robinson’s decision to enter the transfer portal and Mitchell’s decision to try the NFL waters, the Hokies will be breaking in a lot of new receivers next year.
Player to watch in 2022: D.J. Harvey, CB
The California corner did not make an impact as a true freshman, but with Waller heading to the NFL, he should get his shot next fall. Harvey was Virginia Tech’s highest-rated signee in 2021 and chose the Hokies despite offers from USC, Oregon, Texas, and LSU.
Offseason Storyline: Brent Pry taking over the team
Right now, everything is rosy because the best thing Pry has going for him is that he’s not Justin Fuente. It will be interesting to see how the players respond to the ex-Penn State assistant when spring ball opens up.
Podcast: Heisman Debate, Coaching Carousel, and Army/Navy Game
– Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.