Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

The Miami game was a tough way to lose. The Hokies looked like the better team for three quarters against a top ten team. Then the offense went into hiding in the fourth quarter. It’s easy to point fingers but you have to make the plays in crunch time to win the game. Miami did. Virginia Tech didn’t. It’s that simple.

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This game comes down to can Hendon Hooker complete passes against man coverage? We know exactly what Pittsburgh in going to do. They will stack the box against the run and make Hendon Hooker beat them against press coverage. If Tech’s receivers can get open and Hendon Hooker can find them the ball, the Hokies should have success moving the football. But if Tech can’t run the ball and Hendon Hooker has trouble finding open receivers, it could be a long day offensively.

The Panthers struggle to run the ball and like to move the ball in the air. That plays to the advantage of the Hokies. Tech is better at stopping teams thru the air than on the ground. Kenny Pickett will have his work cut out for him against Virginia Tech’s secondary. Pitt ranks 71st in the nation in scoring offense averaging 27.6 points per game. Watch out for Jordan Addison in the passing game. He is Pitt’s go-to receiver.

This is a game where the Hokies want to get the tight ends involved. If James Mitchell is healthy, he would be the featured receiver. If he’s not able to go, the Hokies will need to lean on Nick Gallo. Expect this game to be a low-scoring affair, where the Hokies will HAVE to move the ball through the air. If all-else-fails the Hokies should run the Jerod Evans offense and have Hendon Hooker throw up jump ball after jump ball to his receivers. In the end, the Hokies will make a couple more plays offensively and win a one possession game on the road.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 24

Miami Preview and Prediction

Yikes. A loss to Liberty. If the loss to Wake wasn’t bad enough, this team goes down to one of the little brother programs in Virginia. To put this loss in perspective, Virginia Tech’s football budget is more than three times more than Liberty’s. Virginia Tech also paid Liberty to come to Blacksburg and hand them a loss. Ouch. It’s a bad look for this program. It’s going to be one of those losses like ODU that’s hard for the fan base to forget.

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Statistically, Miami doesn’t look like a Top Ten team. Their record looks like a lot of smoke and mirrors. But they do have an excellent quarterback in D’Eriq King. If Khalil Herbert is out, King will be the best football player on the field on Saturday. Miami’s offense looks a lot like Louisville’s and Liberty’s. Both gave the Hokies’s defense tons of trouble. And if I’m picking quarterbacks, D’Eriq King is the best out of the three the Hokies have faced the last three weeks. Slowing down this Miami offense will be a tall task for this defense. Watch for this stat on Saturday, the Hokies will need to try to keep King under 50 yards rushing …

With just about every game the Hokies play in this year, they are going to have to outscore the opposing offense in a shootout. They can’t count on the defense to get a lot of stops. If Khalil Herbert is back from his pulled hamstring, I like the Hokies chances. If he’s still out or limited, the Hokies will need to get other weapons involved in the offense. Like Raheem Blackshear, Tre Turner or James Mitchell. Hendon Hooker can’t do it all on his own.

After the Liberty game, I expect a bounce back game from the Hokies. The problem is, I’m not sure how bought in the team is this year. They started the season with a lot of fire against NC State and it seems like slowly it has faded as the year has gone. So, I’m not exactly sure what team we’re going to see on Saturday. No one needs a top ten win right now more than Justin Fuente. It might the cure for what ails him with the fan base. If Khalil Herbert is back, I see a very close game that could go either way. If he’s out, Miami wins by two scores. Let’s see what happens on Saturday. Let’s hope we see more fire out of this team after what happened last week.

Prediction: Miami 41, Virginia Tech 31

Liberty Preview and Prediction

When the Virginia Tech offense is humming they are tough to beat. Louisville’s impressive offense was able to put up 35 points on Tech’s defense but it wasn’t enough. The only team that has been able to foil this offensive attack is Wake Forest. But I’d argue it was the turnovers more than Wake’s defense.

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The Hokies are currently 14.5-point favorites over #25 ranked Liberty. 6-0 is 6-0. But it’s a questionable 6-0 against not exactly the toughest competition. Their opponents this season have a combined four wins. Yes, you read that right. They’ve played six teams who have COMBINED for four wins. Yikes! But they took it to Syracuse in the dome so it’s best not to overlook this team.

The Liberty offense looks pretty good. They look like a less talented version of Louisville. So the timing of this game looks good for the Hokies. Liberty has had success on the ground this year thanks to their quarterback, Malik Willis. Willis was a former VT commit who committed to go to Auburn and ended up at Liberty. He’s a good player who could be in the mix to start at many Power 5 schools. If the Hokies want to stop the Liberty offense, they will need to key in to stop Willis in the running game. The Liberty offense has put up some gaudy numbers this year. But they are hard to judged based on their level of competition.

Liberty’s defense looks good on paper but they’ve faced some of the worst offenses in FBS this year. So again, hard to judge. Liberty might be in for a rude awakening based on how good Tech’s running game is. They haven’t seen anything like it this season. Liberty will struggle with Tech’s outside run game and covering big-play receivers like Tre Turner and James Mitchell. Not to mention the speed of Tayvion Robinson. While they have a capable defense, they haven’t seen an offensive team like the Hokies this year.

This is an important game for Liberty. This is their first top 25 ranking in school history. We know whenever a non-Power 5 school in Virginia gets to play Virginia Tech, it’s a big deal for them. This is the game they’ve had circled on their calendar this year. If they weren’t ranked, I’d be more worried. That little number by their name means that they’ll get the Hokies full attention this week. Liberty will definitely put up some points this week, although they will struggle at times with Tech’s pass rush. Liberty will have A LOT of trouble with Tech’s ground game. Again, they haven’t seen a team that runs the ball as well as the Hokies. Liberty may keep it close in the first half but Tech will pull away in the 2nd half.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Liberty 24

Midseason Awards and Outlook

This season is weird. There are 11 regular season games. And if there is a bowl game, there will be 12 games total. I thought it would make sense to do midseason awards after 6 games. With the hopes that the Hokies will play 12 games total this season.

Offensive MVP: Khalil Herbert

This is the easiest call in all the years I’ve been doing this. Imagine this team without Herbert. It’s not the same powerful offense. I still think it would be good. But it wouldn’t be as explosive. You can tell Herbert gets a lot of attention when he’s on the field. That opens the game up for everyone else. We haven’t seen that around here since David Wilson.

Honorable mention: Hendon Hooker, James Mitchell

Defensive MVP: Amare Barno

This one is a lot harder. Like a lot harder. First, let’s start by saying the defensive performance in the first half of the season hasn’t been good. But Barno has jumped off the screen when watching the Hokies. You can tell he is still a raw player but the natural ability is definitely there. He leads the team with 8.5 TFLs and is 2nd on the team with 3.5 sacks. The one thing this defense has done well is get after the quarterback and Barno is one of the big reasons why.

Honorable mention: Justus Reed, Divine Deablo

Special Teams MVP: Khalil Herbert

It’s that man again. One of the things that has driven me crazy in recent years is that there was no threat on kickoff returns. Tech would either start at their own 25 yard line or worse in terms of field position. Herbert gives this team the potential to take it to the house every single kick return.

Honorable mention: Oscar Bradburn, Brian Johnson

2nd Half Outlook:

The schedule gets a lot harder in the 2nd half of the season. The defense will need to show up otherwise a 2-3 finish isn’t out of the question. We’ve already seen their floor but how much better can they get? They looked good against Louisville outside of two horrific plays. They need to build on what they did the rest of the game. That was a good offense they held down most of the day.

On offense, RUN KHALIL HERBERT. It’s that simple. If he’s not getting 20+ carries a game, you’re doing something wrong. Easier said than done, but you need to get your best player involved in the gameplan. He needs to be the center point of this offense. If he’s not getting the ball, your letting the defense your facing off the hook.

Folks have been hard on the defense but I give them a pass. They had no spring practice. They have a new coaching staff and a new scheme. Not to mention they had a TON of players out during fall practice. And that’s on top of having guys out due to suspension, a leave of absence or injuries. That’s A LOT to deal with. The defense is making progress but we need to see more from them in the last 6 games.

This team will be bowl eligible. I’m not exactly sure what the criteria is or what bowl games will be played. But the Hokies will be there. I’d like to see the Tech finish with at least 7 wins in the regular season. I could feel good about that. I’d also like to see them beat UVA and play Clemson close. This is the weirdest season I can ever remember. So dialing expectations too high may be unrealistic. But I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far. This is an exciting offense and I hope we get to see a lot more offensive fireworks in the 2nd half of the season. And enjoy Khalil Herbert. We don’t get guys like him in Blacksburg very often.

Louisville Preview and Prediction

One of the biggest issues of the Fuente era is losing games this team shouldn’t lose. And it’s not that Wake Forest is a bad team — they’re not. It’s that they are still a team that a talented group like Virginia Tech should be able to beat most of the time. In order for this program to take the next step, those are the types of games that need to be wins far more often than not.

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My prime example of the ACC having a dysfunctional scheduling model is Louisville. They joined the league in 2014 and their first game with the Hokies is in 2020. You wouldn’t think these two programs are in the same league given how few times they’ve played. The ACC needs to change the scheduling model so that member schools are able to play each other more often. Six years between meetings seems like too long.

Louisville can be explosive offensively — but they don’t do it consistently. This is a team that scored 48 on Florida State and 7 against Notre Dame. Their week-to-week offensive outputs raise some questions. They have talent on the offensive side of the ball. That’s not their problem. The problem is that they are not always consistent moving the ball on offense. They rely on big plays to score. But when the big plays aren’t there, they struggle to move the ball down the field.

Louisville’s defense is just as inconsistent as their offense. They gave up 47 points to Miami (and 46 to Georgia Tech) and also gave up 12 to Notre Dame. It’s kinda hard to believe. The one consistent aspect of their defense is that they give up yards on the ground. The Hokies should be able to move the ball on the ground against this defense. Louisville is stronger against the pass. If the Cardinals sell out against the run, Hendon Hooker will need to prove that he can beat them with this arm.

Both teams have consistency issues. I’m a big believer in the bounce-back game in college football. The Hokies had a bad loss last week and we will see a more inspired effort this week. This team has too much talent on the offensive side of the ball to think we’ll see a repeat performance of last week. What will be key is stopping Louisville’s big plays when Virginia Tech is playing defense. You don’t want to get into a shootout on the road with Louisville. Put me down as thinking the Hokies bounce back and win a squeaker on the road.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 33, Louisville 30

Wake Forest Preview and Prediction

The Hokies took care of business last week against Boston College. I still believe that Boston College is the sneaky good team I described them as last week. Five turnovers were their downfall. But give them time and that’s going to look like a very good win at the end of the year. This week the Hokies move their attention to Wake Forest.

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Wake Forest reminds me of NC State. They are competent on both sides of the ball, but aren’t really great at any one thing. Their most impressive stat is being ranked 2nd in the nation averaging a +2 turnover margin per game. They’ve only turned the ball over once all year. That’ll keep you a lot of games. The scariest aspect of their offense is that they are VERY well balanced. If the Hokies can’t stop the run, they might run into a situation like the UNC game where Wake could pour on the points. I’m hopeful the run defense has improved since that game, but will the Hokies be able to stop Wake’s potent passing attack?

Offensively, this looks like a very good matchup for the Hokies. Wake has trouble stopping the run. The Hokies have been able to run all over everybody they’ve faced so far. I also don’t think Wake has seen a rushing attack with a mobile QB like the Hokies have in Hendon Hooker. You can bet to see some 8-man fronts from Wake to get the Hokies to have to beat them through the air. If Tech can keep them honest with the passing attack, Virginia Tech should have a big day on the ground.

This one has shootout written all over it. Wake will have success moving the football and putting up some points. The Hokies have a chance to limit that success if they can limit the run game and get after their quarterback. I like both offenses but Virginia Tech’s is a little better. With a few more bodies back on the defensive side of the ball, we’ll see an improved defensive effort as well. One thing that scares me is that Wake is very good in the return game. So that’s an element that could flip this game on it’s head. But all things being equal, I like a close game shootout where the Hokies end up winning by a touchdown.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Wake Forest 31

Boston College Preview and Prediction

Virginia Tech’s loss to North Carolina was disappointing but not necessarily unexpected. UNC looked like the better team. But that game did raise a couple of questions. Could the Hokies have won if Hendon Hooker had started? What if the Hokies had their full roster of defensive players? What happens if Khalil Herbert gets more than two carries in the first half? The reality is that the Hokies got outplayed on defensive side of the ball. You don’t need to analyze it more than that. Anybody watching could see that.

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Boston College is a sneaky good team. This is the type of team if you aren’t ready for what they are bringing, they can get you. On offense, it’s a two-man show with Phil Jurkovec and Zay Flowers. There about as good a QB-WR combo as there is in the ACC. Boston College ranks 7th in the nation in passing offense. And Zay Flowers ranks 4th in the nation in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He’s a talented player who you can expect to be playing on Sundays. The Hokies need to put Waller on Flowers to keep him in check. The good news is that BC is one of the worst rushing teams in the country. So if you can keep them from beating you through the air, they won’t beat you on the ground.

Defensively, they are solid all around. Not great but not bad either. This defense has kept BC in every game this year — including the North Carolina game. They should present some problems to a Hokies offense that has been moving the ball at will against everybody they’ve played this year. If the Hokies can stick to the balanced attack they’ve shown in the first three weeks, they should be in good shape against Boston College. It will be important to establish the run game with Khalil Herbert to open up the passing game over the top. The Hokies will need some contributions from their top receiving threats to move the ball against this defense. Tre Turner and James Mitchell need to have big games.

The Hokies are double-digit favorites going into this one, but the matchup looks closer than that on paper. The Hokies were obliterated in the run game against North Carolina. Will that happen against BC? Probably not. But they need to show that they have corrected a couple of things on that side of the ball. Next, can the Hokies stop the potent Jurkovec-Flowers combo? If Tech can get their full complement of defensive backs on the field, the Hokies stand a good chance of winning their fair share of those matchups. My biggest concern is Virginia Tech being able to stop the run. If the Hokies can show they can do that, they have a very good chance to win. But if Boston College is rushing for 5+ yards per carry, the odds don’t seem nearly as good. Put me down as thinking the Hokies bounce back this week defensively and have another good offensive performance.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Boston College 28

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

For two weeks in a row the Hokies have been able to pull out wins even while being undermanned on defense. The Hokies have been able to win with a dominant run game which currently ranks #1 in the country in rush yards per attempt. If Tech is able to keep up this type of dominant run game, they will be tough to stop. But the competition level goes up this week with a trip to Chapel Hill.

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Virginia Tech

Overall: 23rd
Offense: 31st
Defense: 24th
Special Teams: 21st

North Carolina

Overall: 11th
Offense: 10th
Defense: 37th
Special Teams: 43rd

North Carolina has an impressive passing attack but it has yet to come together in 2020. If the Hokies are still missing defensive backs, this is a passing attack that can exploit that weakness. Tech needs their top defensive backs this week to stop a powerful aerial attack. To limit its effectiveness the Hokies will need to get in the backfield early and often. Virginia Tech ranks #1 in the nation in sacks. They will need a strong performance from their front seven to get after Sam Howell and limit the North Carolina passing attack.

North Carolina’s defense has been impressive, but it’s been against some pretty ineffective offenses. So far this year, the Tar Heels have been the #1 team in the nation against the run. If they can keep that up, it will force the Hokies to have to beat them through the air. If Hendon Hooker is behind center, the Hokies stand a better chance to air it out. The Hokies should be able to find some running room, but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to run for 300+ yards for the third consecutive week.

On paper, this looks like a great matchup between two evenly matched teams. UNC has a great passing attack. Tech has a great running attack. Both teams feature stingy defenses. The Hokies are still trying to get all their guys back on the field to see how stingy this defense can be. If you’ve watched UNC, you get the feeling you haven’t seen the best that offense has to offer yet. This may be the week they break out of their funk. If the Hokies are going to win, they need to pound UNC with the running game. Like they did NC State and Duke. If the Hokies can pound the rock for four quarters and connect on a couple of shots downfield. They have a good chance to win. Before the season started, I had this game marked down as a loss. But after seeing how impressive this offensive line and running game have been, Tech should be able to pull this one out.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 31

Duke Preview and Prediction

Last week’s win was a big one. Being down 23 players and 2 coaches is a big deal. Especially when even more than those 23 players hadn’t practiced much in the two weeks leading up to the game. Getting a conference win given those circumstances is impressive. The coaching staff did a great job preparing the team, despite difficulty practicing and preparing with a couple of starters out.

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Virginia Tech

Overall: 17th
Offense: 25th
Defense: 21st
Special Teams: 28th

Duke

Overall: 81st
Offense: 120th
Defense: 38th
Special Teams: 37th

Duke has struggled on offense this year. They are 70th in the nation in turnovers this year (out of 72 teams that have played). Ouch. Their quarterback, Chase Brice, is only completing 51.3% of his passes with a 1:3 TD-INT ratio. Also not good. You start to wonder if David Cutcliffe might give his backup a shot in this game. Duke’s struggles in the passing game might not look so bad if they had an effective running game, but they rank 65th in the nation in that category. Duke is averaging 254 yards through the air this season. But most of that is due to the face they’ve been trailing by multiple touchdowns in their three games this season. If the Hokies have to play backups in the secondary, Duke may find some success thru the air.

Duke’s defense is solid, but their offense haven’t done them any favors by leaving them out on the field a lot this year. They have a pair of talented defensive ends who can get after the quarterback. Like last week, this is a good week to get the running game going and keep pressures off the quarterback. Any slow developing plays work to the strength of Duke’s defense. Virginia Tech needs to focus on the running game, screen game and quick passes to keep the Duke defensive ends out of the backfield.

Duke looks better than their 0-3 record. With that defense alone, they should be able to win some games. Unfortunately for them, their offense has been a disaster to start the year. They can’t run or pass with any sort of predictability. And that’s when they aren’t turning the ball over — which they do a lot. Like last week, the Hokies might be down a couple of starters due to COVID-related issues. Also like last week, this is another week where they should go with a safe gameplan of running the football to try to keep their defense off the field. Worked for them last week. And it’s likely to work for them again this week.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Duke 17

NC State Preview and Prediction

The Hokies finally get on the field after two weeks of postponements. As of the publishing of this post, the game is still on. Let’s hope it stays that way. The team has been struggling over the last three weeks with significant issues related to COVID-19. The team as a whole had to take a four-day pause from football activities since they had so many players out due to positive tests or contact tracing. Even now, as players start returning from quarantine, it appears like the Hokies may be without some key starters for NC State.

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Virginia Tech

Overall: 27th
Offense: 38th
Defense: 24th

NC State

Overall: 60th
Offense: 57th
Defense: 61st

The rankings above are based on preseason rankings and one game that NC State has played against Wake Forest. NC State is a solid team that put up a lot of points against Wake Forest. The Wolfpack ran the ball well last week. That concerns me due to the fact that the Hokies have had many guys unavailable to practice for the last couple of weeks. We saw what happened to Navy after their team went no-contact in practice. BYU ran all over them. Since the team has been limited in practice for the last two weeks, let’s hope we don’t see that with our guys.

I’m a bit less concerned about the offense. If Braxton Burmeister has to play, he is ready. I’ve heard he is an excellent runner and a good passer. He has playing experience from his days at Oregon and he’s entering his second year at Virginia Tech. If called upon, he can do the job. What to look for on Saturday is a healthy offensive line that will be able to line up and run the ball. The Hokies have a stable of capable running backs. This week’s game plan should focus on running the ball, running the clock and keeping the defense off the field.

The first thing I want to see this week is for the Hokies to actually make it to kickoff. They still need to get through test results on Saturday morning before they are cleared to play. If they do make it to kickoff, they will still may be down a couple of starters. And they will be playing a team that has already played a game. Both of those things concern me. This is a good week for the Hokies to go with a safe game plan to pull out a victory. Next week, they should be able to get more of their guys back.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, NC State 24