Virginia Preview and Prediction

The Hokies are struggling through a number of injuries but they found a way to win against Pittsburgh. If the Hokies want to win against UVA, they’re going to have to dig deep and find some unexpected heroes.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 92nd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 13th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 31st

Virginia

Overall S&P+ ranking: 65th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 79th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 49th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 51st

UVA is a solid team. It has been impressive what Bronco Mendenhall has been able to do with this team after a 2 win effort last season. This roster did not look dramatically different from last season but he has been able to get his squad bowl eligible. That’s impressive.

When I’ve watched the Hoos this year, I’m been really impressed with Kurt Benkert. He is the engine that makes their offense tick. He will also be one of the best quarterbacks that the Hokies have seen all season. Lucky for the Hokies that he is not a running quarterback. But given how well he distributes the ball, the Hokies defensive backs and linebackers will have their work cut out for them. Particularly across the middle with Terrell Edmunds being out and Mook Reynolds potentially missing time.

If the Hokies hope to win, they will need to find a running game. They had some success against Pittsburgh but they will need to lean on it more than they did last week. Travon McMillian and Deshaun McClease will need to step up and make some plays.

Kurt Benkert had a great first half against Miami last week but couldn’t keep it up for 60 minutes. If he can have a full 60 minute performance against the Hokies, he can give the them a lot of trouble. He reminds of Will Grier at WVU. He can carve the Hokies up like few quarterbacks that VT has seen this season. He is an NFL caliber talent.

This will not be a beauty of a game to watch. If the Hokies hope to win this one, they will have to win it ugly. The VT defensive backs will have to step up and not allow Kurt Benkert to carve them up for big yards especially over the middle. The Hokies linebackers will also need to be aware of running backs and tight ends getting involved in the passing game. I’m expecting a game like the Pitt game. Defense and special teams will be critical. They may need to bail the offense out in this game.

The Hoos have all the pieces they need to win but they also need to contend with the 13 year monkey on their back. They’ve been close to winning in recent years but couldn’t make the plays in the clutch to pull out a victory. I expect a very close game and the team that can make the plays in the fourth quarter will come out with the victory.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Virginia 21

Pitt Preview and Prediction

Georgia Tech is the one game so far this season that the Hokies shouldn’t have lost. They simply made too many mistakes and couldn’t capitalize when opportunities presented themselves. Most teams will have a loss or two like that each season. These are the ones who think about weeks later and know how close you were to a win. They are the difference between a good season and a great season.

Either way, the Georgia Tech loss doesn’t greatly affect the Hokies postseason goals. Even with a win against Georgia Tech, their chances at a New Year’s Six bowl were slim. And they are still in the mix for the Citrus, TaxSlayer and Camping World bowls with two more wins against Pitt and UVA. The important thing will be to get the team refocused after two tough losses and take care of business against two teams that they should beat.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 90th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 7th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 29th

Pittsburgh

Overall S&P+ ranking: 92nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 72nd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 94th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 83rd

The biggest issue that the Hokies will face from Pitt is their ground attack. Pitt uses a lot of jet sweep motion to spread out the defense then they run the ball with their big tailbacks. This is something that gave the Hokies trouble last season. Not to mention in their game against UNC, their quarterback scrambled more than he has all season. Expect this game to be like the Georgia Tech game. The Hokies need to stop the run and not get beat over the top.

Pitt’s run defense is bad but so is the Hokies run game. So those two things offset each other. If the Hokies want to move the ball in this game, they will need to do so through the air against Pitt’s average pass defense. Pitt likes to use a lot of press coverage which has given the Hokies trouble this year. The Hokies young wideouts will have to find space against tight coverage and make plays. The best outcome would be for Cam Phillips to have a great day on Senior Day.

The stats say Pittsburgh is somewhere in between Duke and North Carolina this season. Two teams that the Hokies blew out before they had their confidence stomped on by Miami. And before the recent rash of injuries the Hokies have suffered. On defense and special teams alone, this is a mismatch. The Hokies offense has been so stagnant in the last two weeks that it’s hard to expect much from them. And with the defensive injuries this past week, it’s hard to know what to expect from the defense. All I know is that Pittsburgh doesn’t pass the eye test to me. When I watched them last week, they looked a lot closer to UNC than they did VT. Even though it’s a bad matchup for the Hokies, they will find a way on Senior Day.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Pittsburgh 20

 

 

Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

Justin Fuente described Virginia Tech games this year as a “three-and-a-half-hour stomach ache.” Every game against Georgia Tech is a three-and-a-half-hour stomach ache. Their option attack limits the opposing team’s possessions and if you can’t make the most out of each and every possession, they can outscore you and beat you. Which they have done to teams often in recent years. That doesn’t sound like a good situation for a team known for getting off to slow starts offensively.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 18th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 83rd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 7th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 25th

Georgia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 50th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 50th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 45th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 72nd

Expect to see a game plan from Georgia Tech similar to last year’s. Expect a lot of runs right up the middle from the B-back position and TaQuan Marshall. It’ll be up to Ricky Walker, Tim Settle and Andrew Motuapuaka to stuff the run up the middle. Something the middle of the Hokies defense had trouble with last year. The Hokies need to be able to push the option outside and have the Hokies defensive backs and linebackers shed blocks to get to the ball carrier. As usual, Georgia Tech will have some success but it will be important for the Hokies defense to keep them to 20 points or less. It’ll be tough situation for the Hokies if they get into a track meet with the Jackets.

Georgia Tech’s defense is solid but not spectacular. They have trouble generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Expect Josh Jackson to have time to throw but he will need to make the most of those opportunities since offensive possessions are limited when you play GT. It’s not uncommon for offenses to only have around eight possession when they play GT. So if you can’t get going in your first four possessions, you might only have four more the rest of the day. That’s why generating turnovers (i.e. more possessions) is important when you play the Jackets.

If there is one area where the Hokies have a clear advantage in this game, it’s on special teams. Just as with most games this season, the Hokies will need to play field position and try to set up big plays in the return game. There should be opportunities in this game. Georgia Tech’s special teams this year have not been particularly special. This game calls for a dose of #Shibestball.

This game makes me nervous because the Hokies just came off a very physical game against Miami where a couple of players got dinged up. Not to mention they had travel issues and lost a day of practice and they have to travel to Atlanta for this game. That’s not a lot of prep time for Georgia Tech’s offense. It helps that most of the players on defense have seen Georgia Tech’s offense last year but still you wish the Hokies had more time to prepare. I expect a close game but on paper the Hokies have the stronger squad. The Hokies defense has to show up and finish tackles though.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Georgia Tech 23  

Miami Preview and Prediction

This is a huge game. If the Hokies lose, they are mathematically eliminated from Coastal contention. If the Hokies hope to repeat as Coastal champions, they will need to win this game on the road against undefeated Miami.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 15th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 70th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 4th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 34th

Miami

Overall S&P+ ranking: 14th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 20th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 31st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 54th

As you can see, they are two very evenly matched teams. Both teams have put together impressive resumes against relatively soft schedules. No one would argue these aren’t two very good teams. Both teams are trying to build a resume ahead of the ACC Championship for a chance at the College Football Playoff. They could both be considered dark horses in the CFP race.

I’ve watched Miami’s games this year and they just don’t pass they eye test to me. At least not for an undefeated team nine weeks into the season. You always expect them to play better than they do. What has stood out to me is that they play down to their competition. Which means they can play up to their competition in a big game, and they probably will. So don’t expect the same Miami team that struggled against GT and UNC.

The Hokies offense is going to have trouble moving the ball against Miami’s defense. They aren’t as good as Clemson’s but they are probably better than Duke’s and BC’s. They will be a challenge. The Hokies will be able to put some points on the board as Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen will be able to scheme against an aggressive defense but I would not be surprised if the Hokies’ offense gave up a turnover or two. It will be important for the Hokies to not give the Hurricanes a short field and limit turnovers. Turnovers and special teams will be key in this match up.

The Hokies cannot have big lapses like they did against Clemson. They had a busted coverage which led to a 60 yard touchdown and a mishandled catch which led to a pick 6. That cost the Hokies 14 points in game decided by 14 points.

A key stat favoring the Hokies is that they rank 3rd nationally in third down conversions allowed. Miami ranks 118th in converting 3rd downs. That could be an issue for Miami but they do excel at finding big plays on offense. The Hokies need to focus on limiting Miami’s big play ability and force them to convert 3rd downs to move the ball down the field.

Bud Foster’s goal needs to be to make Miami one dimensional by stopping their running game. UNC was able to limit Miami to 1.8 YPC last week. If the Hokies can force Malik Rosier to throw the ball, that works in Virginia Tech’s favor and should limit Miami’s big play ability.

Miami is better than they have shown the last two weeks. It’s strange to see an undefeated team as a home underdog (probably has more to do with Vegas folks being high on VT recently but I digress). Virginia Tech’s average game performance is better than Miami’s average game performance. That doesn’t mean that Miami can’t put together a special performance on a big stage. We’ve seen that from them before. But all things being equal, I like the Hokies’ defense limiting Miami’s offense and Tech’s offense’s ability to find big plays. Special teams will be key in this game. Field position battles will matter in a close game. Expect a low scoring affair. This game will be classic Virginia Tech-Miami. Lots of big hits. Lots of emotion on both sides. It’ll be a fun one on ABC prime time. We will need Joey Slye to come up big in this game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Miami 24

 

Duke Preview and Prediction

The Hokies put their best performance of the year together against UNC. They picked a good time to do it with all the #NC2VT recruits in town. As time goes on, I think you will see the Hokies make deeper in-roads into North Carolina. I think the game last weekend already helped with a couple of Virginia Tech’s top targets.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 17th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 59th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 47th

Duke

Overall S&P+ ranking: 79th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 88th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 55th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 95th

Under David Cutcliffe, Duke is always a tough out. They are tough. They are disciplined. And they play good defense. No 59-7 box scores this week.

Where Duke is struggling this year is in the passing game. Daniel Jones has not been able to find the success he had in his freshman year. You can call this season his sophomore slump. Expect to see the Hokies focus on shutting down the run and forcing Daniel Jones to beat them with his arm. Something he has struggled with so far this year.

Duke has an effective but not explosive running attack. The Hokies boast the 16th ranked rushing defense in the country. They should be able to slow down the Duke rushing attack and force the offense to come thru the arms and legs of Daniel Jones. I am more concerned about his legs than arm. Although, he only has 217 rushing yards for the season.

Where is Hokies will have issues in this game is on offense. They will struggle to put long drives together against this Duke defense. If the Hokies are going to have success, they are going to need to find a ground game. Duke’s defense is a little more susceptible to the rushing attack than the passing game. The Hokies will need to find ways to get their running backs involved in the gameplan.

At this point, Duke is the third best team the Hokies have played. This won’t be a cake walk like UNC but expect a game like the BC game. The Hokies will struggle to move the ball on offense and the defense will make life hard on Duke. This is a game where it would be a good if the Hokies can get off to a good start offensively. This game being played in the rain makes me nervous for sloppy conditions that can cause turnovers which could hurt the VT offense. But all things being equal – I like the Hokies offense, defense and special teams over Duke’s.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Duke 10

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

The North Carolina game is starting to become as important as the UVA game. Years ago ┬áit was important for the Hokies to win the in-state rivalry with UVA to help with recruiting. These days, the state of North Carolina is just as important for recruiting as Virginia is. That’s why it’s important for the Hokies to beat UNC. Not to mention their recent academic fraud scandal and the bad things they’ve said about VT on the recruiting trail. They are an easy team to dislike.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 19th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 61st
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 53rd

North Carolina

Overall S&P+ ranking: 88th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 82nd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 82nd
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 74th

North Carolina’s only win this year was over Old Dominion. Against the Power 5 teams on their schedule, they have lost by multiple scores. The Hokies defense will be the best defense that UNC has seen this year.

Let’s talk about UNC does well. They are actually a decent running team. The problem is Larry Fedora doesn’t like to run the ball. The are good at getting after the quarterback and getting sacks. And they are also good at forcing turnovers. So this is not a cake walk by any means. Especially if the Hokies get off to a slow start.

UNC is not very good defensively. They are likely better than Delaware, East Carolina and Old Dominion. But as far as ACC competition is concerned, they might be the worst defense left on the schedule. Expect the Hokies to be able to move the ball on the ground against North Carolina. Should be a good day on the ground for Josh Jackson and the Hokies remaining healthy running backs.

Things that concern me in this game are the Hokies being rusty coming off a bye and injuries at the wide receiver position. The Hokies have been getting off to slow starts all season. I’m worried we’ll see more of the same coming off a bye. I’m also wondering who is going to start at wide receiver with so many injuries. Hopefully, we’re pleasantly surprised but I worry about having to play a lot young players who will struggle with consistency.

I’m a slightly worried about this game for the reasons mentioned above. But if the Hokies have problems, the Heels issues are far bigger. They have lost 9 starters to injury who are out for the season. And the Hokies have the far better quarterback than the two the Heels could play on Saturday. Statistically, the Hokies are just better across the board. Kinda like the BC game. I see this being similar to that game. I hope the Hokies get it in gear and pour it on the Heels but I think that’s unlikely. This is another game where the Hokies need to get out with a win and get healthy before Miami and Georgia Tech.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, North Carolina 10

Midseason Awards and Outlook

Offensive MVP: Josh Jackson

Josh Jackson is the engine that makes the offense go. He has 1,700 passing yards, 13 TDs and 4 INTs. He’s on pace for 3,400 yards and 26 TDs.  Those numbers look similar to Jerod Evans’ record setting numbers midway thru last season. If he stays on that pace, it would set him up nicely for a possible ACC Rookie of the Year award and All-ACC selection. Very impressive for a freshman quarterback.

Honorable mention: Cam Phillips

Defensive MVP: Tremaine Edmunds

Tremaine Edmunds is leading the Hokies in tackles with 50. He’s one of the few players on the Hokies defense that the offense needs to be aware of on every snap. He goes sideline to sideline better than any linebacker the Hokies have had since Adibi and Hall. He also has 4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Hard to argue anyone has been a bigger difference maker on defense than Tremaine Edmunds.

Honorable mention: Mook Reynolds

Special Teams MVP: Oscar Bradburn

As much as I want to give this to Greg Stroman, it has to be Oscar Bradburn. There are plenty of teams across the country with punters who shank punts or can’t get good punts off consistently. Our twenty-year old freshman from Australia might be the best freshman punter in the country. He’s averaging 43.8 yards per punt, nine punts were downed inside the 20 and eight punts have been greater than 50 yards. He played a big role in winning the field position battle against West Virginia. You normally don’t get that kind of production out of your punter, much less a freshman punter. Good on ya, mate!

Honorable mention: Greg Stroman

2nd Half Outlook

The first half of the season has gone according to plan. Hokies won against West Virginia in a big opening game. They took care of business against the rest of their over-matched opponents. And, as expected, took a loss to the defending national champs. So far, they are meeting expectations. What will take this season from good to great are wins against Georgia Tech and Miami. They also need to avoid the upset bug the rest of the way.

Things are setup well for the rest of the season, even if the Hokies lose to Miami and Georgia Tech they would still equal last season’s 9-3 mark. If they win one or both of those games they could finish at 10-2 or even 11-1. The key will be winning both of those games if the Hokies hope to make it back to the ACCCG. Even if they beat Miami and lose to Georgia Tech, the Canes could still win their remaining games and make the ACCCG with one loss to the Hokies. Looks like it’s going to be a tougher-than-usual year in the Coastal. Barring major injuries or a collapse, the Hokies are set up well for a good season (9-3 or better) and a trip to a quality bowl game. Hopefully, they can do what it takes to get a rematch with the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship Game.

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