Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

If the Hokies hope to win the division, they need to win their home games down the stretch. They’re off to a great start in conference after picking up three straight road wins. Now they need to take care of business at home. Next up, they have Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are in last place in the Coastal but this will be a formidable team for the Hokies. Georgia Tech is 2-0 against Justin Fuente’s Hokies.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 51st
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 39th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 67th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 10th

Georgia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 64th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 21st
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 104th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 105th

Georgia Tech is one of the best offensive teams the Hokies will see all year. This team can put up points in a hurry. If the Hokies defense is not disciplined and don’t finish tackles, the Jackets will be off to the races. Just ask Louisville. They gave up 66 points to the Jackets in their own house. Georgia Tech’s most dangerous player is their quarterback TaQuon Marshall. He has rushed for 647 yards and 9 touchdowns this season. He is very good at running Paul Johnson’s spread option attack. He also has 8 fumbles on the season. If the Hokies hope to keep the Jackets out of the end zone, it would help to force a turnover or two.

If the Hokies hope to have success in this game, they will need their offense to outscore Georgia Tech’s offense. The Hokies have had a lot of trouble keeping up with the Jackets offensively in recent years. The Hokies have only been able to put up 20 and 22 points respectively in two games against Georgia Tech under Justin Fuente. This is a game where Georgia Tech is likely to score into the 30s, so the Hokies will need to keep possession and put the ball in the end zone. The Jackets are a bad defensive team but they are good at not giving up the big play. They are the opposite of the Hokies in that regard. This is a game where the Hokies need to get something out of the ground game to make life easier on Ryan Willis. This was a struggle for the Hokies against North Carolina.

If there is an area where the Hokies might find an advantage in this game, it’s on special teams. Georgia Tech is vulnerable in this area. The Hokies need to take advantage of kickoff returns and converting points off field goals. These are areas where the Jackets have struggled this year and where the Hokies have been very strong. The Hokies need to take advantage of special teams play on Thursday night. This game could use a little Beamerball.

The Hokies are 7-0 in weeknight games against Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson is 2-0 against Justin Fuente. Something’s gotta give. On paper, this might look like an easy win for the Hokies. They are in first place in the division. The Jackets are in last place. The Hokies are playing at home on a Thursday night — a time slot where they have thrived in the past. As Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. Georgia Tech’s strength goes right up against Virginia Tech’s weakness. Georgia Tech’s outside running game is going against a secondary who is struggling to make tackles right now. Not to mention a secondary who has had trouble covering one-on-one downfield — for the couple of times that Georgia Tech goes downfield per game. That’s a bad combination. This looks like a nightmare matchup for the 2018 Hokies.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 34, Virginia Tech 24

Midseason Awards and Outlook

Offensive MVP: Ryan Willis

Ryan Willis has been the difference in two conference wins against Duke and North Carolina. Against Duke, he was efficient, made all the throws he needed to make, drove the Hokies up and down the field that night. Against North Carolina, he only needed one drive to win the game and he went 98 yards in just under 6 minutes to seal the win. Even if you don’t have your best game, as long as you can lead the game winning drive, all is forgiven.

Honorable mention: Damon Hazelton, Steven Peoples

Defensive MVP: Rayshard Ashby

Rayshard Ashby has been a very pleasant surprise on defense this year. He is manning the Mike linebacker position like you would hope from a veteran, even though this is Ashby’s first season starting. He leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and always seems to be in position to make the play. His instincts and ability to make tackles has been impressive.

Honorable mention: Reggie Floyd, Houshun Gaines

Special Teams MVP: Oscar Bradburn

This is a tough one. The Hokies special teams have been excellent this season. I’m going to give this to Bradburn because you can’t play much better than he has this season. He has a 42.76 yard average on his punts, with a long of 63. He has dropped 11 of his 33 punts inside the 20. He’s doing a good job of flipping field position for the Hokies, which has been important given the defense’s struggles.

Honorable mention: Brian Johnson (7-9 FGs), Jordan Stout (35 touchbacks on 37 kickoffs)

2nd Half Outlook

The offense has been a little ahead of schedule and the defense has been a little behind schedule. The defense is bad right now. The biggest issue is giving up big plays. They are arguably the worst team in FBS at giving up big plays. Outside of the big plays, the Hokies defense is pretty solid. The big plays make those numbers look much worse. The Hokies can improve in the second half of the season as some of their young players get more experience. But I wouldn’t expect a night and day improvement. Bend but don’t break needs to be the mantra of this defense.

Considering the Hokies play in the first half of the season, it is almost shocking that they are 3-0 in conference and in position for a chance to win the division. The division is winnable but the Hokies need to play much better on defense. There are no easy wins left on the schedule. The Hokies are going to have to grind out games from here on out. Have the defense get some stops and have the offense outscore the other team’s offense.

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

The Hokies are back in conference play after starting the season 2-0 in ACC play. This week’s challenge is the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. North Carolina is a team that has struggled this year. They have begun the year 1-3 with the one win coming against Pittsburgh at home in a shootout. North Carolina is looking to get a win however they can get one. The Hokies are looking to go to 3-0 in conference play.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 47th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 40th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 59th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 16th

North Carolina

Overall S&P+ Rank: 98th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 104th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 77th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 14th

North Carolina has a solid pass defense. In fact, they are top 25 in terms of defending the pass. If the Hokies want to get any offensive momentum going in this game, it will have to be on the ground. This is a game where Steven Peoples and DeShawn McClease should have good games. The Hokies need to go to them early and often. The Hokies are also fortunate that North Carolina’s best pass rusher, Malik Carney, is suspended for this game. That’s one less thing to worry about when Ryan Willis drops back to pass.

We don’t really know what to expect from the North Carolina offense. If Nathan Elliott starts at quarterback for North Carolina, he has been largely ineffective this season. The Tar Heels could choose to go to true freshman Cade Fortin in this game. We don’t know much about him. He has only thrown six passes this season. He could be an X-factor in this game. Also look out for wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams in the passing game and running back Antonio Williams in the running game. The Hokies defense looks much better with Divine Deablo in the secondary. Let’s hope he’s healthy enough to suit up on Saturday night.

Virginia Tech’s defensive numbers look bad this season. If you dive deeper into the numbers you’ll see that they are actually a good defensive team that struggles with giving up explosive plays. They are one of the worst teams in the country at giving up explosive plays, particularly on the ground. If the Hokies can fill their gaps and make their tackles, this looks like a much better defense. The explosive plays have been killing the Hokies this season.

The keys to this game for Virginia Tech will be to establish the run and not give up the big play on defense. It’s critical that the Hokies keep their defensive assignments. If the Hokies can keep up a consistent running game, they should be able to move the ball up and down the field. It’s important that they don’t fall behind and have to chase the game with the passing game. On paper, Virginia Tech looks like the better team. Hokies get back to playing good defense and pick up another conference road win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 24

 

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction

Notre Dame is coming to Blacksburg! For many older Virginia Tech fans, they never thought they’d see the day that the Fighting Irish would come to play a road game in Blacksburg. This game has a big game feel. Notre Dame is in the top 10 and has earned their ranking. The Hokies are coming off a big conference road win against a top 25 opponent. The stage is set for some fireworks in Lane Stadium on Saturday night.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 35th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 30th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 57th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 2nd

Notre Dame

Overall S&P+ Rank: 9th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 37th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 5th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 53rd

This may be Notre Dame’s most difficult remaining game. After this game, Notre Dame has smooth sailing all the way until their season finale with Southern Cal. You know this game has the Irish’s full attention.

Since Ian Book has come in at quarterback, Notre Dame has been lighting up the scoreboard. He is completing 74.3% of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is the straw that stirs the drink for Notre Dame’s offense and has been the spark plug they needed. Notre Dame has talented running backs and wide receivers. They just needed someone at the QB position to distribute the ball to them. They got that in Ian Book.

Notre Dame has a very good all-around defense. The strength of their defense is the linebacker group but they are solid in all areas. They are one of the top teams in the country at passing efficiency defense. No team has scored more than 27 points against this defense this year. Watch out for Jerry Tillery on Notre Dame’s defensive line. He can cause some havoc in the backfield. This is a game where the Hokies could have trouble moving the ball downfield on offense.

If the Hokies have an area they can take advantage of it’s on special teams. That is an area of the game where Notre Dame might be susceptible and the Hokies may be able to find an advantage. Particularly in the return game. The Hokies will need to bring their Beamerball mentality to this game.

It’s likely that Notre Dame is the best team left on the Hokies schedule. They have talent on both sides of the ball and their offense is humming right now with Ian Book behind center. The Hokies will have their hands full. If the Hokies hope to win this game, they will need limit Notre Dame’s big plays on offense. Let Notre Dame nickle and dime you but don’t give up the big play. On offense, Ryan Willis will need to put in his playmakers in a position to make plays. Just put the ball in your playmaker’s hands. Justin Fuente may have a trick play or two dialed up for this game. While I’m excited about the atmosphere on Saturday night, I feel like we’re catching Notre Dame when everything is clicking and they will be tough to beat.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Virginia Tech 23