Virginia Preview and Prediction

Last season, I expected UVA to win this game. I expected the Commonwealth Cup streak to end. I expected the bowl streak to end. It was the worst Virginia Tech team in a quarter century and it felt like the time had come. Luckily, the Hokies made enough plays to keep the Commonwealth Cup in Blacksburg. This year the stakes are even higher with a Coastal division title and a potential spot in the Orange Bowl on the line.

Virginia

Overall: 37th
Offense: 68th
Defense: 32nd
Special Teams: 34th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 42nd
Offense: 70th
Defense: 33rd
Special Teams: 40th

Bryce Perkins is a one-man show on offense. He has been able to hit on big plays in the passing game. Virginia has the 43rd ranked passing offense in the country. Where they have struggled is in the run game. They rely on their do-everything quarterback to find yards on the ground. The Wahoos have the 118th ranked rushing offense. Their offense is one-dimensional when Perkins can’t find rushing yards on his own. The Hokies will need to contain Perkins and make him throw the ball. The Hokies corners will have to cover one-on-one against the Wahoos wide receivers. Especially when Perkins leaves the pocket.

Virginia Tech will need to find ways to move the ball against an aggressive defense. They came up with a good game plan against Pitt’s aggressive front. They will need to do the same against a UVA team that blitzes even more than Pitt does. This is a game where the Hokies need to use the screen game and misdirection to slow down UVA’s front seven. Tech will also want to challenge UVA’s corners. The Hokies have a good matchup there and will need to exploit it with their big and talented wide receivers.

These rivalry games can be tough to predict. There are always unexpected turns, trick plays and turnovers that can play a big role in the outcome. The Hokies need to not get caught up in the extracurricular activities of this rivalry game. Expect the Hokies to put a lot of pressure on Bryce Perkins. That has been a game plan that has worked well for this defense in the last two weeks. Also, expect the Hokies wide receivers to get the ball in space against Virginia’s corners. The Hokies need to show up and play the same type of football that they’ve been playing for the last six weeks. This year, the Hokies have the better squad. They just need to show up and play their game. If they do, they have a very good chance to win this one.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 17

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

Hokies are bowl eligible of an NCAA-leading 27th consecutive season. The first goal for any season is to make a bowl game. Start with that goal first, then worry about division titles. A bowl game was a good goal for this team — especially after waiting until their 12th game to make one last year. Their excellent play of late has them in the thick of the race for the Coastal division. But to get there they need to win two difficult games against Pittsburgh and Virginia.

SP+ Rankings

Pittsburgh

Overall: 52nd
Offense: 112th
Defense: 10th
Special Teams: 92nd

Virginia Tech

Overall: 44th
Offense: 67th
Defense: 35th
Special Teams: 39th

Pittsburgh reminds me of Virginia Tech teams from the mid-2000s. Elite defense. Pedestrian offense. Pittsburgh wins by keeping the opposition out of the end zone. Pittsburgh is giving up an average of 22 points per game in ACC games this season. Pitt’s defensive statistics are impressive. 11th in total defense. 7th in rushing defense. 9th in pass efficiency defense. To beat Pitt, you need to be able to complete passes against press coverage. Wide receivers need to win the one-on-one battles. This is a good week to get tight ends involved in the passing game. If the Hokies hope to have success on offense, they need to stay out of third and long. And use the screen game against an aggressive defensive line.

This is not the offense that you’ve seen from Pitt in the past. When you think of the Pitt offense you think of a run-heavy game. This year, the Panthers have not been able to run the ball and have turned to a pass-heavy offense. Pittsburgh’s offensive numbers are ugly. 106th in scoring offense. 106th in rushing offense. 96th in passing efficiency. This is an offense that does just enough to let their defense win the game for them.

This is going to be a close game. Pitt’s defense is good enough that the Hokies aren’t going to be able to go up and down the field on them. The goal for the Tech offense will be to not turn the ball over and try to grind out a few scoring drives to win the game. The Pitt defense is good but not unbeatable. Tech needs to take a methodical approach to their offense. Take opportunities as they come but don’t force it. The Hokies offense should be able to put enough points on the board to win. And the defense is playing well enough now to keep Pittsburgh’s offense mostly in check.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Pittsburgh 17

Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

With the win against Wake Forest, the Hokies have put themselves in good position for a bowl game. And even a shot at the Coastal division title. The key for the Hokies is to keep the momentum going. Next up are key Coastal division games against Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia. The Hokies cannot afford to overlook Georgia Tech. They are an improving team under Geoff Collins. Tech needs to head to Atlanta with a take-care-of-business attitude.

SP+ Rankings

Georgia Tech

Overall: 99th
Offense: 110th
Defense: 49th
Special Teams: 124th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 52nd
Offense: 72nd
Defense: 48th
Special Teams: 41st

Offense has been a struggle for Georgia Tech this season. Most expected a difficult the transition from the triple option to a spread offense. The Jackets have not been a threat in the passing game this season. But they can break a big play from time-to-time. Georgia Tech’s offense likes to run the ball and try to shorten the game. They want to keep the clock running. In order for the Hokies to be successful, they will need to stop the run and not get beat downfield with the long pass.

Georgia Tech is better on defense, particularly against the pass. The Jackets rank 119th against the run but rank 31st against the pass. It’s safe to say if you want to move the ball against Georgia Tech, your best option is on the ground. This is actually a pretty good matchup for the Hokies. The running game has looked a lot better with Hendon Hooker under center. The key for the Hokies will be to not turn ball over and give the Jackets struggling offense a short field.

Here are the last three games against Georgia Tech:

2016: Georgia Tech 30, Virginia Tech 20
2017: Georgia Tech 28, Virginia Tech 22
2018: Georgia Tech 49, Virginia Tech 28

The Hokies had a long stretch of success against Georgia Tech from 1990 thru 2015. But since then things have gone downhill. Virginia Tech were Vegas favorites in all three games but were on the losing end of upsets all three times. They need to change that. Paul Johnson was a thorn in the Hokies side for a long time. But he’s gone now. The Hokies need to go down to Atlanta and take care of business. On paper, this looks like a favorable matchup. The Hokies need to watch out for a motivated opponent playing on their home field. Georgia Tech is improving as the season goes on. They want to get that first ACC win at home. The Hokies need to go in focused to not mess around against an overmatched opponent.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Georgia Tech 20

Wake Forest Preview and Prediction

That was a tough loss on the road at Notre Dame. Tech came very close to pulling a big upset on the road against a very good Fighting Irish team. The Hokies have four games remaining to get two wins for bowl eligibility. And they still control their own destiny in the Coastal division. The Hokies get an opportunity to rebound this week against a ranked Wake Forest team at home.

SP+ Rankings

Wake Forest

Overall: 46th
Offense: 38th
Defense: 63rd
Special Teams: 34th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 64th
Offense: 82nd
Defense: 55th
Special Teams: 62nd

The Hokies offense should look better this week with the return of Hendon Hooker. His return should see the offense return to the one we saw against North Carolina. Hooker gives the Hokies the ability to go downfield. He also gives the Hokies another threat in the running game. Wake Forest gives up a lot of yards thru the air. Hendon Hooker and the Hokies’ pass catchers need to have a big game for the Hokies to have a chance. The Hokies offense will need to keep up with Wake Forest’s high powered attack.

Wake Forest is one of the best offenses that the Hokies will face this season. QB Jamie Newman and his wide receivers have put up a ton of yards this season. They are seventh in the nation in total offense and ninth in passing offense. These guys have lit up the scoreboard on a lot of teams this season. The Hokies defensive backfield needs to be able to keep this passing game in check. Armani Chatman will have to step up in Jermaine Waller’s absence. Bud Foster will need to scheme to put pressure on Jamie Newman while not giving up the big play. The Hokies will need to bring a lunch pail attitude on Saturday.

This game looks a lot like last week’s game against Notre Dame. But Wake Forest has a more potent offense than Notre Dame. The Hokies were able to keep it close against Notre Dame with Quincy Patterson behind center. With Hendon Hooker, the Hokies should be able to put more points on the board. But they will also need to keep Wake Forest’s high powered offense from putting up a lot of points. Wake Forest’s experienced roster should give the Hokies some trouble.

Prediction: Wake Forest 31, Virginia Tech 27

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction

The dramatic win against North Carolina is the type of win that can give a team confidence and momentum. The Hokies need to use that momentum going into a 5-game stretch run in November. A bowl game is still a very real possibility and so is a Coastal division championship. This is when the Hokies need to start playing their best football.

SP+ Rankings

Notre Dame

Overall: 25th
Offense: 22nd
Defense: 38th
Special Teams: 19th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 57th
Offense: 64th
Defense: 67th
Special Teams: 73rd

Notre Dame is coming off a tough loss to Michigan. They will be looking to get back on track against the Hokies. The Irish offense is not hitting on all cylinders like it was then they came to Blacksburg last season. Notre Dame has a good quarterback but they are still trying to find a running game. A game played in cold weather is not great to be tossing around the football all day. Notre Dame will have to lean on Tony Jones Jr. and the running game. If the Irish are throwing the ball a lot, that’s likely a good thing for the Hokies.

Notre Dame has a talented and experienced defense. They have upperclassmen across the depth chart. The Irish have a very talented secondary that does not give up a lot through the air. If you want to beat Notre Dame, you have to establish a running game. The Hokies need to lean on Quincy Patterson (or Hendon Hooker, if healthy) to get the running game going. A game played with temperatures in the 30s, the team that is able to run the ball will likely win the game. Expect a lot of different looks in the running game, trying to get the quarterback, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers all involved in running the football.

The story of this game will be Notre Dame’s experience vs Virginia Tech’s inexperience. Notre Dame’s depth chart is full of 3rd, 4th, and 5th year players. Virginia Tech’s is full of 1st, 2nd and 3rd year players. Experience matters. And if this game was in 2020 or 2021, Virginia Tech would have a much better shot to win. But playing a Notre Dame team at home coming off a tough loss to Michigan, the odds become a lot tougher. The Hokies definitely have a shot in this game, more than the experts are giving them credit for. But in the end, Notre Dame has too much talent for the Hokies to keep up with. Expect this to be a close game going into the half, with Notre Dame pulling away in the 2nd half.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Virginia Tech 21

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

The Hokies didn’t look great against Rhode Island. The Virginia Tech offense only had 8 possessions the entire game. The offense was pretty efficient but it stumbled on a couple of its red zone opportunities. If the Hokies had cashed in, the scoreline would have looked much better. The Hokies offense is going in the right direction, not sure if the same is true about the defense right now.

SP+ Rankings

North Carolina

Overall: 56th
Offense: 44th
Defense: 72nd
Special Teams: 92nd

Virginia Tech

Overall: 67th
Offense: 63rd
Defense: 66th
Special Teams: 58th

Expect UNC QB Sam Howell to get his yards against Virginia Tech’s secondary. He has thrown for over 1,500 yards, 15 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions so far this season. Very impressive for a true freshman. The North Carolina offensive line has had some trouble pass blocking. The Hokies defensive line will need to get into the UNC backfield and make life difficult for Howell. This worked well against Miami and the Hokies will need to get back to that type of pass rush against North Carolina. Tech will also need to be able to cover the UNC running backs in the passing game. They use their running backs in the pass game more than the teams the Hokies have faced so far this season.

North Carolina has had trouble covering the passing game this year. The Hokies talented wideouts are going to have to make plays on the outside. Having a healthy Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton will help. Tech will not have much success running inside so they will need to look to the outside running game to find room on the ground. This is also a great opportunity to get Dalton Keene and James Mitchell involved in the offense. The run blocking looked better against Rhode Island. Having an effective run game will help to open up the passing game. Blocking UNC’s defensive line and linebackers will be much tougher than blocking Rhode Island’s.

These teams look similar on paper. Both have average offenses and defenses. The team who can win the one-on-one battles will win this game. Especially in the passing game. The Duke game also looked close on paper and we remember how that turned out. The Hokies’ play-calling may have been a bit vanilla against Rhode Island. The playbook will be open against UNC. Expect a little bit of trickeration from the Hokies. Winning this game would get the Hokies in contention for a bowl and improve their odds for spot in the ACC Championship. A loss and you can forget about the Coastal title and a bowl bid becomes dicey. In the end, Sam Howell makes more plays with his arm and North Carolina wins by a touchdown.

Prediction: North Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 28

Rhode Island Preview and Prediction

The Hokies were able to get off the mat down in South Florida. It was a great response to bad Friday night at home against Duke. This team hasn’t had a lot of moments to feel good about over the last 12 months. It was nice to see them get a feel-good win against a conference opponent. A game like that can give confidence to a young team. The offense got a spark with Hendon Hooker behind center. The Hokies were able to run for 153 yards with a dual-threat option at quarterback.

SP+ Rankings

Rhode Island

Overall: 46th in the FCS (out of 127 teams)

Virginia Tech

Overall: 75th
Offense: 68th
Defense: 72nd
Special Teams: 76th

Rhode Island features a prolific passing offense. They rank 4th in the FCS in passing offense. But rank 118th in rushing. This is a team that relies on the passing game to move the ball. This is a good test for the Hokies secondary. This is also an opportunity for the Hokies defensive line to get after the quarterback. A week after they sacked Miami’s quarterbacks seven times.

Rhode Island has a bad defense, even at the FCS level. This is a team that has struggled to stop the run and the pass. This is a chance for Hendon Hooker and the Hokies offense to get into a rhythm before the North Carolina game. The Miami game showed what this offense could do with Hendon Hooker behind center. The Hokies should spend a lot of the day running the ball. Set up the run first, then go downfield to your deep threats on the outside.

The Hokies need a convincing win. The Hokies had opportunities against Old Dominion and Furman. Those games ended up much closer than most expected. In this game, the Hokies need to use their new run-based offense to run all over Rhode Island. Based on how this offense ran against Miami’s defense, you would expect that to happen. They need to put this game away in the first half. The Hokies shouldn’t show too much on offense ahead of the North Carolina game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Rhode Island 13

Miami Preview and Prediction

This is about as low as I can remember this program as long as I have been following them. Sometimes you’ll have a team that’s struggling but there is always something they do well that they can lean on. There isn’t a whole lot this team is doing well. There have been some individual players who have been bright spots but this team is struggling on both sides of the ball. That’s a tough combo going into conference play.

SP+ Rankings

Miami

Overall: 31st
Offense: 65th
Defense: 21st
Special Teams: 86th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 72nd
Offense: 88th
Defense: 52nd
Special Teams: 70th

The Hokies aren’t the only team struggling on the offensive side of the ball, Miami is in the same situation. Miami starts a young offensive line but, as usual, still have a lot of talent at the skill positions. Expect Jarren Williams and DeeJay Dallas to have big games on the ground. I’m not too worried about their passing game but Jeff Thomas can do some damage getting open downfield. The Hokies need to watch for him when the run opens up the play action pass downfield. There should be some opportunities for big plays against the Hokies’ defense.

The Hurricanes have a talented and experienced defense. This could be one of the best defensive units the Hokies face all season. This team is great at stuffing the run and forcing teams to pass to beat them. The Hokies need to be able to block Miami’s talented trio of senior linebackers. If they can’t, it’ll be a long night for Hendon Hooker and the Hokies offense. Virginia Tech needs to focus on misdirection in the run game to hope to give them a chance to move the ball downfield. Hendon Hooker will need to effectively run the read option. That might slow down Miami’s defense a bit.

If the Hokies hope to stay in this game, the Virginia Tech defense needs to keep Miami’s offense off the board. If Miami is able to put up points in a hurry, this game can get out of hand quickly. Virginia Tech’s best chance to win is to keep this a low scoring game and have Hendon Hooker hit on some plays in the passing game. That will become easier if the Hokies can establish a running game. Completing passes will be challenging considering how well Miami keeps teams one-dimensional. What I am looking for is for effort and want-to from the Hokies. This past week fans and the media have been burying this team. It’d be great to see this team get off the mat and let everyone know this season isn’t over yet. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Prediction: Miami 31, Virginia Tech 7

Duke Preview and Prediction

This is a critical game for the 2019 Hokies. This team can’t afford to go 0-2 in the ACC. And if they lose this game, it’s hard to find 5 more wins on the schedule for the Hokies to go bowling. They will need 7 wins to go bowling this year since they play 2 FCS teams.

What scares me most about this Duke offense is Quentin Harris’ ability to scramble. Although the Hokies dealt with a mobile QB against Furman, this will be a big step up in competition. He reminds me of Anthony Brown who had a very good game against the Hokies in Week 1. This offense doesn’t have a lot of weapons. As long as the Hokies don’t struggle with Duke’s option and misdirection plays, they should be able to keep the Duke offense in check.

The Duke defense is solid. This group should be able to shut down the Hokies’ run game without too much trouble. If the Hokies want to have success, it will have to be through the air. You can count on Duke stopping the run with their front four and trying to force Ryan Willis into mistakes by mixing up coverages. Ryan Willis will need to make good decisions, limit turnovers and put the ball in his playmaker’s hands. If he can do that, the Hokies have a good chance to win this game.

The Hokies young offensive line will struggle against Duke’s experience defensive line. This is a game where the offensive line will have to give Ryan Willis enough time to throw. And he will have to make good decisions against an experienced Duke secondary. It will be difficult for the Hokies to find a running game against this Duke defense. The Hokies will need score close to 30 to win this game — which will be tough against this Blue Devils defense. The best hope for the Hokies is to keep this game low scoring and make enough plays in the passing game to pull this one out.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Duke 24

Furman Preview and Prediction

The Hokies need to take care of the football. They are -6 in turnover margin two games into the season. The scoreline against ODU could have looked much better without the turnovers. The offense left points on the field with two turnovers in the 2nd half. Without those turnovers, the Hokies could have put up 10 or 14 more points. Then the scoreline looks a lot better. More like what most fans would’ve expected. But a win is a win. Plenty of programs would have loved to have avoided the upset bug on Saturday.
 
Next up is Furman. Furman is 1-1 after nearly upsetting Georgia State on Saturday. Georgia State is the team that upset Tennessee in week 1. This team can put up a ton of points and are top 25 in the FCS. This is not a team you can sleep on. This team upset  UCF in 2015. This team features a balanced attack. Sometimes they run a flexbone (ala Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson) and sometimes they run out of spread formations. For a Virginia Tech team that struggles with finishing tackles and filling gaps, this type of offense that could give them trouble. Far more than you’d expect from an FCS team. And likely the toughest FCS challenge they’ve had since JMU in 2010 or App State in 2011.
 
Furman has a dynamic quarterback in Darren Grainger. He runs Furman’s multiple offense well and is a threat on the ground and through the air. Furman’s offense looks like a tough matchup for Virginia Tech’s defense. Furman relies on misdirection and option concepts to get players of out position. I’m not surprised they beatdown Charleston Southern and almost beat Georgia State. This offense has put up some gaudy numbers in the first two weeks of the season. The Hokies defense needs to show up for this one. This offense can sustain long drives and score even against good defenses.
 
Defensively, the Paladins do not look as strong. They are tough to figure out. Georgia State put up 38 against Tennessee and 48 against Furman. Is Furman’s defense only slightly worse than Tennessee’s? This is a defense that you can put up numbers against, particularly in the passing game. I’m not hopeful for the running game considering Tech’s poor performance against ODU. If they couldn’t get the run game going against ODU, I’m not sure they will against Furman. Or anybody else for that matter.
 
This is as concerned going into an FCS game as I can remember being. I do not believe the Hokies will lose but I do not think they will cover a 22-point spread (or 21 or 20). I expect a similar performance to the ODU game. A win likely but far from inspiring. And that’s if the Hokies can put up big numbers through the air and outpace Furman offensively. If the Hokies have any stumbles on offense or turn the ball over, look out. This is a Furman team can that can eat up clock and put up some points against the Hokies defense. Furman is better than ODU. And we saw how that ODU game went. If the Hokies offense and defense can perform better than last week, they can put this game away early. If not, this one could go into the 4th quarter. Don’t sleep on this FCS team.
 
Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Furman 24