Notre Dame Preview and Prediction

It’s always frustrating to see the Hokies let an opportunity slip through their fingers. Having the Coastal wrapped up before a trip to Notre Dame and visit from UVA would’ve been nice. Oh well. The Hokies will just have a little extra motivation against their in-state rival next week.

Notre Dame. One of the pillar programs of college football. To me, Notre Dame is Rudy. A movie about a kid who idolizes a college football program so much, he’ll do anything to play for them. Pretty epic stuff. Besides that, they are a strong program but they are not what they once were. Either way, going to Notre Dame is a big deal. Just ask any older Tech alums. You would think the Hokies were playing at the Vatican this weekend.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 28th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 65th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 14th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 52nd

Notre Dame

Overall S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 30th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 57th

A running quarterback. DeShone Kizer. Terrified yet? Kizer has not cracked 100 yards on the ground in a game this year. But if the Hokies history with running quarterbacks is any indication, this could be the week he does it. I got a text from a Notre Dame fan this week, he said Brian Kelly threw the ball 26 times in a hurricane this year. So I guess you never know what’s going to happen. But if the Notre Dame staff has watched film this week, you can expect to see a lot of designed runs for Kizer.

Notre Dame has a young secondary and a front seven that has had trouble pressuring the quarterback. You would think this could be a week that the Hokies could put up big numbers through the air. The current weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 30s, high winds and snow. Doesn’t sound like ideal conditions to throw the football in.

One big question mark in this game is how the Notre Dame defense is going to play. Since switching defensive coordinators to Greg Hudson, the defense has played well. Two of those games were against service academies. One was in a hurricane. And one was against a struggling Stanford offense. My guess is that they play better than expected and get assisted by the poor weather conditions.

Given the poor weather conditions, I’m looking for the team that runs the ball better. And I’d have to give the nod to Notre Dame. All the stats suggest they are the better rushing team. And the Hokies have had trouble stopping the run in the last three weeks. That plus the conditions make me think that this is not a good matchup for the Hokies.

I don’t like this matchup on paper. At all. It’s made even worse by the weather conditions. The Hokies can win this game if they are able to make plays on special teams and generate turnovers. The old Beamerball special. If not, I’m afraid this game looks pretty good on paper for Notre Dame. I hope I’m wrong. It would be great to go into South Bend and come out with a win.

Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Virginia Tech 17

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Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

You take conference road wins however you can get them. Even if they are ugly. Getting the win is all that matters. Hokies took care of business on the road at Duke last week. Each week the games get bigger.

Georgia Tech is next. This is a team that gives the Hokies fits every year. This year should be no different. This is an offense that stays in every game. They don’t often get blown out. They limit possessions on both sides of the ball. That means your offense has to be efficient.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 17th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 36th

Georgia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 62nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 74th

How will Bud Foster’s reshuffled lineup perform against the Georgia Tech offense? If there was a game where you’d feel okay losing Greg Stroman and Terrell Edmunds, it’s this one. However, you’re asking your backups not to make many assignment errors. That can be a lot to ask sometimes. Either way, I think Bud Foster knows this offense well enough to make those adjustments. He will put his players in a position to succeed.

This is a game where the Hokies offense should be able to move the ball. First, the Hokies offense has been excellent at home. The Hokies have averaged 46.7 points per game against FBS opponents at Lane Stadium this year. The Georgia Tech defense has had trouble stopping opponents this year. They don’t give up the big play but you can dink and dunk them downfield all day long. Expect the Hokies to put up some points in this game.

You worry about the reshuffled lineup on defense. You never know how that’s going to go against a dangerous Georgia Tech offense. But if there is someone who knows how to scheme against that offense, it’s Bud Foster. Also, this offense has been lights out at home. They look like a completely different team in Lane Stadium. If the defense can hold up and not have too many assignment issues, I expect the Hokies will be fine. I never go into this game expecting a comfortable win. But if the Hokies play at home like they have all season, I’m feeling pretty good.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Georgia Tech 21

Duke Preview and Prediction

The Hokies were finally able to break the curse of Heinz Field. It took a gritty effort and for the first time in a long time, the offense had to pick up Bud Foster’s defense. That is not something that happened often in the Beamer era. In big games on the road, only one thing matters and that’s winning. The Hokies found a way to win at Heinz Field and now are in the driver’s seat for the Coastal division.

The word of the week is focus. Top 25 teams get upset every week by unranked opponents. There are no easy wins in the Power 5. Teams need to show up focused. It’s not easy to come off a big win on the road then come ready to play the next week. Earlier this season, the Hokies notched a huge win against UNC then put up a dud against Syracuse the next week. Let’s hope the Hokies learned from that experience.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 13th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 41st
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 19th

Duke

Overall S&P+ ranking: 72nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 88th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 108th

On paper, the Hokies have a significant advantage in this matchup. Duke is without their starting QB, Thomas Sirk, he was lost for the season in August. They are also without their top running back, Jela Duncan. This is a team that should struggle to move the ball against the Hokies’ defense. They also have a quarterback who has thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. This seems like an offense that Bud Foster’s group should be able to slow down.

Duke can give teams trouble when they are on defense. They are good at limiting teams thru the air but have been prone to give up the big play from time to time. The Hokies are going to have to try to stretch the Duke defense by going deep to one of their three deep threats. Like they did against Pitt. The Duke defense is also good at limiting teams in the red zone, which the Hokies struggled with last week. They will have to be better this week.

Duke is a team to worry about because David Cutcliffe teams do not beat themselves. Every FBS game that Duke has played this year was decided a margin of 14 points or less. Duke does not get blown out. They don’t commit many penalties and play solid defense. They are not the type of team you can expect to walk over.

If there are two areas the Hokies can look to turn the game, it’s turnovers and special teams. This may be a game where the Hokies can show off a little new-look Beamerball. Daniel Jones has thrown 9 interceptions this year. Duke is ranked 125th in the nation with 12 lost fumbles. And they have not been particularly strong on special teams (see S&P+ ranking above).¬† They particularly struggle on punt coverage and converting field goals. Keep an eye out for turnovers and special teams in this game.

This game will not be a cakewalk. Duke is a legit team and can absolutely upset the Hokies. The same way Syracuse did. If the Hokies show up focused like the did against Miami and Pitt, they should be fine and roll to a comfortable win. If they start slow or sleepwalk like they did against Syracuse, they could be in trouble. I do think there will be a bit of an emotional letdown after the Pitt game. I still think the Hokies win and pull away in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 17

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

The Hokies bounced back from the Syracuse loss in a big way against Miami. Now let’s see how they handle coming off a big win. The Hokies didn’t handle success very well last time. They immediately lost to Syracuse after a big win against UNC. Let’s hope we see more focus from the Hokies this time around.

The Virginia Tech-Pittsburgh series is one of the weirdest you’ll see. The Hokies dominated in the 90’s and that flipped in the 2000’s. The Hokies went 7 of the first 8 games in the series. Pitt has won 6 of 7 since 2000.

pittsburgh_series

Unlike previous visits to Heinz Field, I think this visit will get the Hokies full attention. This Pittsburgh team will not sneak up on the Hokies this time. This game is the Hokies biggest remaining obstacle to a trip to the ACC Championship Game.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 12th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 23rd

Pittsburgh

Overall S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 29th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 63rd

What is Pittsburgh good at? Running the ball and stopping the run. The key to slowing down their offense will be to shut down their run game. Even if the Hokies do that, they need to be able to stop their mobile QB from making plays with his feet. He doesn’t run a lot but can break the pocket to pick up a first down or two. The Hokies need to be ready for that.

Pittsburgh has the 5th ranked rushing defense in the nation.  They are very good at stopping the run. If the Hokies hope to win this game, they will need to move the ball through the air. Pittsburgh ranks 122nd in passing yards allowed. You would think the Hokies should be able to throw against this defense. If the Hokies do pass a lot, watch out for Ejuan Price off the edge. He leads the nation with 9 sacks this season.

On paper, the Hokies should win this game. But games aren’t played on paper. The last three times the Hokies have been to Heinz Field, they scored 6 points or less in the first half. This time they need to get off to a better start and put the Pitt offense and defense on their heels early. Unlike previous meetings, I think that Pitt has the Hokies full attention. I think you’ll see a much better performance than you’ve seen in previous visits to Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Pittsburgh 24

Miami Preview and Prediction

The Syracuse game was a big bump in the road for the Hokies. No one would’ve expected that to be the next game the Hokies lost. A notable blemish of the Beamer era was that the Hokies dropped games that no one expected them to. It appears in year 1 of the Fuente era that still remains a problem for the Virginia Tech program.

The biggest concern for me from the Syracuse game is that one loss can turn into three losses. The Miami game is only five days after the Syracuse game with only three days of practice. That is not much time for the team to put the Syracuse game behind them. My hope is that one loss does not turn into another loss to Miami which could hurt the team’s confidence. After two consecutive losses, who would feel confident going to play Pitt at Heinz Field?

Another thing that concerns me is that Tech’s losses have come in twos in recent years.

2015
at East Carolina (9/26/2015)
Pitt (10/3/2015)

at Miami (10/17/2015)
Duke (10/24/2015)

2014
East Carolina (9/13/2014)
Georgia Tech (9/20/2014)

at Pitt (10/16/2014)
Miami (10/23/2014)

2013
Duke (10/26/2013)
at Boston College  (11/2/2013)

This suggest a group of players that don’t bounce back well from losses. Which gives me concern given the short week and a tough-to-swallow loss on Saturday. Let’s hope that this staff can get the team to focus on the next game in a short period of time. They did a great job of regrouping after the Tennessee game. The Hokies went out a blew out Boston College the next Saturday.

Now let’s talk about Miami. These look like two very evenly matched teams.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 16th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 79th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 39th

Miami

Overall S&P+ ranking: 17th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 38th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 12th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 38th

The key to stopping the Miami offense is to limit the running game. If Miami has to go one-dimensional with the passing game then Brad Kaaya’s passing statistics drop. The key to slowing down the Miami offense will be limiting their talented running backs, Mark Walton and Joe Yearby. If the Hokies can do this, they should be able to slow down Miami’s offensive attack.

If the Hokies want to have success against the Miami defense, they will need to use misdirection. Miami starts three true freshmen linebackers. If the Hokies want to have success on offense, they will need to use misdirection to confuse them. That means more read option than we saw against Syracuse.

Both teams are suffering significant injuries. Both teams are coming off losses. Both teams are trying to get back in the Coastal division race. This should be a very close game. In a game like this I tend to give a slight advantage to the home team. It’s a big deal to have to travel when you have five days between games.

The Hokies lost to Tennessee then rebounded quickly to beat Boston College. This coaching staff has shown they can turn things around quickly after losses. Expect the Hokies to put together a better performance than they did against Syracuse. Should be a close game but I expect the Hokies to win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Miami 21

Midseason Awards and Outlook

Offensive MVP: Jerod Evans

This guy is on pace for 2,700 yards, 34 TDs and 4 INTs. If he keeps it up in the second half, he will receive consideration for all conference awards. And maybe even some national awards. He has been the biggest difference maker for the Hokies this season.

Honorable mention: Isaiah Ford

Defensive MVP: Andrew Motuapuaka

This one might sound kinda crazy but the stats bear it out. He’s been the Hokies most consistent defender. If you are looking for a reason for the defense’s improvement, look to him. He leads the team in tackles with 57. He has 3 TFLs. 1 Sack. 1 INT. 4 quarterback hurries. And 1 fumble recovery. He has been excellent and somewhat underrated.

Honorable mention: Tremaine Edmunds, Ken Ekanem

Special Teams MVP: Greg Stroman

Stroman has been a game changer on punt returns. He has also been good about taking care of the football. Fair catching when he needs to. Taking a knee in the end zone. He’s making all the right decisions and the Hokies are excelling at special teams again.

Honorable mention: Mitchell Ludwig, Joey Slye

2nd Half Outlook

The Hokies are a better team than they looked against Syracuse. They are better on offense and defense. It was just one of those games where it kind of got away from them. Syracuse was the inspired team and didn’t make many mistakes. The Hokies showed up and went thru the motions for a lot of that game. If you do that, you’re going to get upset.

Either way, I only expect the Hokies to lose 1 or 2 more games the rest of the way. Which would put them at 9-3 or 8-4 for the season. That’ll get them to a good bowl game and Justin Fuente’s first season would be considered a success. I still think this program is on the right track but it will take time before this team will be a consistent top 25 team. The program needs improvement in recruiting and more experience in Justin Fuente’s system.

Syracuse Preview and Prediction

Hokies took care of business against UNC. Three straight blowouts can really inject a lot of life into a fan base. After the Tennessee game, fans were wondering if this team would make a bowl game. Now folks are talking New Year’s Six bowl. A lot can change in a couple of weeks.

On to Syracuse. Long-time Hokies fans still have nightmares about the Carrier Dome. That dome has seen a lot of weird games between the Hokies and the Orange. It also has not been particularly kind to the Hokies. But those games were a long time ago. Different coaching staffs and two different programs at this point in time. The players on these teams were young children the last time these teams played.

This Syracuse team reminds me a lot of the Tulsa team the Hokies played in the Independence Bowl. A great offensive passing attack with one really good play-making wide receiver (Amba Etta-Tawo). And not much of anything else. Didn’t that Tulsa team only lose to the Hokies by 3? They did. But Bud Foster’s D is playing much better this year than they were in the bowl game.

Virginia Tech

S&P+ Overall Ranking: 19th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 96th
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 4th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 22nd

Syracuse

S&P+ Overall Ranking: 68th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 43rd
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 96th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 71st

The Hokies have the clear advantage on defense. Even though Syracuse has an excellent passing attack, the Hokies should be able to slow it down. Syracuse also reminds me of ECU, who was able to have some success in the passing game. But the Hokies were still able to limit ECU below their season average. Syracuse does not take a lot of shots downfield. They are a dink and dunk West Coast offense but they still put up a lot of yards.

Key matchup to watch: Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks vs. Amba Etta-Tawo. Etta-Tawo is one of the best wide receivers in the ACC and one of the best the Hokies will see all season. He leads the ACC in receiving yards. It will be a tough task for the Hokies corners to cover him all day.

Syracuse has lost to every decent team they’ve played this year. Their only wins were against Colgate and UConn. All their losses have been blowouts. Syracuse excels in the passing game and at punt returns (#1 in the nation!) but does not do much of anything else well.

I expect the Hokies to have a bit of a letdown in this game. It’s just so hard to play so well for four consecutive games. Eventually you’re going to have one that’s not exactly a masterpiece. This is a classic trap game on the road sandwiched in between two games against ranked opponents. Even if the Hokies don’t play their best, I still think they can win comfortably. Syracuse is not a great team. In fact, they’re not very good overall. Imagine if this team was playing last year’s Tulsa team, they’d probably win… by a lot. The talent advantage is clearly on the Hokies’ side in this matchup.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Syracuse 17

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