Clemson Preview and Prediction

The Terror Dome is back! Here we are. Hokies took care of business over the last four weeks and now they get an undefeated showdown against Clemson. Don’t kid yourself. Clemson is not overrated. They deserve to be ranked in the top two in the country. While the offense is still trying to get to the same level as last year’s, the defense might be even better than last year’s group. This team is for real and will pose a huge challenge for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 20th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 58th

Clemson

Overall S&P+ ranking: 6th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 25th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 3rd
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 108th

I’ve tried to think of a bigger home game than this one and you have to go all the way back to Boston College in 2007 to come up with anything as close to this one. Yes, the Hokies played the reigning national champs in 2015 but they weren’t ready to take Ohio State’s best punch. This time, the Hokies have a real chance to compete and win.

Let’s talk about the Terror Dome for a second. I can think of a few high-profile night games against top 5 teams since 2000 and this is how they have gone:

Miami 2003 31-7 Hokies
Miami 2005 27-7 ‘Canes
BC 2007 14-10 Eagles

The crowd was jacked up for each game but with very different results. For Miami 2003, the team fed off the crowd and Miami didn’t have a chance. The game snowballed on a super-talented ‘Canes team and the Hokies rolled to victory. That was a special night.

In the 2005 Miami game, the atmosphere was just as good or better than the 2003 game but it didn’t produce a winning result on the field. Whereas the 2003 team used the energy and momentum to ride to victory, the 2005 Hokies shrank when things started to go south. The crowd had almost no impact on the game. The ‘Canes controlled it from start to finish.

And in the 2007 BC game, the Hokies defense rode the electric crowd to an incredible defensive performance… until the last drive. All you can say about big games at Lane Stadium is that you never know what to expect or if the Hokies can use the crowd energy to their benefit. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Most important is that the Hokies get off to a good start.

Now on to the game itself. The Hokies can have success against the Clemson offense if they can stack the box and force Kelly Bryant to beat them with his arm. They also can’t let Kelly Bryant beat them with his legs. Containing Bryant on the ground will be key.

The Clemson defensive line is the best the Hokies will play all year. The starting line features four players who will likely be selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft in the coming years. They will pose a huge challenge for the Hokies to block. Look for the Hokies offense to use misdirection, screens and read option to keep them off Josh Jackson. Don’t expect a huge game from the running back position. Yards will be hard to come by against this defensive line.

If there is an area that may be a weakness for Clemson, it’s in the secondary. They are a banged up group. Cam Phillips and the other receivers may be able to find some space. If opportunities present themselves, it’s important for Josh Jackson to make them pay by connecting on his intermediate and deep passes. The Hokies need to get big chunk plays when they can find them.

More than most games, the Hokies must win the turnover, special teams and hidden yardage battle. If the Hokies play Clemson even in these areas, Clemson will likely win. Virginia Tech needs to exploit any advantages they have over Clemson because all things being equal, Clemson has more talent. That means winning in the kicking game and forcing turnovers. If the Hokies can win there, they can win this game.

This is a no-lose situation for the Hokies. Win and it’s an incredible accomplishment over a top team. Lose and it’s expected. That means the Hokies are playing with house money. The Hokies need to play loose and easy because they don’t have anything to lose. Win or lose, what’s most important is for the Hokies to look like they belong. Just like they did in the ACC Championship Game. That will go nearly as far as winning the game itself. Whether the Hokies win or not, we know that Justin Fuente is building something special whether we see the results on Saturday night or in the future. But winning this game on national TV in front of a ton of highly-ranked recruits would be a huge springboard for the program.

The Hokies have what it takes to win. They can play with Clemson but picking this game objectively, I have to go with Clemson. They just have too much firepower across the board. But it will be a good game and the Hokies should be able to keep it competitive all the way until the end. This game has all the ingredients of a classic. So sit back, relax and enjoy watching the Hokies in the national game of the week. And who knows? Maybe we’ll see some Terror Dome magic.

Prediction: Clemson 27, Virginia Tech 21

Old Dominion Preview and Prediction

The Hokies are 3-0 with a big win over a good WVU team and wins over two overmatched teams. The Hokies hope to finish a perfect non-conference schedule this week against Old Dominion.

S&P+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 25th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 67th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 13th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 47th

Old Dominion

Overall S&P+ ranking: 100th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 99th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 85th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 88th

Why should ODU be a concern for the Hokies? First off, always worry about an in-state team with something to prove. The Hokies are the class of the state of Virginia. The Monarchs would love nothing more than to knock them off their perch. Don’t overlook a motivated in-state team. The Hokies found that out the hard way a couple of years ago against JMU.

ODU has only been an FBS team for the last 4 years. Last year, they won 10 games in Conference USA and won the Bahamas Bowl. They were a legit G5 team. This season they’ve taken a step back. ODU got blown out against the only P5 team that they have played (UNC).

In this matchup, the Hokies are going to need to focus on keeping the ODU pass rushers off of Josh Jackson. ODU leads the nation in sacks. They should present a challenge for the offensive line. One which I expect they will win considering ODU only got one sack against UNC.

ODU is in a tough spot trying to pull an upset in Lane Stadium. They have significant injuries on offense and they are starting a 17-year-old true freshman quarterback. Not to mention they have also had trouble moving the ball on the ground this season. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success against the Hokies.

On paper, this matchup shouldn’t be close. The Hokies are statistically better almost across the board. In some cases, drastically better. ODU will be starting a young, true freshman quarterback in Lane Stadium against Bud Foster. Yikes! ODU is slightly better than ECU, so they will give the Hokies a little more resistance than the Pirates did but either way it won’t matter much. Hokies take care of business and move on to a big showdown against Clemson next week.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 52, Old Dominion 13

 

Delaware Preview and Prediction

Hokies were finally able to get a long-awaited win at FedEx Field. Feels even sweeter that it came against WVU. Losing to those guys would’ve be unbearable. Justin Fuente has done a good job of ending frustrating losing streaks since he got here – ECU, Duke, Miami, Pitt and neutral sites games. Now the Hokies hope to build off a big win in front of a national audience.

Former Liberty and Richmond head coach Danny Rocco is the head coach at Delaware. He takes over a program that went 4-7 last season. Rocco should be familiar with the Hokies from his time in Virginia. Not to mention his nephew, Michael Rocco, used to be the starting quarterback at UVA. So yeah, he’s familiar with the Hokies.

Delaware’s strength is on the defensive side of the ball. But they have not faced a difficult test yet this season. Their first game was against Delaware State. Delaware State is a team that went 0-11 in 2016. Delaware runs a 3-4 and fields a defense full of upperclassmen. They should give the Hokies a test but one that the starters should be able to overcome.

Where Delaware struggles is on the offensive side of the ball. Their quarterback, Joe Walker, has struggled much of his career. He is hoping for better results under a new head coach. Expect the Blue Hens to try to move the ball on the ground against the Hokies defense. Their starting running back is named Thomas Jefferson. You can’t make this stuff up. Start thinking up your clever tweets now. If Delaware gets the ball in the end zone, it’ll likely be against the backups.

The Hokies are in the tough position of trying to refocus after a big win and a short week. My guess is that the Blue Hens will not get the Hokies A-game on Saturday. But their B or C-level game is still good enough to win this game going away. I hope the Hokies show up with Justin Fuente’s 1-0 mentality. They need to take care of business early so some of the backups can get some much needed work. It will be important to build depth as the season goes on. It’s a good week to go 1-0.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Delaware 10

West Virginia Preview and Prediction

I don’t like West Virginia. They are my least favorite college football team. That feeling goes back to the games between the Hokies and WVU in the early 2000’s. I am not a fan of their program or their fans. But playing them is what makes college football great. Evenly matched teams. Passionate fan bases. And a rivalry that matters to both sides. It’s sad that this rivalry had to take a 12 year hiatus but a break was needed.

It’s strange to dive back into this rivalry. If you were a freshman in 2005, you’d be 30 now. Safe to say there are a lot of Hokies that don’t remember this rivalry – which might be a good thing. The football part of the rivalry made for some exciting games. The animosity in the stands was not healthy for either school. We’ll see where we’re at on Sunday. I hope both fan bases have had some time to reflect and gain some perspective in the last 12 years.

Projected S&P+ Rankings for 2017:

Virginia Tech: 25th
West Virginia: 69th

Will Grier has proven that he can be an effective Power 5 quarterback. He has a nice resume dating back to his time at Florida. The VT secondary is the strength of the defense. Which makes me think that WVU will focus on Grier’s running ability. I have seen countless games where a running quarterback gives a Bud Foster defense fits. I imagine WVU will lean on the ground game instead of throwing into the teeth of the Hokies’ defense.

The left side of the West Virginia offensive line does not bring back a lot of experience. They are going to struggle to keep Virginia Tech’s starting defensive line off of Will Grier. This is why I’d expect to see WVU to lean on the running game in this game. They would be smart to keep the ball on the ground.

I’m worried about the Hokies offense getting off to a slow start. I like the individual pieces on the offense but I’m worried about them getting into a groove in the first game of the season. It’s like the Tennessee game last year. The individual pieces on offense were there but they did not come together in time for the Battle at Bristol. I could see something similar happening in this game. The defense is going to have to carry the load in this one.

What’s giving me the most confidence in this matchup is the VT coaching staff vs the WVU coaching staff. I have a lot of confidence in our guys compared to theirs. It’s a mismatch and that mismatch will show itself on the field. Bud Foster has not forgotten about this rivalry. An angry Bud Foster is a great Bud Foster.

At first, I was thinking the Hokies would win this game by around 10 points. The new offensive pieces and the FedEx Field factor make me a little nervous. But I still think the Hokies are the better team. This game is like the last game preview I wrote for the Belk Bowl – it’ll be a close game but I like the Hokies to win it. This is a great week to go 1-0.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, West Virginia 24

2017 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Justin Fuente had a great debut going 10-4 in his first season. This included wins over Coastal division rivals Miami, Pitt and UNC. He also brought back order to the ECU series with a resounding victory. Then he took the Hokies back to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2011. There they took the eventual National Champions to the final possession. Pretty good first season all things considered.

For all that Fuente did well in 2016, it will be challenging to repeat or exceed the same level of success in 2017. The Hokies will have a new quarterback and have to replace three of their top four receiving targets from 2016.  This will be a season where the Hokies will have to lean on the defensive side of the ball to have success. We’ve seen this story before.

Offense

Joshua Jackson should be a solid QB for the Hokies. He was close to playing himself into the starting job as a true freshman last year. Justin Fuente likes him because he makes good decisions. He is the type of quarterback who will make the correct read on each play and not turn the ball over. That is very important to Fuente’s offense. Joshua Jackson is the type of quarterback that Fuente has liked in the past. If he had the same supporting cast as Jerod Evans had, I could see him putting up similar numbers. Unfortunately, Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges and Sam Rogers are no longer around.

Healthy bodies at the running back position will also help Joshua Jackson. Last season, the Hokies had to rely on Travon McMillian, Sam Rogers and Steven Peoples. The other running backs on the roster were nursing injuries or off-the-field issues. This year McMillian returns along with Deshawn McClease, Peoples and newcomer Jalen Holston. It’s good to have healthy and capable options to choose from in the running game. You should see rushing yards from scrimmage improve from that position group. A lot of that will come from read-option plays like we saw last year.

Look for Cam Phillips to have a huge year as the Hokies’ primary pass catcher. I’m expecting him to be first or second team All-ACC this year. He should see around the same amount of targets as Isaiah Ford did last year. Phillip Patterson and Eric Kumah should fill that 2nd receiver role on the outside. They lack experience but will get better as the year goes on. There are a variety of options in the slot like CJ Carroll, Henri Murphy, Hezekiah Grimsley and Sean Savoy. This inexperienced group will need to step up for the Hokies to have an effective offense.

Defense

On defense, the Hokies should be stout. This is a defense that could be better than last year’s group which finished 18th in total defense. The Hokies have a talented secondary. They also boast one of the most experienced group of linebackers in the country. The biggest question mark is on the defensive line where there is not much experience or depth. The Hokies will need some young players step up.

The defensive line returns four players with starting experience. The starting line features Vinny Mihota, Trevon Hill, Tim Settle and Ricky Walker. While all have enough talent to be front line starters, the depth behind them is full of unknowns. The good news is that the Hokies have a lot young players to choose from. In previous seasons, the Hokies have been able to work with lineups like this. A mix of experienced starters and inexperienced backups. They need to make sure to avoid the injury bug. That would cause major issues for this position group.

For the first time in a long time, the Hokies linebackers are a major strength. They are one of the most talented and experienced groups in the ACC. Andrew Motuapuaka was third team All-ACC and a statistical leader in the conference. Tremaine Edmunds was second team All-ACC and could choose to leave early for the NFL at season’s end. That leaves Mook Reynolds, who was one of the best hybrid linebackers in the conference in 2016. And came on strong at the end of last season. This is an elite group and one of the best in the ACC.

No surprise the secondary is full of talent. This is DBU after all. The corner position will cycle between Brandon Facyson, Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander. Terrell Edmunds and Reggie Floyd will split duties at the safety positions. Add in all-everything true freshman Devon Hunter who can step in and provide support. This is a talented unit.

Special Teams

Special teams went back to being special under James Shibest. #Shibestball became a thing in 2016. I look forward to more special teams plays like the fake punt he drew up against Clemson last season. Joey Slye is back to boom the ball on kickoffs and be very accurate inside 50 yards on field goals. He has one last chance to prove he can make those 50 yarders. New Aussie punter Oscar Bradburn has a canon for a leg but he will need to adjust to American football. I wouldn’t expect a huge drop-off in the punting game. I think the Hokies should be able to win the field position battle in most games. I would also expect big things from Greg Stroman in the return game. He already has 2 career punt return touchdowns. It would be surprising if he didn’t add to that this year.

2017 Outlook

The good news for the Hokies is that the Coastal division is full of teams with question marks. Only UVA and Duke return their quarterbacks from last year. The team that is able to re-load the best on offense is the team that will win the division.

One of the Hokies biggest challenges this year, is to win all the games they should win. Last year, the Hokies should have beaten Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. At the end of the season, the Hokies were statistically better than those three teams but they stumbled when they played them. The Hokies will look for more consistency this season. But it will be difficult with so many new faces on offense.

* Key games for the Hokies: Clemson, at Miami, at Georgia Tech

Date Opponent Prediction
Sun, Sep 3 West Virginia W
Sat, Sep 9 Delaware W
Sat, Sep 16 @ East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 23 Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 Clemson* L
Sat, Oct 7 @ Boston College W
Sat, Oct 21 UNC W
Sat, Oct 28 Duke W
Sat, Nov 4 @ Miami FL* L
Sat, Nov 11 @ Georgia Tech* L
Sat, Nov 18 Pittsburgh W
Fri, Nov 24 @ Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 9-3 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: 19th
Predicted Bowl Game: TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, FL

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Spring Game Wrap Up

Spring Game Highlights

 

Spring Game attendance: 16,025

Stars of the Spring Game

Caleb Farley
 
Caleb started Spring practice as a CB and it sounded like he was doing pretty well there. Too bad for Bud Foster, he started getting reps at WR. He took to it \ well and had a big Spring Game with 2 catches for 61 yards. Doesn’t look like he’s headed back to that side of the ball. Expect him to get a reps in the Fall. He might be one of your starting WRs for the WVU game.
 
Hendon Hooker
 
The QB race was wide open going into the Spring. Hendon Hooker added his name to the list with a solid Spring and a big performance in the Spring Game. Hooker was 10-11 for 113 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. It was a big performance for him on a day where the other QBs didn’t do much. His ability to run the ball also gives him another dimension that coaches will look at this Fall.
 
Dalton Keene
 
Dalton had 4 catches for 38 yards and 1 touchdown. Looks like Dalton might be the new Sam Rogers in the H-back role. Looks like he will get playing time as a true freshman.
 
Terrius Wheatley
 
Terrius had a good showing in the Spring Game getting 32 yards on 5 carries (6.4 ypc avg). His performance through his hat into the ring for carries in the running back rotation this Fall.  Expect him to get carries with Travon McMillian and Steven Peoples this Fall.
 
Tevante Beckett
 
Tevante looks like he is off to a good start to his career. Laying some big hits in the Spring Game. The Hokies will have an option behind Andrew Motuapuaka this year. And looks like they have their future at the Mike position.
 
Tremaine Edmunds
 
It looks like Tremaine is ready to take the next step in his development. He looked a step faster than last year and was reacting to the play in front of him. Looks like he is ready for a big season.
Can’t wait for September 2nd to get here!

Belk Bowl Preview and Prediction

The Hokies had a strong showing in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson. They took the Tigers to the final possession. You can tell that the Hokies are close to taking the next step. They may just be a year or two away. Closing strong in recruiting would go a long way towards getting this program to the next level.

The Belk Bowl. It is not a warm weather bowl but a good bowl nonetheless. If the ACCCG had been in Charlotte, I think the Hokies would have gone to Orlando instead. Either way, the Hokies benefit considering Charlotte is only 175 miles from Blacksburg. And within a 6-hour drive for most Hokies. You should see a big contingent of orange and maroon in Charlotte.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 50th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 20th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 44th

Arkansas

Overall S&P+ ranking: 53rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 40th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 76th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 47th

Arkansas reminds me a lot of Pitt. They have a bend but don’t break defense and strong running game. Their offense line is huge! This looks like the type of team that can run it at will on you. Like to the tune of 5 yards per carry. If they get in a groove early, they may be difficult to stop. Particularly with a new starter at defense end (Trevon Hill).

The Arkansas run game also sets up the play action pass down the field. Arkansas leads the SEC in pass yards per play. The run game can lull you to sleep while they go over the top. This is traditionally a scheme that has given the Hokies trouble over the years (see Pitt, GT).

Lucky for the Hokies, Arkansas does not have a running threat from the quarterback. The Hokies will need to focus on stopping the run to make the Razorback offense one dimensional.

On offense, the Hokies should be able to move the ball against the Arkansas defense. The Hokies spread rush attack combined with quarterback runs should have success. The Razorbacks are a little better at stopping the passing game but struggle on defense. It is critical that the Hokies take a lead early. They cannot play from behind in this game. If they do, the Arkansas running game can bludgeon them for long drives.

This is a tough game to pick. On paper, the Hokies are the better team. Offenses are pretty even. Hokies have a sizeable advantage on the defensive side of the ball. I’m concerned about motivation though. Hokies had a good season and played well in the ACC Championship Game. They are feeling good about themselves. Arkansas took a bad loss to Missouri in their last game and they are the underdogs in this game. They may have the advantage in the intangibles. They have more to play for than the Hokies do.

The Hokies are 1-6 in their last seven games against the SEC. They need to start winning games vs the big boys. This game is important for perception and for getting the Hokies back to winning 10 games a season. I think Justin Fuente will have this team prepared and ready to go. If they start the game well, I think they will be in good shape. But if they get down early, watch out. It could be a long day. I think this game will be like the Pitt game earlier in the year and the Hokies are able to pull it out in the end.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 37, Arkansas 30

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