2018 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Talk about a bad offseason. Terrell Edmunds, Tremaine Edmunds and Tim Settle all declared early for the NFL draft. Adonis Alexander entered the NFL Supplemental Draft after being dismissed from the team. Mook Reynolds was dismissed. Galen Scott was forced to resign. Jeremy Webb tore his achilles tendon. The best news was Josh Jackson’s near miss with an academic issue. Wow. That’s a bad offseason.

But there is hope for 2018. There are a lot of talented young players who will get their opportunity to step up. The schedule isn’t that tough and the Hokies should be in position for another good year if they can get some young guys to step up – particularly on defense.

Offense

Josh Jackson is back 100% healthy after getting banged up in the 2nd half of last season. He’s a smart QB with a good arm and can run the ball when needed. He reminds me a lot of Bryan Randall. He’s never going to draw comparisons to Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson, but he has all the tools to get the job done. He’s good at taking care of the ball and no one knows the playbook like he does. This year he will have more help around him. He can be really good and put up big numbers with the right supporting cast around him.

Virginia Tech will get more production from the running back position. Gone is Travon McMillian but the Hokies have a couple of other guys who are good fits for the offense. I’m most excited about Deshawn McClease. McClease rushed for 265 yards in his last three games with over a 5 yard per carry average in each of those games. And…

That’s some pretty good company. Jalen Holston had his moments in 2017. Steven Peoples can always pick up the tough yards. And you have Coleman Fox who can add some energy and speed when he gets into a game. The guy to watch this season is Deshawn McClease and his progression in this offense.

The wide receivers are young but talented. Damon Hazelton, the sophomore transfer from Ball State, looks like a breakout candidate for the Hokies. Reports are he gave the scout team a lot of trouble last year when he was redshirting. Expect Sean Savoy to build on the big season he had last year. Also keep an eye on Phil Patterson who had the catch of the year in the Spring Game. He could also be a breakout candidate this year. But the guys I will be keeping my eye on are Hazelton and Savoy.

An underrated position group is the tight end group. Dalton Keene looks the part and you can expect to see him have a bigger role in the offense this season. True freshman James Mitchell is already getting rave reviews in practice. And Chris Cunningham will continue to be a dangerous red zone target. This year we will see more production out of this group in the passing game.

The offensive line looks good on paper. They lost Wyatt Teller who brought a lot of toughness to the group but this is a talented and experienced group. It’s also a group of guys playing in their positions of strength. It’s a good mix of experience and young talent for depth. That’s usually a good combination. This position group has 10 guys in the two-deep that are game ready. This should be a good group.

The offense should be better than last season. I think this side of the ball could see a bigger improvement than most are expecting. At Memphis, year 3 under Justin Fuente is when the offense really took off. A healthy Josh Jackson will make a big difference. Fuente has had two years to recruit his players into this offense. The product this year should resemble Fuente’s vision for his offense more than his first two seasons in Blacksburg. They’ll need it with so many young guys on the defense.

Defense

The defense is the area of concern for the Hokies this year. Youth everywhere. This is what you would have to call a rebuilding year. But the Hokies still have Bud Foster. Bud Foster can only cover for so many young players. The beginning of the year might be rough.

The starting defensive line looks really good but it is not a deep group. This is the one area of the defense where there is experience. But there is not much behind the starters. The young guys are going to have to step up to give the starters a breather. The depth is concerning but the Hokies have some young talent that should be able to step up to fill out the two-deep. The Hokies need to avoid injuries from the starters. The guy to watch on the line is Ricky Walker, he has All-ACC and All-American potential. Two breakout guys to keep an eye on are Houshun Gaines and Tyjuan Garbutt.

The linebacker group is young and inexperienced. The linebacker group will have three first year starters this season. But there is an injection of talent in this group. Expect the group to struggle early in the season but they should be pretty solid as the season goes on. I feel good about the talent level here but not the experience level. Names to keep an eye on here are Devon Hunter, Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield.

The secondary is also young and inexperienced. Are you sensing a trend here? I like the talent but there is just not much experience here. This secondary will take it’s lumps early in the season but will build confidence as the season goes on. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of mixing and matching with the group to find the four starters the coaches want to roll with. You can expect Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo to start at the safety positions. The corners will be manned by whoever can win the position battles this August. The breakout candidates in the secondary are Bryce Watts, Caleb Farley and Jovonn Quillen.

The defense will take a step back to start the season. You can’t lose the amount of talent the Hokies lost and hope to improve. I do think this will be a good defense but it will take a couple of games before it gels. This won’t look like a Bud Foster defense in the first half of the year. Too many young players. Good news is that there is a lot of speed and talent, and you’ll see it come together nicely in October and November.

Special Teams

Aside from Oscar Bradburn expect a lot of new faces on special teams. Brian Johnson should take over field goal duties. The Hokies will need to find new kick and punt returners now that Greg Stroman is gone. Bryce Watts and CJ Carroll should get an opportunity on punt returns. Jovonn Quillen is a candidate to return kicks along with Caleb Farley and Cole Beck (if he doesn’t get redshirted).

2018 Outlook

The Hokies biggest obstacle to a division championship is Miami. The good news about this year is that the Hokies get Miami at home and a lot of national experts like the Hokies chances in that matchup.

The Hokies have some big match-ups this years. They open the season with Florida State in Tallahassee. They get Notre Dame at home in week 6. Then they get Miami at home on the second-to-last week of the regular season. Those three games will be important in determining the Hokies’ season.

Watch out for games at Duke, Georgia Tech at home, Boston College at home, and Pittsburgh on the road. Those are games where the Hokies could stumble if they are not careful. The Hokies need to avoid the upset bug in 2018.

Key games for the Hokies: at Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami
Upset Alert: at Duke

Date Opponent Prediction
Mon, Sep 3 @ Florida State* L
Sat, Sep 8 William and Mary W
Sat, Sep 15 East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 29 @ Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 @ Duke L
Sat, Oct 6 Notre Dame* L
Sat, Oct 13 @ North Carolina W
Thu, Oct 25 Georgia Tech W
Sat, Nov 3 Boston College W
Sat, Nov 10 @ Pittsburgh W
Sat, Nov 17 Miami* L
Fri, Nov 23 Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: Unranked
Predicted Bowl Game: Music City Bowl in Nashville

278_-music_city_bowl-primary-2010

Camping World Bowl Preview and Prediction

For the second time under Justin Fuente, the Hokies have the opportunity to win their tenth game by winning their bowl game. This year it might be more challenging than last year. Oklahoma State is ranked 19th in the country and is one of the nation’s best offensive teams.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 99th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 38th

Oklahoma State

Overall S&P+ ranking: 11th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 4th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 70th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 76th

This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the bowl season. Two ranked teams. One is an elite offensive team. One is an elite defensive team. It’s always great to see two elite units matched up against each other.

One of the bigger storylines going into this game is the injuries for Virginia Tech. The Hokies limped to the finish at the end of the regular season. Going into the UVA game, VT was missing eight starters and had a banged up quarterback. For the bowl game, the Hokies will be missing Yoshua Nijman, Cam Phillips and Vinny Mihota. Those are significant injuries which will have a significant impact, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

This is the best offensive team the Hokies have faced since West Virginia in Week 1. Virginia Tech will have a difficult time stopping Mason Rudolph and James Washington. They may be the best quarterback-wide receiver combo in the nation. Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson are going to have their hands full in their last collegiate game.

Oklahoma State is far from one-dimensional. Their spread attack opens up the running game and their rushing attack is ranked 38th in the nation. If there is one aspect of their offense that can give the Hokies hope, it’s that Mason Rudolph is not a running quarterback.

With Yoshua Nijman and Cam Phillips out, I’m not super confident in the Hokies offense. The Oklahoma State defense is middle-of-the-road but I’m not expecting the Virginia Tech offense to be able to keep up with the Cowboys offense. The Hokies will have to do it without their left tackle and their best wide receiver. It’ll be up to Josh Jackson and a bunch of young wide receivers. It’ll be tough to keep up with an offense that is sure to put points on the board.

If the Hokies hope to win, they will need to win on defense and special teams. Like they did against West Virginia earlier in the year. But Oklahoma State is significantly better on both sides of the ball than West Virginia. This will be a tough game. I would feel like it would be a pretty even matchup if the Hokies were completely healthy, but they are still a banged up team. They are not as banged up as they were for the UVA game, but they aren’t full strength either. I’m very concerned that this game might get away from the Hokies. I hope the defense and special teams can have a big performance to prove me wrong.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Virginia Tech 17

 

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

Virginia Tech Hokies Football

%d bloggers like this: