You can’t judge a team based on an early season game. In 2016, the Hokies turned the ball over five times and lost to Tennessee at the Battle at Bristol. That team went on to win the Coastal division and took Clemson to the last possession in the ACC Championship Game. Last season, the Hokies beat Florida State on the road 24-3 then went on to have their first losing season in 26 years. In short, don’t judge a season based on an early season game. Some teams get better and some teams don’t end up looking as good as they first looked. You have to let the season play out.
The Hokies have two more games to tune up before they play their next conference game against Duke. They need to use these games as an opportunity to get healthy and fix the issues we saw against Boston College. Old Dominion is the type of team the Hokies need to be able to get a comfortable victory against. The Hokies need to prove that last year’s massive upset was no more than a fluke.
The Old Dominion offense features some familiar faces. Former Virginia Tech OC Bryan Stinespring is ODU’s new tight ends coach. And former VT players Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham are now starters for Old Dominion. Not to mention they will also be team captains for this game. If that’s not sending a message to the Hokies, I’m not sure what is.
VT transfers Chris Cunningham and Eric Kumah will be captains for this weeks game at Va Tech, #odu coach Bobby Wilder says
— Ed Miller (@edmillervp) September 2, 2019
Last year’s hero, Blake LaRussa, left football to pursue seminary school this past offseason. Jeremy Cox, the running back who ran for 130 yards against the Hokies last year is also gone. Replacing them is JUCO QB Stone Smartt and former VT recruiting target RB LaLa Davis. The player to watch on the ODU offense is former Hokie Eric Kumah. He led ODU in receiving yards last week against Norfolk State.
The ODU defense struggled against the run last year. This is a game where the Hokies run game should look to get going. Look for Keshawn King to have a big game. This defense brings back five starters from last year’s squad. This defense finished dead last in total defense in Conference USA in 2018. The Hokies need to show off some of their offensive talent and put up a lot of points. If Norfolk State can put 21 points against ODU, Virginia Tech should be able to put up a lot more.
Last year, the game at Old Dominion felt like a lot of problems revealing themselves at the same time. Up until that point, the Hokies were feeling good. That game revealed a lot of problems that the Hokies spent the rest of the year trying to work out. This time the motivation will be there to take care of business against the Monarchs. This is a game the Hokies should put away early.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 42, Old Dominion 14
The Hokies get started trying to bounce back from their first losing season since 1992. First up is Boston College. The Eagles have regularly given the Hokies trouble with a tough defense and strong running game. This year should be no different but this is a different looking Eagles team that the Hokies faced last season.
On offense, the Eagles return star running back AJ Dillon. Dillon is a player to watch and key to the Boston College offense. He is the type of runner who is difficult to bring down and is a threat to take it the distance if he gets some space or breaks a tackle. The Hokies young defensive line needs to bottle him up if they hope to slow down this offense. The best gameplan against the Eagles would be to stop the run and force Anthony Brown and his receivers beat the Hokies through the air. Tech will need to be prepared to stop the run sideline-to-sideline as the Eagles like to get their wide receivers involved in the running game.
On defense, the Eagles are breaking in some new starters. Only four starters from last year’s squad return. If the Hokies are to have success, they will need to challenge Boston College’s young secondary. This is an inexperienced group that the Hokies should be able to exploit with their senior quarterback and talented weapons on the outside. The Hokies need to hit on some big plays in the passing game.
Boston College had one of the least efficient special teams in the country last season. The Hokies should prepare to make some plays on special teams to take advantage of this matchup. This is particularly true in the first game of the season where special teams are normally not in mid-season form. There are some yards and field position to be had in the return game.
The Hokies have a talent advantage in this matchup. Boston College is normally a hard nosed team that is a tough out but the Hokies should have the horses to take care of business in this matchup. The key for Tech will be to not turn the ball over and the defensive line will have to keep AJ Dillon in check. If the defensive line is ineffective at containing the run, it could be a long day (see the Pitt game last year). This is a matchup where the Hokies have more weapons on offense and a defense that has played more snaps together than the guys on the other side. I see this as a lower-scoring game where we will see a couple gaffes on both sides but ultimately the Hokies come out on top.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Boston College 24
The Hokies are coming off their first losing season since 1992. Last season was a bad combinations of injuries, attrition and youth. The good news is that a lot of young players got the chance to play which should make the 2019, 2020 and 2021 squads better because of it.
Why will 2019 be better? Because the Hokies return 7 starters on offense and 9 starters on defense. This will not be the same extremely young and inexperienced team from 2018. They also have an very manageable schedule. It is one of the easier schedules in the Power 5. Both of these factors should lead to a significant improvement in their win-loss record.
Ryan Willis returns after a strong 2018 campaign. The Hokies struggles were not because of the offense last season. Ryan Willis threw for 24 touchdown passes in 10 games and he should be able to improve upon those numbers in 2019. He’s a good fit for this offense and should get some help from a strong core of receivers.
This is one of the better receiving corps in the ACC. The Hokies return Tre Turner, Damon Hazelton, Dalton Keene and Hezekiah Grimsley. They also bring on new receiving threats James Mitchell and Tayvion Robinson. This is a deep and talented group that should put up some good numbers in this offense.
The Hokies are still trying to find a go-to running back. It looks like 2019 will be another year where it will be running back by committee. The Hokies will get a lot of carries out of DeShawn McClease and Jalen Holston and will try to mix in some carries for speedy newcomer Keshawn King. There has been a lot of buzz this preseason around King’s speed and elusiveness.
The offensive line is another deep and talented group but they might need a couple of games to come together. They should be able to open up some holes for the running game. This is going to be a special group over the course of the next couple of seasons but need a little more experience before they can reach their full potential.
Even with a lot of youth and first-time starters this was a top 50 offense last season. This season with more depth and returning 7 starters, this offense should produce even better results. Justin Fuente is hoping to get a full season from his returning starting quarterback. That is something that has eluded him in his first three years in Blacksburg.
The defense SHOULD be better than last year. At least you would hope so. This is a defense that struggled with a lot youth and attrition last season. They return 9 starters and were able to bring in some depth players at positions of need. This defense was BAD at times last season. This season they should see a significant improvement.
The defensive line is still an area of concern. The defensive ends should be fine as they return Emmanuel Belmar and Tyjuan Garbutt with some youth behind them. The bigger area of concern is at defensive tackle. The Hokies are hoping to find success with returning starter Jerod Hewitt and JUCO newcomer Deshawn Crawford. Behind those starters, the coaches are hoping to find serviceable depth with a group of true freshman. The play of the defensive line will go a long way toward determining how successful this defense can be.
The linebacker group should be an area of strength for the Hokies. Dax Hollifield, Rayshard Ashby and Alan Tisdale should rotate in at the mike and backer positions. Bud Foster will have a couple options to work with in this group. They should play a bit faster this year after another year of experience in this defense.
The secondary has more options than they did last year. Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo bring some experience at the safety positions. There is more depth and more options at the cornerback position. Caleb Farley should lock down one of those positions. Jermaine Waller is likely to start opposite Farley but Jovonn Quillen or Armani Chatman could also make a move for playing time. Jeremy Webb is another option as the year progresses and he recovers from two torn achilles tendons.
The defense will certainly be better than last year but don’t expect a vintage Bud Foster defense. The improvement in depth and experience will lead to better results but this is still a young group. If the Hokies hope to make it to Charlotte this season, this defense will have to produce a top 40 defensive ranking — which is possible, but not a certainty.
The Hokies need to find a reliable field goal kicker from beyond 40 yards. Brian Johnson will get another shot at it after going 12 for 18 last season. He was automatic inside of 40 years but struggled with longer kicks. Oscar Bradburn returns as a very reliable 2-year starter at punter. Hezekiah Grimsley and Tayvion Robinson will get the first opportunities at punt returner. The kick returners are anybody’s guess. There are a number of speedy options to choose from.
The Hokies need to get back to their winning ways. This team looks setup nicely for 2020 and 2021, but 2019 looks like a season where they are building toward better days ahead. That doesn’t mean another 6-6 season, but it probably means an 8-4 or 9-3 season. The offense is likely to be in the top 40. The hope is the defense can also produce a top 40 unit but it will need some young guys to step up, particularly on the defensive line.
Tough games (<40% chance to win)
Notre Dame and Miami. Both of these games present a major challenge. The Hokies will need to bring their A-game to have a shot at winning on the road against either of these two teams.
Toss-up games (50% chance to win)
Boston College, Pitt and Virginia. I see all three of these games as coin-flip games that could go either way. These games are the difference between 7-5 and 10-2. The Hokies need to take care of business against these three opponents.
Should win games (>70% to win)
Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Even with the Hokies struggles last year, this is still a strong program that recruits well and regularly puts a good product on the field. These are the types of games the Hokies should win as long as they don’t overlook their opponents. These games have sleepy, trap game written all over them.
Major upset games (>90% to win)
ODU, Furman and Rhode Island. Yes, the Hokies lost to ODU last year. It was a major upset. Major upsets happen sometimes. But they are extremely unlikely. It takes a pretty strange set of circumstances to occur. These are games the Hokies should win way more often than not.
Key games for the Hokies: at Boston College, Pitt, at Virginia
Upset Alert: Pitt
|at Boston College|
|at Notre Dame|
|at Georgia Tech|
Final Regular Season Record: 9-3 (6-2 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: 22nd
Predicted Bowl Game: Camping World Bowl in Orlando
Hokies are going to their 26th consecutive bowl game! If they win this game, it would also mean a 26th consecutive winning season. The Hokies have been up and down this season but appeared to play some of their best football in the last two games of the season. A gut check win against UVA and a dominant effort against Marshall in a make up game.
Overall S&P+ Rank: 69th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 48th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 79th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 45th
Overall S&P+ Rank: 32nd
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 74th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 19th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 76th
This Cincinnati team reminds me of Marshall. Stingy defense and a good running game. This is a team that has put up some very impressive numbers against a soft schedule. Their best wins have come against UCLA, Ohio and Miami of Ohio. Cincinnati was not able to get wins over the best teams on their schedule – Temple and UCF.
The Hokies will need to be able to stop Cincinnati’s rushing attack. They are ranked 16th in the nation in rushing offense and have three capable running backs and a dual-threat quarterback. Their quarterback, Desmond Ridder, is a bigger threat with his legs than with his arm, although he does complete passes at a high percentage. Their biggest threat from the running back position is sophomore Michael Warren who has over 1,000 yard rushing and 17 touchdowns this season. Also keep an eye out for senior WR Khalil Lewis who leads the team in targets, yards and touchdowns and averages 14 yards per catch.
The Hokies best plan of attack against the Cincinnati is to find balance – like they did against Marshall. Cincinnati has a very stingy rushing defense. If the Hokies hope to find success, they will need to find room to run on the ground in order to make life easier on Ryan Willis. Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease will need to have big games. They will need to be able to handle big DT Cortez Broughton who has an eye-popping 16.5 TFLs this season.
Bowl games traditionally are difficult to predict. There can be some unexpected results after teams have been off for a month. This game looks really similar to the Marshall game. Although, Cincinnati has played a slightly more difficult schedule than Marshall, they have put up some impressive numbers against that schedule. The AAC is 0-2 against the ACC this bowl season as Duke and Wake Forest have picked up upset wins against Temple and Memphis respectively. Every game is unique, but that bodes well for the Hokies for two middle-of-the-pack ACC teams to get wins against the better teams in the AAC. I expect this to be a close game but I believe the Hokies will be a step up in competition compared to what Cincinnati is used to this year. Ryan Willis will need to have a good game for the Hokies to come away with the victory.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Cincinnati 24
The Hokies get to play a 12th game! I like how Adam Amin described the Hokies game against UVA as tournament football. Lose and go home. Luckily, the Hokies were able to get past their in-state rivals. They brought an increased intensity and got a couple of fortunate bounces. Commonwealth Cup streak – check. Now the Hokies get the chance to keep another streak alive with a win against Marshall.
Overall S&P+ Rank: 81st
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 64th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 89th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 65th
Overall S&P+ Rank: 37th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 110th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 7th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 90th
This week you’re going to hear that Virginia Tech scheduled a win to become bowl eligible. That could not be further from the truth. Marshall is good! They have 8 wins and by the S&P+ ranking they will be 3rd best team the Hokies have faced this season. I believe the ranking is inflated to some degree by who Marshall has played this year but nonetheless this is a good team.
They remind me of a Frank Beamer coached team – limited offense but a really strong defense. The one good thing about this matchup is the Marshall does not look like the type of team that can exploit the Hokies struggles on defense. They will certainly be able to move the ball but I don’t expect the point explosion that a lot of teams have been able to put on the Hokies in the 2nd half of games. They have a better passing offense than rushing offense but it’s not exactly explosive. Watch out for Marshall’s big wide receiver, Tyre Brady. He has 64 catches and 9 touchdowns this season and has been targeted 126 times this season!
Marshall has an extremely stingy defense. This is a defense that doesn’t give up much on the ground which requires teams to try to beat them through the air. Teams have had some success against Marshall in the passing game. The Hokies offense will need to make some plays against this defense in order to win. This would be a good game to see a lot of misdirection and RPOs to keep Marshall out of sync. They might even throw in a trick play or two. Keep an eye on Safety Malik Gant, he leads the team in tackles and tackles for loss – which you don’t see very often from the safety position.
This game has the makings of a lower scoring affair than the Hokies are used to. Marshall has been very good at winning games where they score less than 30 points. What’s critical in this game is that the Hokies put up points on Marshall’s defense. The Hokies defense should be able to do enough to keep them in the game but the offense has to score against the Marshall defense. A big play on special teams would help too. This looks like a pretty even matchup on paper, but the Hokies should have the motivation edge and will find a way to pull it out in the end.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Marshall 24
The Hokies are going through a rough stretch. They have lost 4 straight and 4 straight home games for the first time in program history. Up next is UVA. This game has a 25-year bowl streak and a 14-year winning streak against UVA on the line. The Hokies have the talent necessary to win this game, but they are going through a crisis of confidence right now. They can’t catch a break.
Overall S&P+ Rank: 82nd
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 54th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 89th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 82nd
Overall S&P+ Rank: 44th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 64th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 35th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 87th
Virginia is a good team this season. For the first time in a couple of years. The best way to describe them is solid in all phases of the game. Their quarterback, Bryce Perkins, is a dual-threat QB that completes passes at a high percentage and can also pick up yards on the ground. This team likes to use the run to set up the pass. Perkins is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and 9 rushing touchdowns this season. Virginia’s tailback, Jordan Ellis, is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. This is a good rushing team that can also throw the ball downfield. The Hoos most talented deep threat is Olamide Zaccheaus. He is averaging 11.8 yards per catch and has 8 receiving touchdowns this season.
Virginia is very good against the pass. If you hope to move the ball against this defense, you need to get something going on the ground. This is a game where Ryan Willis and Steven Peoples will need to find some yards on the ground. They don’t need to force it but there needs to be a good mix in playcalling. Yards through the air will be hard to come by. Keep an eye out for Juan Thornhill and Bryce Hall in the secondary. The Hoos also have two talented linebackers in Zane Zandier and Chris Peace.
If the Hokies hope to win this game, they are going to need to bring some intensity which has been missing in recent weeks. A rivalry game may be what this team needs to up their level of intensity. If the Hokies can play like they did in the first half against Miami and sustain it for 60 minutes, they should be in good shape. This team needs to not worry about the streaks on the line and focus on winning one game. Have a 1-0 mentality. On paper, UVA looks like the more experienced team but rivalry games can get crazy sometimes. Especially in a series that has been as lopsided as this one. As much as the Hokies are suffering a crisis of confidence, the Hoos also haven’t beaten the Hokies in 14 years. You could say the Hokies are in the Hoos’ heads. Barring a major turnaround from the Hokies, this feels like the week a couple of streaks come to an end.
Prediction: Virginia 31, Virginia Tech 21
The Hokies had a historically bad performance against Pitt. Don’t believe me? Read this. Or don’t. Either way, after a series of dismissals and injuries on defense, the Hokies are fielding a lot of 3rd and 4th options on defense. That’s not ideal on a defense that was young to begin with going into the season. You can see the results of all that youth and attrition.
Overall S&P+ Rank: 75th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 49th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 93rd
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 57th
Overall S&P+ Rank: 30th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 69th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 10th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 117th
Miami doesn’t have a quarterback that is playing at a high level but they have a couple of running backs that can make the Hokies pay without having to put the ball in the air. Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas are both averaging over 5.5 yards per carry and have the ability to break big plays if the Hokies can’t fill their gaps and wrap up the ball carrier. Miami doesn’t have a particularly strong passing game but it might not matter against the Hokies.
Miami’s defense is very talented. This might be the best defense the Hokies will see all season. If the Hokies hope to win this game, they will need to be able to move the ball against this stingy defense. This year, Virginia Tech has not been able to run the ball consistently and if there is one area of Miami’s defense where they are more susceptible it’s on the ground. Unfortunately for the Hokies, Miami’s pass defense is one of the best in the nation. The Hokies will need to look to RPOs and read option to try to move the ball against this defense. This might be a good game to get either Quincy Patterson or Hendon Hooker involved in. Watch out for Miami’s talented linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney.
After the Boston College game, I had some optimism that this team was close to putting a complete performance together on offense and defense. That could still happen against Miami or UVA, but after the Pitt performance, they look like a team that is closer to packing it in for the season than putting together a complete performance. This team just looks overmatched. The biggest key for this team right now is to not quit. Not to give up on the season. Keep fighting and try to keep getting better week-to-week and even play-to-play. If you’re looking for some positives, it’s possible that the Hokies get Jerrod Hewitt, Rayshard Ashby and Deshawn McClease back this week. Ultimately, I think the Hokies will once again be overmatched on defense. I do believe the Hokies will play better on defense than they did last week. But I don’t think the offense will be able to put up points on Miami’s defense.
Prediction: Miami 31, Virginia Tech 17
This year’s Hokies have been the definition of inconsistent. One week, it’s the defense. One week, it’s the offense. I would argue the Hokies have only had two complete performances this season – against William & Mary and against Duke. Other than those games, you either get the Hokies offense or the Hokies defense or neither. If the Hokies hope to make a bowl this season, they need to close the season with a couple of complete performances.
Overall S&P+ Rank: 61st
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 37th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 34th
Overall S&P+ Rank: 71st
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 50th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 87th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 61st
This is the third consecutive game against a team with a strong running game. Hokies struggled mightily with Georgia Tech and looked significantly better against Boston College. They will need to be even better to stop the Pitt rushing attack. They are led by Qadree Ollison who leads the team with 819 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. He is backed up by Darrin Hall who has big play ability and is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He also had 229 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns against UVA last week. Pitt uses a lot of reverses and misdirection to confuse the opposing defenses. If the Hokies defense loses track of the ball carrier, then it’s off to the races.
Pitt’s defense has been a very up and down this year – just like the Hokies. In some games, they have looked excellent and in others they’ve looked mediocre or worse. You never know what you’re going to get from this defense. Their performance last week against UVA was probably their most complete performance of the year. This defense is better at stopping the run than the pass but they have struggled with both at times this season. This defense is good at getting in the backfield to generate sacks and tackles for loss. Watch out for Rashad Weaver getting pressure on Ryan Willis.
The Hokies remaining games are winnable but the Hokies need to put a complete performance together. This one isn’t a great matchup but it does look like a winnable matchup and the Hokies need to take advantage to get a win where they can. They need to avoid penalties and turnovers. If the defense shows up like they did against BC, and the offense can show up like they did against Georgia Tech, the Hokies should be in good shape. It’s difficult to predict games this year with a team as inconsistent as this year’s Hokies. If the Hokies want to get to a bowl game, this is where they need to go on the road and pick up a win in a place that’s been tough for them to get wins in the past. They are due for a complete performance.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 27
This has been a very different kind of season for Virginia Tech. I can’t remember a season where the offense has been asked to carry the defense like they have this season. As I mentioned in my season preview, this defense was always going to be young and inexperienced. But you add on dismissals and injuries and this defense looks pretty thin at a lot of positions. Give this defense another year of experience and recruiting, I think things will be okay but for now hold on to your butts.
Overall S&P+ Rank: 55th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 24th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 91st 👀
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 10th
Overall S&P+ Rank: 38th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 69th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 32nd
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 88th
This Boston College team is exactly what you expect from Boston College – great defense and a strong running game. AJ Dillon is going to be a handful. He’s is rated as one of the top running backs in the nation. He leads the team with 807 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns. His physical running style will make life difficult on Virginia Tech’s defense. Expect him to get a heavy workload on Saturday.
Boston College’s defense is ranked 16th in Passing Efficiency Defense. Which means they don’t give up a lot thru the air. If you want to consistently get yards against this defense, you need to do it on the ground – something Virginia Tech hasn’t been particularly good at this year. This defense also wreaks havoc in the backfield piling up tackles for loss and sacks. This is a game where the Hokies need to avoid getting in long yardage situations. Watch out for Wyatt Ray coming off the edge.
This is another bad matchup for the Hokies. The Hokies defensive personnel are on the smaller end in size but they are quick. That can work against spread teams like Duke and UNC. But against teams that will line up and smack you in the mouth like Georgia Tech and Boston College – not so much. Since the Boston College is a more traditional, pro-style offense the Hokies will have more success than last week against Georgia Tech. But it’s still a terrible matchup and the Hokies will need to outscore Boston College to hope to win. Likely into the 30s, if not the 40s.
Prediction: Boston College 38, Virginia Tech 24