West Virginia Preview and Prediction

Getting through a classic trap game is an accomplishment. Sometimes you gotta get the W and move on to the next game. After a sleepy first half, the offense and defense got in gear and put the game away in the third quarter. This week will be a much tougher challenge as the Hokies go on the road for a rivalry game.

SP+ Rankings

West Virginia

Overall: 43rd
Offense: 63rd
Defense: 35th
Special Teams: 75th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 22nd
Offense: 17th
Defense: 38th
Special Teams: 46th

The West Virginia defense has been very good at causing chaos this year. They rank 2nd in the nation in tackles for loss. They are a disruptive group that creates havoc in the backfield. This is a game where the Vice Squad will need to keep WVU defenders out of the backfield and provide space in the running game.

Virginia Tech has been winning the turnover battle thru two games. They need to keep that going. A road trip to Morgantown is the wrong time to start turning the ball over. The Hokies need to keep possessions on offense and create turnovers on defense.

West Virginia ain’t played nobody. They lost a close game to Maryland on the road. Maryland is a team that won three games in 2019 and two games in 2020 in a shortened five-game season. West Virginia did beat Long Island University 66-0. I didn’t know that school existed until this past weekend. And they’ve only been a Division I football program since 2019. So it’s kinda hard to judge West Virginia based on who they’ve played.

Can the Hokies go into a hostile environment and win? This isn’t a road trip to Wake Forest or Duke. The folks at West Virginia have been waiting for this game for a long time. Our players need to be ready for a very hostile atmosphere. I don’t like this game as the Hokies first trip on the road this year. It’s good that it’s a noon game but I still have concerns about whether this team is ready to handle that atmosphere.

Prepare for a three-and-a-half hour stomach ache. This is going to be a sloppy game with negative plays and turnovers. Both team’s defenses are ahead of their offenses. Also watch out for big plays on special teams. Both teams are capable of breaking a game open with a special teams play. VT is the better team. I worry A LOT about the Hokies going into a hostile road atmosphere for the first time. I spent most of the week thinking I’d pick WVU, but the Hokies will find a way to pull it out.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, West Virginia 20

Middle Tennessee Preview and Prediction

A top ten win is what this program needed. Since the end of the 2019 season there has been a going-thru-the-motions feel to this program. Friday night seemed like a boost at the right time. What has been missing in past years is making a big win like this count by continuing the momentum. Andy Bitter did a great job of cataloging the games after a big win in his article in The Athletic this week:

2016: Beat No. 17 North Carolina 34-3, lost to Syracuse 31-17
2018: Beat No. 19 Florida State 24-3, lost to Old Dominion 49-35 in next FBS game
2018: Beat No. 22 Duke 31-14, lost to No. 6 Notre Dame 45-23

And that’s just in the Fuente era. VT has not been great about dealing with success when it comes. This week, the team needs to take on Justin Fuente’s 1-0 mentality and be ready to play.

SP+ Rankings

Middle Tennessee

Overall: 94th
Offense: 93rd
Defense: 92nd
Special Teams: 79th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 24th
Offense: 23rd
Defense: 40th
Special Teams: 91st

Former NC State quarterback Bailey Hockman is the quarterback for MTSU. Hockman had trouble last time he came to Blacksburg. I’m sure it was a particularly bad performance for him. But I also don’t think he’s looking forward to his return to Blacksburg.

Middle Tennessee appears over-matched size-wise. The Hokies should be able to win the battle in the trenches against an undersized opponent. I will say VT has lost matchups against undersized opponents before, but this time feels different. I’m taking the Vice Squad and this upgraded D-line over the guys at Middle Tennessee.

Focus. Focus. Focus. Can’t sleepwalk through this game. After the win against UNC, I saw casual college football fans on Twitter saying “let’s see them lose to MTSU next week.” This is what fans expect from this program now. A big win followed by a heartbreaking loss the next week. This program needs to end that narrative and take care of business. On paper, this looks like a game that should be over by halftime.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Middle Tennessee 13

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

It’s been awhile since the Hokies had a big win at home. This squad needs some momentum going into the 2021 season after a losing campaign last year. Nothing would jump start the season like a top ten win at home over a division rival.

SP+ Rankings

North Carolina

Overall: 11th
Offense: 4th
Defense: 49th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 33rd
Offense: 26th
Defense: 51st

Justin Fuente usually does his best work early in the season. In 2017, his team beat WVU at FedEx Field in a big season opener on Labor Day weekend. In 2018, his team beat FSU in Tallahassee in another big-time showcase game on Labor Day. Even last year, his team took a pretty good NC State team to the woodshed in the first game of the season. All this to say, Justin Fuente usually has his guys ready to go early in the season.

Sam Howell is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He may even be a top-ten pick in next year’s NFL draft. He’s that good. Looking at the matchups, Sam Howell has a solid advantage both in the QB matchup and also against VT’s secondary. He should have room to work across the middle with VT’s new linebackers and safeties. Watch early in the game how VT’s defense defends the middle of the field.

UNC has a talented and experienced defense, which should give the Hokies offense some trouble. This is a better group than the one the Hokies put up 45 points against last season. While the Hokies should be able to move the ball against this defense, they will get their share of stops throughout the game. North Carolina has a talented group on that side of the ball.

If the Hokies hope to have success, they need to stop the run. If the Hokies let the Heels get going on the ground, it’s going to be a long night. If they can stop the run and force Howell into 3rd and long, they should have some success keeping UNC from running up a lot of points.

The Hokies have a real shot in this game. They are catching UNC at the right time and Lane Stadium should be rockin’. But as we’ve all learned when the Hokies play against ranked opponents, it usually comes down to who has the better talent on the field. The Hokies will hold their own and keep the game close going into the 4th quarter. But Sam Howell and the UNC offense will prove too much and take the game with a late touchdown in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: North Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 28

2021 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Last season didn’t exactly go as expected. A losing season, the end of the bowl streak, cancelled Spring practices, and Fall practices reduced due to contact tracing. Not exactly what anyone had expected going into last season. None of those things were ideal for a team in transition.

This season the Hokies hope to get back on track with a return to a blue-collar style defense we’re all accustomed to. Having practices in the Spring and Fall will help with that. So will having a year under their belt in Justin Hamilton’s scheme. Justin Hamilton having a year of experience running the defense doesn’t hurt either.

On offense, it will be difficult to replace two NFL draft picks in Christian Darrisaw and Khalil Herbert. This squad has solid contributors and guys who have been around the program for a while. But not as much star power as last year.

This is a make-or-break year for Justin Fuente. This program needs to show improvement over the past couple of seasons. Another year of .500 football isn’t going to cut it. Even 7 wins doesn’t necessarily mean he will be back.

Why will the Hokies be good?

Braxton Burmeister closed the season looking like a star. In the last two games of the season, he completed 73.5% of his passes and averaged 9.97 yards/attempt against Clemson and Virginia. After struggling with his completion percentage, he came on strong late in the season. If Burmeister can maintain that level of play and can stay healthy, it bodes well for the Hokies this season.

The Hokies have a veteran group of pass catchers in James Mitchell, Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson. Braxton Burmeister will have a reliable group of receivers to target along with guys who can stretch the field. This is a situation where the top guys must stay healthy otherwise the Hokies must rely on young and inexperienced players.

The Vice Squad returns. They lose the star power they had with Christian Darrisaw. But they still have a solid group headlined by Luke Tenuta, Brock Hoffman and Silas Dzansi. This group should have no trouble protecting Braxton Burmeister or opening holes in the run game. Vice seems to turn out a good group every year.

The Hokies will have one of the best cornerback tandems in the ACC. Jermaine Waller was one of the best cover corners in the nation in 2019. And Dorian Strong was one of the best freshmen corners in the nation last year. Waller and Strong look to lock down both sides of the field and make life easier on the defense.

Why will the Hokies be not-so-good?

In a word: depth. This is not a deep team at most position groups. There are a lot of position groups where if the starters get injured, there are no proven options. That looks a lot like last year’s team where a key injury or two puts some less-than-ideal options on the field.

Look no further than the quarterback position, if the Hokies lose Braxton Burmeister they are in trouble. That’s not to say they can’t win games with one of the backups. But the season outlook looks a lot more dicey with one of the other options behind center.

Last year, the defense didn’t have a feel for the new defensive scheme. Will that look better after a Spring and Fall practice? Will they have a better grasp of Justin Hamilton’s scheme in Year 2? Will they develop a defensive identity that was missing in Year 1? Can this group get back to playing the aggressive-style defense we’re used to? These are all question marks going into Justin Hamilton’s second season.

Tough games (<40% chance to win)

North Carolina, Notre Dame and Miami. The Hokies can win all these games. But these are games that will be tough sledding for a Hokies team short on depth. Wins against any of these teams should be seen as bonus wins at the end of the season.

Toss-up games (50-50 games)

West Virginia. Pitt. Georgia Tech. Boston College. Virginia. These are the games that will define the season. These games are the difference between 9-3 and 4-8. The Hokies need to win the majority of these games to have a good season.

Should win games (>70% to win)

Syracuse and Duke. This isn’t the season for this coaching staff to stub their toe on games like these. These are games where the Hokies have a clear talent advantage and they need to take care of business.

Must win games (>90% to win)

Middle Tennessee and Richmond. The Hokies don’t need to add to a list that includes James Madison, Old Dominion and Liberty.

Key games for the Hokies: North Carolina, at West Virginia, at Miami

Upset Alert: at Boston College

Game by Game Predictions

North Carolinahttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d7/North_Carolina_Tar_Heels_logo.svg/300px-North_Carolina_Tar_Heels_logo.svg.png
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at West VirginiaWest Virginia Mountaineers - Wikipedia
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Notre DameNotre Dame Fighting Irish - Wikipedia
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at Georgia TechThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is logo-white.svg
at Boston CollegeBoston College Eagles - Wikipedia
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at MiamiMiami Hurricanes - Wikipedia
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Game-by-game predictions

Final Regular Season Record: 7-5 (5-3 in the ACC)
Expected finish: Tied for 3rd in the ACC Coastal

Virginia Preview and Prediction

Clemson left the door open to make the game competitive but every time the Hokies got an opportunity they gave it right back to Clemson. The hustle and effort were there from kickoff, which was good to see. But against a talented team like Clemson, things didn’t seem to go the Hokies way. The good news is that the team did not quit on the season. Which is important leading into the UVA game.

Virginia was able to find a Bryce Perkins replacement in one offseason. Brennan Armstrong does a lot of the things that Bryce Perkins did well — like run with the ball and find an open man under pressure. He leads the team with 529 rushing yards. He has also thrown for over 2,000 yards, 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. If the Hokies hope to stop the Virginia offense, they will need to key on Brennan Armstrong’s running ability and make him beat them through the air.

The Virginia defense is a tough matchup for the Hokies. They are great at stopping the run but not very good at stopping the pass. Unfortunate for the Hokies that they are a run-first team. Virginia’s struggles in coverage should allow some opportunities for the Hokies to go downfield and find some guys open for big plays. Getting Tre Turner back and healthy for this game would be a big boost. If he’s not available, the Hokies will need to lean on James Mitchell and Tayvion Robinson in the pass game. If all QBs are available, you may see some rotating between Hendon Hooker and Braxton Burmeister.

These teams are pretty evenly matched. If the Hokies defense can show up the way they did against Miami and Clemson, they have a good chance to win this game. Khalil Herbert will find more running room against Virginia than he did against Pitt and Clemson. Tre Turner’s availability is a big X factor to keep an eye on. The Hokies need to play smart and take care of the ball. If they do, they have a good chance to win. But if they squander opportunities and turn the ball over, like they did against Pitt and Clemson, they’ll tilt the game toward the ‘Hoos. All things being equal, I like the Hokies by a field goal.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Virginia 24

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

The Miami game was a tough way to lose. The Hokies looked like the better team for three quarters against a top ten team. Then the offense went into hiding in the fourth quarter. It’s easy to point fingers but you have to make the plays in crunch time to win the game. Miami did. Virginia Tech didn’t. It’s that simple.

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This game comes down to can Hendon Hooker complete passes against man coverage? We know exactly what Pittsburgh in going to do. They will stack the box against the run and make Hendon Hooker beat them against press coverage. If Tech’s receivers can get open and Hendon Hooker can find them the ball, the Hokies should have success moving the football. But if Tech can’t run the ball and Hendon Hooker has trouble finding open receivers, it could be a long day offensively.

The Panthers struggle to run the ball and like to move the ball in the air. That plays to the advantage of the Hokies. Tech is better at stopping teams thru the air than on the ground. Kenny Pickett will have his work cut out for him against Virginia Tech’s secondary. Pitt ranks 71st in the nation in scoring offense averaging 27.6 points per game. Watch out for Jordan Addison in the passing game. He is Pitt’s go-to receiver.

This is a game where the Hokies want to get the tight ends involved. If James Mitchell is healthy, he would be the featured receiver. If he’s not able to go, the Hokies will need to lean on Nick Gallo. Expect this game to be a low-scoring affair, where the Hokies will HAVE to move the ball through the air. If all-else-fails the Hokies should run the Jerod Evans offense and have Hendon Hooker throw up jump ball after jump ball to his receivers. In the end, the Hokies will make a couple more plays offensively and win a one possession game on the road.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 24

Miami Preview and Prediction

Yikes. A loss to Liberty. If the loss to Wake wasn’t bad enough, this team goes down to one of the little brother programs in Virginia. To put this loss in perspective, Virginia Tech’s football budget is more than three times more than Liberty’s. Virginia Tech also paid Liberty to come to Blacksburg and hand them a loss. Ouch. It’s a bad look for this program. It’s going to be one of those losses like ODU that’s hard for the fan base to forget.

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Statistically, Miami doesn’t look like a Top Ten team. Their record looks like a lot of smoke and mirrors. But they do have an excellent quarterback in D’Eriq King. If Khalil Herbert is out, King will be the best football player on the field on Saturday. Miami’s offense looks a lot like Louisville’s and Liberty’s. Both gave the Hokies’s defense tons of trouble. And if I’m picking quarterbacks, D’Eriq King is the best out of the three the Hokies have faced the last three weeks. Slowing down this Miami offense will be a tall task for this defense. Watch for this stat on Saturday, the Hokies will need to try to keep King under 50 yards rushing …

With just about every game the Hokies play in this year, they are going to have to outscore the opposing offense in a shootout. They can’t count on the defense to get a lot of stops. If Khalil Herbert is back from his pulled hamstring, I like the Hokies chances. If he’s still out or limited, the Hokies will need to get other weapons involved in the offense. Like Raheem Blackshear, Tre Turner or James Mitchell. Hendon Hooker can’t do it all on his own.

After the Liberty game, I expect a bounce back game from the Hokies. The problem is, I’m not sure how bought in the team is this year. They started the season with a lot of fire against NC State and it seems like slowly it has faded as the year has gone. So, I’m not exactly sure what team we’re going to see on Saturday. No one needs a top ten win right now more than Justin Fuente. It might the cure for what ails him with the fan base. If Khalil Herbert is back, I see a very close game that could go either way. If he’s out, Miami wins by two scores. Let’s see what happens on Saturday. Let’s hope we see more fire out of this team after what happened last week.

Prediction: Miami 41, Virginia Tech 31

Midseason Awards and Outlook

This season is weird. There are 11 regular season games. And if there is a bowl game, there will be 12 games total. I thought it would make sense to do midseason awards after 6 games. With the hopes that the Hokies will play 12 games total this season.

Offensive MVP: Khalil Herbert

This is the easiest call in all the years I’ve been doing this. Imagine this team without Herbert. It’s not the same powerful offense. I still think it would be good. But it wouldn’t be as explosive. You can tell Herbert gets a lot of attention when he’s on the field. That opens the game up for everyone else. We haven’t seen that around here since David Wilson.

Honorable mention: Hendon Hooker, James Mitchell

Defensive MVP: Amare Barno

This one is a lot harder. Like a lot harder. First, let’s start by saying the defensive performance in the first half of the season hasn’t been good. But Barno has jumped off the screen when watching the Hokies. You can tell he is still a raw player but the natural ability is definitely there. He leads the team with 8.5 TFLs and is 2nd on the team with 3.5 sacks. The one thing this defense has done well is get after the quarterback and Barno is one of the big reasons why.

Honorable mention: Justus Reed, Divine Deablo

Special Teams MVP: Khalil Herbert

It’s that man again. One of the things that has driven me crazy in recent years is that there was no threat on kickoff returns. Tech would either start at their own 25 yard line or worse in terms of field position. Herbert gives this team the potential to take it to the house every single kick return.

Honorable mention: Oscar Bradburn, Brian Johnson

2nd Half Outlook:

The schedule gets a lot harder in the 2nd half of the season. The defense will need to show up otherwise a 2-3 finish isn’t out of the question. We’ve already seen their floor but how much better can they get? They looked good against Louisville outside of two horrific plays. They need to build on what they did the rest of the game. That was a good offense they held down most of the day.

On offense, RUN KHALIL HERBERT. It’s that simple. If he’s not getting 20+ carries a game, you’re doing something wrong. Easier said than done, but you need to get your best player involved in the gameplan. He needs to be the center point of this offense. If he’s not getting the ball, your letting the defense your facing off the hook.

Folks have been hard on the defense but I give them a pass. They had no spring practice. They have a new coaching staff and a new scheme. Not to mention they had a TON of players out during fall practice. And that’s on top of having guys out due to suspension, a leave of absence or injuries. That’s A LOT to deal with. The defense is making progress but we need to see more from them in the last 6 games.

This team will be bowl eligible. I’m not exactly sure what the criteria is or what bowl games will be played. But the Hokies will be there. I’d like to see the Tech finish with at least 7 wins in the regular season. I could feel good about that. I’d also like to see them beat UVA and play Clemson close. This is the weirdest season I can ever remember. So dialing expectations too high may be unrealistic. But I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far. This is an exciting offense and I hope we get to see a lot more offensive fireworks in the 2nd half of the season. And enjoy Khalil Herbert. We don’t get guys like him in Blacksburg very often.

Louisville Preview and Prediction

One of the biggest issues of the Fuente era is losing games this team shouldn’t lose. And it’s not that Wake Forest is a bad team — they’re not. It’s that they are still a team that a talented group like Virginia Tech should be able to beat most of the time. In order for this program to take the next step, those are the types of games that need to be wins far more often than not.

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My prime example of the ACC having a dysfunctional scheduling model is Louisville. They joined the league in 2014 and their first game with the Hokies is in 2020. You wouldn’t think these two programs are in the same league given how few times they’ve played. The ACC needs to change the scheduling model so that member schools are able to play each other more often. Six years between meetings seems like too long.

Louisville can be explosive offensively — but they don’t do it consistently. This is a team that scored 48 on Florida State and 7 against Notre Dame. Their week-to-week offensive outputs raise some questions. They have talent on the offensive side of the ball. That’s not their problem. The problem is that they are not always consistent moving the ball on offense. They rely on big plays to score. But when the big plays aren’t there, they struggle to move the ball down the field.

Louisville’s defense is just as inconsistent as their offense. They gave up 47 points to Miami (and 46 to Georgia Tech) and also gave up 12 to Notre Dame. It’s kinda hard to believe. The one consistent aspect of their defense is that they give up yards on the ground. The Hokies should be able to move the ball on the ground against this defense. Louisville is stronger against the pass. If the Cardinals sell out against the run, Hendon Hooker will need to prove that he can beat them with this arm.

Both teams have consistency issues. I’m a big believer in the bounce-back game in college football. The Hokies had a bad loss last week and we will see a more inspired effort this week. This team has too much talent on the offensive side of the ball to think we’ll see a repeat performance of last week. What will be key is stopping Louisville’s big plays when Virginia Tech is playing defense. You don’t want to get into a shootout on the road with Louisville. Put me down as thinking the Hokies bounce back and win a squeaker on the road.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 33, Louisville 30

Wake Forest Preview and Prediction

The Hokies took care of business last week against Boston College. I still believe that Boston College is the sneaky good team I described them as last week. Five turnovers were their downfall. But give them time and that’s going to look like a very good win at the end of the year. This week the Hokies move their attention to Wake Forest.

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Wake Forest reminds me of NC State. They are competent on both sides of the ball, but aren’t really great at any one thing. Their most impressive stat is being ranked 2nd in the nation averaging a +2 turnover margin per game. They’ve only turned the ball over once all year. That’ll keep you a lot of games. The scariest aspect of their offense is that they are VERY well balanced. If the Hokies can’t stop the run, they might run into a situation like the UNC game where Wake could pour on the points. I’m hopeful the run defense has improved since that game, but will the Hokies be able to stop Wake’s potent passing attack?

Offensively, this looks like a very good matchup for the Hokies. Wake has trouble stopping the run. The Hokies have been able to run all over everybody they’ve faced so far. I also don’t think Wake has seen a rushing attack with a mobile QB like the Hokies have in Hendon Hooker. You can bet to see some 8-man fronts from Wake to get the Hokies to have to beat them through the air. If Tech can keep them honest with the passing attack, Virginia Tech should have a big day on the ground.

This one has shootout written all over it. Wake will have success moving the football and putting up some points. The Hokies have a chance to limit that success if they can limit the run game and get after their quarterback. I like both offenses but Virginia Tech’s is a little better. With a few more bodies back on the defensive side of the ball, we’ll see an improved defensive effort as well. One thing that scares me is that Wake is very good in the return game. So that’s an element that could flip this game on it’s head. But all things being equal, I like a close game shootout where the Hokies end up winning by a touchdown.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Wake Forest 31