Virginia Preview and Prediction

Last season, I expected UVA to win this game. I expected the Commonwealth Cup streak to end. I expected the bowl streak to end. It was the worst Virginia Tech team in a quarter century and it felt like the time had come. Luckily, the Hokies made enough plays to keep the Commonwealth Cup in Blacksburg. This year the stakes are even higher with a Coastal division title and a potential spot in the Orange Bowl on the line.

Virginia

Overall: 37th
Offense: 68th
Defense: 32nd
Special Teams: 34th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 42nd
Offense: 70th
Defense: 33rd
Special Teams: 40th

Bryce Perkins is a one-man show on offense. He has been able to hit on big plays in the passing game. Virginia has the 43rd ranked passing offense in the country. Where they have struggled is in the run game. They rely on their do-everything quarterback to find yards on the ground. The Wahoos have the 118th ranked rushing offense. Their offense is one-dimensional when Perkins can’t find rushing yards on his own. The Hokies will need to contain Perkins and make him throw the ball. The Hokies corners will have to cover one-on-one against the Wahoos wide receivers. Especially when Perkins leaves the pocket.

Virginia Tech will need to find ways to move the ball against an aggressive defense. They came up with a good game plan against Pitt’s aggressive front. They will need to do the same against a UVA team that blitzes even more than Pitt does. This is a game where the Hokies need to use the screen game and misdirection to slow down UVA’s front seven. Tech will also want to challenge UVA’s corners. The Hokies have a good matchup there and will need to exploit it with their big and talented wide receivers.

These rivalry games can be tough to predict. There are always unexpected turns, trick plays and turnovers that can play a big role in the outcome. The Hokies need to not get caught up in the extracurricular activities of this rivalry game. Expect the Hokies to put a lot of pressure on Bryce Perkins. That has been a game plan that has worked well for this defense in the last two weeks. Also, expect the Hokies wide receivers to get the ball in space against Virginia’s corners. The Hokies need to show up and play the same type of football that they’ve been playing for the last six weeks. This year, the Hokies have the better squad. They just need to show up and play their game. If they do, they have a very good chance to win this one.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 17

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

Hokies are bowl eligible of an NCAA-leading 27th consecutive season. The first goal for any season is to make a bowl game. Start with that goal first, then worry about division titles. A bowl game was a good goal for this team — especially after waiting until their 12th game to make one last year. Their excellent play of late has them in the thick of the race for the Coastal division. But to get there they need to win two difficult games against Pittsburgh and Virginia.

SP+ Rankings

Pittsburgh

Overall: 52nd
Offense: 112th
Defense: 10th
Special Teams: 92nd

Virginia Tech

Overall: 44th
Offense: 67th
Defense: 35th
Special Teams: 39th

Pittsburgh reminds me of Virginia Tech teams from the mid-2000s. Elite defense. Pedestrian offense. Pittsburgh wins by keeping the opposition out of the end zone. Pittsburgh is giving up an average of 22 points per game in ACC games this season. Pitt’s defensive statistics are impressive. 11th in total defense. 7th in rushing defense. 9th in pass efficiency defense. To beat Pitt, you need to be able to complete passes against press coverage. Wide receivers need to win the one-on-one battles. This is a good week to get tight ends involved in the passing game. If the Hokies hope to have success on offense, they need to stay out of third and long. And use the screen game against an aggressive defensive line.

This is not the offense that you’ve seen from Pitt in the past. When you think of the Pitt offense you think of a run-heavy game. This year, the Panthers have not been able to run the ball and have turned to a pass-heavy offense. Pittsburgh’s offensive numbers are ugly. 106th in scoring offense. 106th in rushing offense. 96th in passing efficiency. This is an offense that does just enough to let their defense win the game for them.

This is going to be a close game. Pitt’s defense is good enough that the Hokies aren’t going to be able to go up and down the field on them. The goal for the Tech offense will be to not turn the ball over and try to grind out a few scoring drives to win the game. The Pitt defense is good but not unbeatable. Tech needs to take a methodical approach to their offense. Take opportunities as they come but don’t force it. The Hokies offense should be able to put enough points on the board to win. And the defense is playing well enough now to keep Pittsburgh’s offense mostly in check.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Pittsburgh 17

Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

With the win against Wake Forest, the Hokies have put themselves in good position for a bowl game. And even a shot at the Coastal division title. The key for the Hokies is to keep the momentum going. Next up are key Coastal division games against Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia. The Hokies cannot afford to overlook Georgia Tech. They are an improving team under Geoff Collins. Tech needs to head to Atlanta with a take-care-of-business attitude.

SP+ Rankings

Georgia Tech

Overall: 99th
Offense: 110th
Defense: 49th
Special Teams: 124th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 52nd
Offense: 72nd
Defense: 48th
Special Teams: 41st

Offense has been a struggle for Georgia Tech this season. Most expected a difficult the transition from the triple option to a spread offense. The Jackets have not been a threat in the passing game this season. But they can break a big play from time-to-time. Georgia Tech’s offense likes to run the ball and try to shorten the game. They want to keep the clock running. In order for the Hokies to be successful, they will need to stop the run and not get beat downfield with the long pass.

Georgia Tech is better on defense, particularly against the pass. The Jackets rank 119th against the run but rank 31st against the pass. It’s safe to say if you want to move the ball against Georgia Tech, your best option is on the ground. This is actually a pretty good matchup for the Hokies. The running game has looked a lot better with Hendon Hooker under center. The key for the Hokies will be to not turn ball over and give the Jackets struggling offense a short field.

Here are the last three games against Georgia Tech:

2016: Georgia Tech 30, Virginia Tech 20
2017: Georgia Tech 28, Virginia Tech 22
2018: Georgia Tech 49, Virginia Tech 28

The Hokies had a long stretch of success against Georgia Tech from 1990 thru 2015. But since then things have gone downhill. Virginia Tech were Vegas favorites in all three games but were on the losing end of upsets all three times. They need to change that. Paul Johnson was a thorn in the Hokies side for a long time. But he’s gone now. The Hokies need to go down to Atlanta and take care of business. On paper, this looks like a favorable matchup. The Hokies need to watch out for a motivated opponent playing on their home field. Georgia Tech is improving as the season goes on. They want to get that first ACC win at home. The Hokies need to go in focused to not mess around against an overmatched opponent.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Georgia Tech 20

Wake Forest Preview and Prediction

That was a tough loss on the road at Notre Dame. Tech came very close to pulling a big upset on the road against a very good Fighting Irish team. The Hokies have four games remaining to get two wins for bowl eligibility. And they still control their own destiny in the Coastal division. The Hokies get an opportunity to rebound this week against a ranked Wake Forest team at home.

SP+ Rankings

Wake Forest

Overall: 46th
Offense: 38th
Defense: 63rd
Special Teams: 34th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 64th
Offense: 82nd
Defense: 55th
Special Teams: 62nd

The Hokies offense should look better this week with the return of Hendon Hooker. His return should see the offense return to the one we saw against North Carolina. Hooker gives the Hokies the ability to go downfield. He also gives the Hokies another threat in the running game. Wake Forest gives up a lot of yards thru the air. Hendon Hooker and the Hokies’ pass catchers need to have a big game for the Hokies to have a chance. The Hokies offense will need to keep up with Wake Forest’s high powered attack.

Wake Forest is one of the best offenses that the Hokies will face this season. QB Jamie Newman and his wide receivers have put up a ton of yards this season. They are seventh in the nation in total offense and ninth in passing offense. These guys have lit up the scoreboard on a lot of teams this season. The Hokies defensive backfield needs to be able to keep this passing game in check. Armani Chatman will have to step up in Jermaine Waller’s absence. Bud Foster will need to scheme to put pressure on Jamie Newman while not giving up the big play. The Hokies will need to bring a lunch pail attitude on Saturday.

This game looks a lot like last week’s game against Notre Dame. But Wake Forest has a more potent offense than Notre Dame. The Hokies were able to keep it close against Notre Dame with Quincy Patterson behind center. With Hendon Hooker, the Hokies should be able to put more points on the board. But they will also need to keep Wake Forest’s high powered offense from putting up a lot of points. Wake Forest’s experienced roster should give the Hokies some trouble.

Prediction: Wake Forest 31, Virginia Tech 27

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction

The dramatic win against North Carolina is the type of win that can give a team confidence and momentum. The Hokies need to use that momentum going into a 5-game stretch run in November. A bowl game is still a very real possibility and so is a Coastal division championship. This is when the Hokies need to start playing their best football.

SP+ Rankings

Notre Dame

Overall: 25th
Offense: 22nd
Defense: 38th
Special Teams: 19th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 57th
Offense: 64th
Defense: 67th
Special Teams: 73rd

Notre Dame is coming off a tough loss to Michigan. They will be looking to get back on track against the Hokies. The Irish offense is not hitting on all cylinders like it was then they came to Blacksburg last season. Notre Dame has a good quarterback but they are still trying to find a running game. A game played in cold weather is not great to be tossing around the football all day. Notre Dame will have to lean on Tony Jones Jr. and the running game. If the Irish are throwing the ball a lot, that’s likely a good thing for the Hokies.

Notre Dame has a talented and experienced defense. They have upperclassmen across the depth chart. The Irish have a very talented secondary that does not give up a lot through the air. If you want to beat Notre Dame, you have to establish a running game. The Hokies need to lean on Quincy Patterson (or Hendon Hooker, if healthy) to get the running game going. A game played with temperatures in the 30s, the team that is able to run the ball will likely win the game. Expect a lot of different looks in the running game, trying to get the quarterback, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers all involved in running the football.

The story of this game will be Notre Dame’s experience vs Virginia Tech’s inexperience. Notre Dame’s depth chart is full of 3rd, 4th, and 5th year players. Virginia Tech’s is full of 1st, 2nd and 3rd year players. Experience matters. And if this game was in 2020 or 2021, Virginia Tech would have a much better shot to win. But playing a Notre Dame team at home coming off a tough loss to Michigan, the odds become a lot tougher. The Hokies definitely have a shot in this game, more than the experts are giving them credit for. But in the end, Notre Dame has too much talent for the Hokies to keep up with. Expect this to be a close game going into the half, with Notre Dame pulling away in the 2nd half.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Virginia Tech 21

Duke Preview and Prediction

This is a critical game for the 2019 Hokies. This team can’t afford to go 0-2 in the ACC. And if they lose this game, it’s hard to find 5 more wins on the schedule for the Hokies to go bowling. They will need 7 wins to go bowling this year since they play 2 FCS teams.

What scares me most about this Duke offense is Quentin Harris’ ability to scramble. Although the Hokies dealt with a mobile QB against Furman, this will be a big step up in competition. He reminds me of Anthony Brown who had a very good game against the Hokies in Week 1. This offense doesn’t have a lot of weapons. As long as the Hokies don’t struggle with Duke’s option and misdirection plays, they should be able to keep the Duke offense in check.

The Duke defense is solid. This group should be able to shut down the Hokies’ run game without too much trouble. If the Hokies want to have success, it will have to be through the air. You can count on Duke stopping the run with their front four and trying to force Ryan Willis into mistakes by mixing up coverages. Ryan Willis will need to make good decisions, limit turnovers and put the ball in his playmaker’s hands. If he can do that, the Hokies have a good chance to win this game.

The Hokies young offensive line will struggle against Duke’s experience defensive line. This is a game where the offensive line will have to give Ryan Willis enough time to throw. And he will have to make good decisions against an experienced Duke secondary. It will be difficult for the Hokies to find a running game against this Duke defense. The Hokies will need score close to 30 to win this game — which will be tough against this Blue Devils defense. The best hope for the Hokies is to keep this game low scoring and make enough plays in the passing game to pull this one out.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Duke 24

Furman Preview and Prediction

The Hokies need to take care of the football. They are -6 in turnover margin two games into the season. The scoreline against ODU could have looked much better without the turnovers. The offense left points on the field with two turnovers in the 2nd half. Without those turnovers, the Hokies could have put up 10 or 14 more points. Then the scoreline looks a lot better. More like what most fans would’ve expected. But a win is a win. Plenty of programs would have loved to have avoided the upset bug on Saturday.
 
Next up is Furman. Furman is 1-1 after nearly upsetting Georgia State on Saturday. Georgia State is the team that upset Tennessee in week 1. This team can put up a ton of points and are top 25 in the FCS. This is not a team you can sleep on. This team upset  UCF in 2015. This team features a balanced attack. Sometimes they run a flexbone (ala Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson) and sometimes they run out of spread formations. For a Virginia Tech team that struggles with finishing tackles and filling gaps, this type of offense that could give them trouble. Far more than you’d expect from an FCS team. And likely the toughest FCS challenge they’ve had since JMU in 2010 or App State in 2011.
 
Furman has a dynamic quarterback in Darren Grainger. He runs Furman’s multiple offense well and is a threat on the ground and through the air. Furman’s offense looks like a tough matchup for Virginia Tech’s defense. Furman relies on misdirection and option concepts to get players of out position. I’m not surprised they beatdown Charleston Southern and almost beat Georgia State. This offense has put up some gaudy numbers in the first two weeks of the season. The Hokies defense needs to show up for this one. This offense can sustain long drives and score even against good defenses.
 
Defensively, the Paladins do not look as strong. They are tough to figure out. Georgia State put up 38 against Tennessee and 48 against Furman. Is Furman’s defense only slightly worse than Tennessee’s? This is a defense that you can put up numbers against, particularly in the passing game. I’m not hopeful for the running game considering Tech’s poor performance against ODU. If they couldn’t get the run game going against ODU, I’m not sure they will against Furman. Or anybody else for that matter.
 
This is as concerned going into an FCS game as I can remember being. I do not believe the Hokies will lose but I do not think they will cover a 22-point spread (or 21 or 20). I expect a similar performance to the ODU game. A win likely but far from inspiring. And that’s if the Hokies can put up big numbers through the air and outpace Furman offensively. If the Hokies have any stumbles on offense or turn the ball over, look out. This is a Furman team can that can eat up clock and put up some points against the Hokies defense. Furman is better than ODU. And we saw how that ODU game went. If the Hokies offense and defense can perform better than last week, they can put this game away early. If not, this one could go into the 4th quarter. Don’t sleep on this FCS team.
 
Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Furman 24

Boston College Preview and Prediction

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 

2019 Virginia Tech Season Preview

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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.

Special Teams

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.

2019 Outlook

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

Game-by-Game Predictions

Game Prediction
at Boston College vt-logo
Old Dominion vt-logo
Furman vt-logo
Duke vt-logo
at Miami

miami-logo

Rhode Island vt-logo
North Carolina vt-logo
at Notre Dame nd-logo
Wake Forest vt-logo
at Georgia Tech vt-logo
Pittsburgh pitt-logo
at Virginia vt-logo

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

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William & Mary Preview and Prediction

The Hokies got the season off to a hot start on Monday night against Florida State. It was an impressive victory on the road in front of national television audience. Now it’s time to refocus on a short week and get ready for William & Mary. You know the coaching staff will be preaching the 1-0 mentality this week.

The last time the Hokies played on four days rest was in 2015 after they lost to Ohio State on Monday night at home. They played Furman five days later and won 42-3. The five day turnaround is tough, especially after a big win. But if there is one thing the coaching staff preaches is to focus on the next game and go 1-0 this week.

William & Mary is coached by Jimmye Laycock. He is William & Mary’s Frank Beamer. He has been there for 39 years (whoa!) and is the 2nd winningest active coach in Division I. However, William & Mary has started to slide in recent years and only went 2-9 last season. They were also picked to finish 11th in this year’s CAA preseason poll.

William & Mary’s offense only averaged 15 point per game last season. They put up 14 points last week at Bucknell. Needless to say, this team struggles to put up points on offense. The Tribe have a couple of weapons with DeVonte Dedmon at wide receiver and Albert Funderburke at running back. Last season, William & Mary ranked 104th in total offense out of 123 teams in FCS.

The Tribe’s strength is on defense. They ranked 29th in FCS last season in total defense. They return their top five tacklers from last season. They ranked 13th in sacks last year. This is a team that does not take many penalties. They play disciplined football. This will be a good test for the Hokies offense this week. One they should be able to pass but William & Mary’s defense are not pushovers.

The concern here is a lack of focus and execution. It’s difficult to have a short week after a big win and bring your A game. Lucky for the Hokies, they face an opponent that has been struggling in recent years and only put up 14 points last week. This is a team that the Hokies should be able to dispatch without too much trouble, even if they aren’t 100% yet. The key this week will be to try to get up early in the game and give the backups some opportunities in the 2nd half. This is a game you want to put in the win column, not suffer any major injuries, and move on to the next game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, William & Mary 0