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.

SP+ Rankings

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

Boston College Preview and Prediction

Virginia Tech’s loss to North Carolina was disappointing but not necessarily unexpected. UNC looked like the better team. But that game did raise a couple of questions. Could the Hokies have won if Hendon Hooker had started? What if the Hokies had their full roster of defensive players? What happens if Khalil Herbert gets more than two carries in the first half? The reality is that the Hokies got outplayed on defensive side of the ball. You don’t need to analyze it more than that. Anybody watching could see that.

SP+ Rankings

Boston College is a sneaky good team. This is the type of team if you aren’t ready for what they are bringing, they can get you. On offense, it’s a two-man show with Phil Jurkovec and Zay Flowers. There about as good a QB-WR combo as there is in the ACC. Boston College ranks 7th in the nation in passing offense. And Zay Flowers ranks 4th in the nation in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He’s a talented player who you can expect to be playing on Sundays. The Hokies need to put Waller on Flowers to keep him in check. The good news is that BC is one of the worst rushing teams in the country. So if you can keep them from beating you through the air, they won’t beat you on the ground.

Defensively, they are solid all around. Not great but not bad either. This defense has kept BC in every game this year — including the North Carolina game. They should present some problems to a Hokies offense that has been moving the ball at will against everybody they’ve played this year. If the Hokies can stick to the balanced attack they’ve shown in the first three weeks, they should be in good shape against Boston College. It will be important to establish the run game with Khalil Herbert to open up the passing game over the top. The Hokies will need some contributions from their top receiving threats to move the ball against this defense. Tre Turner and James Mitchell need to have big games.

The Hokies are double-digit favorites going into this one, but the matchup looks closer than that on paper. The Hokies were obliterated in the run game against North Carolina. Will that happen against BC? Probably not. But they need to show that they have corrected a couple of things on that side of the ball. Next, can the Hokies stop the potent Jurkovec-Flowers combo? If Tech can get their full complement of defensive backs on the field, the Hokies stand a good chance of winning their fair share of those matchups. My biggest concern is Virginia Tech being able to stop the run. If the Hokies can show they can do that, they have a very good chance to win. But if Boston College is rushing for 5+ yards per carry, the odds don’t seem nearly as good. Put me down as thinking the Hokies bounce back this week defensively and have another good offensive performance.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Boston College 28

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

For two weeks in a row the Hokies have been able to pull out wins even while being undermanned on defense. The Hokies have been able to win with a dominant run game which currently ranks #1 in the country in rush yards per attempt. If Tech is able to keep up this type of dominant run game, they will be tough to stop. But the competition level goes up this week with a trip to Chapel Hill.

SP+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall: 23rd
Offense: 31st
Defense: 24th
Special Teams: 21st

North Carolina

Overall: 11th
Offense: 10th
Defense: 37th
Special Teams: 43rd

North Carolina has an impressive passing attack but it has yet to come together in 2020. If the Hokies are still missing defensive backs, this is a passing attack that can exploit that weakness. Tech needs their top defensive backs this week to stop a powerful aerial attack. To limit its effectiveness the Hokies will need to get in the backfield early and often. Virginia Tech ranks #1 in the nation in sacks. They will need a strong performance from their front seven to get after Sam Howell and limit the North Carolina passing attack.

North Carolina’s defense has been impressive, but it’s been against some pretty ineffective offenses. So far this year, the Tar Heels have been the #1 team in the nation against the run. If they can keep that up, it will force the Hokies to have to beat them through the air. If Hendon Hooker is behind center, the Hokies stand a better chance to air it out. The Hokies should be able to find some running room, but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to run for 300+ yards for the third consecutive week.

On paper, this looks like a great matchup between two evenly matched teams. UNC has a great passing attack. Tech has a great running attack. Both teams feature stingy defenses. The Hokies are still trying to get all their guys back on the field to see how stingy this defense can be. If you’ve watched UNC, you get the feeling you haven’t seen the best that offense has to offer yet. This may be the week they break out of their funk. If the Hokies are going to win, they need to pound UNC with the running game. Like they did NC State and Duke. If the Hokies can pound the rock for four quarters and connect on a couple of shots downfield. They have a good chance to win. Before the season started, I had this game marked down as a loss. But after seeing how impressive this offensive line and running game have been, Tech should be able to pull this one out.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 31

Duke Preview and Prediction

Last week’s win was a big one. Being down 23 players and 2 coaches is a big deal. Especially when even more than those 23 players hadn’t practiced much in the two weeks leading up to the game. Getting a conference win given those circumstances is impressive. The coaching staff did a great job preparing the team, despite difficulty practicing and preparing with a couple of starters out.

SP+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall: 17th
Offense: 25th
Defense: 21st
Special Teams: 28th

Duke

Overall: 81st
Offense: 120th
Defense: 38th
Special Teams: 37th

Duke has struggled on offense this year. They are 70th in the nation in turnovers this year (out of 72 teams that have played). Ouch. Their quarterback, Chase Brice, is only completing 51.3% of his passes with a 1:3 TD-INT ratio. Also not good. You start to wonder if David Cutcliffe might give his backup a shot in this game. Duke’s struggles in the passing game might not look so bad if they had an effective running game, but they rank 65th in the nation in that category. Duke is averaging 254 yards through the air this season. But most of that is due to the face they’ve been trailing by multiple touchdowns in their three games this season. If the Hokies have to play backups in the secondary, Duke may find some success thru the air.

Duke’s defense is solid, but their offense haven’t done them any favors by leaving them out on the field a lot this year. They have a pair of talented defensive ends who can get after the quarterback. Like last week, this is a good week to get the running game going and keep pressures off the quarterback. Any slow developing plays work to the strength of Duke’s defense. Virginia Tech needs to focus on the running game, screen game and quick passes to keep the Duke defensive ends out of the backfield.

Duke looks better than their 0-3 record. With that defense alone, they should be able to win some games. Unfortunately for them, their offense has been a disaster to start the year. They can’t run or pass with any sort of predictability. And that’s when they aren’t turning the ball over — which they do a lot. Like last week, the Hokies might be down a couple of starters due to COVID-related issues. Also like last week, this is another week where they should go with a safe gameplan of running the football to try to keep their defense off the field. Worked for them last week. And it’s likely to work for them again this week.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Duke 17

NC State Preview and Prediction

The Hokies finally get on the field after two weeks of postponements. As of the publishing of this post, the game is still on. Let’s hope it stays that way. The team has been struggling over the last three weeks with significant issues related to COVID-19. The team as a whole had to take a four-day pause from football activities since they had so many players out due to positive tests or contact tracing. Even now, as players start returning from quarantine, it appears like the Hokies may be without some key starters for NC State.

SP+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall: 27th
Offense: 38th
Defense: 24th

NC State

Overall: 60th
Offense: 57th
Defense: 61st

The rankings above are based on preseason rankings and one game that NC State has played against Wake Forest. NC State is a solid team that put up a lot of points against Wake Forest. The Wolfpack ran the ball well last week. That concerns me due to the fact that the Hokies have had many guys unavailable to practice for the last couple of weeks. We saw what happened to Navy after their team went no-contact in practice. BYU ran all over them. Since the team has been limited in practice for the last two weeks, let’s hope we don’t see that with our guys.

I’m a bit less concerned about the offense. If Braxton Burmeister has to play, he is ready. I’ve heard he is an excellent runner and a good passer. He has playing experience from his days at Oregon and he’s entering his second year at Virginia Tech. If called upon, he can do the job. What to look for on Saturday is a healthy offensive line that will be able to line up and run the ball. The Hokies have a stable of capable running backs. This week’s game plan should focus on running the ball, running the clock and keeping the defense off the field.

The first thing I want to see this week is for the Hokies to actually make it to kickoff. They still need to get through test results on Saturday morning before they are cleared to play. If they do make it to kickoff, they will still may be down a couple of starters. And they will be playing a team that has already played a game. Both of those things concern me. This is a good week for the Hokies to go with a safe game plan to pull out a victory. Next week, they should be able to get more of their guys back.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, NC State 24


2020 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Who knew when the final whistle blew at the end 2019 Belk Bowl what we were in for this offseason? This college football season is almost unrecognizable from all previous college football seasons. Dating back all the way to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. I commend the ACC for trying to put college football on the field this season. Even outside of players, coaches and staff, a lot of people depend on college football. The university presidents, commissioners and ADs owe it to those people to least attempt to have a season this year. Even if it looks completely unrecognizable from previous seasons.

The Hokies had an up-and-down season in 2019. Starting 2-2 with losses to Boston College and Duke before going 6-3 with losses to Notre Dame, UVA and Kentucky. And offensively, looking much better down the stretch. The Hokies look to build on that success going into the 2020 season.

Offense

The Hokies return Hendon Hooker under center. With him under center, they averaged 34 points per game. The offense turned the corner when he started taking snaps in the Miami game. With some new playmakers around him along with a more experienced offensive line, this is a offense that could take off this season.

One thing this team has at wide receiver is SPEED. Expect Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson and Raheem Blackshear to get a lot of snaps. The Hokies will continue with jet sweeps and misdirection from the wide receiver spot to keep defenses guessing. Also expect more plays over the top as the Hokies have the speed to exploit teams downfield.

There is experience at the running back position. Joining Keyshawn King will be Khalil Herbert, a graduate transfer from Kansas, and Raheem Blackshear, an honorable mention All-Big Ten player from Rutgers. This will give Justin Fuente more options to get more out of a position than in recent seasons. An effective running game will help open up the passing game. That has been an aspect of the offense that has been lacking in recent years.

This offensive line should be one of the better lines in the ACC. Seriously. This is a deep and talented group. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen smash-mouth football from the Hokies on offense. This looks like a sneaky good group that will be able to line and run the ball on almost anyone they line up against. With the lack of spring ball and limited contact in Fall practices, it may take a couple of games before they get going.

Expect the Hokies to have one of the better offenses in the ACC. The only thing holding this group back is introducing many new additions to the offense. By the end of the year, this group should be humming but in the beginning, it might be a little rocky. It would be surprising if they weren’t averaging 30+ points per game by the end of the season.

Defense

This will be a good defense. They have all the pieces in place for success. A couple of things that give me pause are 1) how does this defense respond to Justin Hamilton running the show? 2) how do they bounce back from not having Caleb Farley shutting down one entire side of the field?

The talent is there and the experience is there but the loss of Caleb Farley and a new defensive coordinator could cause some unexpected issues. This is a defense that returns 9 starters, even with the losses of Caleb Farley and Tyjuan Garbutt, this should still be a stout group.

Defensive end depth is thin. The Hokies will rely on Emmanuel Belmar, Justus Reed, and Jaylen Griffin. Behind them, the group will need to rely on freshmen or transfers for production. If other players don’t step up and produce, this looks like a concerningly thin group. Especially when a positive COVID test could keep a couple of guys off the field on any given week.

Linebackers should be an area of strength for the Hokies. At Backer, the group returns Dax Hollifield and Keshon Artis. At Mike, the Hokies bring back Rayshard Ashby who should be the leader of this defense. He is a tackling machine and one of the most productive defensive players in the ACC. This should be a good group and they have depth to be able to rotate players in and out.

The Hokies have options at cornerback but many are unproven. Jermaine Waller was one of the best corners in the nations last season. The Hokies are hoping guys like Armani Chatman, Brion Murray and Devin Taylor can cover the other side of the field. When Caleb Farley went down in the last two games of the season, it exposed the defense. Let’s hope we don’t get a repeat of that in 2020.

Normally, when you see a Virginia Tech defense bring back this many upperclassmen, you’d expect a top notch Bud Foster group. This year, with a new defensive coordinator and replacing key pieces like Caleb Farley and Tyjuan Garbutt, you don’t know what to expect. The group should be good, but how good? And can they stay healthy and/or COVID-free?

Special Teams

Oscar Bradburn is one of the best in the nation. Period. He should be a candidate for the Ray Guy Award — the best punter in the nation.

The Hokies also return Brian Johnson who went 19-23 on field goals last year. You would expect another solid campaign from him. If there is an area to watch is his accuracy beyond 40 yards where he was only 4 for 8. Inside of 40, he was a perfect 15 for 15.

Tough games (<40% chance to win)

Clemson. It’s no surprise to anyone that Clemson is the class of the ACC. In normal years, the Hokies’ homefield advantage would give Virginia Tech a nice boost. This year, all games are essentially neutral site games. I don’t like the Hokies chances on a neutral site against Clemson. Even if it is the last game of the regular season.

Toss-up games (50% chance to win)

North Carolina. Louisville. Pitt. These are all tough games. Talented and well-coached teams. The Hokies can win any of these games. But these are all games where I see the opponent at least an even match with the Hokies. These are games where the Virginia Tech will need to make a couple of plays down-the-stretch to get the win. These should all be nail-biters.

Should win games (>60% to win)

Virginia. NC State. Duke. Wake Forest. Miami. The modified 10-game ACC schedule is littered with these games. I’d rather see the Hokies play these kind of games rather than cupcake games. These are far from guaranteed wins. The Hokies drop games like these every year — look no further than Boston College and Duke last year. All things being equal, the Hokies should win these games.

Better win games (>70% to win)

Boston College. Liberty. If the Hokies hope to have a good season and finish above .500, these are must-haves. They can’t afford to stub their toe here. If they do, an appearance in a bowl game may be in jeopardy this year.

Key games for the Hokies: at North Carolina, at Louisville, at Pittsburgh

Upset Alert: at Pitt

Game-by-Game Predictions

GamePrediction
NC StateVirginia Tech Athletics - Official Athletics Website
Virginia Virginia Tech Athletics - Official Athletics Website
at DukeVirginia Tech Athletics - Official Athletics Website
at North Carolinahttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d7/North_Carolina_Tar_Heels_logo.svg/300px-North_Carolina_Tar_Heels_logo.svg.png
Boston CollegeVirginia Tech Athletics - Official Athletics Website
at Wake ForestVirginia Tech Athletics - Official Athletics Website
At LouisvilleLouisville Cardinals - Wikipedia
LibertyVirginia Tech Athletics - Official Athletics Website
MiamiVirginia Tech Athletics - Official Athletics Website
at PittsburghPittsburgh Panthers - Wikipedia
ClemsonClemson Tigers - Wikipedia
Game-by-game predictions

Final Regular Season Record: 7-4 (6-4 in the ACC)
Expected finish: Tied for 5th in the ACC

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