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Midseason Awards and Outlook

Offensive MVP: Josh Jackson

Josh Jackson is the engine that makes the offense go. He has 1,700 passing yards, 13 TDs and 4 INTs. He’s on pace for 3,400 yards and 26 TDs.  Those numbers look similar to Jerod Evans’ record setting numbers midway thru last season. If he stays on that pace, it would set him up nicely for a possible ACC Rookie of the Year award and All-ACC selection. Very impressive for a freshman quarterback.

Honorable mention: Cam Phillips

Defensive MVP: Tremaine Edmunds

Tremaine Edmunds is leading the Hokies in tackles with 50. He’s one of the few players on the Hokies defense that the offense needs to be aware of on every snap. He goes sideline to sideline better than any linebacker the Hokies have had since Adibi and Hall. He also has 4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Hard to argue anyone has been a bigger difference maker on defense than Tremaine Edmunds.

Honorable mention: Mook Reynolds

Special Teams MVP: Oscar Bradburn

As much as I want to give this to Greg Stroman, it has to be Oscar Bradburn. There are plenty of teams across the country with punters who shank punts or can’t get good punts off consistently. Our twenty-year old freshman from Australia might be the best freshman punter in the country. He’s averaging 43.8 yards per punt, nine punts were downed inside the 20 and eight punts have been greater than 50 yards. He played a big role in winning the field position battle against West Virginia. You normally don’t get that kind of production out of your punter, much less a freshman punter. Good on ya, mate!

Honorable mention: Greg Stroman

2nd Half Outlook

The first half of the season has gone according to plan. Hokies won against West Virginia in a big opening game. They took care of business against the rest of their over-matched opponents. And, as expected, took a loss to the defending national champs. So far, they are meeting expectations. What will take this season from good to great are wins against Georgia Tech and Miami. They also need to avoid the upset bug the rest of the way.

Things are setup well for the rest of the season, even if the Hokies lose to Miami and Georgia Tech they would still equal last season’s 9-3 mark. If they win one or both of those games they could finish at 10-2 or even 11-1. The key will be winning both of those games if the Hokies hope to make it back to the ACCCG. Even if they beat Miami and lose to Georgia Tech, the Canes could still win their remaining games and make the ACCCG with one loss to the Hokies. Looks like it’s going to be a tougher-than-usual year in the Coastal. Barring major injuries or a collapse, the Hokies are set up well for a good season (9-3 or better) and a trip to a quality bowl game. Hopefully, they can do what it takes to get a rematch with the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship Game.

´╗┐Clemson Preview and Prediction

The Terror Dome is back!┬áHere we are. Hokies took care of business over the last four weeks and now they get an undefeated showdown against Clemson. Don’t kid yourself. Clemson is not overrated. They deserve to be ranked in the top two in the country. While the offense is still trying to get to the same level as last year’s, the defense might be even better than last year’s group. This team is for real and will pose a huge challenge for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 20th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 58th

Clemson

Overall S&P+ ranking: 6th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 25th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 3rd
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 108th

I’ve tried to think of a bigger home game than this one and you have to go all the way back to Boston College in 2007 to come up with anything as close to this one. Yes, the Hokies played the reigning national champs in 2015 but they weren’t ready to take Ohio State’s best punch. This time, the Hokies have a real chance to compete and win.

Let’s talk about the Terror Dome for a second. I can think of a few high-profile night games against top 5 teams since 2000 and this is how they have gone:

Miami 2003 31-7 Hokies
Miami 2005 27-7 ‘Canes
BC 2007 14-10 Eagles

The crowd was jacked up for each game but with very different results. For Miami 2003, the team fed off the crowd and Miami didn’t have a chance. The game snowballed on a super-talented ‘Canes team and the Hokies rolled to victory. That was a special night.

In the 2005 Miami game, the atmosphere was just as good or better than the 2003 game but it didn’t produce a winning result on the field. Whereas the 2003 team used the energy and momentum to ride to victory, the 2005 Hokies shrank when things started to go south. The crowd had almost no impact on the game. The ‘Canes controlled it from start to finish.

And in the 2007 BC game, the Hokies defense rode the electric crowd to an incredible defensive performance… until the last drive. All you can say about big games at Lane Stadium is that you never know what to expect or if the Hokies can use the crowd energy to their benefit. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Most important is that the Hokies get off to a good start.

Now on to the game itself. The Hokies can have success against the Clemson offense if they can stack the box and force Kelly Bryant to beat them with his arm. They also can’t let Kelly Bryant beat them with his legs. Containing Bryant on the ground will be key.

The Clemson defensive line is the best the Hokies will play all year. The starting line features four players who will likely be selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft in the coming years. They will pose a huge challenge for the Hokies to block. Look for the Hokies offense to use misdirection, screens and read option to keep them off Josh Jackson. Don’t expect a huge game from the running back position. Yards will be hard to come by against this defensive line.

If there is an area that may be a weakness for Clemson, it’s in the secondary. They are a banged up group. Cam Phillips and the other receivers may be able to find some space. If opportunities present themselves, it’s important for Josh Jackson to make them pay by connecting on his intermediate and deep passes. The Hokies need to get big chunk plays when they can find them.

More than most games, the Hokies must win the turnover, special teams and hidden yardage battle. If the Hokies play Clemson even in these areas, Clemson will likely win. Virginia Tech needs to exploit any advantages they have over Clemson because all things being equal, Clemson has more talent. That means winning in the kicking game and forcing turnovers. If the Hokies can win there, they can win this game.

This is a no-lose situation for the Hokies. Win and it’s an incredible accomplishment over a top team. Lose and it’s expected. That means the Hokies are playing with house money. The Hokies need to play loose and easy because they don’t have anything to lose. Win or lose, what’s most important is for the Hokies to look like they belong. Just like they did in the ACC Championship Game. That will go nearly as far as winning the game itself. Whether the Hokies win or not, we know that Justin Fuente is building something special whether we see the results on Saturday night or in the future. But winning this game on national TV in front of a ton of highly-ranked recruits would be a huge springboard for the program.

The Hokies have what it takes to win. They can play with Clemson but picking this game objectively, I have to go with Clemson. They just have too much firepower across the board. But it will be a good game and the Hokies should be able to keep it competitive all the way until the end. This game has all the ingredients of a classic. So sit back, relax and enjoy watching the Hokies in the national game of the week. And who knows? Maybe we’ll see some Terror Dome magic.

Prediction: Clemson 27, Virginia Tech 21

2017 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Justin Fuente had a great debut going 10-4 in his first season. This included wins over Coastal division rivals Miami, Pitt and UNC. He also brought back order to the ECU series with a resounding victory. Then he took the Hokies back to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2011. There they took the eventual National Champions to the final possession. Pretty good first season all things considered.

For all that Fuente did well in 2016, it will be challenging to repeat or exceed the same level of success in 2017. The Hokies will have a new quarterback and have to replace three of their top four receiving targets from 2016.  This will be a season where the Hokies will have to lean on the defensive side of the ball to have success. We’ve seen this story before.

Offense

Joshua Jackson should be a solid QB for the Hokies. He was close to playing himself into the starting job as a true freshman last year. Justin Fuente likes him because he makes good decisions. He is the type of quarterback who will make the correct read on each play and not turn the ball over. That is very important to Fuente’s offense. Joshua Jackson is the type of quarterback that Fuente has liked in the past. If he had the same supporting cast as Jerod Evans had, I could see him putting up similar numbers. Unfortunately, Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges and Sam Rogers are no longer around.

Healthy bodies at the running back position will also help Joshua Jackson. Last season, the Hokies had to rely on Travon McMillian, Sam Rogers and Steven Peoples. The other running backs on the roster were nursing injuries or off-the-field issues. This year McMillian returns along with Deshawn McClease, Peoples and newcomer Jalen Holston. It’s good to have healthy and capable options to choose from in the running game. You should see rushing yards from scrimmage improve from that position group. A lot of that will come from read-option plays like we saw last year.

Look for Cam Phillips to have a huge year as the Hokies’ primary pass catcher. I’m expecting him to be first or second team All-ACC this year. He should see around the same amount of targets as Isaiah Ford did last year. Phillip Patterson and Eric Kumah should fill that 2nd receiver role on the outside. They lack experience but will get better as the year goes on. There are a variety of options in the slot like CJ Carroll, Henri Murphy, Hezekiah Grimsley and Sean Savoy. This inexperienced group will need to step up for the Hokies to have an effective offense.

Defense

On defense, the Hokies should be stout. This is a defense that could be better than last year’s group which finished 18th in total defense. The Hokies have a talented secondary. They also boast one of the most experienced group of linebackers in the country. The biggest question mark is on the defensive line where there is not much experience or depth. The Hokies will need some young players step up.

The defensive line returns four players with starting experience. The starting line features Vinny Mihota, Trevon Hill, Tim Settle and Ricky Walker. While all have enough talent to be front line starters, the depth behind them is full of unknowns. The good news is that the Hokies have a lot young players to choose from. In previous seasons, the Hokies have been able to work with lineups like this. A mix of experienced starters and inexperienced backups. They need to make sure to avoid the injury bug. That would cause major issues for this position group.

For the first time in a long time, the Hokies linebackers are a major strength. They are one of the most talented and experienced groups in the ACC. Andrew Motuapuaka was third team All-ACC and a statistical leader in the conference. Tremaine Edmunds was second team All-ACC and could choose to leave early for the NFL at season’s end. That leaves Mook Reynolds, who was one of the best hybrid linebackers in the conference in 2016. And came on strong at the end of last season. This is an elite group and one of the best in the ACC.

No surprise the secondary is full of talent. This is DBU after all. The corner position will cycle between Brandon Facyson, Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander. Terrell Edmunds and Reggie Floyd will split duties at the safety positions. Add in all-everything true freshman Devon Hunter who can step in and provide support. This is a talented unit.

Special Teams

Special teams went back to being special under James Shibest. #Shibestball became a thing in 2016. I look forward to more special teams plays like the fake punt he drew up against Clemson last season. Joey Slye is back to boom the ball on kickoffs and be very accurate inside 50 yards on field goals. He has one last chance to prove he can make those 50 yarders. New Aussie punter Oscar Bradburn has a canon for a leg but he will need to adjust to American football. I wouldn’t expect a huge drop-off in the punting game. I think the Hokies should be able to win the field position battle in most games. I would also expect big things from Greg Stroman in the return game. He already has 2 career punt return touchdowns. It would be surprising if he didn’t add to that this year.

2017 Outlook

The good news for the Hokies is that the Coastal division is full of teams with question marks. Only UVA and Duke return their quarterbacks from last year. The team that is able to re-load the best on offense is the team that will win the division.

One of the Hokies biggest challenges this year, is to win all the games they should win. Last year, the Hokies should have beaten Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. At the end of the season, the Hokies were statistically better than those three teams but they stumbled when they played them. The Hokies will look for more consistency this season. But it will be difficult with so many new faces on offense.

* Key games for the Hokies: Clemson, at Miami, at Georgia Tech

Date Opponent Prediction
Sun, Sep 3 West Virginia W
Sat, Sep 9 Delaware W
Sat, Sep 16 @ East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 23 Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 Clemson* L
Sat, Oct 7 @ Boston College W
Sat, Oct 21 UNC W
Sat, Oct 28 Duke W
Sat, Nov 4 @ Miami FL* L
Sat, Nov 11 @ Georgia Tech* L
Sat, Nov 18 Pittsburgh W
Fri, Nov 24 @ Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 9-3 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: 19th
Predicted Bowl Game: TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, FL

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Liberty Preview and Prediction

Justin Fuente’s first game as head coach at Virginia Tech. Will his team be ready? How will he shuffle his personnel? Will he choose to go with simple packages to not show anything before Tennessee? Or will he go pedal to metal in order for his offense to a find groove? As far games against FCS go, this one should be pretty interesting.

What do we want to see from Virginia Tech? I’d like to see us get the ball into the hands of our playmakers. I want to see a lot of handoffs from Jerod Evans to Travon McMillian and Sam Rogers. I want to see short passes to Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges. Get the ball to your playmakers and let them make plays. Oh, and no turnovers please. PLEASE.

On defense, I don’t want to see the Hokies make any major snafus. No busted coverages. No wide open running lanes. Assignment football. This defense should be able to handle Liberty’s offense even without Adonis Alexander. It’s all about covering their assignments. If they do that, I can’t see Liberty score more than seven. Although, I have my doubts that we will see perfect assignment football from our defense.

Things to lookout for from Liberty:

Stephon Masha (QB, 6’1″, 205 lbs, Jr.) – Uh oh. Running quarterback. Call me when we figure that one out.

Strong passing game – Liberty ranked 29th last season in passing offense last year.

Trick plays – Turner Gill pulls out a trick or two every now and then. Look out for that.

I don’t think that Liberty has the horses to pull off this upset. The Hokies didn’t play a top 10 opponent this past Monday, right? Justin Fuente is the type of coach that always looks for opportunities. This Saturday is opportunity is to show off his team. He seems like the type of coach that is not shy about putting points on the board, regardless of the opponent. This is a game that the Hokies should win without too much trouble. Show up. Play assignment football. Walk away with a comfortable win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 42, Liberty 17