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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Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

If the Hokies hope to win the division, they need to win their home games down the stretch. They’re off to a great start in conference after picking up three straight road wins. Now they need to take care of business at home. Next up, they have Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are in last place in the Coastal but this will be a formidable team for the Hokies. Georgia Tech is 2-0 against Justin Fuente’s Hokies.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 51st
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 39th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 67th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 10th

Georgia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 64th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 21st
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 104th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 105th

Georgia Tech is one of the best offensive teams the Hokies will see all year. This team can put up points in a hurry. If the Hokies defense is not disciplined and don’t finish tackles, the Jackets will be off to the races. Just ask Louisville. They gave up 66 points to the Jackets in their own house. Georgia Tech’s most dangerous player is their quarterback TaQuon Marshall. He has rushed for 647 yards and 9 touchdowns this season. He is very good at running Paul Johnson’s spread option attack. He also has 8 fumbles on the season. If the Hokies hope to keep the Jackets out of the end zone, it would help to force a turnover or two.

If the Hokies hope to have success in this game, they will need their offense to outscore Georgia Tech’s offense. The Hokies have had a lot of trouble keeping up with the Jackets offensively in recent years. The Hokies have only been able to put up 20 and 22 points respectively in two games against Georgia Tech under Justin Fuente. This is a game where Georgia Tech is likely to score into the 30s, so the Hokies will need to keep possession and put the ball in the end zone. The Jackets are a bad defensive team but they are good at not giving up the big play. They are the opposite of the Hokies in that regard. This is a game where the Hokies need to get something out of the ground game to make life easier on Ryan Willis. This was a struggle for the Hokies against North Carolina.

If there is an area where the Hokies might find an advantage in this game, it’s on special teams. Georgia Tech is vulnerable in this area. The Hokies need to take advantage of kickoff returns and converting points off field goals. These are areas where the Jackets have struggled this year and where the Hokies have been very strong. The Hokies need to take advantage of special teams play on Thursday night. This game could use a little Beamerball.

The Hokies are 7-0 in weeknight games against Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson is 2-0 against Justin Fuente. Something’s gotta give. On paper, this might look like an easy win for the Hokies. They are in first place in the division. The Jackets are in last place. The Hokies are playing at home on a Thursday night — a time slot where they have thrived in the past. As Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. Georgia Tech’s strength goes right up against Virginia Tech’s weakness. Georgia Tech’s outside running game is going against a secondary who is struggling to make tackles right now. Not to mention a secondary who has had trouble covering one-on-one downfield — for the couple of times that Georgia Tech goes downfield per game. That’s a bad combination. This looks like a nightmare matchup for the 2018 Hokies.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 34, Virginia Tech 24

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction

Notre Dame is coming to Blacksburg! For many older Virginia Tech fans, they never thought they’d see the day that the Fighting Irish would come to play a road game in Blacksburg. This game has a big game feel. Notre Dame is in the top 10 and has earned their ranking. The Hokies are coming off a big conference road win against a top 25 opponent. The stage is set for some fireworks in Lane Stadium on Saturday night.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 35th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 30th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 57th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 2nd

Notre Dame

Overall S&P+ Rank: 9th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 37th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 5th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 53rd

This may be Notre Dame’s most difficult remaining game. After this game, Notre Dame has smooth sailing all the way until their season finale with Southern Cal. You know this game has the Irish’s full attention.

Since Ian Book has come in at quarterback, Notre Dame has been lighting up the scoreboard. He is completing 74.3% of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is the straw that stirs the drink for Notre Dame’s offense and has been the spark plug they needed. Notre Dame has talented running backs and wide receivers. They just needed someone at the QB position to distribute the ball to them. They got that in Ian Book.

Notre Dame has a very good all-around defense. The strength of their defense is the linebacker group but they are solid in all areas. They are one of the top teams in the country at passing efficiency defense. No team has scored more than 27 points against this defense this year. Watch out for Jerry Tillery on Notre Dame’s defensive line. He can cause some havoc in the backfield. This is a game where the Hokies could have trouble moving the ball downfield on offense.

If the Hokies have an area they can take advantage of it’s on special teams. That is an area of the game where Notre Dame might be susceptible and the Hokies may be able to find an advantage. Particularly in the return game. The Hokies will need to bring their Beamerball mentality to this game.

It’s likely that Notre Dame is the best team left on the Hokies schedule. They have talent on both sides of the ball and their offense is humming right now with Ian Book behind center. The Hokies will have their hands full. If the Hokies hope to win this game, they will need limit Notre Dame’s big plays on offense. Let Notre Dame nickle and dime you but don’t give up the big play. On offense, Ryan Willis will need to put in his playmakers in a position to make plays. Just put the ball in your playmaker’s hands. Justin Fuente may have a trick play or two dialed up for this game. While I’m excited about the atmosphere on Saturday night, I feel like we’re catching Notre Dame when everything is clicking and they will be tough to beat.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Virginia Tech 23  

Duke Preview and Prediction

That was a stinker in the 757 last week. Plain and simple. When you show up to a road game with no focus or motivation, that’s what’ll happen to you. It’s surprising that it happened considering Justin Fuente’s constantly preaches the 1-0 mentality. I saw a 0-1 mentality last weekend. Turn the page and move on to the next week.

The Hokies face their biggest test so far this season with Duke. Duke is a surprising 4-0 this season. Maybe we all shouldn’t be too surprised considering Duke has had a solid football program for a number of years. This is a well-coached team that will not beat themselves. They play disciplined football and take care of the ball. The Hokies will have their hands full this week.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 53rd
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 38th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 72nd
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 4th

Duke

Overall S&P+ Rank: 27th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 42nd
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 31st
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 11th

That Hokies defensive rank. Ouch. Not very Bud Foster-y. The Hokies are going to need to step up in a big way to stop Duke’s potent offense. They will likely be going up against Quentin Harris. Which is a good thing because injured starting QB Daniel Jones was completing passes at a 74.4% completion percentage before he got injured. That would be bad consider what we saw from Virginia Tech’s secondary last week. Guys to look out for on Duke’s offense is Quentin Harris rushing from the quarterback position, Brittain Brown at running back and TJ Rahming at wide receiver. The Hokies need to also be aware of Johnathan Lloyd as a deep threat against the Hokies young secondary.

If the Hokies want to be successful against Duke’s defense, they are going to need to get their rushing game going. If there is a vulnerability on Duke’s defense it’s stopping the run. This is a game where the Hokies run game will need to open up the downfield passing game.  The Hokies need to try to establish the run early and often. Something they were not able to do last week against ODU. Ryan Willis will need to use his arm and his legs this week to give Duke’s defense trouble. He also need to take care of the ball. If the Hokies turn the ball over, Duke’s offense will make them pay for it.

After three games watching Virginia Tech, I still have no idea about this team. They’ve played three objectively bad teams. Two good results and one really bad one. What we do know is that this defense has issues. They are young and they are going to make mistakes. How quickly they are able to remedy those errors week-to-week will define how successful this season can be. How this team bounces back against Duke will be telling for how the season will play out. Going by the numbers, Duke looks like the better team even if they do field their backup QB. They are like the Hokies but with a better defense (by the numbers). This is a game that could easily go either way but since there are so many unknowns in this game, you go with what the numbers tell you. Duke by 10.

Prediction: Duke 38, Virginia Tech 28 

Florida State Preview and Prediction

The Hokies have another big opening game on national television. Last year it was West Virginia. The year before it was Tennessee in week 2. The Hokies winning against West Virginia made a big statement. They need to start winning these games more often than not in order to grow the program to new levels. If the Hokies lose, everyone will say “same old Hokies.”

The Hokies focus in this game needs to be on stopping the run and forcing Deondre Francois to beat them with his arm. This was the game plan against Clemson last season but Clemson was still able to run all over the Hokies with big plays. The Hokies need to do a better job this time around. Play assignment football and wrap up their tackles. That’s a lot to ask from a very young defense – particularly from first time starters at linebacker. They can’t have Cam Akers and company run for big plays against them. Florida State has the running backs to create big plays out of mistakes from a young defense.

I expect good things from the offense. The Florida State defense has a lot of talent but I trust Fuente to have some different looks to throw at them. This has the potential to be the best offensive line the Hokies have put out in years. The Hokies have pass catching weapons that they didn’t have a year ago. Virginia Tech needs to be able to move the ball on the ground. That will require a big games from Deshawn McClease, Steven Peoples and Josh Jackson. A solid ground game will open things up through the air and make life easier on Josh Jackson. Florida State is also starting two young and smallish linebackers. Expect Fuente and Cornelsen to try to confuse them with RPOs and misdirection.

Teams that have been able to beat the Hokies in recent years have been able to do so by beating them through the air. The Hokies will need to limit big plays with their young secondary. If the Hokies are giving up big plays, the will have a tough time winning this matchup. The Hokies need to make Florida State drive the field to score. Big plays would be a big problem – like they were against Clemson last year. The Hokies need to prepare their young linebackers for the tempo that Florida State will play at.

The lack of depth on the defensive line is a big concern. The talent is there but there is not a lot of depth. Willie Taggart likes to play with tempo on offense which will takes it toll on a thin defensive line throughout the game. It will be critical for the Hokies to get off the field so they are not gassed by the fourth quarter. If they are on the field too long, that’s when you can expect big plays from FSU’s talented running backs.

This game will be closer than many experts think. Even though Florida State has a great home atmosphere, especially at night, they do have their issues too. I don’t expect the FSU offensive line to be able to handle the Hokies defensive line the way many are expecting which will limit the damage from their running backs. Their offense will have to rely on the passing game which means Deondre Francois will have to put up points with his arm. He will, but probably not as many as a some are expecting. It’ll be a tight, low scoring affair but I still think FSU just has too much talent and firepower at this point and they win it by one score. A big play on special teams could be the difference.

Prediction: Florida State 31, Virginia Tech 24

2018 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Talk about a bad offseason. Terrell Edmunds, Tremaine Edmunds and Tim Settle all declared early for the NFL draft. Adonis Alexander entered the NFL Supplemental Draft after being dismissed from the team. Mook Reynolds was dismissed. Galen Scott was forced to resign. Jeremy Webb tore his achilles tendon. The best news was Josh Jackson’s near miss with an academic issue. Wow. That’s a bad offseason.

But there is hope for 2018. There are a lot of talented young players who will get their opportunity to step up. The schedule isn’t that tough and the Hokies should be in position for another good year if they can get some young guys to step up – particularly on defense.

Offense

Josh Jackson is back 100% healthy after getting banged up in the 2nd half of last season. He’s a smart QB with a good arm and can run the ball when needed. He reminds me a lot of Bryan Randall. He’s never going to draw comparisons to Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson, but he has all the tools to get the job done. He’s good at taking care of the ball and no one knows the playbook like he does. This year he will have more help around him. He can be really good and put up big numbers with the right supporting cast around him.

Virginia Tech will get more production from the running back position. Gone is Travon McMillian but the Hokies have a couple of other guys who are good fits for the offense. I’m most excited about Deshawn McClease. McClease rushed for 265 yards in his last three games with over a 5 yard per carry average in each of those games. And…

That’s some pretty good company. Jalen Holston had his moments in 2017. Steven Peoples can always pick up the tough yards. And you have Coleman Fox who can add some energy and speed when he gets into a game. The guy to watch this season is Deshawn McClease and his progression in this offense.

The wide receivers are young but talented. Damon Hazelton, the sophomore transfer from Ball State, looks like a breakout candidate for the Hokies. Reports are he gave the scout team a lot of trouble last year when he was redshirting. Expect Sean Savoy to build on the big season he had last year. Also keep an eye on Phil Patterson who had the catch of the year in the Spring Game. He could also be a breakout candidate this year. But the guys I will be keeping my eye on are Hazelton and Savoy.

An underrated position group is the tight end group. Dalton Keene looks the part and you can expect to see him have a bigger role in the offense this season. True freshman James Mitchell is already getting rave reviews in practice. And Chris Cunningham will continue to be a dangerous red zone target. This year we will see more production out of this group in the passing game.

The offensive line looks good on paper. They lost Wyatt Teller who brought a lot of toughness to the group but this is a talented and experienced group. It’s also a group of guys playing in their positions of strength. It’s a good mix of experience and young talent for depth. That’s usually a good combination. This position group has 10 guys in the two-deep that are game ready. This should be a good group.

The offense should be better than last season. I think this side of the ball could see a bigger improvement than most are expecting. At Memphis, year 3 under Justin Fuente is when the offense really took off. A healthy Josh Jackson will make a big difference. Fuente has had two years to recruit his players into this offense. The product this year should resemble Fuente’s vision for his offense more than his first two seasons in Blacksburg. They’ll need it with so many young guys on the defense.

Defense

The defense is the area of concern for the Hokies this year. Youth everywhere. This is what you would have to call a rebuilding year. But the Hokies still have Bud Foster. Bud Foster can only cover for so many young players. The beginning of the year might be rough.

The starting defensive line looks really good but it is not a deep group. This is the one area of the defense where there is experience. But there is not much behind the starters. The young guys are going to have to step up to give the starters a breather. The depth is concerning but the Hokies have some young talent that should be able to step up to fill out the two-deep. The Hokies need to avoid injuries from the starters. The guy to watch on the line is Ricky Walker, he has All-ACC and All-American potential. Two breakout guys to keep an eye on are Houshun Gaines and Tyjuan Garbutt.

The linebacker group is young and inexperienced. The linebacker group will have three first year starters this season. But there is an injection of talent in this group. Expect the group to struggle early in the season but they should be pretty solid as the season goes on. I feel good about the talent level here but not the experience level. Names to keep an eye on here are Devon Hunter, Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield.

The secondary is also young and inexperienced. Are you sensing a trend here? I like the talent but there is just not much experience here. This secondary will take it’s lumps early in the season but will build confidence as the season goes on. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of mixing and matching with the group to find the four starters the coaches want to roll with. You can expect Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo to start at the safety positions. The corners will be manned by whoever can win the position battles this August. The breakout candidates in the secondary are Bryce Watts, Caleb Farley and Jovonn Quillen.

The defense will take a step back to start the season. You can’t lose the amount of talent the Hokies lost and hope to improve. I do think this will be a good defense but it will take a couple of games before it gels. This won’t look like a Bud Foster defense in the first half of the year. Too many young players. Good news is that there is a lot of speed and talent, and you’ll see it come together nicely in October and November.

Special Teams

Aside from Oscar Bradburn expect a lot of new faces on special teams. Brian Johnson should take over field goal duties. The Hokies will need to find new kick and punt returners now that Greg Stroman is gone. Bryce Watts and CJ Carroll should get an opportunity on punt returns. Jovonn Quillen is a candidate to return kicks along with Caleb Farley and Cole Beck (if he doesn’t get redshirted).

2018 Outlook

The Hokies biggest obstacle to a division championship is Miami. The good news about this year is that the Hokies get Miami at home and a lot of national experts like the Hokies chances in that matchup.

The Hokies have some big match-ups this years. They open the season with Florida State in Tallahassee. They get Notre Dame at home in week 6. Then they get Miami at home on the second-to-last week of the regular season. Those three games will be important in determining the Hokies’ season.

Watch out for games at Duke, Georgia Tech at home, Boston College at home, and Pittsburgh on the road. Those are games where the Hokies could stumble if they are not careful. The Hokies need to avoid the upset bug in 2018.

Key games for the Hokies: at Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami
Upset Alert: at Duke

Date Opponent Prediction
Mon, Sep 3 @ Florida State* L
Sat, Sep 8 William and Mary W
Sat, Sep 15 East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 29 @ Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 @ Duke L
Sat, Oct 6 Notre Dame* L
Sat, Oct 13 @ North Carolina W
Thu, Oct 25 Georgia Tech W
Sat, Nov 3 Boston College W
Sat, Nov 10 @ Pittsburgh W
Sat, Nov 17 Miami* L
Fri, Nov 23 Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: Unranked
Predicted Bowl Game: Music City Bowl in Nashville

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Camping World Bowl Preview and Prediction

For the second time under Justin Fuente, the Hokies have the opportunity to win their tenth game by winning their bowl game. This year it might be more challenging than last year. Oklahoma State is ranked 19th in the country and is one of the nation’s best offensive teams.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 99th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 38th

Oklahoma State

Overall S&P+ ranking: 11th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 4th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 70th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 76th

This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the bowl season. Two ranked teams. One is an elite offensive team. One is an elite defensive team. It’s always great to see two elite units matched up against each other.

One of the bigger storylines going into this game is the injuries for Virginia Tech. The Hokies limped to the finish at the end of the regular season. Going into the UVA game, VT was missing eight starters and had a banged up quarterback. For the bowl game, the Hokies will be missing Yoshua Nijman, Cam Phillips and Vinny Mihota. Those are significant injuries which will have a significant impact, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

This is the best offensive team the Hokies have faced since West Virginia in Week 1. Virginia Tech will have a difficult time stopping Mason Rudolph and James Washington. They may be the best quarterback-wide receiver combo in the nation. Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson are going to have their hands full in their last collegiate game.

Oklahoma State is far from one-dimensional. Their spread attack opens up the running game and their rushing attack is ranked 38th in the nation. If there is one aspect of their offense that can give the Hokies hope, it’s that Mason Rudolph is not a running quarterback.

With Yoshua Nijman and Cam Phillips out, I’m not super confident in the Hokies offense. The Oklahoma State defense is middle-of-the-road but I’m not expecting the Virginia Tech offense to be able to keep up with the Cowboys offense. The Hokies will have to do it without their left tackle and their best wide receiver. It’ll be up to Josh Jackson and a bunch of young wide receivers. It’ll be tough to keep up with an offense that is sure to put points on the board.

If the Hokies hope to win, they will need to win on defense and special teams. Like they did against West Virginia earlier in the year. But Oklahoma State is significantly better on both sides of the ball than West Virginia. This will be a tough game. I would feel like it would be a pretty even matchup if the Hokies were completely healthy, but they are still a banged up team. They are not as banged up as they were for the UVA game, but they aren’t full strength either. I’m very concerned that this game might get away from the Hokies. I hope the defense and special teams can have a big performance to prove me wrong.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Virginia Tech 17

 

Miami Preview and Prediction

This is a huge game. If the Hokies lose, they are mathematically eliminated from Coastal contention. If the Hokies hope to repeat as Coastal champions, they will need to win this game on the road against undefeated Miami.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 15th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 70th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 4th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 34th

Miami

Overall S&P+ ranking: 14th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 20th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 31st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 54th

As you can see, they are two very evenly matched teams. Both teams have put together impressive resumes against relatively soft schedules. No one would argue these aren’t two very good teams. Both teams are trying to build a resume ahead of the ACC Championship for a chance at the College Football Playoff. They could both be considered dark horses in the CFP race.

I’ve watched Miami’s games this year and they just don’t pass they eye test to me. At least not for an undefeated team nine weeks into the season. You always expect them to play better than they do. What has stood out to me is that they play down to their competition. Which means they can play up to their competition in a big game, and they probably will. So don’t expect the same Miami team that struggled against GT and UNC.

The Hokies offense is going to have trouble moving the ball against Miami’s defense. They aren’t as good as Clemson’s but they are probably better than Duke’s and BC’s. They will be a challenge. The Hokies will be able to put some points on the board as Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen will be able to scheme against an aggressive defense but I would not be surprised if the Hokies’ offense gave up a turnover or two. It will be important for the Hokies to not give the Hurricanes a short field and limit turnovers. Turnovers and special teams will be key in this match up.

The Hokies cannot have big lapses like they did against Clemson. They had a busted coverage which led to a 60 yard touchdown and a mishandled catch which led to a pick 6. That cost the Hokies 14 points in game decided by 14 points.

A key stat favoring the Hokies is that they rank 3rd nationally in third down conversions allowed. Miami ranks 118th in converting 3rd downs. That could be an issue for Miami but they do excel at finding big plays on offense. The Hokies need to focus on limiting Miami’s big play ability and force them to convert 3rd downs to move the ball down the field.

Bud Foster’s goal needs to be to make Miami one dimensional by stopping their running game. UNC was able to limit Miami to 1.8 YPC last week. If the Hokies can force Malik Rosier to throw the ball, that works in Virginia Tech’s favor and should limit Miami’s big play ability.

Miami is better than they have shown the last two weeks. It’s strange to see an undefeated team as a home underdog (probably has more to do with Vegas folks being high on VT recently but I digress). Virginia Tech’s average game performance is better than Miami’s average game performance. That doesn’t mean that Miami can’t put together a special performance on a big stage. We’ve seen that from them before. But all things being equal, I like the Hokies’ defense limiting Miami’s offense and Tech’s offense’s ability to find big plays. Special teams will be key in this game. Field position battles will matter in a close game. Expect a low scoring affair. This game will be classic Virginia Tech-Miami. Lots of big hits. Lots of emotion on both sides. It’ll be a fun one on ABC prime time. We will need Joey Slye to come up big in this game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Miami 24

 

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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Belk Bowl Preview and Prediction

The Hokies had a strong showing in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson. They took the Tigers to the final possession. You can tell that the Hokies are close to taking the next step. They may just be a year or two away. Closing strong in recruiting would go a long way towards getting this program to the next level.

The Belk Bowl. It is not a warm weather bowl but a good bowl nonetheless. If the ACCCG had been in Charlotte, I think the Hokies would have gone to Orlando instead. Either way, the Hokies benefit considering Charlotte is only 175 miles from Blacksburg. And within a 6-hour drive for most Hokies. You should see a big contingent of orange and maroon in Charlotte.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 50th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 20th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 44th

Arkansas

Overall S&P+ ranking: 53rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 40th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 76th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 47th

Arkansas reminds me a lot of Pitt. They have a bend but don’t break defense and strong running game. Their offense line is huge! This looks like the type of team that can run it at will on you. Like to the tune of 5 yards per carry. If they get in a groove early, they may be difficult to stop. Particularly with a new starter at defense end (Trevon Hill).

The Arkansas run game also sets up the play action pass down the field. Arkansas leads the SEC in pass yards per play. The run game can lull you to sleep while they go over the top. This is traditionally a scheme that has given the Hokies trouble over the years (see Pitt, GT).

Lucky for the Hokies, Arkansas does not have a running threat from the quarterback. The Hokies will need to focus on stopping the run to make the Razorback offense one dimensional.

On offense, the Hokies should be able to move the ball against the Arkansas defense. The Hokies spread rush attack combined with quarterback runs should have success. The Razorbacks are a little better at stopping the passing game but struggle on defense. It is critical that the Hokies take a lead early. They cannot play from behind in this game. If they do, the Arkansas running game can bludgeon them for long drives.

This is a tough game to pick. On paper, the Hokies are the better team. Offenses are pretty even. Hokies have a sizeable advantage on the defensive side of the ball. I’m concerned about motivation though. Hokies had a good season and played well in the ACC Championship Game. They are feeling good about themselves. Arkansas took a bad loss to Missouri in their last game and they are the underdogs in this game. They may have the advantage in the intangibles. They have more to play for than the Hokies do.

The Hokies are 1-6 in their last seven games against the SEC. They need to start winning games vs the big boys. This game is important for perception and for getting the Hokies back to winning 10 games a season. I think Justin Fuente will have this team prepared and ready to go. If they start the game well, I think they will be in good shape. But if they get down early, watch out. It could be a long day. I think this game will be like the Pitt game earlier in the year and the Hokies are able to pull it out in the end.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 37, Arkansas 30