Tag Archives: justin fuente

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

TaxSlayer_Bowl_Logo_2014-Closed-PNG

Advertisements

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

ACC Championship Game Preview and Prediction

Hokies took care of business in a big way against UVA. There were some who had serious discussions last year about which school had the better hire. I think the early returns are pretty lopsided. At this point it seems like both programs are going in very different directions.

The Hokies are back to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2011. That’s a big deal in Justin Fuente’s first season as head coach. The Hokies are “ahead of schedule” as the experts like to say. I expected a 6-6 season this year because it’s difficult to go through a coaching change. I guess when it’s as smooth as Virginia Tech’s was, it’s not so difficult after all.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 27th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 58th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 16th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 50th

Clemson

Overall S&P+ ranking: 4th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 77th

Clemson is a beast. They deserve their #3 College Football Playoff ranking. This team is loaded on both sides of the ball. They don’t have many weaknesses. The Hokies are good but the Tigers are great. It’ll take the Hokies A+ game to knock off the Tigers.

Clemson has NFL talent all over the field. Everyone on the offensive side of the ball stands a good chance of being drafted in the next couple of years. Same with the defense except for maybe one or two players. Remember a lot of the names from the Clemson roster, because you’ll be hearing those names in the NFL in the coming years.

Are you tired of me fawning over Clemson yet? Me too. Where are Clemson’s weaknesses? Their turnover margin is not particularly good. When Deshaun Watson does throw the ball, he’s been known to throw interceptions. He has 14 on the year. Bud Foster is a master at forcing quarterbacks into mistakes. If the Hokies can make the Tigers one-dimensional by slowing down the run, they may be able to force some mistakes. Remember that Deshaun Watson is a dual-threat quarterback. He could give the Hokies a lot of trouble on the ground, if they call designed runs for him. In a championship game, I’d expect Clemson to take more chances with Watson on the ground.

Clemson’s special teams are only so-so. The Hokies would be wise to make some plays on special teams in this game. Either in the return game or on a blocked kick. This is an area that the Hokies can look to exploit and possibly change the trajectory of the game.

The reality here is that Clemson is just a better team. Maybe after a few good years under Fuente and some good recruiting classes, the Hokies can be on that level. But they just aren’t right now. There is a big-time talent and depth advantage for Clemson. Can the Hokies win? Sure. Pitt beat Clemson this year. But it’ll take a great effort from the Hokies and some fortunate plays/bounces/calls. I think this game will be like the 2011 ACC Championship game. Close in the first half but Clemson runs away with it in the 2nd half.

Prediction: Clemson 34, Virginia Tech 20

Virginia Preview and Prediction

The Hokies pulled out an epic comeback against Notre Dame. The biggest one since NC State in 2010. The second half was the best half of football this team has had since the first half of the Duke game. All season I’ve been waiting to see the team that had three excellent games against BC, ECU and UNC. There have been glimpses and spurts but it hasn’t been consistent. Putting together a complete game against UVA would be huge for this team.

UVA has only won two games this season. They beat Central Michigan at home and beat Duke on the road. They’ve been able to keep games reasonably close but haven’t been able to close the deal. This looks like a team that has been improving throughout the year but may not have all the pieces in place yet.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 27th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 58th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 19th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 41st

Virginia

Overall S&P+ ranking: 92nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 86th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 86th

At quarterback, Virginia will be playing either Matt Johns or Kurt Benkert or both. Matt Johns has the higher completion rate but also has the higher interception ratio. Kurt Benkert has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio but he has the lower completion rate. Neither quarterback is much of a threat to run (thank goodness!). Both have had their moments this year but have been inconsistent overall. UVA is best in the passing game so they will need a big game from whoever is playing quarterback for them.

Running back Taquan Mizzell is a big weapon that the Hokies must account for. Particularly in the passing game. He is a threat to make plays out of the backfield. He has over 400 receiving yards this season in addition to over 800 yards rushing. UVA runs a lot of their offense through Mizzell. The Hokies need to keep an eye on him whether UVA is running or passing.

UVA has not been consistent on defense but they have three big-time players. The Hokies need to account for Micah Kiser (MLB), Quin Blanding (FS) and Andrew Brown (DE). These are UVA’s playmakers and have the ability to change a game. The Hokies will have to be able to win the one-on-one battles with them to have success on Saturday.

This is a huge game because it will likely decide whether the Hokies go to the ACC Championship Game. That would be a big step forward in Justin Fuente’s first season as head coach. UVA would like nothing more than to spoil those plans. They would also like to put an end to the Hokies’ 12 game winning streak in the series. Rivalry games are never easy. Throw the records out the window. Both teams want to win this game bad. The Hokies just have more talent and motivation this time around.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Virginia 20

Duke Preview and Prediction

The Hokies were finally able to break the curse of Heinz Field. It took a gritty effort and for the first time in a long time, the offense had to pick up Bud Foster’s defense. That is not something that happened often in the Beamer era. In big games on the road, only one thing matters and that’s winning. The Hokies found a way to win at Heinz Field and now are in the driver’s seat for the Coastal division.

The word of the week is focus. Top 25 teams get upset every week by unranked opponents. There are no easy wins in the Power 5. Teams need to show up focused. It’s not easy to come off a big win on the road then come ready to play the next week. Earlier this season, the Hokies notched a huge win against UNC then put up a dud against Syracuse the next week. Let’s hope the Hokies learned from that experience.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 13th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 41st
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 19th

Duke

Overall S&P+ ranking: 72nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 88th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 108th

On paper, the Hokies have a significant advantage in this matchup. Duke is without their starting QB, Thomas Sirk, he was lost for the season in August. They are also without their top running back, Jela Duncan. This is a team that should struggle to move the ball against the Hokies’ defense. They also have a quarterback who has thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. This seems like an offense that Bud Foster’s group should be able to slow down.

Duke can give teams trouble when they are on defense. They are good at limiting teams thru the air but have been prone to give up the big play from time to time. The Hokies are going to have to try to stretch the Duke defense by going deep to one of their three deep threats. Like they did against Pitt. The Duke defense is also good at limiting teams in the red zone, which the Hokies struggled with last week. They will have to be better this week.

Duke is a team to worry about because David Cutcliffe teams do not beat themselves. Every FBS game that Duke has played this year was decided a margin of 14 points or less. Duke does not get blown out. They don’t commit many penalties and play solid defense. They are not the type of team you can expect to walk over.

If there are two areas the Hokies can look to turn the game, it’s turnovers and special teams. This may be a game where the Hokies can show off a little new-look Beamerball. Daniel Jones has thrown 9 interceptions this year. Duke is ranked 125th in the nation with 12 lost fumbles. And they have not been particularly strong on special teams (see S&P+ ranking above).  They particularly struggle on punt coverage and converting field goals. Keep an eye out for turnovers and special teams in this game.

This game will not be a cakewalk. Duke is a legit team and can absolutely upset the Hokies. The same way Syracuse did. If the Hokies show up focused like the did against Miami and Pitt, they should be fine and roll to a comfortable win. If they start slow or sleepwalk like they did against Syracuse, they could be in trouble. I do think there will be a bit of an emotional letdown after the Pitt game. I still think the Hokies win and pull away in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 17

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

The Hokies are ranked! Finally. It’s been a long time since Virginia Tech has been in the top 25. Since September 2014 to be exact. After they beat Ohio State. Since then it’s been a lot of .500 football. They’re back in the top 25 and this time it feels like they’ll stay there for a while.

On to North Carolina. This looks like an even matchup on paper. North Carolina has an elite offense. Virginia Tech has an elite defense. North Carolina’s offense has talent but is inconsistent. You can say the same for the Virginia Tech offense. The advanced stats tell the story.

Virginia Tech

S&P+ Rankings: 14th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 73rd
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 7th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 32nd

North Carolina:

S&P+ Rankings: 27th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 7th
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 101st
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 20th

This game will come down to special teams plays and turnovers. The team that can make plays on special teams and win the turnover battle will win the game.

If you’re looking for matchups, watch Mitch Trubisky and VT’s secondary. He hasn’t faced a secondary this good all year. The highest ranked secondary he’s faced all year is Georgia. And they rank 92nd in passing efficiency defense. That’s a big jump in competition.

This is going to be a close game. Both teams are very good and deserve their top 25 ranking. Is Virginia Tech’s secondary good enough to slow down UNC’s high powered passing attack? Can Virginia Tech score consistently against a talented but inconsistent defense? Will the Hokies be able to keep Ryan Switzer in check?

North Carolina played very well against Pitt and FSU and pulled out gutsy wins against both. Then you have the Hokies coming off a bye week. There is the whole rest vs rust argument. History tells us Justin Fuente’s teams are good coming off a bye. Let’s hope that’s enough to pull out a tough fought win against the Tar Heels.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, North Carolina 30

Battle at Bristol Preview and Prediction

College football’s biggest game ever! When fans look up the most attended college football game of all time this will be at the top of the list and by a wide margin. My guess is that it will stay there for a while. I haven’t heard of any other race tracks hosting any college football games anytime soon. Or any other venues anywhere near as big for that matter.

This game is a novelty with the added bonus of a compelling match up. Tennessee wants to show that they are deserving of their preseason top 10 ranking. The Hokies want to show that they’re back under new coach Justin Fuente. For one team this game will be a springboard for the rest of their season.

I would throw out the results from week 1 for both teams. It was clear that both teams made an effort not to show much in their first game. I don’t think either team’s first game was any sign of what we’re going to see in this game. On Saturday you’ll see two teams who will come focused and prepared to play. Neither coach will hold anything back. You’ll see both teams’ full arsenal on display.

This matchup is not as lopsided as most would have you believe. Tennessee has a slight talent advantage and the more experienced quarterback. On a big stage like this that could make a huge difference. But week 1 did show us that first year starters can win big games (Florida State, Texas and Alabama). The experience factor does matter though. Those lights are going to be awfully bright on Saturday.

Tennessee has a talented and experienced defense. They have a disruptive defensive line that has racked up a lot of sacks. Their linebackers are tackling machines and do not allow many yards on the ground. If the Hokies are going to have success on Saturday, it will likely come through the air. They will need to target the defensive secondary and throw away from Cameron Sutton.

Virginia Tech’s defense matches up well against the Tennessee offense. The one area of concern is that Joshua Dobbs is a mobile quarterback. Bud Foster will load up to stop the run and make Dobbs beat the Hokies through the air. The stats suggest that Dobbs struggles at times as a passer, particularly with the deep ball. If the Hokies use this strategy, expect it to be successful to limiting the Vols offense. This also requires keeping talented running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara in check.

One area of concern in this game is special teams. Tennessee has a talent and depth advantage. That can cause some concerns on kick and punt returns. Joey Slye will need to boot every kick through the end zone to keep the Vols from returning kicks. The punting game will also be important for field position. Mitchell Ludwig will need to perform better than he did against Liberty. The Hokies also need to make sure that Evan Berry doesn’t break a big return in the punt game.

This will be a close game. Both teams are well matched. Tennessee has a slight talent advantage but not enough to say this will be easy sledding for them. Bud Foster will come up with an excellent scheme to keep Tennessee’s offense in check. The Hokies will struggle when they have the ball. Tennessee has an excellent defense and talent all over the field. Watch out early on, there is the potential for big shifts in the first five minutes of the game. Both teams will have some early jitters because of the big game environment and crowd noise. Also, look out for big special teams plays to impact the outcome. Plays like big kick/punt returns and missed fields goals. I like the Hokies chances but I think Tennessee’s talent and experience win out.

Prediction: Tennessee 30, Virginia Tech 17