It’s a new day. The Justin Fuente era. Virginia Tech found an elite offensive mind to pair with Bud Foster. On paper it looks like a match made in heaven but what will it look like when the pads go on?
The hire was well received by the college football world. Most said it was one off the best hires of the offseason, if not the best.
But what does Fuente inherit? Is the cupboard full? Half-full? Empty? Does he have what he needs to win in year 1? Let’s take a look EA Sports NCAA Football-style.
The Hokies are 4-3 overall, 1-2 in the Coastal. They are staring 4-4 and the battle for bowl eligibility square in the face. They have more injuries than you’d care to count. Their freshman mike linebacker will be making his starting debut on Thursday night. They are missing their top 2 running backs. The offensive line can’t stop committing pre-snap penalties. They have four freshmen starting on offense. The quarterback has thrown as many interceptions as he has touchdowns. But you know what? It’s Thursday night. It’s Blacksburg. The Hokies backs are against the wall. This is when this team does their best work.
If Bud Foster can’t scheme around having to start freshman Andrew Motuapuaka at mike linebacker, then Duke Johnson has the potential to have a huge day. The Hokies defense has to bottle him up like they did James Conner much of last Thursday night but they need to avoid all the missed tackles. They need better play out of Kyshoen Jarrett who had a rough night against Pittsburgh. The Hokies will need his help stopping Duke Johnson in the run game and Phillip Dorsett in pass game.
Brad Kaaya is off to a good start in his career at Miami. However, he has not been particular impressive on the road except for a good performance at Nebraska (where he also threw two picks). This is a game where if the Hokies defense can bottle up Duke Johnson then they put a true freshman quarterback against a Bud Foster defense. That’s a match-up that Bud Foster wins almost every time.
Overall, the Miami defense has been better than in recent year. They rank 22nd in total defense. Their achilles heel appears to be stopping the run. There is a little more hope for the Hokies this week with Marshawn Williams coming back from injury and Wyatt Teller and David Wang starting on the offensive line. The running game was much better in the second half of last week’s game with those two in the lineup. Not to say that the Hokies will be able to run the ball effectively this week, but the chances are certainly better than they were last week.
Another key to this game will be the Hokies ability to convert on third down. Miami’s third down defense is only ranked 79th in the country where they are only stopping opposing teams 39.7% of the time. The running game needs to try to keep the Hokies out of third and long. But if they do get behind the chains, Michael Brewer needs to make good decisions and accurate throws to get first downs against this Miami defense. This is something he has been able to do fairly well throughout the course of the season.
This game will ultimately be decided by penalties and turnovers. Both of these teams have issues with both. The team who can take care of the ball and not beat themselves is going to win this game. Here’s hoping the Hokies can put the issues that they had with penalties last week behind them.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, it’s Thursday night. It’s Blacksburg. It’s the Miami Hurricanes. If you can’t get excited about this one, you might want to take a second look at your fandom. This is the type of game where the Hokies always play their best. The players always get fired up for Enter Sandman, the fireworks and playing under the lights on national TV (and possibly #AllMaroonEverything?). We know this team can be really good but we also know this team can be pretty bad and the injuries are starting to mount. Let’s hope it’s a vintage Thursday night performance in Blacksburg and the Hokies can get themselves back in the Coastal race.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Miami 13
Let’s examine the Hokies last three visits to Pittsburgh:
2012: #13 Virginia Tech 17, Pittsburgh 35
2003: #5 Virginia Tech 28, #25 Pittsburgh 31
2001: #12 Virginia Tech 7, Pittsburgh 38
That’s three times that a highly ranked Virginia Tech team has waltzed into Heinz Field and left with a lost. If the Hokies want to avoid it happening for a fourth consecutive time, they need to come prepared to play.
Virginia Tech’s front seven is small and fast. This works well against a lot of teams but Pitt has a very big offensive line and 6’2″, 250 pound running back. I don’t like how that matchup looks on paper especially with Luther Maddy out for the game.
You might say, is Chad Voytik going to beat us? Well, I didn’t think Tino Sunseri, Rod Rutherford and David Priestly would beat us either. His numbers this year aren’t terrible – 58.7%, 8 TDs, 5 INTs. If the Hokies want to take advantage of the matchup of the Hokies secondary vs Voytik – they need to jump out to an early lead and make him have to throw more than the Pitt coaches might feel comfortable with. That’s the formula for beating this Pitt team.
Statistically, the Pitt defense is very good. They rank 4th in total defense, 37th in rushing defense and 6th in passing defense. The Hokies haven’t been able to run on anyone this season, so don’t expect that to start this week with their top 3 running backs out for the game. That also means that once again, the success of the offense will reside squarely on Michael Brewer’s shoulders. If he takes care of the ball, more than likely the Hokies will win. If he reverts back to bad Michael Brewer, it will be difficult for the Hokies to win. It’s really as simple as that. Let’s hope we see more of the Ohio State/UNC Michael Brewer than the ECU/GT Michael Brewer.
On paper this matchup looks pretty even all things considered. But given the Hokies bad mojo at Heinz Field, it’s hard to pick them. This game is going to look a lot like the UNC game – lots of penalties and just plain ugly football. I’m just not feeling good about the Hokies chances of going into Heinz Field in an even matchup and stealing a win. It didn’t work for those highly-ranked VT squads and I don’t think it’s going to work for the 2014 Hokies either.
Pittsburgh 27, Virginia Tech 24
Two questions going into this game: How bad is UNC’s defense and how bad is VT’s offense? The real answer is that no one really knows. What is clear is that both groups can do better than they have been. Which team is going to step up and get themselves back into the Coastal division race? Since both teams are facing an 0-2 hole in conference play, I think it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out affair.
The Hokies should be able to run and pass effectively in this game. UNC’s defensive stats are not particularly impressive. In this game, it is important that they do not get away from the run game. They need to help Michael Brewer by taking some of the pressure off of him by running Marshawn Williams and Trey Edmunds. The more Brewer is forced to throw, the more nervous I get about the outcome. The Hokies need him to be more game-manager than gunslinger.
On defense, THE HOKIES HAVE TO LIMIT THE BIG PLAYS! How many times do we have to say that this year? Statistically, this defense looks pretty good even with all the big plays they’ve given up, which means they’ve been dominant when they aren’t giving up plays of 20+ yards. Carolina has plenty of talented receivers that can make the Hokies pay down field. They cannot afford another East Carolina-like performance. Chuck Clark and Donovan Riley are going to have bring their A-game to this one.
This is a strange game to predict. Neither team has been particularly consistent on either side of the ball. Given that the loser of this game will be in trouble as far as the Coastal division is concerned, I expect both teams to bring their best effort. I think it’s going to be a close one. There are definitely reasons to feel hopeful but I just don’t see the Hokies pulling this one out on the road.
Prediction: North Carolina 31, Virginia Tech 28
Before I dive into Western Michigan, I’d like to start by talking about how Virginia Tech losses come in twos. I remember thinking right after the ECU game, uh oh, I hope this loss doesn’t get us twice. Let me delve into the recent history of Virginia Tech’s losses coming in twos over past few years and how the Hokies bounced back from those games.
Duke 13-10 L
Boston College 34-27 L
Next Game: Miami 24-42 W
Cincinnati 27-24 L
North Carolina 48-34 L
Next Game: Duke 20-41 W
Boise State 33-30 L
James Madison 21-16 L
Next Game: ECU 27-49 W
I could go on, but I really don’t want to relive the painful memories of other two game losing streaks (2009, 2008 & 2006). Either way, this coaching staff has a strong track record of bouncing back from these two game losing streaks and getting things right. And just like teams of the past, it’s not like this team is void of talent or haven’t shown flashes in the games they lost. The mistakes are correctable. Which brings me to Western Michigan. I think this is the week they circle the wagons and Beamer and Co get things back on track.
What do we know about Western Michigan? They have a very good offense led by RB Jarvion Franklin. Franklin might be one of the best RBs the Hokies face all season and is on his way to putting together a 1,500+ yard season. They’ve played Purdue close and blown out Idaho and Murray State. Defensively though, they have struggled. They rank 55th in total defense and size-wise our offense line should be able to push them off the ball. The Hokies haven’t played many games recently where there has been a significant size and talent disparity between themselves and the opposition, but this is a game where that is definitely the case. This will not be another shellacking like the Hokies used to put on the Broncos in the early 2000’s but the Hokies should be able to win comfortably. However, the Broncos will finally get on the board after being shutout in the three previous meetings with the Hokies. I think Vegas has this line right about where it needs to be (-21).
Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Western Michigan 14
There are definitely some concerns going into this game. The Hokies starting DTs are banged up which is a bad thing when facing a Georgia Tech team that loves to give it to their B-back going right up the middle of the defense. In the past, VT’s ability to defend that part of the option has limited what GT has been able to do on the ground. It’s also a concern that the Hokies will have a new LB corps going into this game. Last year, they had an advantage with a couple of guys on the field who had seen this offense multiple times. For Clarke, Williams and DiNardo, it will be the first time they’ve played against it. All of this makes me think GT will put up more points than we’re all used to. Last year, they scored 10 and 17 the year before.
On offense, this is the game where Hokies need to be able to run the ball. GT has not been able to stop anyone on the ground (216 ypg, 5.9 ypc). If the Hokies can’t move the ball on the ground against this defense, they’ve got some serious issues. This is a game where they need to lean on the running game with McKenzie and Williams and let them carry the offense to victory. If they can move the ball consistently on the ground, the Hokies should be able to outscore the Yellow Jackets.
Originally, I was thinking the Hokies would win by around 10 or 11. The more I look at the situation at DT and LB, I’m thinking this game will be closer than that (this game is always a close game). Expect a lot of trouble from Zach Laskey (FB) up the middle and expect former Alabama DB commit Justin Thomas (QB) to break a couple of long runs. Ultimately, I think the Hokies will do just enough on defense and the offense will be able to score consistently enough throughout the game that the Hokies win by a TD in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Georgia Tech 21
If ECU were in the ACC, they’d be a middle of the pack team and would probably finish fourth in either division. ECU will definitely give the Hokies a test but the offense should be able to move the ball against their defense both on the ground and through the air. Look for the Hokies to have a balanced attack just like they did against Ohio State. Shane Carden (QB) and Justin Hardy (WR) will be a challenge for the defense but I think the Hokies have enough talent in the secondary to limit their passing attack. Ultimately, I think the Hokies come ready to play after the big win at Ohio State and they are able to beat ECU in a relatively close game.
Prediction: VT 28, ECU 17