2020 Virginia Tech Season Preview

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams

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

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

Tough games (<40% chance to win)

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

Toss-up games (50% chance to win)

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

Should win games (>60% to win)

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

Better win games (>70% to win)

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

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

Upset Alert: at Pitt

Game-by-Game Predictions

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

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

2016 Virginia Tech Season Preview

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.

Coach:

justin-fuente

Offensive Coordinator:

brad-cornelsen

Defensive Coordinator:

bud-foster

Quarterback:

jerod-evans

Running Backs:

running-backs

Wide Receivers:

wide-receivers

Tight Ends:

tight-ends

Offensive Line:

offensive-line

Defensive Line:

defensive-line

Linebackers:

linebackers

Defensive Backs:

defensive-backs

Specialists:

specialists

Prediction:

prediction

Miami Preview and Prediction

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

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

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

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

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

Western Michigan Preview and Prediction

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.

2013

Duke 13-10 L
Boston College 34-27 L
Next Game: Miami 24-42 W

2012

Cincinnati 27-24 L
North Carolina 48-34 L
Next Game: Duke 20-41 W

2010

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

Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

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

ECU Game Prediction

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