Duke Preview and Prediction

This is a critical game for the 2019 Hokies. This team can’t afford to go 0-2 in the ACC. And if they lose this game, it’s hard to find 5 more wins on the schedule for the Hokies to go bowling. They will need 7 wins to go bowling this year since they play 2 FCS teams.

What scares me most about this Duke offense is Quentin Harris’ ability to scramble. Although the Hokies dealt with a mobile QB against Furman, this will be a big step up in competition. He reminds me of Anthony Brown who had a very good game against the Hokies in Week 1. This offense doesn’t have a lot of weapons. As long as the Hokies don’t struggle with Duke’s option and misdirection plays, they should be able to keep the Duke offense in check.

The Duke defense is solid. This group should be able to shut down the Hokies’ run game without too much trouble. If the Hokies want to have success, it will have to be through the air. You can count on Duke stopping the run with their front four and trying to force Ryan Willis into mistakes by mixing up coverages. Ryan Willis will need to make good decisions, limit turnovers and put the ball in his playmaker’s hands. If he can do that, the Hokies have a good chance to win this game.

The Hokies young offensive line will struggle against Duke’s experience defensive line. This is a game where the offensive line will have to give Ryan Willis enough time to throw. And he will have to make good decisions against an experienced Duke secondary. It will be difficult for the Hokies to find a running game against this Duke defense. The Hokies will need score close to 30 to win this game — which will be tough against this Blue Devils defense. The best hope for the Hokies is to keep this game low scoring and make enough plays in the passing game to pull this one out.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Duke 24

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

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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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Military Bowl Preview and Prediction

Hokies are going to their 26th consecutive bowl game! If they win this game, it would also mean a 26th consecutive winning season. The Hokies have been up and down this season but appeared to play some of their best football in the last two games of the season. A gut check win against UVA and a dominant effort against Marshall in a make up game.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 69th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 48th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 79th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 45th

Cincinnati  

Overall S&P+ Rank: 32nd
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 74th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 19th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 76th

This Cincinnati team reminds me of Marshall. Stingy defense and a good running game. This is a team that has put up some very impressive numbers against a soft schedule. Their best wins have come against UCLA, Ohio and Miami of Ohio. Cincinnati was not able to get wins over the best teams on their schedule – Temple and UCF.

The Hokies will need to be able to stop Cincinnati’s rushing attack. They are ranked 16th in the nation in rushing offense and have three capable running backs and a dual-threat quarterback. Their quarterback, Desmond Ridder, is a bigger threat with his legs than with his arm, although he does complete passes at a high percentage. Their biggest threat from the running back position is sophomore Michael Warren who has over 1,000 yard rushing and 17 touchdowns this season. Also keep an eye out for senior WR Khalil Lewis who leads the team in targets, yards and touchdowns and averages 14 yards per catch.

The Hokies best plan of attack against the Cincinnati is to find balance – like they did against Marshall. Cincinnati has a very stingy rushing defense. If the Hokies hope to find success, they will need to find room to run on the ground in order to make life easier on Ryan Willis. Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease will need to have big games. They will need to be able to handle big DT Cortez Broughton who has an eye-popping 16.5 TFLs this season.

Bowl games traditionally are difficult to predict. There can be some unexpected results after teams have been off for a month. This game looks really similar to the Marshall game. Although, Cincinnati has played a slightly more difficult schedule than Marshall, they have put up some impressive numbers against that schedule. The AAC is 0-2 against the ACC this bowl season as Duke and Wake Forest have picked up upset wins against Temple and Memphis respectively. Every game is unique, but that bodes well for the Hokies for two middle-of-the-pack ACC teams to get wins against the better teams in the AAC. I expect this to be a close game but I believe the Hokies will be a step up in competition compared to what Cincinnati is used to this year. Ryan Willis will need to have a good game for the Hokies to come away with the victory.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Cincinnati 24 

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

Midseason Awards and Outlook

Offensive MVP: Ryan Willis

Ryan Willis has been the difference in two conference wins against Duke and North Carolina. Against Duke, he was efficient, made all the throws he needed to make, drove the Hokies up and down the field that night. Against North Carolina, he only needed one drive to win the game and he went 98 yards in just under 6 minutes to seal the win. Even if you don’t have your best game, as long as you can lead the game winning drive, all is forgiven.

Honorable mention: Damon Hazelton, Steven Peoples

Defensive MVP: Rayshard Ashby

Rayshard Ashby has been a very pleasant surprise on defense this year. He is manning the Mike linebacker position like you would hope from a veteran, even though this is Ashby’s first season starting. He leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and always seems to be in position to make the play. His instincts and ability to make tackles has been impressive.

Honorable mention: Reggie Floyd, Houshun Gaines

Special Teams MVP: Oscar Bradburn

This is a tough one. The Hokies special teams have been excellent this season. I’m going to give this to Bradburn because you can’t play much better than he has this season. He has a 42.76 yard average on his punts, with a long of 63. He has dropped 11 of his 33 punts inside the 20. He’s doing a good job of flipping field position for the Hokies, which has been important given the defense’s struggles.

Honorable mention: Brian Johnson (7-9 FGs), Jordan Stout (35 touchbacks on 37 kickoffs)

2nd Half Outlook

The offense has been a little ahead of schedule and the defense has been a little behind schedule. The defense is bad right now. The biggest issue is giving up big plays. They are arguably the worst team in FBS at giving up big plays. Outside of the big plays, the Hokies defense is pretty solid. The big plays make those numbers look much worse. The Hokies can improve in the second half of the season as some of their young players get more experience. But I wouldn’t expect a night and day improvement. Bend but don’t break needs to be the mantra of this defense.

Considering the Hokies play in the first half of the season, it is almost shocking that they are 3-0 in conference and in position for a chance to win the division. The division is winnable but the Hokies need to play much better on defense. There are no easy wins left on the schedule. The Hokies are going to have to grind out games from here on out. Have the defense get some stops and have the offense outscore the other team’s offense.

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