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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.

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

The Hokies are back in conference play after starting the season 2-0 in ACC play. This week’s challenge is the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. North Carolina is a team that has struggled this year. They have begun the year 1-3 with the one win coming against Pittsburgh at home in a shootout. North Carolina is looking to get a win however they can get one. The Hokies are looking to go to 3-0 in conference play.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 47th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 40th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 59th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 16th

North Carolina

Overall S&P+ Rank: 98th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 104th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 77th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 14th

North Carolina has a solid pass defense. In fact, they are top 25 in terms of defending the pass. If the Hokies want to get any offensive momentum going in this game, it will have to be on the ground. This is a game where Steven Peoples and DeShawn McClease should have good games. The Hokies need to go to them early and often. The Hokies are also fortunate that North Carolina’s best pass rusher, Malik Carney, is suspended for this game. That’s one less thing to worry about when Ryan Willis drops back to pass.

We don’t really know what to expect from the North Carolina offense. If Nathan Elliott starts at quarterback for North Carolina, he has been largely ineffective this season. The Tar Heels could choose to go to true freshman Cade Fortin in this game. We don’t know much about him. He has only thrown six passes this season. He could be an X-factor in this game. Also look out for wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams in the passing game and running back Antonio Williams in the running game. The Hokies defense looks much better with Divine Deablo in the secondary. Let’s hope he’s healthy enough to suit up on Saturday night.

Virginia Tech’s defensive numbers look bad this season. If you dive deeper into the numbers you’ll see that they are actually a good defensive team that struggles with giving up explosive plays. They are one of the worst teams in the country at giving up explosive plays, particularly on the ground. If the Hokies can fill their gaps and make their tackles, this looks like a much better defense. The explosive plays have been killing the Hokies this season.

The keys to this game for Virginia Tech will be to establish the run and not give up the big play on defense. It’s critical that the Hokies keep their defensive assignments. If the Hokies can keep up a consistent running game, they should be able to move the ball up and down the field. It’s important that they don’t fall behind and have to chase the game with the passing game. On paper, Virginia Tech looks like the better team. Hokies get back to playing good defense and pick up another conference road win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 24

 

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