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Virginia Preview and Prediction

The Hokies are struggling through a number of injuries but they found a way to win against Pittsburgh. If the Hokies want to win against UVA, they’re going to have to dig deep and find some unexpected heroes.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 92nd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 13th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 31st

Virginia

Overall S&P+ ranking: 65th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 79th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 49th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 51st

UVA is a solid team. It has been impressive what Bronco Mendenhall has been able to do with this team after a 2 win effort last season. This roster did not look dramatically different from last season but he has been able to get his squad bowl eligible. That’s impressive.

When I’ve watched the Hoos this year, I’m been really impressed with Kurt Benkert. He is the engine that makes their offense tick. He will also be one of the best quarterbacks that the Hokies have seen all season. Lucky for the Hokies that he is not a running quarterback. But given how well he distributes the ball, the Hokies defensive backs and linebackers will have their work cut out for them. Particularly across the middle with Terrell Edmunds being out and Mook Reynolds potentially missing time.

If the Hokies hope to win, they will need to find a running game. They had some success against Pittsburgh but they will need to lean on it more than they did last week. Travon McMillian and Deshaun McClease will need to step up and make some plays.

Kurt Benkert had a great first half against Miami last week but couldn’t keep it up for 60 minutes. If he can have a full 60 minute performance against the Hokies, he can give the them a lot of trouble. He reminds of Will Grier at WVU. He can carve the Hokies up like few quarterbacks that VT has seen this season. He is an NFL caliber talent.

This will not be a beauty of a game to watch. If the Hokies hope to win this one, they will have to win it ugly. The VT defensive backs will have to step up and not allow Kurt Benkert to carve them up for big yards especially over the middle. The Hokies linebackers will also need to be aware of running backs and tight ends getting involved in the passing game. I’m expecting a game like the Pitt game. Defense and special teams will be critical. They may need to bail the offense out in this game.

The Hoos have all the pieces they need to win but they also need to contend with the 13 year monkey on their back. They’ve been close to winning in recent years but couldn’t make the plays in the clutch to pull out a victory. I expect a very close game and the team that can make the plays in the fourth quarter will come out with the victory.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Virginia 21

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

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Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

You take conference road wins however you can get them. Even if they are ugly. Getting the win is all that matters. Hokies took care of business on the road at Duke last week. Each week the games get bigger.

Georgia Tech is next. This is a team that gives the Hokies fits every year. This year should be no different. This is an offense that stays in every game. They don’t often get blown out. They limit possessions on both sides of the ball. That means your offense has to be efficient.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 17th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 36th

Georgia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 62nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 74th

How will Bud Foster’s reshuffled lineup perform against the Georgia Tech offense? If there was a game where you’d feel okay losing Greg Stroman and Terrell Edmunds, it’s this one. However, you’re asking your backups not to make many assignment errors. That can be a lot to ask sometimes. Either way, I think Bud Foster knows this offense well enough to make those adjustments. He will put his players in a position to succeed.

This is a game where the Hokies offense should be able to move the ball. First, the Hokies offense has been excellent at home. The Hokies have averaged 46.7 points per game against FBS opponents at Lane Stadium this year. The Georgia Tech defense has had trouble stopping opponents this year. They don’t give up the big play but you can dink and dunk them downfield all day long. Expect the Hokies to put up some points in this game.

You worry about the reshuffled lineup on defense. You never know how that’s going to go against a dangerous Georgia Tech offense. But if there is someone who knows how to scheme against that offense, it’s Bud Foster. Also, this offense has been lights out at home. They look like a completely different team in Lane Stadium. If the defense can hold up and not have too many assignment issues, I expect the Hokies will be fine. I never go into this game expecting a comfortable win. But if the Hokies play at home like they have all season, I’m feeling pretty good.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Georgia Tech 21