Syracuse vs. Virginia Tech Preview and Prediction

You can’t win if you can’t score. The Hokies defense put up a solid effort against Pitt. But the offense couldn’t stay on the field and the defense wore out. We’ll continue to see that unless this offense gets any better as the season goes on.

SP+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall: 52nd
Offense: 68th
Defense: 33rd
Special Teams: 88th

Syracuse

Overall: 58th
Offense: 69th
Defense: 40th
Special Teams: 109th

Syracuse runs the ball well. They are one of the best rushing offenses in the country. They have an elite running back in Sean Tucker and a quarterback who can get yards on the ground. This is the type of offense that has given the Hokies trouble in recent years. Expect the Orange to keep the ball on the ground and pound it right at the Hokies defense.

Syracuse defense is bend but don’t break. They give up a lot of completed passes but not a lot of yards. They keep the game in front of them. This is the type of defense that should be able to feast on the Hokies’ offensive approach this season. Virginia Tech will have to take some chances downfield to have success against Syracuse’s defense.

The two defenses are similar but Syracuse does one thing well and that’s run the ball. Last week, my pick was easy Pittsburgh had the better QB. This week, Syracuse has the better running back. Sometimes you don’t have to overthink it. The Hokies will score some points because this isn’t exactly an elite defense. But Syracuse will do enough with their running game to pull out a win. Lou Groza award winner Andre Szmyt for the win.

Prediction: Syracuse 24, Virginia Tech 21

Pittsburgh vs. Virginia Tech Preview and Prediction

The Notre Dame game was a tough pill to swallow. The Hokies were so close to putting that game away but couldn’t make the plays in crunch time. Every year there are going to be close games and those games are the difference between good seasons and great seasons. So far, the Hokies are 1-2 in those games. That needs to improve as the Hokies get into conference play.

SP+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall: 49th
Offense: 50th
Defense: 46th
Special Teams: 56th

Pittsburgh

Overall: 10th
Offense: 9th
Defense: 27th
Special Teams: 15th

Kenny Pickett may be the best QB the Hokies see this season. He may not be the highest pick in the draft but he is putting up the best numbers at the college level. Pickett is one of the best in the nation in passing yards, passing TDs and passing efficiency. Virginia Tech has had trouble over the years with NFL-caliber quarterbacks. Kenny Pickett definitely fits that description. The Hokies defensive backs and linebackers better bring their A-game because Pickett is going to be tough to stop.

The Pitt rushing defense will be able to stop the run and make the Hokies one-dimensional. Tech will have to throw to move the ball against Pitt which means winning battles in one-on-one coverage. Braxton Burmeister is going to have to be able to throw the ball up and hope his receiver comes down with it. So far this year, the Hokies haven’t been winning many of those battles when the ball is in the air. This isn’t a game where the Hokies can afford to be tentative on offense.

Tech should have one of the better pass defenses that Pitt have faced. The Hokies’ secondary matches up pretty well against Pitt’s receivers. But it’s a balanced offense that will be tough to stop. They run the ball well which will set up some opportunities to go downfield to their deep ball threats. This Pitt offense has been a nightmare for opposing defenses because they run and pass the ball so well.

Is this a lost cause? Definitely not. Pittsburgh looked extremely mortal in their loss to Western Michigan. Maybe Pittsburgh will look a little rusty after their bye. Pitt has lost in their last two visits to Lane Stadium. The Hokies looked terrible in 2019 in the Duke game and came back the next week and beat a pretty good Miami team. Weird things happen in college football. On paper, Pitt looks like the better team but anything can happen on any given Saturday in college football.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Virginia Tech 17

Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech Preview and Prediction

The Richmond game film is one you throw right in the dumpster. You’re not going to learn anything from it. The Hokies made a bunch of mistakes on offense and squeaked by an FCS team. The takeaway is that the Virginia Tech offense has to execute better. But they knew that after the WVU game. Let’s see if there were any improvements made during the bye week. The offense is what is holding this team back from being a true Coastal contender.

SP+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall: 33rd
Offense: 37th
Defense: 32nd
Special Teams: 89th

Notre Dame

Overall: 20th
Offense: 41st
Defense: 17th
Special Teams: 58th

These teams are mirror images of each other. Good but not great defenses. And pretty ugly offenses. Both teams will struggle to move the ball on Saturday. And if there is rain in the forecast, things could get ugly. Expect Notre Dame to go to their dual-threat QB, Drew Pyne, to try to move the ball on the ground against the Hokies defense.

Virginia Tech can turn the tide of the game with a big turnover. Notre Dame’s offensive line has been struggling this year. If the Hokies can get a turnover by getting in the backfield, that could flip field position and lead to points.

A special teams play could be the difference. Both teams have excellent return teams. A big return could lead to points in a game that will be short on them. Field goals will also be at a premium in this game. As far as the kicking game, you have to give the nod to Notre Dame in this matchup.

Notre Dame dominates the ACC. Notre Dame is 24-1 in their last 25 games against the ACC and they’ve won their last 16 regular season games against ACC teams. These stats alone should make Hokies fans less than confident with the Irish coming to town.

The Hokies have been AWFUL coming out of bye weeks in the last 3 seasons. Three 20+ point blowouts and a close loss assisted by a 98 yard fumble return. This doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that VT will hit their stride coming out of the bye. Notre Dame is a good team and if the Hokies aren’t ready, they’re going to get punched right in the mouth. My initial inclination was to pick Notre Dame in a blowout but I don’t think they have the offensive firepower to blowout the Hokies. Be prepared for a sloppy performance where Notre Dame does enough to win an ugly game in Blacksburg.

Prediction: Notre Dame 23, Virginia Tech 17

Richmond Preview and Prediction

First and goal. Three yard line. Two minutes remaining. Down six. Hokies can’t punch it in. That’s all you need to know about the WVU game. Hokies couldn’t get out of their own way and tossed away a chance to get a big road win. The game wasn’t the disaster that some are making it out to be, but the red zone offense is a concern moving forward.

SP+ Rankings

Richmond

Overall: 15th (FCS)
Offense: 100th (FCS)
Defense: 4th (FCS)

Virginia Tech

Overall: 37th
Offense: 34th
Defense: 44th

Richmond’s defense presents a good challenge to a struggling Virginia Tech offense. This group has some size. This is a solid group from the FCS. Normally, in these kinds of games you keep the ball on the ground and keep the clock moving. But after last week, Tech’s passing game could use some reps. This might be a good opportunity to air it out and let the quarterback and receivers get into a rhythm.

Virginia Tech’s defense should feast on the Richmond offense. This is not an explosive offense. Tech has generally done a good job at stopping the run this year. Tech’s talented secondary could pose some problems when Richmond decides to throw. Expect Richmond to have to go to the air if they want to move the ball on the Hokies defense.

Can Virginia Tech lose to Richmond? Yes, but don’t count on it. FCS teams beat FBS teams from time to time. But usually it’s a bad FBS team going against an above average FCS teams. Or a brutally bad performance from a good FBS team. The Virginia Tech team that lost to JMU ended up in the Orange Bowl that season. It happens. But it’s pretty rare.

Use this game as a tune up before Notre Dame. The Hokies need to get out of this game with a win then go into a bye week before Notre Dame. That’s a good opportunity to rest up and get healthy before a big non-conference game at home. If Notre Dame can get through the next two weeks without a loss, that would set up for a big matchup.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Richmond 7

West Virginia Preview and Prediction

Getting through a classic trap game is an accomplishment. Sometimes you gotta get the W and move on to the next game. After a sleepy first half, the offense and defense got in gear and put the game away in the third quarter. This week will be a much tougher challenge as the Hokies go on the road for a rivalry game.

SP+ Rankings

West Virginia

Overall: 43rd
Offense: 63rd
Defense: 35th
Special Teams: 75th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 22nd
Offense: 17th
Defense: 38th
Special Teams: 46th

The West Virginia defense has been very good at causing chaos this year. They rank 2nd in the nation in tackles for loss. They are a disruptive group that creates havoc in the backfield. This is a game where the Vice Squad will need to keep WVU defenders out of the backfield and provide space in the running game.

Virginia Tech has been winning the turnover battle thru two games. They need to keep that going. A road trip to Morgantown is the wrong time to start turning the ball over. The Hokies need to keep possessions on offense and create turnovers on defense.

West Virginia ain’t played nobody. They lost a close game to Maryland on the road. Maryland is a team that won three games in 2019 and two games in 2020 in a shortened five-game season. West Virginia did beat Long Island University 66-0. I didn’t know that school existed until this past weekend. And they’ve only been a Division I football program since 2019. So it’s kinda hard to judge West Virginia based on who they’ve played.

Can the Hokies go into a hostile environment and win? This isn’t a road trip to Wake Forest or Duke. The folks at West Virginia have been waiting for this game for a long time. Our players need to be ready for a very hostile atmosphere. I don’t like this game as the Hokies first trip on the road this year. It’s good that it’s a noon game but I still have concerns about whether this team is ready to handle that atmosphere.

Prepare for a three-and-a-half hour stomach ache. This is going to be a sloppy game with negative plays and turnovers. Both team’s defenses are ahead of their offenses. Also watch out for big plays on special teams. Both teams are capable of breaking a game open with a special teams play. VT is the better team. I worry A LOT about the Hokies going into a hostile road atmosphere for the first time. I spent most of the week thinking I’d pick WVU, but the Hokies will find a way to pull it out.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, West Virginia 20

Middle Tennessee Preview and Prediction

A top ten win is what this program needed. Since the end of the 2019 season there has been a going-thru-the-motions feel to this program. Friday night seemed like a boost at the right time. What has been missing in past years is making a big win like this count by continuing the momentum. Andy Bitter did a great job of cataloging the games after a big win in his article in The Athletic this week:

2016: Beat No. 17 North Carolina 34-3, lost to Syracuse 31-17
2018: Beat No. 19 Florida State 24-3, lost to Old Dominion 49-35 in next FBS game
2018: Beat No. 22 Duke 31-14, lost to No. 6 Notre Dame 45-23

And that’s just in the Fuente era. VT has not been great about dealing with success when it comes. This week, the team needs to take on Justin Fuente’s 1-0 mentality and be ready to play.

SP+ Rankings

Middle Tennessee

Overall: 94th
Offense: 93rd
Defense: 92nd
Special Teams: 79th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 24th
Offense: 23rd
Defense: 40th
Special Teams: 91st

Former NC State quarterback Bailey Hockman is the quarterback for MTSU. Hockman had trouble last time he came to Blacksburg. I’m sure it was a particularly bad performance for him. But I also don’t think he’s looking forward to his return to Blacksburg.

Middle Tennessee appears over-matched size-wise. The Hokies should be able to win the battle in the trenches against an undersized opponent. I will say VT has lost matchups against undersized opponents before, but this time feels different. I’m taking the Vice Squad and this upgraded D-line over the guys at Middle Tennessee.

Focus. Focus. Focus. Can’t sleepwalk through this game. After the win against UNC, I saw casual college football fans on Twitter saying “let’s see them lose to MTSU next week.” This is what fans expect from this program now. A big win followed by a heartbreaking loss the next week. This program needs to end that narrative and take care of business. On paper, this looks like a game that should be over by halftime.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Middle Tennessee 13

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

It’s been awhile since the Hokies had a big win at home. This squad needs some momentum going into the 2021 season after a losing campaign last year. Nothing would jump start the season like a top ten win at home over a division rival.

SP+ Rankings

North Carolina

Overall: 11th
Offense: 4th
Defense: 49th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 33rd
Offense: 26th
Defense: 51st

Justin Fuente usually does his best work early in the season. In 2017, his team beat WVU at FedEx Field in a big season opener on Labor Day weekend. In 2018, his team beat FSU in Tallahassee in another big-time showcase game on Labor Day. Even last year, his team took a pretty good NC State team to the woodshed in the first game of the season. All this to say, Justin Fuente usually has his guys ready to go early in the season.

Sam Howell is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He may even be a top-ten pick in next year’s NFL draft. He’s that good. Looking at the matchups, Sam Howell has a solid advantage both in the QB matchup and also against VT’s secondary. He should have room to work across the middle with VT’s new linebackers and safeties. Watch early in the game how VT’s defense defends the middle of the field.

UNC has a talented and experienced defense, which should give the Hokies offense some trouble. This is a better group than the one the Hokies put up 45 points against last season. While the Hokies should be able to move the ball against this defense, they will get their share of stops throughout the game. North Carolina has a talented group on that side of the ball.

If the Hokies hope to have success, they need to stop the run. If the Hokies let the Heels get going on the ground, it’s going to be a long night. If they can stop the run and force Howell into 3rd and long, they should have some success keeping UNC from running up a lot of points.

The Hokies have a real shot in this game. They are catching UNC at the right time and Lane Stadium should be rockin’. But as we’ve all learned when the Hokies play against ranked opponents, it usually comes down to who has the better talent on the field. The Hokies will hold their own and keep the game close going into the 4th quarter. But Sam Howell and the UNC offense will prove too much and take the game with a late touchdown in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: North Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 28

2021 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Last season didn’t exactly go as expected. A losing season, the end of the bowl streak, cancelled Spring practices, and Fall practices reduced due to contact tracing. Not exactly what anyone had expected going into last season. None of those things were ideal for a team in transition.

This season the Hokies hope to get back on track with a return to a blue-collar style defense we’re all accustomed to. Having practices in the Spring and Fall will help with that. So will having a year under their belt in Justin Hamilton’s scheme. Justin Hamilton having a year of experience running the defense doesn’t hurt either.

On offense, it will be difficult to replace two NFL draft picks in Christian Darrisaw and Khalil Herbert. This squad has solid contributors and guys who have been around the program for a while. But not as much star power as last year.

This is a make-or-break year for Justin Fuente. This program needs to show improvement over the past couple of seasons. Another year of .500 football isn’t going to cut it. Even 7 wins doesn’t necessarily mean he will be back.

Why will the Hokies be good?

Braxton Burmeister closed the season looking like a star. In the last two games of the season, he completed 73.5% of his passes and averaged 9.97 yards/attempt against Clemson and Virginia. After struggling with his completion percentage, he came on strong late in the season. If Burmeister can maintain that level of play and can stay healthy, it bodes well for the Hokies this season.

The Hokies have a veteran group of pass catchers in James Mitchell, Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson. Braxton Burmeister will have a reliable group of receivers to target along with guys who can stretch the field. This is a situation where the top guys must stay healthy otherwise the Hokies must rely on young and inexperienced players.

The Vice Squad returns. They lose the star power they had with Christian Darrisaw. But they still have a solid group headlined by Luke Tenuta, Brock Hoffman and Silas Dzansi. This group should have no trouble protecting Braxton Burmeister or opening holes in the run game. Vice seems to turn out a good group every year.

The Hokies will have one of the best cornerback tandems in the ACC. Jermaine Waller was one of the best cover corners in the nation in 2019. And Dorian Strong was one of the best freshmen corners in the nation last year. Waller and Strong look to lock down both sides of the field and make life easier on the defense.

Why will the Hokies be not-so-good?

In a word: depth. This is not a deep team at most position groups. There are a lot of position groups where if the starters get injured, there are no proven options. That looks a lot like last year’s team where a key injury or two puts some less-than-ideal options on the field.

Look no further than the quarterback position, if the Hokies lose Braxton Burmeister they are in trouble. That’s not to say they can’t win games with one of the backups. But the season outlook looks a lot more dicey with one of the other options behind center.

Last year, the defense didn’t have a feel for the new defensive scheme. Will that look better after a Spring and Fall practice? Will they have a better grasp of Justin Hamilton’s scheme in Year 2? Will they develop a defensive identity that was missing in Year 1? Can this group get back to playing the aggressive-style defense we’re used to? These are all question marks going into Justin Hamilton’s second season.

Tough games (<40% chance to win)

North Carolina, Notre Dame and Miami. The Hokies can win all these games. But these are games that will be tough sledding for a Hokies team short on depth. Wins against any of these teams should be seen as bonus wins at the end of the season.

Toss-up games (50-50 games)

West Virginia. Pitt. Georgia Tech. Boston College. Virginia. These are the games that will define the season. These games are the difference between 9-3 and 4-8. The Hokies need to win the majority of these games to have a good season.

Should win games (>70% to win)

Syracuse and Duke. This isn’t the season for this coaching staff to stub their toe on games like these. These are games where the Hokies have a clear talent advantage and they need to take care of business.

Must win games (>90% to win)

Middle Tennessee and Richmond. The Hokies don’t need to add to a list that includes James Madison, Old Dominion and Liberty.

Key games for the Hokies: North Carolina, at West Virginia, at Miami

Upset Alert: at Boston College

Game by Game Predictions

North Carolinahttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d7/North_Carolina_Tar_Heels_logo.svg/300px-North_Carolina_Tar_Heels_logo.svg.png
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at West VirginiaWest Virginia Mountaineers - Wikipedia
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Notre DameNotre Dame Fighting Irish - Wikipedia
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SyracuseThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is logo-white.svg
at Georgia TechThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is logo-white.svg
at Boston CollegeBoston College Eagles - Wikipedia
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at MiamiMiami Hurricanes - Wikipedia
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Game-by-game predictions

Final Regular Season Record: 7-5 (5-3 in the ACC)
Expected finish: Tied for 3rd in the ACC Coastal

Virginia Preview and Prediction

Clemson left the door open to make the game competitive but every time the Hokies got an opportunity they gave it right back to Clemson. The hustle and effort were there from kickoff, which was good to see. But against a talented team like Clemson, things didn’t seem to go the Hokies way. The good news is that the team did not quit on the season. Which is important leading into the UVA game.

Virginia was able to find a Bryce Perkins replacement in one offseason. Brennan Armstrong does a lot of the things that Bryce Perkins did well — like run with the ball and find an open man under pressure. He leads the team with 529 rushing yards. He has also thrown for over 2,000 yards, 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. If the Hokies hope to stop the Virginia offense, they will need to key on Brennan Armstrong’s running ability and make him beat them through the air.

The Virginia defense is a tough matchup for the Hokies. They are great at stopping the run but not very good at stopping the pass. Unfortunate for the Hokies that they are a run-first team. Virginia’s struggles in coverage should allow some opportunities for the Hokies to go downfield and find some guys open for big plays. Getting Tre Turner back and healthy for this game would be a big boost. If he’s not available, the Hokies will need to lean on James Mitchell and Tayvion Robinson in the pass game. If all QBs are available, you may see some rotating between Hendon Hooker and Braxton Burmeister.

These teams are pretty evenly matched. If the Hokies defense can show up the way they did against Miami and Clemson, they have a good chance to win this game. Khalil Herbert will find more running room against Virginia than he did against Pitt and Clemson. Tre Turner’s availability is a big X factor to keep an eye on. The Hokies need to play smart and take care of the ball. If they do, they have a good chance to win. But if they squander opportunities and turn the ball over, like they did against Pitt and Clemson, they’ll tilt the game toward the ‘Hoos. All things being equal, I like the Hokies by a field goal.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Virginia 24

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

The Miami game was a tough way to lose. The Hokies looked like the better team for three quarters against a top ten team. Then the offense went into hiding in the fourth quarter. It’s easy to point fingers but you have to make the plays in crunch time to win the game. Miami did. Virginia Tech didn’t. It’s that simple.

SP+ Rankings

This game comes down to can Hendon Hooker complete passes against man coverage? We know exactly what Pittsburgh in going to do. They will stack the box against the run and make Hendon Hooker beat them against press coverage. If Tech’s receivers can get open and Hendon Hooker can find them the ball, the Hokies should have success moving the football. But if Tech can’t run the ball and Hendon Hooker has trouble finding open receivers, it could be a long day offensively.

The Panthers struggle to run the ball and like to move the ball in the air. That plays to the advantage of the Hokies. Tech is better at stopping teams thru the air than on the ground. Kenny Pickett will have his work cut out for him against Virginia Tech’s secondary. Pitt ranks 71st in the nation in scoring offense averaging 27.6 points per game. Watch out for Jordan Addison in the passing game. He is Pitt’s go-to receiver.

This is a game where the Hokies want to get the tight ends involved. If James Mitchell is healthy, he would be the featured receiver. If he’s not able to go, the Hokies will need to lean on Nick Gallo. Expect this game to be a low-scoring affair, where the Hokies will HAVE to move the ball through the air. If all-else-fails the Hokies should run the Jerod Evans offense and have Hendon Hooker throw up jump ball after jump ball to his receivers. In the end, the Hokies will make a couple more plays offensively and win a one possession game on the road.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 24