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.
Overall: 94th Offense: 93rd Defense: 92nd Special Teams: 79th
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.
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.
Overall: 11th Offense: 4th Defense: 49th
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.
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
at West Virginia
at Georgia Tech
at Boston College
Final Regular Season Record: 7-5 (5-3 in the ACC) Expected finish: Tied for 3rd in the ACC Coastal
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.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 92nd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 13th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 31st
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.
Georgia Tech is the one game so far this season that the Hokies shouldn’t have lost. They simply made too many mistakes and couldn’t capitalize when opportunities presented themselves. Most teams will have a loss or two like that each season. These are the ones who think about weeks later and know how close you were to a win. They are the difference between a good season and a great season.
Either way, the Georgia Tech loss doesn’t greatly affect the Hokies postseason goals. Even with a win against Georgia Tech, their chances at a New Year’s Six bowl were slim. And they are still in the mix for the Citrus, TaxSlayer and Camping World bowls with two more wins against Pitt and UVA. The important thing will be to get the team refocused after two tough losses and take care of business against two teams that they should beat.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 90th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 7th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 29th
Overall S&P+ ranking: 92nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 72nd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 94th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 83rd
The biggest issue that the Hokies will face from Pitt is their ground attack. Pitt uses a lot of jet sweep motion to spread out the defense then they run the ball with their big tailbacks. This is something that gave the Hokies trouble last season. Not to mention in their game against UNC, their quarterback scrambled more than he has all season. Expect this game to be like the Georgia Tech game. The Hokies need to stop the run and not get beat over the top.
Pitt’s run defense is bad but so is the Hokies run game. So those two things offset each other. If the Hokies want to move the ball in this game, they will need to do so through the air against Pitt’s average pass defense. Pitt likes to use a lot of press coverage which has given the Hokies trouble this year. The Hokies young wideouts will have to find space against tight coverage and make plays. The best outcome would be for Cam Phillips to have a great day on Senior Day.
The stats say Pittsburgh is somewhere in between Duke and North Carolina this season. Two teams that the Hokies blew out before they had their confidence stomped on by Miami. And before the recent rash of injuries the Hokies have suffered. On defense and special teams alone, this is a mismatch. The Hokies offense has been so stagnant in the last two weeks that it’s hard to expect much from them. And with the defensive injuries this past week, it’s hard to know what to expect from the defense. All I know is that Pittsburgh doesn’t pass the eye test to me. When I watched them last week, they looked a lot closer to UNC than they did VT. Even though it’s a bad matchup for the Hokies, they will find a way on Senior Day.
Justin Fuente described Virginia Tech games this year as a “three-and-a-half-hour stomach ache.” Every game against Georgia Tech is a three-and-a-half-hour stomach ache. Their option attack limits the opposing team’s possessions and if you can’t make the most out of each and every possession, they can outscore you and beat you. Which they have done to teams often in recent years. That doesn’t sound like a good situation for a team known for getting off to slow starts offensively.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 18th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 83rd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 7th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 25th
Overall S&P+ ranking: 50th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 50th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 45th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 72nd
Expect to see a game plan from Georgia Tech similar to last year’s. Expect a lot of runs right up the middle from the B-back position and TaQuan Marshall. It’ll be up to Ricky Walker, Tim Settle and Andrew Motuapuaka to stuff the run up the middle. Something the middle of the Hokies defense had trouble with last year. The Hokies need to be able to push the option outside and have the Hokies defensive backs and linebackers shed blocks to get to the ball carrier. As usual, Georgia Tech will have some success but it will be important for the Hokies defense to keep them to 20 points or less. It’ll be tough situation for the Hokies if they get into a track meet with the Jackets.
Georgia Tech’s defense is solid but not spectacular. They have trouble generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Expect Josh Jackson to have time to throw but he will need to make the most of those opportunities since offensive possessions are limited when you play GT. It’s not uncommon for offenses to only have around eight possession when they play GT. So if you can’t get going in your first four possessions, you might only have four more the rest of the day. That’s why generating turnovers (i.e. more possessions) is important when you play the Jackets.
If there is one area where the Hokies have a clear advantage in this game, it’s on special teams. Just as with most games this season, the Hokies will need to play field position and try to set up big plays in the return game. There should be opportunities in this game. Georgia Tech’s special teams this year have not been particularly special. This game calls for a dose of #Shibestball.
This game makes me nervous because the Hokies just came off a very physical game against Miami where a couple of players got dinged up. Not to mention they had travel issues and lost a day of practice and they have to travel to Atlanta for this game. That’s not a lot of prep time for Georgia Tech’s offense. It helps that most of the players on defense have seen Georgia Tech’s offense last year but still you wish the Hokies had more time to prepare. I expect a close game but on paper the Hokies have the stronger squad. The Hokies defense has to show up and finish tackles though.
The Hokies put their best performance of the year together against UNC. They picked a good time to do it with all the #NC2VT recruits in town. As time goes on, I think you will see the Hokies make deeper in-roads into North Carolina. I think the game last weekend already helped with a couple of Virginia Tech’s top targets.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 17th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 59th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 47th
Overall S&P+ ranking: 79th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 88th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 55th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 95th
Under David Cutcliffe, Duke is always a tough out. They are tough. They are disciplined. And they play good defense. No 59-7 box scores this week.
Where Duke is struggling this year is in the passing game. Daniel Jones has not been able to find the success he had in his freshman year. You can call this season his sophomore slump. Expect to see the Hokies focus on shutting down the run and forcing Daniel Jones to beat them with his arm. Something he has struggled with so far this year.
Duke has an effective but not explosive running attack. The Hokies boast the 16th ranked rushing defense in the country. They should be able to slow down the Duke rushing attack and force the offense to come thru the arms and legs of Daniel Jones. I am more concerned about his legs than arm. Although, he only has 217 rushing yards for the season.
Where is Hokies will have issues in this game is on offense. They will struggle to put long drives together against this Duke defense. If the Hokies are going to have success, they are going to need to find a ground game. Duke’s defense is a little more susceptible to the rushing attack than the passing game. The Hokies will need to find ways to get their running backs involved in the gameplan.
At this point, Duke is the third best team the Hokies have played. This won’t be a cake walk like UNC but expect a game like the BC game. The Hokies will struggle to move the ball on offense and the defense will make life hard on Duke. This is a game where it would be a good if the Hokies can get off to a good start offensively. This game being played in the rain makes me nervous for sloppy conditions that can cause turnovers which could hurt the VT offense. But all things being equal – I like the Hokies offense, defense and special teams over Duke’s.
The North Carolina game is starting to become as important as the UVA game. Years ago it was important for the Hokies to win the in-state rivalry with UVA to help with recruiting. These days, the state of North Carolina is just as important for recruiting as Virginia is. That’s why it’s important for the Hokies to beat UNC. Not to mention their recent academic fraud scandal and the bad things they’ve said about VT on the recruiting trail. They are an easy team to dislike.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 19th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 61st
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 53rd
Overall S&P+ ranking: 88th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 82nd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 82nd
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 74th
North Carolina’s only win this year was over Old Dominion. Against the Power 5 teams on their schedule, they have lost by multiple scores. The Hokies defense will be the best defense that UNC has seen this year.
Let’s talk about UNC does well. They are actually a decent running team. The problem is Larry Fedora doesn’t like to run the ball. The are good at getting after the quarterback and getting sacks. And they are also good at forcing turnovers. So this is not a cake walk by any means. Especially if the Hokies get off to a slow start.
UNC is not very good defensively. They are likely better than Delaware, East Carolina and Old Dominion. But as far as ACC competition is concerned, they might be the worst defense left on the schedule. Expect the Hokies to be able to move the ball on the ground against North Carolina. Should be a good day on the ground for Josh Jackson and the Hokies remaining healthy running backs.
Things that concern me in this game are the Hokies being rusty coming off a bye and injuries at the wide receiver position. The Hokies have been getting off to slow starts all season. I’m worried we’ll see more of the same coming off a bye. I’m also wondering who is going to start at wide receiver with so many injuries. Hopefully, we’re pleasantly surprised but I worry about having to play a lot young players who will struggle with consistency.
I’m a slightly worried about this game for the reasons mentioned above. But if the Hokies have problems, the Heels issues are far bigger. They have lost 9 starters to injury who are out for the season. And the Hokies have the far better quarterback than the two the Heels could play on Saturday. Statistically, the Hokies are just better across the board. Kinda like the BC game. I see this being similar to that game. I hope the Hokies get it in gear and pour it on the Heels but I think that’s unlikely. This is another game where the Hokies need to get out with a win and get healthy before Miami and Georgia Tech.
Hokie Nation did a fantastic job last Saturday. GameDay looked great. Enter Sandman looked great. The ESPN folks went out of their way to talk about how great the atmosphere was. We don’t get that kind of love from ESPN very often. You can tell they still like our program but they are still waiting for us to be “back”. If the Hokies can get back to winning 10 games consistently again, there will be more ESPN love and GameDay appearances in our future.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 22nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 64th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 10th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 84th
Overall S&P+ ranking: 96th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 124th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 62nd
This isn’t the tough as nails Boston College we’re used to. Trips to Boston in the past have given the Hokies a lot of trouble. Between 2006 and 2013, the Hokies lost 3 out of 4 trips to Chestnut Hill. After a big win in 2015 and two straight in the series, it looks like those days are in the rearview.
Boston College has struggled with recruiting in recent years and it’s starting to show on the field. The defense is still good but the offensive can’t do much… at all (see the offensive S&P+ ranking above). The most points they’ve scored in a game this year is 28 last week against Central Michigan. Against Power 5 opponents this year, they are averaging 12 points per game. Ouch.
In games like this I like to look at what the opponent does well. Boston College has a very strong pass defense only giving up 154 yards per game thru the air. The Hokies will need to move the ball on the ground to move the chains consistently. BC has also forced 7 interceptions in 5 games, which is 3 better than the Hokies have this year. When BC gets into the red zone, they score 87.5% of the time (56.3% TD). They also have a dangerous punt returner who is averaging more than 18 yard per return.
Other than that, BC is not a dangerous team this year. There is a reason the Hokies are favored by 16.5 points. Their stats remind me more of what we usually see from UVA than what we’ve been used to from BC. Simply put, they don’t have the offensive firepower to consistently put points on the board. Much less against a defense like the Hokies. But their defense is good enough to keep them in the game. Likely into the 2nd half and maybe into the 4th quarter if they play like they did against Clemson. But ultimately, if the defense is on the field too long, they will wear out and the Hokies take can advantage in the 2nd half. I like the Hokies to win by around the Vegas number. They won’t pull away until late in the game but eventually they will get the better of the BC defense.
The Hokies had a strong showing in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson. They took the Tigers to the final possession. You can tell that the Hokies are close to taking the next step. They may just be a year or two away. Closing strong in recruiting would go a long way towards getting this program to the next level.
The Belk Bowl. It is not a warm weather bowl but a good bowl nonetheless. If the ACCCG had been in Charlotte, I think the Hokies would have gone to Orlando instead. Either way, the Hokies benefit considering Charlotte is only 175 miles from Blacksburg. And within a 6-hour drive for most Hokies. You should see a big contingent of orange and maroon in Charlotte.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 50th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 20th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 44th
Overall S&P+ ranking: 53rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 40th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 76th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 47th
Arkansas reminds me a lot of Pitt. They have a bend but don’t break defense and strong running game. Their offense line is huge! This looks like the type of team that can run it at will on you. Like to the tune of 5 yards per carry. If they get in a groove early, they may be difficult to stop. Particularly with a new starter at defense end (Trevon Hill).
The Arkansas run game also sets up the play action pass down the field. Arkansas leads the SEC in pass yards per play. The run game can lull you to sleep while they go over the top. This is traditionally a scheme that has given the Hokies trouble over the years (see Pitt, GT).
Lucky for the Hokies, Arkansas does not have a running threat from the quarterback. The Hokies will need to focus on stopping the run to make the Razorback offense one dimensional.
On offense, the Hokies should be able to move the ball against the Arkansas defense. The Hokies spread rush attack combined with quarterback runs should have success. The Razorbacks are a little better at stopping the passing game but struggle on defense. It is critical that the Hokies take a lead early. They cannot play from behind in this game. If they do, the Arkansas running game can bludgeon them for long drives.
This is a tough game to pick. On paper, the Hokies are the better team. Offenses are pretty even. Hokies have a sizeable advantage on the defensive side of the ball. I’m concerned about motivation though. Hokies had a good season and played well in the ACC Championship Game. They are feeling good about themselves. Arkansas took a bad loss to Missouri in their last game and they are the underdogs in this game. They may have the advantage in the intangibles. They have more to play for than the Hokies do.
The Hokies are 1-6 in their last seven games against the SEC. They need to start winning games vs the big boys. This game is important for perception and for getting the Hokies back to winning 10 games a season. I think Justin Fuente will have this team prepared and ready to go. If they start the game well, I think they will be in good shape. But if they get down early, watch out. It could be a long day. I think this game will be like the Pitt game earlier in the year and the Hokies are able to pull it out in the end.