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Belk Bowl Preview and Prediction

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.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 50th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 20th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 44th

Arkansas

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.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 37, Arkansas 30

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Virginia Preview and Prediction

The Hokies pulled out an epic comeback against Notre Dame. The biggest one since NC State in 2010. The second half was the best half of football this team has had since the first half of the Duke game. All season I’ve been waiting to see the team that had three excellent games against BC, ECU and UNC. There have been glimpses and spurts but it hasn’t been consistent. Putting together a complete game against UVA would be huge for this team.

UVA has only won two games this season. They beat Central Michigan at home and beat Duke on the road. They’ve been able to keep games reasonably close but haven’t been able to close the deal. This looks like a team that has been improving throughout the year but may not have all the pieces in place yet.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 27th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 58th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 19th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 41st

Virginia

Overall S&P+ ranking: 92nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 86th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 86th

At quarterback, Virginia will be playing either Matt Johns or Kurt Benkert or both. Matt Johns has the higher completion rate but also has the higher interception ratio. Kurt Benkert has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio but he has the lower completion rate. Neither quarterback is much of a threat to run (thank goodness!). Both have had their moments this year but have been inconsistent overall. UVA is best in the passing game so they will need a big game from whoever is playing quarterback for them.

Running back Taquan Mizzell is a big weapon that the Hokies must account for. Particularly in the passing game. He is a threat to make plays out of the backfield. He has over 400 receiving yards this season in addition to over 800 yards rushing. UVA runs a lot of their offense through Mizzell. The Hokies need to keep an eye on him whether UVA is running or passing.

UVA has not been consistent on defense but they have three big-time players. The Hokies need to account for Micah Kiser (MLB), Quin Blanding (FS) and Andrew Brown (DE). These are UVA’s playmakers and have the ability to change a game. The Hokies will have to be able to win the one-on-one battles with them to have success on Saturday.

This is a huge game because it will likely decide whether the Hokies go to the ACC Championship Game. That would be a big step forward in Justin Fuente’s first season as head coach. UVA would like nothing more than to spoil those plans. They would also like to put an end to the Hokies’ 12 game winning streak in the series. Rivalry games are never easy. Throw the records out the window. Both teams want to win this game bad. The Hokies just have more talent and motivation this time around.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Virginia 20

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

The Hokies bounced back from the Syracuse loss in a big way against Miami. Now let’s see how they handle coming off a big win. The Hokies didn’t handle success very well last time. They immediately lost to Syracuse after a big win against UNC. Let’s hope we see more focus from the Hokies this time around.

The Virginia Tech-Pittsburgh series is one of the weirdest you’ll see. The Hokies dominated in the 90’s and that flipped in the 2000’s. The Hokies went 7 of the first 8 games in the series. Pitt has won 6 of 7 since 2000.

pittsburgh_series

Unlike previous visits to Heinz Field, I think this visit will get the Hokies full attention. This Pittsburgh team will not sneak up on the Hokies this time. This game is the Hokies biggest remaining obstacle to a trip to the ACC Championship Game.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 12th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 23rd

Pittsburgh

Overall S&P+ ranking: 33rd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 29th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 63rd

What is Pittsburgh good at? Running the ball and stopping the run. The key to slowing down their offense will be to shut down their run game. Even if the Hokies do that, they need to be able to stop their mobile QB from making plays with his feet. He doesn’t run a lot but can break the pocket to pick up a first down or two. The Hokies need to be ready for that.

Pittsburgh has the 5th ranked rushing defense in the nation.  They are very good at stopping the run. If the Hokies hope to win this game, they will need to move the ball through the air. Pittsburgh ranks 122nd in passing yards allowed. You would think the Hokies should be able to throw against this defense. If the Hokies do pass a lot, watch out for Ejuan Price off the edge. He leads the nation with 9 sacks this season.

On paper, the Hokies should win this game. But games aren’t played on paper. The last three times the Hokies have been to Heinz Field, they scored 6 points or less in the first half. This time they need to get off to a better start and put the Pitt offense and defense on their heels early. Unlike previous meetings, I think that Pitt has the Hokies full attention. I think you’ll see a much better performance than you’ve seen in previous visits to Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Pittsburgh 24

East Carolina Preview and Prediction

The game against Boston College was one of the most complete performances in years. It was close to a perfect performance on both sides of the ball. That won’t happen every week. So what is this team? The one that fumbled nine times in two games or the one that played near flawless football against BC?

Next up is East Carolina. A thorn in the side of the Hokies for years. Here are the last seven meetings between the two schools:

Sat., Sep 26, 2015, Greenville, N.C , L, 28-35
Sat., Sep 13, 2014, Blacksburg, Va., L, 21-28
Sat., Sep 14, 2013, Greenville, N.C., W, 15-10
Sat., Sep 10, 2011, Greenville, N.C., W, 17-10
Sat., Sep 18, 2010, Blacksburg, Va., W, 49-27
Thu., Nov 5, 2009, Greenville, N.C., W, 16-3
Sat., Aug 30, 2008, Charlotte, N.C., L, 22-27

Not exactly dominating, huh? The Hokie are 4-3 against ECU over this period. To ECU’s credit, they are 6-0 against the ACC in the last four years. These guys LOVE beating ACC teams and they’re good at it.

09/10/2016 East Carolina 33 – North Carolina St 30 W
09/26/2015 East Carolina 35 – Virginia Tech 28 W
09/20/2014 East Carolina 70 – North Carolina 41 W
09/13/2014 East Carolina 28 – Virginia Tech 21 W
11/23/2013 East Carolina 42 – North Carolina St 28 W
09/28/2013 East Carolina 55 – North Carolina 31 W

Everyone is feeling good after the shutout against BC. Keep in mind the last two times the Hokies played ECU, they were coming off big wins. In 2014, they had just beat Ohio State 35-21 at the Horseshoe. And last year, they had just plastered Purdue on the road 52-24. The Hokies lost both games against ECU coming off those big wins.

New coaching staff. New era. The Hokies rebounded well from a tough loss against Tennessee. Now how will they handle success? Can they string together two good performances in a row?

They key to Bud Fosters defense is keeping teams one dimensional. In 2014, ECU was able to throw it all over the field on the Hokies. In 2015, the Hokies could not stop the ECU ground game. This year, if the Hokies can stop the ECU ground game, the Hokies should be able to slow down their offense.

The ECU defense can be best described as middle of the road. They are a bend but don’t break defense. They’ve been good this year at keeping teams out of the endzone when they get to the redzone. The key to beating ECU is getting their offense off the field. Then when you have the ball, get it into the endzone. Finish your drives.

ECU’s offensive stats have been excellent this year. They rank 9th in the country in total offense. The Hokies will have their hands full trying to keep up with ECU’s receivers. Particularly Zay Jones who almost set an NCAA records for receptions last week.

This is a difficult game to pick. We have yet to see a passing offense this good this year. The Hokies lead the nation in passing yards allowed. They’ll get a big test on Saturday. As long as the Hokies can hang on the football, I feel good about their chances. ECU might be a bit surprised by the offensive firepower that the Hokies bring to the table these days. I think the Hokies defense will be able to stop the run and hang tough against the ECU offense. And the Hokies offense will have another good day against the ECU defense. Particularly in the run game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, ECU 21

UVA Preview and Prediction

This is a must win. Can you imagine Mike London’s team ending Frank Beamer’s last season with a loss and snapping the bowl streak? Neither can I. But realistically, it could happen.

The Hoos are a middling team, as they have been for the past decade or so. They’ve been surprisingly tough at home. They’ve taken Notre Dame, Pitt, Miami and Louisville to the final whistle. This doesn’t appear to be a UVA team that you can put away early.

On offense, UVA is effective in the passing game. They are ranked 45th in the nation in passing offense and move the ball pretty well thru the air. With a banged up Brandon Facyson, that could be something to watch for.

When VT has the football, they are going up against a defense that hasn’t been particularly impressive. By the numbers, it’s a struggling offense against a struggling defense. The Hokies will need a big day from Travon McMillian in order to move the ball consistently.

If there is one area where the Hokies should have an advantage, it is on special teams. Even though it may not seem like it, the Hokies have been very efficient on special teams this year and in a close game like this, it could play to the Hokies advantage. Watch for this particularly on punt and kick returns.

The stats show the Hokies as a slight favorite in this matchup. If you’re looking from a talent standpoint, the Hokies should have a moderate talent advantage over the Hoos. If the Hokies play as well as they did against UNC, they should win by two scores. Ultimately, I think it’ll be a close game just like last year’s game was. Whoever makes the biggest mistake or the worst mistake will lose. Hopefully, the Hokies find a way to win and make it twelve straight and send Beamer to his 23rd bowl game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, UVA 17

Duke Preview and Prediction

The Hokies have to win this game if they hope to make a bowl this season. A loss would put the Hokies at 3-5 and would mean they would have to finish 3-1 in order to make a bowl. They do not want to put themselves in that position. On paper, this is a game where the Hokies are favored and if they play like they are capable of, they should win this game.

Duke’s offense is even more anemic than the Hokies’ offense. They rely on the running game and a running quarterback (uh oh). Even with the youth in the secondary, the Hokies should be able to limit the Blue Devils’ passing game. The key to this game will be limiting QB Thomas Sirks’ rushing yards and limiting the Duke RBs from getting involved in the passing game. As long as the Hokies’ defense can play disciplined defensive football in these two areas they should be able to limit Duke offensively.

In theory, the Hokies should move the ball better with Michael Brewer behind center but there are a couple of things about this matchup that concern me. Michael Brewer isn’t particularly mobile and Duke likes to show a lot of blitzes and coverages. Michael Brewer needs to be able to recognize the blitzes and get the ball out of his hands quickly. We cannot have a sack fest like we saw against Pitt.

The Hokies would be well served to lean on their running game. They need to feed the ball to Travon McMillian early and often. If he is rushing for 7+ YPC, don’t take the ball out of his hands. The Miami game would’ve gone much differently, if the coaching staff had kept giving Travon the ball.  This will help Michael Brewer and open up the play action passing game. Michael Brewer cannot be successful if he has to drop back on every down against an aggressive Duke defense.

This will be a tough challenge for the Hokies but it is a game that they can win. Let’s hope the team hasn’t packed it in. If they can play smart and disciplined football, they stand a good chance to win this game. This is a game where the defense will have to stand tall in order for the Hokies to win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Duke 10

Duke Q&A with Mike Kline from DukeFootballBlog.com

You can follow Mike Kline on Twitter at @MikeKlineDSB and read his blog at DukeFootballBlog.com.

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

So far I’ve been pretty pleased with Duke’s season, though that loss to Northwestern seems less and less impressive as the Wildcats have fallen off the last few weeks. This is the best defense I’ve seen in Durham probably ever. The defense is fast and aggressive and much better than advertised. The offense is, however, not and have struggled against Power 5 conference teams. Quarterback Thomas Sirk has struggled with accuracy on the deep ball and decision making and the running game has been sporadic. There are weapons there just not consistent.

What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?

I expect a close if not ugly game that could come down to a possession or two either way. In short similar to last years game. It will be a battle.

Do you still see Lane Stadium as a “tough place to play”?

Lane Stadium is one of the best venues in the ACC. I’ve been there and the atmosphere and tradition is second to none in the conference. It is still a big time advantage for the Hokies against most team.

At this point, how do you see the Coastal division shaking out? Which team do you think will end up winning the division?

Right now as much as I’d like to pick Duke I think the Blue Devils lose a game or two along the way and I think this game could be one of them. I feel like, as much as I hate to say it, that North Carolina and Pitt have been the class of the Coastal to date. That could change in a weeks time, as per the usual in the Coastal. I think the division comes down to those three Duke, Pitt, and Carolina. Whoever has the strongest finish wins.

What is your prediction for the game?

Like I said earlier, I expect a very close game, probably low scoring. I think if Duke can muster enough offense they will win the game with their solid defense, if Virginia Tech can keep the Duke offense in check and get some opportunistic play on offense or special teams they could squeak out with the victory. If I have to make a prediction I’ll go homer and say Duke wins 17-10, but wouldn’t be shocked if the score were the other way around. This game feels like a push to me.