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Sep
11

It Wasn't Perfect, But It Was Just What Hokies Needed

It’s not often you can say that the key play of a game was the halftime interview.

But that may have been the case in Virginia Tech’s spread-covering 35-14 win over Middle Tennessee State today at Lane Stadium.

Despite last week’s impressive win over probably over-rated North Carolina, the Hokies did not come out for today’s first half with a fireball of emotion. While the defense continued to look sharp, the maddening offensive game plan used in the second half last week where the unit crawled into its shell to protect a lead was again on full display.

It was good enough to take a 14-7 lead at the half, as Braxton Burmeister threw a 6-yard fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone that Tayvion Robinson caught for one score, then new crowd favorite and designated wildcat quarterback Connor Blumrick scored from 2 yards out for the 14 Hokie points.

But it was also at times a ball of confusion when it came to the passing game. On some plays, Burmeister seemed as if he couldn’t find anyone open when he looked downfield, leading one to wonder if the Hokie wide receivers just couldn’t get any separation, or if Braxton wasn’t making the right reads and looking for completions in all the wrong places.

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2
Sep
10

Here's A To-Do List For Virginia Tech Against MTSU

Virginia Tech welcomes a lesser-regarded team to Lane Stadium Saturday in Middle Tennessee State. The Hokies have done this regularly in the early part of past seasons but lately, those games haven’t always gone as well as they’d hoped.

It happened twice in 2019, when the Hokies knocked off Old Dominion by 15 points and Furman by just 10 points the very next week. When the Hokies hit the road to face Old Dominion team in 2018, Tech lost by two scores after opening the season with a big win over Florida State. Back in 2017, Virginia Tech scored just 27 points against Delaware.

The Hokies have an opportunity to reverse that trend Saturday. While Middle Tennessee State opened its season with a 50-15 win over Monmouth, it would not appear MTSU has the depth that would allow them to compete with Virginia Tech on the field for a full 60 minutes.

Because of that, rather than break down the Hokies’ specific matchups against the Blue Raiders, I’d instead like to create a to-do list for Virginia Tech on Saturday.

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1
Sep
08

Nobody's Saying Justin Hamilton Is Too Young Any More

There have been some great stories coming out of Virginia Tech after the Hokies claimed a season-opening win over a ranked team.

But the one that makes me smile the most regards defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton.

When he was named to the position, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. From everything I’ve heard from folks in Blacksburg, he’s very good. Great teacher, great communicator, patient, a Hokie through and through. He’s the kind of person you rebuild the foundation of a program with.

But he’s also young, and this was his first coordinator job with a major program. Youth can be both a strength and a weakness in such situations, because on one hand you have the potential for longevity that is a huge bonus in the long run.

But in the short run with an impatient fan base, you are not given a margin of error to make mistakes. Plus, as I learned in the business world, you may think you are ready to run the show, but for most, it takes a little time to get into the proper mindset of running things.

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4
Sep
07

Hokies No. 19 In AP Rankings, 21 In Latest Coach's Poll

For the first time since the week of October 18th last year, Virginia Tech’s football team is nationally ranked.

The Hokies – on the strength of a 17-10 win over then No. 10-ranked North Carolina – are ranked No. 19 in the AP poll, and 21 in this week’s coaches poll. In the writers poll, UNC fell to 24th, while Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M comprise the top 5. Clemson is the ACC’s top-ranked team, falling to No. 6.

In the coach’s poll,  North Carolina fell to No. 22, while Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M comprise the top 5, which is identical to the AP rankings. Just like the writer’s poll, Clemson is the ACC’s top-ranked team, falling to No. 6.

Last year the Hokies were ranked No. 20 in the pre-season poll, and were ranked as high as 19 until a week 5 23-16 loss to Wake Forest bounced them from the top 25 list. The Hokies would beat Louisville in week 6, but then lost 4 straight to make their disappearance from the polls in 2020 permanent.

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2
Sep
07

Hokie Offense Is Going To Need To Take More Deep Shots

It’s now the Tuesday after Labor Day. Everybody’s back at work. The first full weekend of college football is over. So it’s time to empty the notebook about things seen this weekend before moving on to week 2.

Which Version Of Braxton Are We Going To See Saturday?

Oh, I know his name will be Braxton Burmeister, but Friday night we really saw two different players. First-half Braxton was smooth and cool, completed 7 of 8 passes with the only incompletion a dropped pass by Tre Turner in the end zone, and his team ate up huge chunks of time in running to a 14-0 halftime lead.

Second-half Braxton wasn’t quite so cool. He only completed 5 of 11 passes for 43 yards, threw an interception, and missed some wide-open people on what should have been easy throws. Some of that was caused by the plays being called, as Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen went very conservative in protecting that 14-0 lead.

But while seeing a lot of good things Friday night, it was the consistent lack of the Hokie offense taking deep shots again UNC that bothered me. You don’t have to be the Oakland, er, Los Angeles, er, Las Vegas Raiders and go deep all the time. But if you look at most successful teams over the last two decades, it has been the threat of a deep ball that keeps defensive backs from creeping up close to the line, and thus opens up the running game.

Of course, if you pass all the time, the running backs and offensive line never get in a rhythm and the running game doesn’t realize its potential, so finding that optimum mix is something coaches experiment with all season long. I didn’t think the Hokies really tried to find such a mix Friday, and you’ll notice in the second half that as the passing game stumbled, so too did the running game.

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3
Sep
06

Exactly Seven Years Ago Today, In Norfolk and Columbus...

When you get to be an old geezer like me, you look back, and at times remember really special occasions you did not expect to end up being so special.

Like what I experienced exactly 7 years ago.

That’s because September 6, 2014 was the date of my 40th high school reunion in Norfolk. That alone should have made the night special enough, because unlike earlier reunions where people try to impress their classmates with their success, 40th reunions don’t have such drama. The number one thing people are impressed with is that we all survived and are still standing. Nothing else really much matters.

But while I was reeling in the years hearing story after story from my friends, something else was going on. Virginia Tech was in the Horseshoe in Columbus playing Ohio State, and as anyone who knows me understands, my blood types are Type Orange and Type Maroon. I didn’t have great expectations for the Hokies, so it was being DVR’d back at my house in Ashburn, and I was going to get up early the next morning, drive home, and then watch what I thought would be athletic carnage.

But as I was donating my drink tickets to old friend Wendy Rieger (of NBC 4 fame here in the DC market), my phone started buzzing. Texts from multiple people – who happened to be in Columbus – filled my phone. Whatever I was doing, they all said, I needed to extract myself from what was going on and find a television.

The Hokies were beating the eventual National Champion Buckeyes.

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2
Sep
06

It's Time To Take A Look At The Numbers From UNC-VT

By now, you've probably read Dave's thoughts on the season opener, as well as Ricky's offerings about what he thought were the biggest takeaways of the game. With the high-level analysis out of the way, it's time to take a deeper look at specific elements that guided the Hokies to a victory Friday night.

In other words, let's look at the numbers and see what the statistics have to say.

The Game Was Statistically Strange

Not many offensive categories in the stat sheet will lead you to believe it was a good game for Virginia Tech. Braxton Burmeister threw as many interceptions as touchdowns, although he also scored once on the ground. The top three running backs each averaged fewer than three yards per carry. Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson and James Mitchell only hauled in eight of the team’s mere 12 receptions.

In fact, 40 percent of the total passing yards (66 of Burmeister's 169 yards) came on three catches by running back Raheem Blackshear, with the biggest play of the night a 34-yard wheel route to Blackshear on what looked like a busted coverage by UNC on the Hokies' third play from scrimmage in the game. The lack of a downfield threat may have been related to the 3-yards per carry by Virginia Tech running backs, as UNC's secondary crept closer to the line due to a belief Burmeister was not going to be taking any long shots to stretch the defense.

Conversely, North Carolina’s top skill position players fared pretty well. Ty Chandler and D.J. Jones picked up 111 yards on 16 carries, and Josh Downs caught eight balls for 123 yards and a touchdown.

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3
Sep
05

UNC-VT Game Recap: The Justins Get Their Revenge...

After enjoying the emotional roller coaster that was Virginia Tech’s 17-10 victory over No. 10 North Carolina, I intentionally waited a while before I sat down and collected my thoughts. I wanted this to be as emotion-free of an assessment as one can make after such a dramatic win.

Now that I’ve taken some time, I think there are three logical conclusions to draw from the Hokies’ upset win on Friday night.

The Justins Get Their Revenge

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente and defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton took it on the chin for the majority of the 2020 season. Fuente has been used to it, but Hamilton’s first season as coordinator unleashed a whopping amount of criticism that was mostly valid.

Friday night, those two men exacted some revenge.

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4
Sep
03

Rumors Of VT's Demise May Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

In the hierarchy of Hokie football games, there are those you want to win. There are others that you can only hope to win.

But tonight’s 17-10 victory over North Carolina was one Virginia Tech needed to win.

These last few years have seen a crisis of confidence in Hokie Nation. The glory days have drifted away to the point that it wasn’t a year or two since the football program was really good; it was a decade or two. Questions about whether Justin Fuente could coach, recruit, or even just smile in an interview were constantly asked.

Visiting teams no longer feared Lane Stadium and its fans. Even the signature moments of the team coming on the field to Enter Sandman grew great notoriety, but then you remembered when the game actually started, the team lost.

Add in the doldrums created by the pandemic that may never end, and folks during the summer talked in tones of a strange and unusual indifference when it came to the season. They needed to be awakened from this low-energy slumber by things like a huge crowd screaming its guts out so people even inches away from each other couldn’t hear what was being said. They needed a win over a top 10 team like North Carolina to give them hope this could be done more than once in a lifetime.

They needed a reason to believe.

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9
Aug
30

What Does Success Look Like In 2021 For Hokie Football?

A wise man once told me — actually, he tells me this all the time — that the only way you can accomplish your goals in an efficient manner is to have a plan.

In making that plan, you’ve got to outline what success looks like. What outcome could be considered a success?

That’s the spot I’m in right now with Virginia Tech football. What does success look like for this program this season?

Is it a specific win number? Is it passing the eye test? Is it competing for the Coastal title? What does competing for the Coastal even look like?

For starters, success probably includes eight-plus wins. For a program that has been flirting with .500 for three straight seasons — and falling short of that number twice — reaching the eight-win plateau seems like a reasonable goal for a team with as many questions as the Hokies.

Tech will have plenty of chances to win games. Even their toughest matchups — Friday vs. North Carolina, Oct. 9 vs. Notre Dame and Nov. 20 vs. Miami are winnable, even if unlikely.

But as we all know, all eight-win seasons are not created equal. This is where the eye test comes in. How does Virginia Tech play in their losses? Who are those losses against? Getting run off the field is way worse than losing a one-score game.

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1
Aug
25

UNC Game Will Be Excellent Test For Virginia Tech Secondary

For Virginia Tech’s secondary, Sept. 3rd's game with North Carolina is more than just a chance to start the season on a winning note.

It’s also a chance to shut down one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

North Carolina’s Sam Howell is really good, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. His 68-14 career touchdown-to-interception ratio is also really good, but you probably didn't need me to tell you that either.

What might be of interest, however, is that while Howell is a great college quarterback, the weapons around him aren’t what they used to be.

Of Carolina’s top five receivers from 2020, four of them are no longer suiting up for the Tar Heels. Carolina’s leading returning receiver, Khafre Brown, caught just 15 passes last season. Beau Corrales and Garrett Walston are also back, but neither played a large role in the Tar Heel offense in 2020.

So, while Sam Howell’s mettle has been tested, those around him are far less proven. Thus, Virginia Tech’s defensive backs are presented with maybe their best opportunity of the season.

The talent is there, at least in the starting lineup. Jermaine Waller seems to have put his injury issues behind him and will anchor the unit opposite of 2020 Freshman All-American Dorian Strong. Waller was one of the best cornerbacks in the country two years ago and pairing him with a seasoned Strong gives the Hokies one of the better cornerback duos in the nation.

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