Virginia Tech football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Hokies, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Virginia Tech Offense
The Hokie attack is—finally—going to improve now that Justin Fuente and coordinator Brad Cornelsen are running things. But how long will the transition take? Tech is moving from a conservative, methodical approach that misfired repeatedly to an up-tempo one that looks to gas opposing defenses with tempo.
Hokie fans couldn’t be much happier with the shift in identity. However, it will take some time before the system is fully adopted and the personnel matches the plans, particularly at quarterback. It’s been years since Va Tech was dangerous from behind center, and it remains to be seen if veteran Brenden Motley or JUCO transfer Jerod Evans can alter recent history.
Fortunately, both players will receive plenty of support in 2016. The team returns a 1,000-yard rusher, Travon McMillian, a 1,000-yard receiver, Isaiah Ford, a next-level tight end, Bucky Hodges, and four starting O-linemen. A lot will be expected from that veteran blocking unit, which is seasoned but has been a perennial disappointment for much of this decade.
Biggest Key To The Virginia Tech Offense
Who’s Fuente’s first QB in Blacksburg? New head coach Justin Fuente knows quarterbacks, with his last two pupils, Andy Dalton and Paxton Lynch, now in the NFL. But he didn’t exactly inherit a pro-caliber cupboard with the Hokies. And while there was separation in the spring, as senior Brenden Motley and Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College transfer Jerod Evans built some distance, a starter wasn’t named. Evans is the odds-on favorite, but he’ll have to close the deal in August.
What You Need to Know About the Virginia Tech Defense
One of the best moves Justin Fuente made when he was hired was retaining Bud Foster, a top-flight coordinator who’s been with the program since 1987. It’s now up to Foster to thank his new boss by rebounding from his worst season as the leader of the vaunted Hokie D.
Tech was uncharacteristically soft in 2015, capped by a 55-52 bowl win over Tulsa. Foster needs to shore up a back seven that’s currently pedestrian at linebacker and thin at cornerback. Yeah, the Hokies were air-tight versus the pass last fall, but more help is needed for versatile FS Chuck Clark.
In an ideal world, CB Brandon Facyson gets healthy and recaptures his 2013 form, when he looked liked a budding superstar. Fortunately, Foster will lose no sleep over his D-line, which could be the strongest unit of the entire team. Even with the graduations of Luther Maddy, Dadi Nicolas and Corey Marshall, Tech figures to be quick and explosive at the point of attack.
DE Ken Ekanem is ready to go on a salary run, and Woody Baron is a nuisance from the interior. Plus, underclassmen Vinny Mihota, Ricky Walker and Tim Settle have high ceilings that they plan to begin reaching this season.
Biggest Key To The Virginia Tech Defense
Hurry back, Brandon. The Hokies are thin at cornerback. Unusually thin for this program, a situated exacerbated by the late April suspension of projected starter Adonis Alexander for pot possession. Tech really needs junior Brandon Facyson to get healthy—and stay healthy—which has not been a trademark of his career in Blacksburg. He’s a big-time talent in coverage, but he also missed the spring to recover from a knee injury, and his lack of history with durability is a real concern.
Virginia Tech Will Be Far Better If …
the new fast-paced offense exploits the team’s skill talent. The Hokies are not without playmakers, such as RB Travon McMillian, TE Bucky Hodges and receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips. But unleashing the backs and pass-catchers has been a longstanding problem for a Va Tech squad that’s ranked no higher than No. 9 in ACC yards per play for the past four years. While it won’t be a script flip in 2016, must become more potent with the ball to return to league contention.
Best Offensive Player
Junior WR Isaiah Ford. The supporting cast has been suspect, especially at quarterback. Yet, Ford has flourished in each of his first two seasons as a Hokie, piling up 131 receptions for 1,873 yards and 11 touchdowns. It wasn’t easy being an All-ACC receiver in Blacksburg under the prior regime. And now that Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen are in town, preaching an up-tempo attack, Ford will have a chance to garner national headlines as a junior.
Best Defensive Player
Senior FS Chuck Clark. Clark doesn’t get nearly enough attention, the hallmark of a player who quietly goes about his business, day-in and day-out. But the senior’s anonymity, among fans and NFL scouts, is about to take a hit. Clark is a versatile and heady pass defender in a defensive backfield in the market for leadership. He’ll roam the field like a linebacker, yet also possesses the instincts and closing skills of a former cornerback. Clark, in many ways, is the prototype for today’s next-level free safety.
Key Player to a Successful Season
The new quarterback, senior Brenden Motley or junior Jerod Evans. The excitement in Blacksburg is tied to the arrival of Justin Fuente and the advent of a new offensive attack plan. But the Hokies will remain in the bottom half of ACC offenses if quarterback play doesn’t improve. Va Tech has thrown at least 14 interceptions in each of the last four years, underscoring the program’s futility behind center. It’s incumbent upon Evans or Motley to seize the job in August and carry that momentum into the Sept. 3 opener with Liberty.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Hokies avoid a third-straight seven-win campaign, capturing eight games in Justin Fuente’s debut. Tech wants to begin turning the tide, while kicking off the Fuente era with enough positive signs to build upon in 2017 and beyond. The schedule features the usual landmines, including tough outings with Tennessee, North Carolina, Miami, Pitt and Notre Dame. But the new staff inherited ample talent from Frank Beamer to finish 8-5 or 9-4 and even compete for the always-competitive Coastal Division crown.
Oct. 8 at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are the defending divisional champs, and the Hokies are breaking in a new staff. But why not shoot for Coastal Division supremacy in 2016? The Hokies can compete with the Heels, losing last year’s meeting by just three points. And if the new quarterback is able to exceed expectations in September, Virginia Tech is liable to use an upset in Chapel Hill as a springboard into the second half of the season. As always, there’s a handful of games that’ll decide the Coastal. This matchup at Kenan Stadium will be the first one for the Hokies.
2015 Fun Stats
– Yards per rush: Virginia Tech 3.8 – Opponents 4.6
– Fumble lost: Virginia Tech 7 – Opponents 15
– Sacks: Virginia Tech 26 – Opponents 34