Breaking Down the WVU-Virginia Tech Matchup By Position
WVU and Virginia Tech seem evenly matched, but let’s take a further look.
By Franklin Markel
As we get closer to game day, more and more attention is building around how evenly matched these teams are. Here’s where the Mountaineers and Hokies have their advantages:
Will Grier has about as much hype a player can have after sitting out for a year and a half. The Florida transfer led the Gators to a 6-0 start racking up 10 TDs to his 3 INTs before being suspended. In both the spring game and camp he showed no signs of regression and should do big things with the Mountaineers. He’ll have his hands full with the VT defense and their two Athlon rated top-ten units (DB and LB). Under center for VT is redshirt freshman Josh Jackson. This three-star recruit from Michigan won the job in camp this year for the Hokies. Jackson is good — sneaky good — but his inexperience will cost the Hokies. Grier is more talented and more experienced. The Mountaineers have the QB advantage.
These two teams have two very different RB situations. For WVU, there was no question this spring. Senior running back Justin Crawford was the starter and was far and away better than any RB on the roster. For VT the inconsistent Travon McMillian was the starter at the open of camp. Now, days before the opener, Steven Peoples has been listed as the RB1. Crawford is a 1,000-yard rusher and a power back that also has speed. Peoples is an inexperienced back and despite his size (5-9, 218 pounds) he’s not Crawford good. He’s not even Kennedy Mckoy or Martell Pettaway good. The Mountaineers have the three best RB’s in this game. They get the advantage.
WVU lost two targets for this game. Jovon Durante transferred and Marcus Simms is suspended. But even with the loss of talent, the VT receivers do not top the Mountaineers. The VT corps lack experience, with two first-year starters in TE Dalton Kene and WR C.J Carroll. WVU has maturity in receivers Gary Jennings and Ka’raun White, both third year starters. And a very experienced David Sills V in his first game back. There is not much of a talent gap but the historical WR success of Dana Holgorsen and the experience edge of the WVU receivers give the Mountaineers the advantage.
The WVU offensive line lost one of the best centers they’ve had in Tyler Orlosky when he graduated last season. The rest of the offensive line returns this year and needs to play well against the Hokies solid DL unit. The guard play of Kyle Bosh and Grant Lingafelter is key for the Mountaineers and where they have their biggest advantage over the VT offensive line. The left side of the VT line is talented and very experienced. They definitely have the advantage over the Mountaineers. But they could run into trouble with their inexperienced right side with Kyle Chug and Braxton Pfaff both new starters. These two looked unorganized out of camp and look to be one of the major weaknesses of VT. The offensive lines are similar but the weakness on the right side gives this one to the Mountaineers.
Virginia Tech has a very good defense and despite some drawbacks, their DL tops WVU. The VT DL is solid and above average. All four starters are returning players who’ve played 10-plus games each. The leader of the group, Tim Sittle, appeared in all 14 games last year as a sophomore. The Hokies clearly have talent on the DL, but lack of depth is a concern. The WVU DL is definitely not as talented as the VT unit. WVU runs a 3-3-5 defense so it runs two ends and a nose tackle. All three linemen are not very experienced and I really don’t expect much from a DL which had a combined one start last year. And with the 3-3-5 all pressure is going to come with help from the linebackers anyway. The two players with any playing experience last year were Adam Shuler and Reese Donahue and they combined for 45 tackles. VT has a big advantage on the unexperienced WVU D line. VT gets this unit.
The VT linebacker core was a main weakness for the Hokies in 2015, but two years later it’s expected to be amongst the top the ACC has to offer. Senior Andrew Motuapuaka, and his 54 tackles last year, will be in the center of things Sunday night. Thurman Edmonds and Mook Reynolds both got starts last year and combined for 44 tackles. As for the Mountaineers, they lost leading tackler Justin Arndt, but kept six of their top eight linebackers this season. Despite all this, the Mountaineers LB’s weren’t talented enough to keep up with VT before the David Long injury and since then they’ve only gotten worse. The Hokies take the Linebacker battle.
The Hokies sweep the defense with a victory in the DB battle. The Hokies flat out have one of the nations top secondaries. Last year they were ranked 6th in passing defense and 7 of those players are returning this year. Terrell Edmunds Jr and Brandon Facyson both started 9+ games last year and were big contributors to last years success for the defensive backs. They’re both back on Sunday. The Mountaineers have to find a way without Rasul Douglas and Jeremy Tyler. They do return Dravon Askew-Henry and Elijah Battle who combined for over 60 tackles last year. All in all, the Hokies have more talent and more experience so the DB advantage goes to VT.
The special teams go to Virginia Tech. Kicker Joey Syle was great last year at 33/34 kicking PAT’s and 20-28 on FG’s with a long of 49. Their punter is freshman Oscar Bradburn from Australia, somebody better tell him this isn’t rugby. The returning game is sub par for VT and WVU definitely has the advantage there. For WVU, kicker Mike Molina returns for his senior year. He was 15/22 last year on FG attempts but was 51-51 on PAT’s. The punter is Billy Kinney, who’s net average last season was 38.2 yards. These groups are pretty close but the FG kicking advantage gives the Hokies the special teams win.
In my season preview I predicted the Mountaineers pull it off 33-31. I stick with this prediction. I think it’ll be a close game all night but at the end the Mountaineers will pull it out. It’s going to be exciting this Sunday.