Wednesday, August 21, 2013

season preview: Virginia Tech Hokies


8/31: Alabama
9/7: Western Carolina
9/14: @ East Carolina
9/21: Marshall
9/26: @ Georgia Tech (Thu.)
10/5: North Carolina
10/12: Pittsburgh
10/19: BYE
10/26: Duke
11/2: @ Boston College
11/9: @ Miami
11/16: Maryland
11/23: BYE
11/30: @ Virginia

Skip: Clemson, Florida State, NC State, Syracuse, Wake Forest

2012 results:

Georgia Tech: W, 20-17
Austin Peay: W, 42-7
Pittsburgh: L, 35-17
Bowling Green: W, 37-0
Cincinnati: L, 27-24
North Carolina: L, 48-34
Duke: W, 41-20
Clemson: L, 38-17
Miami: L, 30-12
Florida State: L, 28-22
Boston College: W, 30-23
Virginia: W, 17-14
Rutgers: W, 13-10 (Tangerine Bowl)

Record: 7-6 (4-4); 4th of 6, Coastal Division

Projected starters:

QB: Logan Thomas (5Sr.)
RB: J.C. Coleman (So.)
RB: Trey Edmunds (rFr.)
WR: D.J. Coles (5Sr.)
WR: Demetri Knowles (rSo.)
TE: Ryan Malleck (Jr.)
LT: Jonathan McLaughlin (Fr.)
LG: Caleb Farris (Jr.)
C: David Wang (rJr.)
RG: Andrew Miller (5Sr.)
RT: Mark Shuman (rJr.)

DE: James Gayle (5Sr.)
DT: Derrick Hopkins (Sr.)
DT: Luther Maddy (Jr.)
DE: J.R. Collins (5Sr.)
LB: Jack Tyler (5Sr.)
LB: Tariq Edwards (5Sr.)
LB: Josh Trimble (rSo.)
CB: Kyle Fuller (Sr.)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Fr.)
FS: Detrick Bonner (rJr.)
SS: Kyshoen Jarrett (Jr.)

K: Cody Journell (5Sr.)
P: A.J. Hughes (So.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Frank Beamer, 27th season

Media prediction: 2nd of 7, Coastal Division


2012 1st team: none
2012 2nd team: DE James Gayle, LB Jack Tyler, CB Antone Exum
2012 HM: CB Kyle Fuller, DT Antoine Hopkins, DT Derrick Hopkins, LB Bruce Taylor
2013 preseason: LB Jack Tyler

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Last year obviously lived up to nobody's expectations for Tech.  Sitting at 4-6 with two games to go and having to win both for bowl eligibility was a big surprise, and even with the season finishing with a winning record, nobody in Blacksburg was happy.  The media likes Tech to return to their usual contending ways, however, voting them 2nd behind only Miami for the Coastal crown.

-- Offense

A great deal of the media's optimism on the Hokies is due to Logan Thomas.  As you'll no doubt hear from the announcers this season, Thomas is a big, mobile quarterback, a rare combination.  Thomas can hurt you with his legs, and in fact was the Hokies' leading rusher last year, but the downside to the hype is that his throwing arm is awfully inaccurate.  Thomas had a solid season in 2011, completing just under 60% of his passes, but when he should've taken a step forward, he went backwards last year.  He tossed 16 interceptions and his completion rate was only 51.3%.

Thomas won't have any help this year, either, from his usual targets.  It's a mostly brand-new receiving corps this year, much of it awfully inexperienced.  Demetri Knowles is the top returning receiver with 19 catches, although D.J. Coles had 36 receptions two years ago; Coles missed last season with a knee injury.  Those two, along with tight end Ryan Malleck, can be the foundation of a decent receiving corps, but VT will also need contributions from the freshmen listed lower down the depth chart.

At running back, J.C. Coleman ought to be able to take a step forward after a solid start to his career last year.  Playing as a true freshman, he averaged 4.5 yards a carry and broke an 86-yarder against Duke for his season long.  This, though, depends on the offensive line as well, a situation which continues to deteriorate.  There are some good players left; David Wang emerged as a solid option last year and has taken over at center from Caleb Farris, who is bumped over to left guard.  RG Andrew Miller is also a good player, giving Tech at least a decent interior.  Major questions abound at tackle, however, where the Hokies currently list true freshman Jonathan McLaughlin as the starter at left tackle and inexperienced junior Mark Shuman at right.  McLaughlin may be a little more field-ready than most after a season at Fork Union, but...  At any rate, nothing is set in stone, either, and injuries have already begun to hammer at the already small depth chart; Shuman will miss the start of the season with an MCL tear, and the Hokies are so desperate for options that they've moved Wyatt Teller - recruited as a defensive end - to tackle, where his talents are less than they were on defense.

The truth is that the Hokies' offense doesn't look terrific on paper.  What many people consider a strength - quarterback - could just as easily be a weakness.  The line is solid up the middle, but the options at tackle are extremely short and the receiving corps is entirely revamped, which won't help the quarterback situation.

-- Defense

Any success had by Tech this year will probably be derived from their defense.  The defensive line is loaded with experience; only one junior graces the starting lineup (defensive tackle Luther Maddy) while the rest are seniors.  Probably the best on the line is defensive end James Gayle, who registered five sacks in 2012; Maddy can also be dangerous from the interior, with four sacks of his own.  Also in the middle, Derrick Hopkins can be a tremendous run defender, with 10 TFL in 2012, and the Hokies think highly enough of sophomore DE Dadi Nicolas to list him as a co-starter with senior J.R. Collins.  This will be a very tough unit and an excellent foundation of the Hokie defense.

The best defender on the team, though, is probably linebacker Jack Tyler, whom the Hokies won't take off the field if they can help it.  Tyler has elevated himself from walk-on status to the team's leading tackler, with 119 last season, including 13 TFL.  He'll be the heart and soul of the VT defense this season.  Tariq Edwards will join him as a starting linebacker; Edwards had a disappointingly injury-riddled season last year after being a full-time starter in 2011, but should be a solid complement to Tyler.  The third linebacker, which is what VT calls the whip linebacker, is also the usual casualty to the nickel defense and could be even more so this year; expected starter Ronny Vandyke is battling injury and the currently listed starter is inexperienced sophomore Josh Trimble. 

Tech may respond to Vandyke's injury by going with the nickel package a lot this season, since they really like their current set of cornerbacks.  Kyle Fuller returns as a full-time starter, and is joined by his brother, true freshman and five-star recruit Kendall Fuller.  Another true freshman likely to see a lot of time is Brandon Facyson, who has been with the team since spring practice.  The emergence of Facyson and the younger Fuller caused Donaldven Manning to leave the team in a huff last week, seeking playing time elsewhere.  If Antone Exum is able to return this season, the Hokies will have a very good four-man rotation at corner; Exum snagged five interceptions last season and broke up 16 passes, although his gambling ways also let him get beat a few times.

A pair of pretty good safeties also patrols the backfield.  Junior "rover" (or strong safety, basically) Kyshoen Jarrett has settled into his role very well; he made 83 tackles last year including 4.5 for loss, not bad at all for a safety.  His presence gives VT the luxury of being able to have that third cornerback out there.  Free safety Detrick Bonner is a very good pass defender as well.

Basically, Tech has their problems right now, but they're mostly limited to the offense.  The defense looks as though it should be as good as ever, with plenty of talent and a fair amount of depth.

-- Special teams

Kicker Cody Journell has been an occasionally troubled soul in the past, but returns for his senior season; he's accurate but doesn't possess a strong leg and starts to be shaky from about 43-45 yards.  Punter A.J. Hughes had a 40.6 yard average last year, impressive for a freshman.

-- Outlook

Is this a team on the rapid decline into three-win obscurity, as last season's results might have offered hope for?  Probably not.  The defense is still very, very good; perhaps not quite as elite as previous Hokie units but still easily one of the better ones in the ACC.  The offense is a limiting factor; injuries and just plain recruiting failures have conspired to make the offensive line a big question mark, and Logan Thomas just isn't the combination of Heath Miller with Peyton Manning's arm that he's sometimes given credit for being.  Tech goes to a bowl game this year, there should be little doubt about that, but the offense will hold them back and make them lose a few games that they wouldn't ordinarily lose.


Anonymous said...

More of a side note, but I'm still frustrated at how we went from what seemed to be the likely driver's seat for Nnadi and Kamara to off the map on the former, and debatable on the latter. I really wonder if there's anything else besides what's being reported. Granted, that may be greed getting to me, but those two seemed like strong UVA possibilities entering the cycle. I didn't care as much about Holmes, as he was never real likely, but it would've been nice to get Nnadi and have him and Brown come in at the same time and give us the depth needed at DT.

DA said...

Ronny Van Dyke is also gone for the year

Anonymous said...

In my head the scenario plays out like this: VT gets blown out by Alabama, then, on the strength of their defense, plows through their relatively weak schedule and probably wins 7 or 8 games heading into a showdown with the Hoos.

UVA, meanwhile, gets beaten up early by the likes of Oregon and BYU, but the offense starts to come together behind Watford and Parks, and the D figures out how to capitalize on Tenuta's schemes. As the season wears on, a tough conference schedule masks the progress the team has made, and they lose four in a row against GT, Clemson, UNC and Miami.

VT comes in to C'ville ready to notch their 10th straight victory against a 4-win UVA squad. But the Hoos' aggressive D neutralizes Thomas, the Hokies can't get a ground game going, and the Hoos manage just enough offense to edge them out, 10-6.

Pandemonium ensues. Thousands of blazer-clad Wahoos storm the field. Hokies everywhere angrily tear VT stickers and car magnets from the back of their Ford Fusions. Mike London probably cries, but we forgive him. And VT fans wake up to a stark reality that the streak is over... and basketball season is right around the corner.

At least, that's how it plays out in my head...

Anonymous said...

I think you mean "dozens of blazer-clad Wahoos storm the field..."