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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #21 Virginia Tech

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 18, 2015

#21 Virginia Tech Hokies

2014 Recap:

Things looked just peachy coming out of the gate 2-0 and accomplishing something no other team did all of 2014…defeat Ohio State. Not only had the Hokies defeated the eventual National Champions, they did it in Columbus on Buckeye turf. The Hokies used all that momentum for their next game…where they lost at home to East Carolina. The low point came late in the season at Wake Forest where Virginia Tech lost 6-3 in 2OT after regulation resulted in a scoreless tie. The Hokies finished at 3-5 in the ACC, and a win over Cincinnati in The Military Bowl prevented a losing season.

 

Coaching:

There is no other coach at the FBS level that has more victories than Frank Beamer, and 231 of Beamer’s 273 career victories have come at Blacksburg. Beamer remains one of the most respected coaches in the game despite the recent hardships of a program that had routinely been in the top ten. This will be a big year for offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler as he tries to improve upon an offense that ranked 93rd in the nation in scoring at 24.1 PPG. The defense is very stout with nine returning starters for a unit that ranked 21st in the nation and has the makings of a top ten unit this year.

 

Offensive Analysis

 

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Michael Brewer started all 13 games for the Hokies last season, and he will be back for his senior campaign. It was a rocky year with an unimpressive 18/15 TD/INT ratio as one of the main causes for ineffectiveness. Last season Brewer had just grabbed the reigns of the starting job from the departed Logan Thomas, so Virginia Tech is hoping this year is more fruitful. Again, Brewer started all games, but he was banged up quite a bit, and it looks like the additional 10 pounds on his frame at the spring game is warranted. The biggest concern is the mobility, as Brewer can move around the pocket and scramble when needed, but he is not nearly as fast and elusive as some of the Virginia Tech quarterbacks of the past.

The running game seemed to struggle more than the passing attack last season, but that seems to be rectified with an improved offensive line and deeper stable of runners. J.C. Coleman and Marshawn Williams should lead the rushing attack as the two combined for 1,008 yards and seven touchdowns a season ago. Williams started most of the games last season, but the roles of the backs has flip-flopped with Coleman now the primary starting tailback. Williams is also recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in December, so while he will play he may be limited near the beginning of the season.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Virginia Tech has long had the reputation of being a ground and pound team, but there have been more wide receivers coming from Virginia tech than many realize. There’s a feel that Virginia Tech had one of the more dynamic freshman last season that seemed to fly under the radar in the form of Isaiah Ford. Ford topped all Hokie receivers in catches and yards with 56-709 while adding six touchdowns. Ford stands 6’1” and looks like he has an NFL future. The six touchdowns was good for second on the team, second to only starting tight end Bucky Hodges who totaled seven and was also a freshman.

The other starting wide receiver will be Cam Phillips (40-498-3) and you guessed it, he too was a freshman last year. To put all the blame on Brewer would be unfair with the amount of inexperience at key skills positions a season ago. Our thought is that Ford will emerge as the true #1 target for this team while Hodges cements himself as a reliable red zone target.

Best Draft Prospect: Isaiah Ford WR 3rd Round 2017 (candidate to leave early, part of the 2018 graduating class).

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line has been in a state of flux over the last few seasons, but things are looking fairly stable heading into the season. The talent level may not be up to the usual Virginia Tech standards, but the players seem to be in place, and there are three starters returning from 2014. Jonathan McLaughlin really improved his play down the stretch before suffering a season ending injury. McLaughlin could be the best prospect along the line if he continues to improve, but sophomore Wyatt Teller had moments where he looked dominant along the interior at guard.Teller is yet another sophomore (that seems to have been some recruiting class the Hokies had) that stated and contributed for Virginia Tech.

Augie Conte is back at right guard, as Virginia Tech will look to pound the ball inside, but look for Parker Osterloh to begin the grooming process for seeing some starting action at either guard or tackle in the near future. At 6’8” and 325 Osterloh is massive, although he may be more comfortable inside vice along the tackle spot where players normally this size would reside. This is an underrated offensive line that could turn into one of the better ACC units by midseason.

Best Draft Prospect: Wyatt Teller OG 4th Round 2018.

 

Defensive Analysis

Defensive Line:

If you read the entire offensive analysis you might be wondering why this team would start the season ranked #21. It starts on defense where Virginia Tech has all the tolls to be one of the best units at the FBS level. Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem combined for 33 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks a season ago, and both are back for 2015. Both players could be dark horses to be selected in the first round with big seasons, although they are penciled in for rounds two and three right now. Ekanem would have to declare for this draft, as he is a junior.

What many fail to realize is going into last season the player we would have pegged as the top prospect was defensive tackle Luther Maddy. Maddy is an undersized defensive tackle who has been granted an extra year of eligibility after appearing in only four games due to injury last season. Just how much Maddy will play is a question mark, but the Hokies also have Nigel Williams who filled in admirably with 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and an additional 10 quarterback hurries. The amount of talent along the defensive line is sheer madness. The key will be having the offense move the chains and allow the defense a breather and not having them wear down. This has been an issue the last two seasons in Blackburg, winning the time of possession battle.

Best Draft Prospect: Dadi Nicholas DE/LB 2nd Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

While the linebackers don’t enjoy the same amount of depth as the defensive line this is still a capable group and one that has experience making big plays. Deon Clarke was the unsung hero of the defense a season ago with 74 total tackles as 11 went for loss and five sacks were totaled. Andrew Motuapuaka emerged as a dependable playmaker with 54 tackles of his own.

The other starting linebacker position may be a platoon, as Ronny Vandyke seems to be the incumbent. Vandyke has been used primarily as a backup and on special teams in the past. Vandyke will be splitting time with Holland Fisher who can also be used in the secondary at the rover position. There should be a few other key contributors at the position with newcomers Carson Lydon and Jamieon Moss likely seeing a significant amount of playing time.

Best Draft Prospect: Deon Clarke LB 4th Round 2016.

 

Secondary:

Kendall Fuller has all the talent and the athletic lineage to be the top cornerback selected in the upcoming draft if he declares. Fuller had 54 stops with a pair of sacks and a pair of interceptions to go with 15 pass breakups and 17 passes defensed. Those are impressive numbers, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Fuller played nearly the whole season with a fracture in his left wrist. Fuller underwent surgery, and for precautionary purposes he sat out spring practice but he will be ready for the season opener.

What makes Fuller even more dangerous is he will be joined by another amazing underclassmen at cornerback in redshirt sophomore Brandon Facyson. Facyson was granted a medical hardship waiver after missing the last nine games of the season with an injured shin being re-aggravated before leading to a setback with a leg break in December. Facyson and Fuller when healthy form what could be the best starting cornerback duo in the nation. While Fuller is the top talent available at cornerback, Facyson had five interceptions as a true freshman a couple of seasons ago. Donovan Riley and new safety starter C.J. Reavis will fill out the secondary starters in a group that is physical and can play press coverage anywhere on the field.

Best Draft Prospect: Kendall Fuller CB 1st Round 2016, potential top 10 pick and top cornerback off the board (will have to declare for 2016 Draft, part of the 2017 Draft class).

 

Special Teams

A.J. Hughes is a potential draft pick and certainly a draft invite at punter despite averaging under 40 YPK last season. Hughes and the Hokie special teams allowed a paltry 3.1 yards per return due to great coverage, and the hang time Hughes is able to routinely get on his punts. Hughes has been added to the Ray Guy Award watch list for this season. Joey Slye is back at kicker after going 20-28 as a freshman. Slye had a pair of shorter kicks blocked last season, and this is an aspect of his game that will have to improve. Speaking of blocks, it was Virginia Tech that seemed to write the book on blocked kicks starting back in the 90’s. Virginia tech was able to block a field goal and a pair of punts last season, so this is something that is still a weapon for the Hokies. The Hokies rarely employ just a single punt or kick return man, often they go with the “hot hand”.

Best Draft Prospect: A.J. Hughes 7th Round/UFA 2016.

 

2015 Schedule

No need to wait for the second game of the year, Ohio State is back and this time they come to Blacksburg. It would be a huge statement if the Hokies can win for a second year in a row, but you better believe the Buckeyes will be prepared. The ACC schedule is considerably easier for Virginia Tech this season with back-to-back road games later against Boston College and Georgia Tech looking to be a stiffer test. The Hokies will have a week off to break up the road games, and there is no Clemson or Florida State on the schedule.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

Kendall Fuller is the key here, and if he declares as expect he is a potential top ten or even top five pick as things stand right now. Dadi Nicolas figures to be a high pick as does Ken Ekanem if he decides to declare. There are so many underclassmen on this team that look to have true NFL talent, the Hokies from an individual talent standpoint are in good hands. Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges remain good targets on offense that seem to be blossoming into future prospects near the top of the draft board.

 

Kendall Fuller is the key here, and if he declares as expect he is a potential top ten or even top five pick as things stand right now. Dadi Nicolas figures to be a high pick as does Ken Ekanem if he decides to declare. There are so many underclassmen on this team that look to have true NFL talent, the Hokies from an individual talent standpoint are in good hands. Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges remain good targets on offense that seem to be blossoming into future prospects near the top of the draft board.