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[2020] Virginia Tech Hokies Season Preview - Presented by the ACC Network

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:vt: Virginia Tech Hokies

2019 Record: 6-7 (5-2 ACC)

3rd in the ACC Coastal

 

It was all talk but little walk for the Hokies last season; with many talented pieces being saved for a 2019 run, it's safe to say that the end result fell very flat. While the offense came and went in strides, a leaky defense ultimately doomed the Hokies to a .500 regular season record, including a sad loss to rivals Virginia to end the season. 2020 was known to be a rebuilding year as early as the 2018 season, and now that it has finally arrived, we can fully understand why. The Hokies lose quite a few important pieces from last season, including the heralded Matthew Dobbs, and they lack the immediate talent to reload.

 

Notable Losses:

QB Matthew Dobbs 6-1 213 (Sr) Landstown (Virginia Beach, VA) 4.5 of 4.5 [Scrambling]

RB Willie Lopez 5-11 199 (Sr) Kahuku (Kahuku, HI) 4.0 of 4.0 [Speed]

WR Joseph Dickerson 5-11 158 (Sr) Sayre Area (Sayre, PA) 4.5 of 4.5 [Speed]

OT Donald Reed 6-5 293 (Sr) Lakeland (Lakeland, FL) 5.0 of 5.0 [Pass Blocking]

OLB Dean Minter 6-1 238 (Sr) West Central (Hartford, SD) 3.5 of 3.5 [Blitz]

OLB Richard Ryan 6-3 230 (Sr) Theodore Roosevelt (Washington, DC) 4.5 of 4.5 [Coverage]

 

At first it doesn't seem like a large quantitative amount, but the impact that these players left on the team is enormous. Dobbs is the obvious big name after being Tech's starter for four of the past five years, but Dickerson was his #1 target for most of that time. Donald Reed was a 1st-round offensive tackle, and the offensive line will take a huge loss with him gone. Both starting outside linebackers are gone, with Ryan being the more technically skilled and efficient of the two. 

 

Notable Returners:

FB Maurice Ervin 5-8 207 (Sr) Patrick Henry Community College (Martinsville, VA) 5.0 of 5.0 [Pass Blocking]

TE Darnell Pierre 6-1 223 (Jr) Pleasant Grove (Pleasant Grove, UT) 4.0 of 4.0 [Receiving]

C Aaron Petersen 6-4 255 (Sr) Jackson State Community College (Jackson, TN) 4.5 of 4.5 [Run Blocking]

OG Cole Fay 6-7 271 (So) Saint Albans (St. Albans, WV) 4.0 of 5.0 [Run Blocking]

DE Mahamadou Chavis 6-0 250 (So) Tucker County (Hambleton, WV) 4.0 of 4.0 [Blitz]

CB Lucas Freeman 6-1 197 (So) Cummings (Burlington, NC) 3.5 of 4.5 [Man Coverage]

SS Jonathan Norman 6-2 203 (Sr) Nassau CC (Garden City, NY) 5.0 of 5.0 [Zone Coverage]

P Erik Kline 6-2 169 (Sr) Cary (Cary NC) 4.5 of 4.5 [Accuracy]

 

Ervin returns as Tech's leading rusher, and the fullback-turned-running back will be looked towards to carry the offense while breaking in a senior quarterback and a set of new receivers. The line looks stable however, with Peterson and Fay among a talented group of linemen, and Pierre provides reliable outside blocking and a solid target underneath for new quarterback Ralph Westfall. There are a few holes defensively again, but Chavis heads a slightly above average defensive line, and Freeman and Norman take charge of a young secondary that includes top corner recruit Trevor McKinney. Tech also returns one of the top punters in conference in Erik Kline, meaning the Hokies should win the field position battle more often than not.

 

Potential Strengths:

Ground Pound - Ervin was efficient on the ground in the Hokies' tumultuous 2019 campaign, and with an experienced offensive line in front of him (only two non-seniors), he should be gifted plenty of holes to gain chunks of yardage. The running game has to be as good as anticipated; the passing game won't do Ervin and Co. any favors.

 

Pinning Them Deep - In a season where the offense is expected to do far less, Erik Kline might have the most important job on the team. If the offense is going to be predictable and/or runs into a team with a solid front seven, then Kline is going to have to put his leg to work, and he could do the defense many favors by consistently punting the ball 40-45 yards a kick. Of course, the defense will have to do their job, but it helps if they're not backed against the wall early.

 

Potential Weaknesses:

They Can Throw The Ball? - No Dobbs? No Dickerson? The situation is similar to that of last year's Miami, only way worse. Westfall doesn't have the arm that Dobbs had, nor does he have the game experience, and his receivers are a massive downgrade from last year's group (former RB Willie Lopez was the WR3 in a less than stellar passing game). As stated before, the running game will be leaned on to carry the offense, but that becomes too predictable all too often. Westfall has to prove the naysayers wrong if Tech is to find decent success on the offensive side of the ball.

 

Youth in the Middle - With the departure of linebackers Minter and Ryan, Tech junior Ousmane Redding and freshman Jeffrey Benton to replace the two seniors. With Benton, you have a talented but very young player, and with Redding, you have a player that hasn't quite developed as expected, leaving two very vulnerable positions in the middle of the field. Redding, the more experienced of the two, will be tasked with helping the defensive line in pressuring the quarterback more often than not, and Benton will likely sit back in coverage to aid the secondary. Their inexperience could prove costly at times, especially considering some of the experience in the secondary. They have to be ready to fill in and play comfortably immediately, else teams could find success harassing the second layer of the field.

 

2020 Schedule:

Week 2: Eastern Michigan (Blacksburg, VA)

Week 3: Pittsburgh (Blacksburg, VA)

Week 4: at Oklahoma State (Stillwater, OK)

Week 5: North Carolina (Blacksburg, VA)

Week 7: Nevada (Blacksburg, VA)

Week 8: at Texas A&M (College Station, TX)

Week 9: Clemson (Blacksburg, VA)

Week 10: at Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA)

Week 11: at Miami (FL) (Miami Gardens, FL)

Week 13: Duke (Blacksburg, VA)

Week 14: at Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)

Week 16: at Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)

 

What To Expect:

It's going to be rough in Blacksburg. The OOC is a little more favorable with EMU and a rebuilding Texas A&M on the schedule, but the cross-divisional slate is absolutely brutal, featuring a date with Clemson and a road trip to Boston College. I could foresee wins over EMU, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Miami, and Duke. Losses should come against Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State, Nevada, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Virginia, leaving the Hokies at 5-7 (3-5 ACC) and at 4th in the Coastal. The offense is going to struggle mightily this season, and the defense isn't strong enough to win games by themselves.

 

Best Case Scenario:

Westfall makes a lot of plays in the passing game, and the younger players in the defense play up to their potential. Trevor McKinney is a fantastic corner, creating a relatively tough secondary. Oklahoma State and Nevada suffer Top Player Loss Syndrome (Raheem and Akeel, respectively), and Matteo Rook (UVA) and Josh Beckett (GT) can't throw on this defense, resulting in a 9-3 record for the Hokies, finishing 2nd in the Coastal.

 

Worst Case Scenario:

The offense stalls as teams figure out that the Hokies really cannot throw the ball. Inexperience at linebacker and Trevor McKinney's growing pains lead to a leaky defense once again, and the Hokies lose close games to Duke and Texas A&M, finishing at a lowly 3-9 and in desperate need of a refresher on the offensive side of the ball.

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