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stormstopper

[2023] Big XII Network Week 0 Saturday Evening Preview: West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech

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:wvu: West Virginia (0-0) vs. :vt: Virginia Tech (0-0) (Landover, MD)

 

The final game of the Big XII opening-week slate features couch-burners and bass fishers West Virginia and Virginia Tech, who are surprisingly meeting for the first time in their history. The Hokies are coming off of an 11-2 campaign, their best since a 12-2 mark in 2017. They held their opponents to 16.2 points per game, which was the 4th-best mark in the country. But it was a senior-laden defense, and they have to replace six senior starters plus early declaration Jeffrey Benton. The results of that might not be pretty. Neither starting defensive end was recruited with the expectation that either would see much of the field at all in their careers, and they now have to replace 49 tackles (14 for loss) and 14.5 sacks from last year's starters. True freshman Dwayne Gant is starting at defensive tackle alongside a promising Janoris Booker (3.0 sacks, 2 TFL last year). It's the next line of defense where Virginia Tech's defense is strongest. Redshirt sophomore Mike Owens, Jr. is due for a breakout year, and Robert Royal stands ready to make up for Benton's absence. The secondary as a whole isn't much to write home about except for one Trevor McKinney, a preseason All-American who is coming off of a monster 2022 season: 8 interceptions, 13 pass breakups, and a defensive touchdown. He will be tasked with the challenge of slowing down Corey Easley, who topped the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman with 8 touchdowns. The Mountaineers will counter by moving Easley between the outside and the slot to try and find more favorable matchups for him, but Martin Lake has to be ready to rely on his other receivers. Christian Nash, Etena Catingub, and Jermaine Barrow all need to be available--not necessarily explosive, not necessarily dominant, but available. Because the more they can stress the Virginia Tech secondary, the more that stops the Hokies from being able to focus on the run game, which they're already not in a great position to defend against. True freshman Mike Freeman won the starting job, and behind guys like Cameron Hanson and right guard Mario Lawton he'll be getting a lot of touches and a lot of holes to run through. Improving over Bryce Madison's 4.4 yards per carry would be a great start, and his spring game was good proof-of-concept that he can do exactly that.

 

Virginia Tech's offense tells the opposite story of their defense: they return a lot of players, and they upgrade in a lot of places where they don't return someone. Specifically, runningback and wide receiver are in much better shape than they were last year. Julius Whitaker was serviceable, but 4.2 yards per carry isn't much value added even with 13 touchdowns. The duo of Victor Ross and Marquise Swain ought to be an upgrade. The Hokies had a productive trio of receivers in Leolani Pita (58 for 895 yards, 9 TD), Brandon McGowan (46 for 715 yards, 7 TD), and Mario Watkins (47 for 662 yards, 10 TD). All three return, but the wideout group adds even more star power with the addition of juco transfer Leon Marsh. He'll play the flanker role to complement Pita. Quarterback Beckett Morrison was a 63.8% passer with 3,292 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions last year (along with 427 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground), so imagine what he can do with better weapons out wide. On the other hand, he was protected by Kai Hagen and Cole Fay last year, both of whom are now gone. Left tackle Max Elmore and right guard Joseph Waite will have to fill their shoes, which then raises the question of how Elmore and Waite's old shoes will be filled. Virginia Tech doesn't have a great answer, and the trio of Elvis Cornejo, Riley Reardon, and freshman Dominic Acuna will try to ask the question again and again from the West Virginia defensive line. Between Acuna, Hudson Collins, and Lavonte Jones, West Virginia's front has a lot of potential but a lot to prove. Keeping Morrison in the pocket will be tough but doable, keeping Ross and Swain contained will be tough but doable, and keeping the receivers in check will be tough...and I'm not as sure about doable. West Virginia's secondary isn't very deep. Harry Conner's relatively unproven, Moussa Lacy and strong safety Bucky Richardson are redshirt freshmen--but Preston Evans is coming off of a phenomenal campaign with 6 interceptions from the free safety spot, and he'll look to be the deep anchor once again. If he can hold that unit together just enough, I think that would be enough of an opening for West Virginia's offense as a whole and defensive front to take over the game and carry the Mountaineers to an opening win.

 

:wvu: West Virginia 27, :vt: Virginia Tech 23

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VT sucks!

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okay but have either of you considered that you're wrong

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