Introducing the Know Your Opponent Series: Virginia Tech

Hello FTRS! This is my first time posting a fanpost here, and I wanted to kick things off by writing a series of posts documenting what each of our opponents have lost and gained over the offseason, as well as what we can expect from them come gameday. As part of this series, I will be watching replays of our 2013 games against each opponent and analyzing how certain players performed against our Jackets. In addition, I'll be watching as much film as I can on notable returning players and recruits in order to see what they may bring to the field this season. I'll try to provide video links where I can. Again, this is my first fanpost, so comments, critiques, and questions are welcome. Today we will be starting the series with our first ACC opponent of the year, the Virginia Tech Hokies! Our game against VT can be found on YouTube here.

What They Lost

This is a fairly long list, and that's a good thing for the Jackets. The Hokies lost a good number of starters, particularly on defense. Virginia Tech DC Bud Foster will have to find a way to replace 7 former starters on that side of the ball. On the other side, there will be a new QB in Blacksburg this Fall, which will lead to an interesting transition. Let's take a look at some of the biggest losses:

CB Kyle Fuller

With the 14th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears selected Kyle Fuller, and every Georgia Tech fan should be thankful that he has moved on to playing on Sundays. Over the past 2 years, he has done more than almost any other Virginia Tech defender to disrupt and stop our Spread Option offense.

A CB by trade, Fuller took on a different role when playing Georgia Tech. Bud Foster moved him to the "Whip" linebacker position. From this position, his primary function was to blitz the A-gap(between the Center and the Guard) and pursue the play if he could not stop it immediately. By shooting the gap in this manner, Foster aimed to disrupt the mesh read between the the Quarterback and B-back. Fuller's speed also allowed him to flow to the pitch, disrupting the QB's progressions and stopping the Triple Option. In order to get a better look at his play against us, I watched his Draft breakdown video from our game, as well as the game itself. Within the first minute, Fuller breaks through the line, causing Vad Lee to fumble. The recovery by VT led to a touchdown for the Hokies, giving them a lead they never relinquished. Fuller even rushed the passer in 2013, applying effective pressure as we were forced to pass later in the game.

The major question here is: How will Bud Foster replace such an effective defender? He may not have to leave the family. His younger brother Kendall was an effective CB last year(we'll discuss him later) with a similar body type.

On a somewhat related note, I noticed that Ted Roof was shooting a LB into the gap on nearly every play during spring scrimmages and the spring game. Quayshawn Nealy was usually the shooting LB, a selection that makes sense due to his athleticism. Hopefully this gave the Offensive Line some experience in neutralizing this threat, as well as preparing our defense to face option teams in the future.

Here is his Draft Breakdown Video from our game:

DT Derrick Hopkins

While Kyle Fuller was the main disruptive force in VT's defense last year, Hopkins was the immovable object in the middle which prevented us from establishing the B-back and the Midline(when the QB follows the BB up the middle after the mesh) with any consistency. Hopkins played the "1-tech " position along VT's defensive line, meaning that he played between the Center and the Guard. In a 4 man front, the "1-tech" is usually charged with eating double teams so that other players can flow to the ball unblocked. This is a vital function against a Spread Option offense. Throughout the game, I watched Jay Finch and Will Jackson hit Hopkins simultaneously, only to get stonewalled. The end result of many of these plays was frustratingly predictable. Kyle Fuller or Jack Tyler would track down Vad or the A-back for a loss or minimal gain. Luckily, we won't have to face him again this year.

As a side note, I've noticed that our OL recruits seem to be getting bigger every year, and it makes me wonder if this is a direct response from our coaching staff to players like Hopkins completely stifling our offense for entire games. Only time will tell if this strategy works.

DE James Gayle

VT lost both of their starting DEs to graduation this offseason, and Gayle was the most notable. Since Kyle Fuller was crashing the middle of the defense, it fell to Gayle to defend the QB keep. In this role he played well and showed his versatility, playing with his hand in the dirt and occasionally as a stand up linebacker. The thing I noticed most about Gayle while watching the 2013 tape was our OL's inability to effectively block him. He beat Brian Chamberlain repeatedly throughout the night, and he made Will Jackson look so silly on a pulling cut block in the 3rd quarter that I had to watch the play twice to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Later in the game, Gayle became an even larger problem as we were foced to pass more. Due to his pass rush, Vad threw many passes away and did not set himself properly for others.

You can see a lot of what I'm talking about in his Draft breakdown video:

LB Jack Tyler

With all of the talk about the freakish athletic prowess of some of the other defenders VT lost this offseason, it can be easy to forget about the instincts, reliability, and leadership that Jack Tyler provided from the MLB position. In order to allow Tyler to flow to the ball carrier, Bud Foster had him play farther back than he would against most offenses. With the help of the two space eating tackles in the middle, Tyler was often able to pursue to the play unblocked. This was a huge problem in 2012, where he was able to record 17 tackles. CPJ made better adjustments in 2013, and the blocking on Tyler was much improved. As someone who defended against our offense for years, he will certainly be difficult to replace.

QB Logan Thomas

Ugh. Reviewing Logan Thomas's performances against GT has been incredibly frustrating. he always seemed to get it right against us. In 2011 he was a world-beater, and his performance against us came as no surprise. However, he began to decline in 2012. He wasn't spectacular against us that year, but 230 yards passing with 2 TDs combined with 40 yards rushing got the job done. 2013 was particularly annoying. After struggling mightily against weaker teams, Thomas arrived in Atlanta and subsequently posted 221 passing years with 1 TD and 58 rushing yards with an additional TD. his big improvement over 2012 was his completion percentage, rising from 55% to 76%. After seeing his stats and watching part of the game, I asked a friend how Logan Thomas could turn it around so quickly against us. He replied that it wasn't coincidence, but scheme. We allowed Logan Thomas to build confidence by letting him complete short passes and sustain drives. We also poorly defended against yards after the catch(YAC), allowing big plays that never should have happened.

This all slowed in the 2nd half thanks to an improved pass rush. We made the same mistake against Hutson Mason in the u(sic)ga game, but we'll talk about that in another article. This year, we will be facing a new VT QB with limited experience. In week 4, this QB could reasonably be struggling and lacking confidence. If we want to avoid a repeat of 2013, I'd argue that we should be more aggressive in coverage as to squash this form of confidence building.

His Draft Breakdown video from our game:

What's Returning

DT Luther Maddy

The job of clogging the entire middle of the line of scrimmage is usually not a one man job, though Derrick Hopkins certainly gave it his best effort in 2013. It normally takes a tandem. The bad news here is that part of that tandem will be returning for 2014. Luther Maddy didn't quite have the same impact as Hopkins on the game, but he still significantly slowed down our offense. Maddy played in the "3-tech" tackle position, or the DT between the Guard and the Tackle. The goal of this position is to be disruptive in the middle of the defense. He was able to disrupt the dive and midline options well, though he did not space-eat as well as Hopkins. To his credit, he was facing All-ACC Guard Shaquille Mason on most snaps, which is a tall order. They'll square off again this Fall.

RB J.C. Coleman

Back when VT had RBs of the caliber of David Wilson and Ryan Williams(and a different offensive coordinator), they loved to run the ball heavily. Since their departure, VT has struggled in the run game. J.C. Coleman was seen as the answer when he came to Blacksburg as a highly touted recruit, but has failed to live up to the lofty expectations after 2 years. Much of this can be attributed to poor run blocking by the OL combined with the fact that Coleman is not a power runner. He is a speedster who requires good blocking to break big plays. Coleman only had 25 yards against us in 2012, and didn't record a carry against us in 2013. Despite his limited success, the threat remains, especially with our lack of depth at DT. If their OL can get it together, he could be a major problem for the Jackets.

CB Kendall Fuller

One Fuller moves on to the NL, another rises up to take his place. The younger Fuller was a much more highly lauded recruit out of high school. While Kyle was only a 3*, Kendall was a 5* and the #2 CB prospect in the country. Against us last year, he played the corner spot while his older brother wreaked havoc from the "Whip" LB position. Kendall wasn't in on many plays during the game, but he did come up big in a couple spots. In the first quarter, he broke up a pass to DeAndre Smelter in the red zone. In addition, he came up with the game ending interception in the 4th quarter. It isn't yet known if he'll take over his brother's in defending against our offense, but the two have similar skill sets. What's scary is that Kendall may have even more potential than Kyle did. Whether or not he reaches that potential, only time will tell. For now, we have at least 2 more years of Fullers to contend with. We can only hope he is emboldened by his brother's draft position and leaves for the NFL after his Junior year.

QB Brenden Motley

This is where the complicated competition to replace Logan Thomas begins! The current leader on the depth chart is returner Brenden Motley, a redshirt sophomore from Christianburg, VA. he has never seen a gametime snap, so that puts him on an even playing field with many of the other candidates. In order to get a better understanding of his skill set, I watched VT's spring game, which can be found on ESPN3. To be honest, I wasn't particularly impressed. He reminds me a lot of Logan Thomas, in both the good ways and the very bad ways(for them). he is an inconsistent passer who is prone to bad overthrows and underthrows that could lead to interceptions. He can run, however, and had a 20 yard TD scramble called back due to a holding penalty in the spring game. His receivers also had some bad drops. He's the current leader, but the QB controversy is far from over.

What they Gained

RBs Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie

The Hokies gained 2 highly touted and powerful backs in their 2014 class, and both were early enrollees. When I watched the high school highlights for Williams, I was impressed. He wasn't really a burner, but he was very tough to take down, and flashed explosiveness as well. His ability to dodge and occasionally hurdle tacklers caught my eye.

McKenzie is particularly tough to talk about since GT made his top 3. With the news that Travis Custis is ineligible to play for us this year, it becomes tougher. Shai would have been a good B-back prospect at GT. He has the size to break tackles and the speed to break away. He's currently behind Williams on the depth chart, but both could help VT return to being a good running team.

Some highlights for Williams:

Some highlights for McKenzie:

S Holland Fisher

No surprise here, but VT's highest rated 2014 recruit was on defense. In fact, their top-rated recruit was a defensive secondary prospect for the second straight year. This year, that recruit is safety Holland Fisher, the top safety recruit in the nation according to 247sports. On film, the first thing that stuck out to me was his physicality. He blows up an opponent on a special teams block on the first play. He continued to deliver devastating hits throughout his entire highlight film. Fisher projects as more of a run defending safety, as he played ILB and occasionally DE in high school. If Kendall Fuller does not take over the "Whip" position against us next year, Fisher could certainly be a candidate to do so. If he reaches his potential, he could be just as effective as Kam Chancellor was against us before he moved on to the NFL. I saw very limited coverage film from him, so it is unknown how well he can cover our A-backs and Receivers.

Some of the highlights I saw:

QB Andrew Ford

Time to get back to the QB competition! Up first is an early enrollee from PA who is a 3* pro style QB according to 247 composite rankings. Each of the QBs in this competition brings something different to the table, and from what I saw, Ford was by far the best pocket passer. He has fantastic pocket presence, and will move around in the pocket to avoid pressure instead of fleeing. This allows him to maintain his read progressions and step into his throws, something he does well. As far as downside, he doesn't run as well as the other QB prospects, and that may hurt him considering the fact that VT has failed to establish a strong run game in recent years. Also, I didn't see exceptional arm strength in his film, and this may limit his upside.

Take a look for yourself:

QB Chris Durkin

The other QB from VT's 2014 class is Chris Durkin, and he varies from Andrew Ford in a number of ways. The most notable is his running ability. He's big, he's a load to take down, and he has some fairly good wheels. In high school, he rand a good number of read-option plays, which could add another wrinkle to Scott Loeffler's offense. his downside is his technique and refinement. He has a rocket arm, but I saw very few passes from the pocket. He prefers to throw on the run, which could lead to costly mistakes at the next level. His throwing motion is also unrefined due to this preference. He also did not handle pressure as well as Ford, choosing to flee the pocket at the first sign of pressure. His upside is tremendous, but will he be able to beat out the other, more refined candidates this year?


QB Michael Brewer

In early March, the QB competition was shaken up by the announcement that former Texas Tech QB Michael Brewer would be transferring to Virginia Tech. Brewer is eligible to play immediately and has 2 years of eligibility remaining. he was the anticipated starter for TTU last year, but a summer injury forced him to miss the first 4 games of the season. By the time he returned, he had been surpassed by his teammates on the depth chart. His big advantage over others in this competition is that he has a actually taken snaps in a collegiate game. Brewer has never started a game, but has played in 13 of them over 2 years. I'm going to go ahead and make a bold prediction. I think Brewer wins this competition. With 2 years of eligibility remaining, I think VT's coaching staff sees him as a bridge to younger QBs with higher ceilings, like Durkin. I simply don't see them accepting his transfer if they didn't think he had a very good shot at winning the job. Just my 2 cents.

What to Expect on Gameday

When They have the Ball

Much of what you should expect from VT will hinge on which QB wins the job. I've written about 4 QBs here but only 1 will matter at kickoff. Each brings a different skill set to the game, so I can't predict how well we'll do against them. However, I do expect VT to try to establish the run game while trying to boost their young QB's confidence with short passes, just as they did for a struggling Logan Thomas. In order to stop this, we'll have to be aggressive in coverage. GT will not be VT's first big test of the season, as they'll play at Ohio State week 2 of the season. It will be interesting to see how the offense develops after their experience against the Buckeyes. They'll get a good look at a mobile QB that week in Braxton Miller, so I'll be watching to see how they handle his speed.

I'm hoping our pass rush develops by the time we face the Hokies, as this would help us to be more aggressive. There are a lot of variables at play when VT has the ball. Many won't be sorted out until the season starts. I don't think VT's QB will be far enough along in his development by week 4 to tear our defense apart, but we'll have to play better than we did last year in order to win. Not too mention, we have 7 defensive starters to replace as well.

When We have the Ball

If you ask most VT fans, they'll tell you that they aren't worried about losing 7 starters on defense. They'll tell you about Bud Foster's history of reloading his defense year after year, and about how it's always been a strength for the team. I think they're wrong. In the 7 starters they lost, VT lost valuable talent, experience, and leadership that likely won't replenish by week 4. In particular, they lost a good deal of experience defending against CPJ's Spread Option offense. Many of the starters that were lost had 2-3 years of experience under their belts in this area, and I believe these losses will show.

Whether or not our offense can take advantage of this will hinge on the how well Justin Thomas masters his job by week 4. Similarly, our new OL starters must gel together as a cohesive unit. Just like for the Jacket's defense, the opportunity exists, they just have to reach out and take it.

Thanks for reading! Comments, critiques, questions, and discussion are all welcome. I'll be doing this for Duh U next, so if you have anything you'd like me to discuss/pay attention to please let me know!

FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the FTRS writing staff, and are spotlighted purely to create discussion.

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