Part of our Football Countdown is to preview each opponent for the Jackets. You can read the rest of the opponents here.
Virginia Tech opened up the season against reigning juggernaut Alabama and played the Tide very close. The final score was ugly but anyone who saw the VT defense wreak havoc on Alabama's stellar offensive line knew the defense had potential. Bud Foster's defense ended up ranked 3rd in the country and was generally great at everything. The offense though, the Hokies made the infamous Chan Gailey Offenses of the 2000's look exciting and innovative. Logan Thomas, for all his skill and potential, could never quite put the quarterback position together. He didn't have much help from anyone else regardless of what he could do, and it resulted in some ugly performances. VT still went 8-4 in the regular season and if not for some close losses (Maryland by 3, BC by 7, and Duke by 3) they could have easily won the right to get blown out by Florida State in the ACC Championship.
Who is Gone?
Logan Thomas is the big name on offense gone and while he got drafted in the 4th round, his production really won't be missed that much. Defense is another story. Kyle Fuller (1st round to the Bears) and Antone Exum (6th round to the Vikings) were very talented corners that VT will have to replace, however both missed some time last year so VT has some experience playing without them. VT's two leading linebackers from last year are gone, Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards, and they lose 3 starters along the defensive line. D.J. Coles is the only skill player gone and Andrew Miller, owner of 34 career starts, is gone on the offensive line. All in all Virginia Tech ranks 87th in number of starters returning, according to Phil Steele, and the defense especially will have to replace some quality players.
Expected Changes From Last Year
On Offense the loss of Logan Thomas will obviously change the offensive scheme. Sophomore Brendan Motley is the leader going in to fall camp, but there is still a possibility long-time backup Mark Leal gets some snaps as well as transfer Michael Brewer. Without Logan Thomas VT will have to find someone to spark the offense, and we probably won't know who can do that until they start to play some games.
On Defense we all know what we are getting from Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster. They do have to replace a lot of bodies but they always recruit well, they play the system, and boy do they do some damage. Expect new faces but similar results to last year without much scheme change.
Just going off Virginia Tech's depth and the caliber of recruits they signed this year I don't foresee a specific freshman to truly make an impact. Virginia Tech does have a ton of running backs on its roster but none have really separated themselves as the entrenched starter, so its possible one of Marshawn Williams or Shai McKenzie, both 4-stars, could make some moves. With the bodies they lose on the defensive line expect Ricky Walker, a 4-star defensive tackle from Virginia, to get some looks in fall camp.
WR - Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles, & Joshua Stanford: These three combined for over 1800 yards receiving last year. They all have their own separate skills but together combine to give Virginia Tech plenty of options in the passing game. Byrn gets more short yardage throws while catching a higher percentage of passes than the other three. Stanford seems to be the deep threat of the three, averaging 16 yards per completion. These three will have to help out who ever is throwing them passes.
DT - Luther Maddy: Maddy led the team with 13.5 Tackles for Loss last season and is the only returning starter on the defensive line. He made a ton of plays behind the line with 6 sacks and 2 passes broken up. The defense will depend on Luther Maddy to continue that production without the help he had this year.
CB - Kendall Fuller: A 5-star recruit last year, Fuller (the younger brother to first round pick Kyle Fuller) played extremely well after injuries to Antone Exum forced him into a larger role than expected. He had 6 picks last year, 11 passes broken up, a forced fumble, and 2.5 TFL. That is outstanding production for a cornerback, let alone a freshman. Expect Kendall to make some big plays this year.
Virginia Tech has a huge non-conference game at Ohio State, who should be excellent again. Other than that, their schedule is nothing to be especially concerned about. They get Georgia Tech and Miami at home, and travel to Pitt, UNC, and Duke in the 2nd half of the season. That should get them time to get their offense on track. Their defense is too good for them not to compete in the majority of games they play, and if the offense gets going I would expect them to win the Coastal. They may lose a game or two to another opponent, but with the bunch at the top of the Coastal I don't really expect anyone to go undefeated in conference. VT should be in the running as always.