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Virginia Tech Football: Ford, Phillips, and the Wide Receiver Youth Movement

With nagging injuries to Stanford and Knowles, can Ford and Phillips seize larger roles in the offense?

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday's opening win against William & Mary was successful on a variety of fronts for the Virginia Tech Hokies. The defense was stellar, the quarterback play by newcomer Michael Brewer was exceptional, and the infusion of freshmen into the rotation on offense and defense showed that the youth movement is alive and well in Blacksburg.

While Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams certainly made the most of their opportunities at running back, the performances of Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford left favorable reviews by both the coaching staff and the fans. This summer, the freshman duo of Ford and Phillips showed throughout workouts and into training camp that they could compete for playing time right away and forgo redshirt seasons. Saturday, they showed us why.

On the opening drive for the Hokies, Brewer danced in the pocket and eventually found Isaiah Ford for his first career touchdown catch from 13 yards out. Ford finished the day with four catches for 43 yards and the 13-yard touchdown.

Phillips meanwhile, made a huge catch late in the first quarter on a 3rd and 13 play that went for 17 yards and a much needed first down. In the 2nd half, Phillips made his second catch of the day, another 17 yard catch on a drive that culminated with fellow freshman Shai McKenzie's first career touchdown run.

With the freshmen playing such a huge role, it made Hokie fans forget that Josh Stanford hadn't seen the field since early in the game. Stanford, who is a redshirt sophomore, left the contest early after tweaking his hamstring on an end around early in the first quarter.

Additionally, redshirt junior Demitri Knowles, who has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, occupied the fifth receiver spot in the opener against the Tribe after starting at Split End the last two seasons. Knowles made one big catch in the game, a 38-yard grab late in the second quarter. Other than that reception, he did not see the field much at all on offense. With two experienced receivers now on the sidelines, one would expect the team to struggle to move the ball through the air. Instead, the Hokies rattled off nearly 500 yards of total offense, 266 of which were passing yards.

Moving forward, it appears that Ford, redshirt senior Willie Byrn, and Josh Stanford will be the three primary receivers in the offense, with Cam Phillips playing a substantial role as well. Other than kick return duties for Demitri Knowles, it seems as if he will simply be the fifth receiver in this offense.

As of Wednesday's practice, it appears that Stanford will be healthy enough to play in Saturday night's crucial road test against Ohio State. If Stanford is not at 100%, Phillips will play a larger role this weekend against the Buckeyes. If he plays well, many will begin to speculate whether or not he should play more over Stanford in the coming weeks. Controversy or not, it will be interesting to see who the major contributors will be in this evolving offense for the rest of the season.