The Virginia Tech Hokies got back to winning last week with a 42-35 victory at Louisville to move to 4-2 on the season. Next up for the Hokies is No. 25 Liberty.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Liberty Flames, from down the road a bit in Lynchburg, come to Blacksburg on Saturday ranked, facing an unranked Virginia Tech team.
At 6-0, Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze has the Flames off to a record start and looking for a signature victory.
This game came about this summer when the ACC did a ‘10+1’ schedule model for 2020, meaning 10 conference games and one non-conference contest against a state foe. It turns out, this could be one of the more intriguing games on Virginia Tech’s schedule.
When: Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020
Time: Noon ET
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
TV: ACC Network
Odds: Virginia Tech is 14.5-point favorites, according to BetMGM
Believe it or not, these two teams have only played one time. That prior meeting happened in 2016 when the Hokies defeated the Flames 36-13 in Blacksburg.
The lack of a series history is because Liberty didn’t become a member of the FBS until 2018. Before that time, Liberty was what was formerly referred to as I-AA school, now known as the FCS.
A look at the Liberty Flames
Liberty’s 6-0 record will certainly grab your attention. It is important to note the Flames have beaten Western Kentucky, Florida International, North Alabama, UL Monroe, Syracuse and Southern Mississippi. While some will knock Liberty’s lack of competition, the Flames have essentially blown out all opponents, except one in the season-opener.
Liberty’s win at Syracuse was impressive. Sure, Syracuse is a bottom-feeder in the ACC, but Liberty went to the Carrier Dome and whipped the Orange. Hugh Freeze’s squad certainly deserves credit.
Quarterback Malik Willis is having a strong season for the Flames. He is completed 67 percent of his passes for over 1,100 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. He is also Liberty’s leading rusher with 495 yards and six touchdowns.
Some fans may not realize that Willis was at one time committed to Virginia Tech to play cornerback. However, Auburn offered him a scholarship and a chance to play quarterback and Willis ended up there for two seasons before transferring to Liberty.
Freeze likes to play an up-tempo offense and in some ways is reminiscent to what Rich Rodriguez ran at West Virginia. Liberty is the No. 7 rushing team in the country, averaging 255 yards per game. The Hokies, of course, are ranked No. 5 averaging 290 yards per contest.
Liberty has four players with over 300 yards rushing and a combined 14 touchdowns.
DJ Stubbs, a 5-foot-9 senior, is Liberty’s top playmaker at receiver. Stubbs is similar to Louisville’s top receiver, Tutu Atwell.
Liberty’s defense will face its first real test of the season competing against Virginia Tech’s stout offensive line and quarterback Hendon Hooker.
A look at Virginia Tech
The Hokies struggled for the first time on offense two weeks ago in a loss to Wake Forest. It was no coincidence that it was the worst game of Hooker’s career. He bounced back in a big way in the win over Louisville, rushing for three touchdowns and passing for almost 200 yards. Hooker completed all 10 of his pass attempts.
Running back Khalil Herbert had another strong game last week. In his six games with the Hokies, Herbert has went for over 100 yards in five of those games. You should probably expect a heavy dose of Herbert and Raheem Blackshear on Saturday.
Wide receiver Tre Turner had his best game of 2020 last week. Turner made multiple plays downfield and looked healthy for the first time in weeks. It is an encouraging sign for the Hokies in the passing game. Tight end James Mitchell has been outstanding as both a receiver and a blocker.
Virginia Tech’s offensive line continued its domination last week.
This game will likely be won or lost by Tech’s defense. This unit started out strong last week and built up just enough of a cushion for the offense to pull out the win. The Hokies allowed a 90-yard touchdown just before halftime that seemed to carry over into the second half.
The Hokies did a good job against Louisville’s running game outside of one play. While that is good news, that one play cannot be ignored. The Hokies continued to struggle defending the pass last week, but were opportunistic with turnovers yet again.
Where would this defense be without turnovers?
I would expect Liberty to hang with the Hokies early. Willis has the ability to create issues for Virginia Tech’s defense, The Flames will find room running the football, but Virginia Tech’s pass defense will tighten up this week.
Meanwhile, the offense has another big day as Herbert goes for over 150 yards and Hooker accounts for multiple touchdowns and the Hokies win by at least two scores.
Virginia Tech 41, Liberty 24