The Virginia Tech Hokies (3-3, 1-1) return to action on Saturday as the Syracuse Orange (3-4, 0-3) come to Lane Stadium for a critical ACC matchup. This is only the second time the two old Big East rivals have met since Syracuse entered the ACC in 2013.
The Orange are coming off three consecutive heartbreaking losses — all in the ACC — to Florida State, Wake Forest and Clemson. Syracuse lost each game by three points and is a better team than the 0-3 conference record indicates.
Meanwhile, the Hokies are on a far different trajectory. Virginia Tech looked like one of the worst teams in the ACC in last week's 28-7 loss at home to Pitt. Expectations are lower than ever for the Hokies, but despite their struggles on offense, they remain firmly in contention in the ACC Coastal — for now.
The Hokies have unveiled a special throwback uniform for Saturday from arguably the most outstanding team in school history.
Here is everything you need to know about Saturday's battle between the Orange and the Hokies.
When: Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021
Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
TV: RSN (Regional Sports Network)
Radio: 105.3 FM in the New River Valley, The Virginia Tech Sports Network, where you can find a list of affiliates here.
Weather: 56 degrees, sunny, per the Weather Channel
Odds: Virginia Tech is a 3.5-point favorite, according to Odds Shark.
Syracuse leads the all-time series, 10-8. The two teams last met in 2016, Justin Fuente's first season as head coach, and the Orange won that game, 31-17.
These two teams first met back in 1964 when Syracuse defeated Virginia Tech, 20-15. The schools didn't become annual rivals until 1992, when both teams were members of the Big East.
Once they were both in the Big East, the Syracuse-Virginia Tech game was often for conference supremacy, especially during the mid-to-late 90s when Donovan McNabb was under center for the Orange. Virginia Tech's most dominant win over the Orange came in 1999 when it defeated Syracuse 62-0. That was the year the Hokies went to the national championship — hence the uniform combo this weekend.
If you followed Virginia Tech football in the 90s, you'd likely say the Orange, along with Miami, were Tech's biggest conference rival.
When Syracuse has the ball
There are two names to watch for Syracuse: quarterback Garrett Shrader and running back Sean Tucker.
Tucker is a 5-foot-10, 210-pound freshman from Owings Mills, Maryland. Through seven games, he's rushed for 948 yards and nine touchdowns. Tucker is an absolute stud and probably the best offensive player you haven't heard of in the ACC. Syracuse is known for some great running backs in its past; Tucker now appears to be next in line.
One reason Tucker is so effective is Shrader. Shrader isn't going to wow you with his arm or precision passing. No, you guessed it, he's a dual-threat quarterback. Take a breath, Hokies. Yes, we know of Virginia Tech's not-so-good past in dealing with athletic passers like Shrader.
Shrader is completing 54% of his passes on the season, with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He is also second on the team in rushing with 418 yards. He also has nine rushing touchdowns.
The key to the game is how Tech defends Shrader. Tucker is going to get his yards. Tech's secondary also can't let a struggling passing offense make big plays. The Hokies need to contain Shrader. That's imperative. Otherwise, bring an extra man down in the box to stuff Syracuse's rushing attack and count on your defensive backs to win one-on-one on the outside.
When Virginia Tech has the ball
There are plays to be made against Syracuse's defense. But can Virginia Tech's offense take advantage of an average Orange defense?
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister had a tough day last week. Yes, he was back in the lineup after injuring his shoulder the week before, but it wasn't a good day for Burmeister. Never mind the playcalling and scheme; we know it isn't good. But Virginia Tech does not have a capable passer on its roster, despite what Fuente tried to tell us this summer. Burmeister does some good things, but he's just limited as a passer. For him to be successful, the Hokies need to run more RPOs with one or two reads.
We should see plenty of running back Raheem Blackshear. Unfortunately, this coaching staff doesn't know how to employ Blackshear best. He should be moved around the formation, especially in the slot. It never happens. Virginia Tech uses Blackshear like he's Earl Campbell. Don't be surprised if freshman Malachi Thomas gets more time. There's true potential there.
The Hokies have done better trying to get Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson more involved recently. Tech should run shorter routes for Turner and Robinson to allow them to gain yards after the catch. We rarely ever see in-breaking routes with this offense. Why? Those are easy throws for the quarterback.
Freshman Da'Wain Lofton impressed last week. He will play more. I like the Hokies using some of the first-year players more because it's not like there are many ahead of them lighting things up.
We say it every week, but the coaches truly should get the tight ends more involved. Nick Gallo can play. The tight ends represent a safety valve for Burmeister.
Cody Roscoe is Syracuse's best defensive player. He has 6.5 sacks on the season.
I expect a game that goes down to the final minute, regardless of the winner. Syracuse has played three consecutive close ACC games, and I wouldn't expect anything different on Saturday.
I believe the Hokies are going to have issues stopping Syracuse's ground game. Tucker is the best running back Virginia Tech has faced all season. He's good. He runs with terrific vision and is a load to bring down—a true old-school running back. Then, I think Shrader will present some problems. Do I think the Hokies can do enough to win? Yes, I do.
On offense, I actually believe the Hokies have a better day on offense. Great, no. But good enough to win the game. I think Turner and Robinson each have a strong game.
Stay tuned for our predictions on Saturday morning for each of our picks.