The Virginia Tech Hokies take on the Maryland Terrapins in the 2021 Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday, Dec. 29, at 2:15 p.m. ET. The Terrapins are currently favored by 3.5 points, with an over/under of 54.5, according to DraftKings.
Considering what Virginia Tech has lost since the regular-season finale at Virginia, it’s a surprise Maryland is only a 3.5-point favorite over the Hokies. Since the Hokies beat UVA to become bowl eligible, numerous players have either entered the NCAA transfer portal or opted out of the bowl game to begin preparations for the 2022 NFL draft.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister, wide receivers Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson, defensive end Amare Barno, defensive tackle Jordan Williams, cornerback Jermaine Waller and guard Lecitus Smith are some of the notable Hokies no longer on the team ahead of the Pinstripe Bowl. Burmeister entered the transfer portal, wanted to play, but the coaches denied his request. After the season, Robinson immediately entered the portal and has since committed to Kentucky.
Turner, Barno, Williams, Waller and Smith, and the injured James Mitchell, have begun preparations for the NFL draft. LT Luke Tenuta, RB Raheem Blackshear and C/G Brock Hoffman have all announced their intentions of entering the NFL draft, too, but will play in the bowl game.
That begs the question, what do the Hokies have left?
Texas A&M transfer Connor Blumrick will start at quarterback for the Hokies, which means the Hokies will have no passing game. With Turner and Robinson gone, it’s difficult to imagine the Hokies moving the ball through the air. Virginia Tech will be relying on a young group of wide receivers.
In our continuing coverage of the Pinstripe Bowl, we look at four key players — two from each team. To no one’s surprise, all of those four players are on offense.
Virginia Tech QB Connor Blumrick
Before coming to Virginia Tech, Blumrick played three seasons at Texas A&M. During his three seasons in College Station, Blumrick appeared in 18 games, carrying the ball 10 times for 48 yards. He attempted just one pass — a completion for eight yards.
This season, Blumrick appeared in five games for the Hokies, completing seven of 16 passes for 42 with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He rushed the ball 41 times for 231 yards and two touchdowns.
There’s no doubt of Blumrick’s ability as a runner, but how well will he be able to run the ball when the Terps know what is coming on every play? He ran for over 100 yards against Miami but completed just five of 11 passes.
The Hokies will need some plays from Blumrick in the passing game, which means getting the running backs and tight ends more involved in the passing game.
This is Brad Cornelsen’s last dance at Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech RB Raheem Blackshear
Virginia Tech’s rushing attack took off late in the season. The combination of Raheem Blackshear and Malachi Thomas were outstanding. Blackshear is leaving after the bowl game, but his staying was imperative for the offense. Blackshear is a versatile back who found his niche as a runner this season but is also a capable receiver. The Hokies would be wise to take advantage of Blackshear’s pass-catching skills against Maryland.
Blackshear rushed for at least 67 yards in five of his last six games, including two for over 100 yards. The Hokies need a big game from him and Thomas.
Losing Smith at left guard is a big hole for Virginia Tech to fill, but the hope is Silas Dzansi, a reliable veteran who has played everywhere on the offensive line, can adequately replace Smith for this game and keep the Hokies’ ground game operating at a high level.
Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa
The Terps found stability at quarterback this season with the Taulia Tagovailoa — an Alabama transfer and Tua’s younger brother. Tagovailoa completed 68% of his passes for 3,595 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Terrapins finished the season as the No. 13 passing offense in college football. When was the last time Maryland had this type of production at quarterback?
Maryland played four teams ranked inside the top 10 when the Terps played them. In those games, Tagovailoa was intercepted nine times and sacked 11 times. Virginia Tech’s defense may not have the talent of an Ohio State or Michigan in 2021, but the Hokies would be wise to employ a similar strategy to rattle Tagovailoa.
Maryland WR Rakim Jarrett
The Hokies played some good wide receivers this season. Rakim Jarrett is one of the best they’ve played. Overall, Maryland has a good group of wide receivers that’s probably not as talented as Miami’s, but on par with Virginia’s group. The leader is sophomore Rakim Jarrett.
Jarrett had 56 receptions for 769 yards and five touchdowns in 2021. Jarrett is a reliable target capable of taking every pass to the house. He has great hands and runs superb routes, which is why Tagovailoa places so much trust in Jarrett.
The Hokies will be without Waller — its top cornerback. Fortunately for the Hokies, they’ve been accustomed to playing without Waller in stretches the last two seasons. How Virginia Tech’s secondary matches up with Maryland’s wide receivers will play a major role in the outcome.