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Virginia Tech Hokies 2022 Season Preview, Part 1

We take a look at the first four games of the season and how things could play out during Brent Pry’s initial push as the Hokies’ new head coach.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

With less than two months until the Virginia Tech Hokies kick-off their 2022 season it is time to take a deeper look at VT’s schedule. Over the next few weeks I am going to provide my thoughts and expectations, on the matchups, over three articles breaking the year into four game bites. Everyone is hungry for some VT football! Don’t worry, baby birds, we’ll feed you!

Game One

Virginia Tech Hokies @ Old Dominion Monarchs

Old Dominion returns 17 starters, ten on offense and seven on defense. They are entering their first year in the Sun Belt Conference (SBC). The SBC is full of exciting teams, including Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State, and represents a competitive increase versus their previous affiliation, Conference USA. The team is full of Power Five transfers and have the potential to surprise this year.

Last year ODU started the season 1-5 with their singular victory against the Hampton Pirates, an FCS foe. They ended the year 5-1, breaking a 17-game losing streak against FBS opponents when they defeated the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Monarchs canceled the entirety of HC Ricky Rhane’s inaugural season at Old Dominion. ODU was one only one of three FBS programs that elected not to play in 2020. Considering the loss of game experience and associated transfers due to sitting out the season, it is no surprise that ODU got off to a rocky start in 2021. Rhane, who was Penn State’s OC before taking the Old Dominion gig, and worked with Pry at PSU, did a fantastic job coaching the team to their second ever bowl berth after such a tough start. A key factor in that turnaround was QB Hayden Wolff who took the reins for the 5-1 run that carried the Monarchs to the Myrtle Beach Bowl. During that six-game stretch Wolff completed 62.8% of his passes for 1,933 yards, ten TDs, and seven INTs. While Wolff is a more traditional pocket passer, D.J. Mack Jr, who transferred from Notre Dame, has wheels, and is expected to be the back-up. I expect Wolff to be the starter all year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mack in as a change of pace player to keep defenses on their toes.

The Monarchs are set to have the best receiving corps in the Sun Belt. WR, Ali Jennings, a transfer from West Virginia, led the team last year with 62 receptions, 1,066 yards, and five TDs. Zack Kuntz, a TE transfer from Penn State, was their second leading receiver in 2021 with 73 receptions, 692 yards, and five TDs. Both return to the field for 2021. Blake Watson isn’t particularly large (5’9”, 193 lbs.), but he averaged 5.2 YPC over 215 carries for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns. The offensive line is experienced and should provide a stalwart front to protect Wolff and open holes for Watson to burst through.

In general, the entire defense is expected to improve on their 2021 efforts, bolstered by experience in defensive leadership positions. The defensive line, anchored by DEs Marcus Haynes and Deeve Harris, is expected to be the strength of the defense in 2022. Senior safety, R’Tarrium Johnson, is experienced and the secondary is reinforced by Wisconsin transfer, Donte Burton Jr. The linebacking corps has lost the program’s top tackler, Jordan Young, but the unit is rife with athleticism and potential.

Although no decision has been officially announced, most believe that Grant Wells will be the starting QB for Virginia Tech next year. Wells already has experience against ODU. Last year he led the Thundering Herd to an overtime victory over the Monarchs, 20-13. In that game he threw for 299 yards, two TDs, and two INTs. His first TD was a 52-yard score that came with just 33 seconds left in regulation, forcing overtime. His second TD was what sealed the win in OT. This will be Wells’ first opportunity to show how a Power 5 developmental program may sharpen his skillset. There are concerns surrounding his penchant for throwing interceptions (he threw 13 last year, against 16 TDs). If he comes out turning the ball over it could keep ODU in the game, just like it did last year.

As far as the trenches match-up, their weight is comparable. I have some concern regarding the height of ODU’s DL. All their defensive linemen are 6’3” or 6’4”. Wells is 6’2”, and so is projected VT backup QB, Jason Brown. Thankfully, several of Virginia Tech’s offensive lineman are absolute giants. Parker Clements is 6’7”! Hopefully the VT OL can manhandle the ODU DL and keep them from batting down Wells’ passes. Unfortunately, on the other side, the VT DL is rather average or below average on height, with three being 6’0” or 6’1” and only one of them 6’3”. ODU QB, Hayden Wolff, is 6’5”. ODU also has giants on their offensive line. Center Leroy Thomas is the shortest at 6’3” and a bit undersized at 275 lbs. The rest are all 6’5” – 6’7” and between 297 – 313 lbs. The Hokies’ DL is undersized, which I think will be a complication all season, and the Monarch line could be capable of opening some decent holes for ODU’s rushing attack. It’ll be up to LBs Dax and Jenkins to fill those holes if / when they show up and marginalize the ODU rushing attack. I think the Hokie backfield will do a good job containing the ODU WR corps, but ODU TE, Zack Kuntz is going to be a matchup nightmare for VT. Clocking in at 6’8” and 255 lbs., he dwarfs the entire VT defense (tallest projected Hokie starter is 6’3”), and he is bigger than both LBs and heavier than VT DE, TyJuann Garbutt and only five pounds lighter than Pheldarius Payne. Including Payne, only three Hokie defensive players are heavier than Kuntz. I would expect ODU to work at taking advantage of this size matchup. By creating mismatches with their TE, ODU might be able to open their other receivers and distract the VT LBs from the Monarch rushing attack.

As talented or large as the Monarch offensive skill positions might be I think VTs are better. RB, Malachi Thomas is a star waiting to be unleashed and I think he will create issues for ODU, especially when he gets into the backfield. VTs own TE corps are no joke and I think Nick Gallo will have an opportunity to shine. I believe that VTs athleticism at RB and TE will create openings that the Hokies’ offense will take advantage of throughout the game.

Unfortunately, for the Monarchs, they rolled new Virginia Tech Hokies’ head coach, Brent Pry’s, first game. The excitement surrounding Pry and an apparent spiritual return to the years of legendary coach, Frank Beamer, will be palpable in the team. The last time VT met with ODU was in 2019 when Ryan Willis was under center and led the Hokies to a 31-17 home victory. 2019 also happens to be the last time VT started their season with an away game, which they lost to Boston College, 35-28. The last time Virginia Tech faced ODU, in Hampton Roads, was 2018 when the Monarchs embarrassed the Hokies, defeating VT, 49-35. The Hokies have never won at S.B. Ballard Stadium. That loss still stings and there will be a sense of revenge permeating Virginia Tech. I don’t think this game will be an easy pass, but I do think it ends with a Virginia Tech Hokies victory.

Projected Record: 1-0 overall, 0-0 ACC

Game Two

Boston College Eagles at Virginia Tech Hokies

Boston College returns 14 starters, six on offense and eight on defense. The Eagles are something of an enigma. They have tremendous offensive talent potential at the QB and skill positions, but it is yet to be determined if they can unleash that capability. Injuries plagued their efforts last year, but if the Eagles can keep their starters largely healthy, they have the potential to be an extremely dangerous team.

Offensively, Boston College looks to have a significant advantage over Virginia Tech. BC’s only real question mark, on the offensive side of the ball, is their line. Eagles’ QB Phil Jurkovec, RB Pat Garwo, and WR Zay Flowers, are all experienced and capable of gashing opposing defenses. All three players are almost certain future NFL draft picks. Although the Boston College offensive line lacks experience, they are big young men, and BC has a penchant for developing offensive linemen. All but the center tips the scale above 300 and they range from 6’3” – 6’7”. The ceiling of the passing game was obscured last year due to Jurkovec struggling with a hand injury. Backup QB, Dennis Grosel, was unable to unleash WR Zay Flowers, which obscured Zay’s full skill. Considering how early this matchup is, it is safe to assume that the Eagles will show up with a healthy offense, and that offense will present a challenge for the VT defense.

On the defensive side of the ball the Eagles look to be amongst the mid-field of the ACC with the potential for a high ceiling. Their secondary, which was No. 4 in passing yards allowed per game in 2021, is expected to lead the Eagle defense into 2022. HC, Jeff Hafley, and DC, Tem Lukabu are also excited about the latent talent on the DL and LB corps but need to see them pressure the QB more than last year. No doubt, Lukabu and the defense will key on Malachi. I don’t think there will be an opposing defense that doesn’t recognize, at least early in the season, that stopping Thomas will be the primary path for controlling the VT offense. I hope to see players like Gallo and Lofton present themselves as legitimate threats that must be contended with and hopefully pull the LBs and safeties away from stacking the line to stop Thomas. This is the potential seam the Hokies must open, not just against BC, but every opposing defense. If BC can contain Thomas and VT are unable to open the passing game the Hokies are at great risk to lose Brent Pry’s home opener.

The energy at Lane Stadium, for Coach Pry’s Blacksburg debut, is going to be huge. If the team can ride that energy, slow the talent on BC’s offense, and demonstrate some creative offensive athleticism above current expectations, then the Hokies can win this game. On paper, I think VT isn’t favored. If the Hokies can keep it close and ugly, they can win. I will give the benefit of the doubt to the home team, but a BC victory would not be surprising.

Projected Record: 2-0 overall, 1-0 ACC

Game Three

Wofford Terriers at Virginia Tech Hokies

Wofford is an FCS team that went 0-8 in their conference and 1-10 overall. They kept four of their ten losses within one score, but by and large were an afterthought, even in the FCS. If the Hokies don’t get Brent Pry his first home win against Boston College, they certainly will against the Terriers.

Projected Record: 3-0 overall, 1-0 ACC

Game Four

West Virginia Mountaineers at Virginia Tech Hokies

The Mountaineers return 11 starters, seven on offense and four on defense. With a new OC, transfer QB, and transfer RB, all from P5 schools they will look to revamp and deploy a potent offense.

QB, JT Daniels Jr, transferred from Georgia after Stetson Bennet kept the starting job after trading starts early in the Bulldogs’ championship season. Daniels is no stranger to starting in the Power 5. Originally recruited by USC, in 2018 he won the Trojans starting job as a true freshman. Early in 2019 he suffered a season ending ACL injury allowing for the emergence of Kedon Slovis (now at Pitt trying to fill Kenny Pickett’s shoes). Daniels then transferred to Georgia and battled Bennet for the starting job throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons. While with the Bulldogs Daniels’ biggest win was against the then No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats, during the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, where he threw for 392 yards, one TD, and one INT. In his four-year NCAA career Daniels has completed 63.8% of his passes for 4,840 yards, thrown 32 TDs, and 16 INTs. The one time five-star recruit represents a significant upgrade to the QB position for the Mountaineers. Tony Mathis Jr. and Clemson transfer, Lyn-J Dixon, represent a potent RB committee that has depth even beyond those two. WVU have a pair of big and tall receivers starting. Bryce Ford-Wheaton Jr is 6’3”, 220 lbs. while Kaden Prather is 6’4” and 209 lbs. TE Mike O’Laughlin Jr. returns and figures to be a factor at 6’5” 258 pounds. Protecting all this offensive talent is arguably the Big-12’s best and most experienced offensive line.

Defensively the Mountaineers will lean on their DL to anchor the unit’s efforts. They return two starters, and the others are veterans providing consistency and depth. WVU lost their leading tackler, Josh Chandler-Semedo, but they’ve bolstered their starting LBs with transfers. The secondary reflects a similar reality. The starting DBs and LBs are athletic and capable, but depth is a concern for both units.

The Hokies defense will have a lot on their hands facing Daniels and former USC OC, Graham Harrel’s, revamped pass heavy offense. VT’s secondary should be a strength for the Hokies, but the tall WVU receivers present a jump ball match-up problem. Coupled with a Mountaineer OL that will be working against a depleted Virginia Tech DL that is a bit undersized and lost their two best players from last year. The situation isn’t particularly better for the VT offense facing off against the WVU defense. The Mountaineers run a 4-2-5 defense with a hybrid LB/SS as the key player. This defense can cause a lot of confusion for the offense and does a solid job hiding blitzes and shutting down spread offenses. Hopefully, the flexible and malleable offense we are expecting to see from VT OC, Todd Bowen, will be able to contend with WVUs creative defensive schemes, but it is going to be challenging for an offense that is in a full rebuild. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers outstrip the Hokies’ expected on-field talent and athleticism. I personally remember the intensity of the Big East WVU vs VT rivalry, from the days of yore, and would particularly like to see the Black Diamond trophy return to Blacksburg. Sadly, I don’t think this will happen. If BC doesn’t hand VT their first loss of the season WVU almost certainly will. Depending on how quickly the Mountaineer offense starts firing on all cylinders, it could get ugly.

Projected Record: 3-1 overall, 1-0 ACC

That wraps up part one! Check back later for part two where we will look at the brutal mid-season stretch that represents the most challenging portion of Virginia Tech’s 2022 season.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Gobbler Country’s 2022 ACC Preseason Rankings!