First Four Games Preview Recap:
Predicted Record: 3-1 (overall), 1-0 (conference)
Wins: Old Dominion Monarchs, Boston College Eagles, Wofford Terriers
Losses: West Virginia Mountaineers
If you missed it, and desire greater detail, be sure to check out Part One of the Virginia Tech Hokies 2022 Season Preview.
The second four-game stretch of the Virginia Tech Hokies 2022 season is an absolute gauntlet and represents the hardest stretch the Fighting Gobblers will face this year. Let’s get right into it!
Virginia Tech Hokies @ North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC is returning 13 starters, five on offense and eight on defense. UNC started last season ranked No. 10 AP and No. 9 Coaches but finished unranked with a record of 6-7 and lost the Duke’s Mayo Bowl to Shane Beamers’ South Carolina Gamecocks, 38-21. Mack Brown has brought Gene Chizik in to revamp the defense, but the offense has been drained.
There is tremendous uncertainty surrounding who will fill in after QB Sam Howell was drafted to the NFL. Projections lean toward redshirt Freshmen Drake Maye, but Sophomore Jacolby Criswell isn’t out of the hunt, by any means. Either way, UNC is looking at a regression at the QB position. Josh Downs is the best WR in the ACC and one of the best receivers in college football. Whether or not his full potential can be unlocked is a massive question mark. The Tar Heels have experience at OL, but only two starters return from last season. This year they lose 1,000-yard rusher, Ty Chandler, and their No. 2 rusher, Sam Howell, who had 828 yards and 11 touchdowns. British Brooks (295 yards and four TDs in 2021) looks to lead an inexperienced rushing unit. The offense that got them to a bowl game last year is gone and the “magic” of Mack Brown, and his marketing of team talent, is under heavy scrutiny.
Gene Ghizik won a national championship, with the Auburn Tigers, in 2010, and he checks in as the new defensive coordinator. UNC was supposed to have a dominant defense in 2021, but it never manifested. Now the Heels have two national championship coaches on staff and Gene Chizik is expected to upgrade the North Carolina defense significantly. There is remarkable talent and athleticism all over the defense, as there should be when one considers that UNC’s last three recruiting classes have all been in the top-14, but it simply hasn’t been demonstrated on field. The DL looks to lead an improving secondary and LB corps, and all indications point to Chizik unlocking the potential UNC has cultivated, defensively. The projected DL starting lineup is tall. Desmond Evans is 6’6” and Noah Taylor is 6’5”. The shortest on the UNC DL is 6’3”, which is the tallest projected starter on the VT DL. The LB and DB corps have been bolstered by the transfer portal, most notably former UVA LB, Noah Taylor. In an odd twist, the weakness of the 2021 North Carolina team looks to be a 2022 strength.
I don’t like that this game is being played in Chapel Hill. The matchups do not favor the Hokies, at all. A robust DL, athletic LB corps, and Chizik at the helm of the defense will likely result in immense pressure coming the way of likely VT QB starter Grant Wells. On top of that the DL and LB of UNC have the talent and athleticism to stymie Malachi Thomas and the Hokie rushing attack. It will be incumbent on the VT line to protect Wells long enough for him to get the ball to the likes of Lofton and Gallo. Josh Downs is going to get open and be available, regardless of how well the VT secondary plays. He is that good. The Virginia Tech DL must get pressure on whomever is starting for UNC and disrupt his ability to get the ball to Downs. I am down on UNC, but I am also acutely aware of the talent deficit the Hokies are facing. To win this game the VT DL must win in the trenches against a possibly vulnerable North Carolina OL. If they cannot then whomever is under center for the Tar Heels will have an opportunity to get the ball to Downs. I think VT’s offense will also be at a disadvantage against Chizik’s defense. Like the BC game, the Hokies must keep this game close, if they want to have a chance to win. I’m unconvinced that VT can keep that up all game. UNC, like BC, will have more talent on the field, but it’s away. I think North Carolina retorts and takes this one after last year’s disappointing opening loss to Virginia Tech.
Projected Record: 3-2 overall, 1-1 ACC
Virginia Tech Hokies @ Pittsburgh Panthers
The Panthers return 15 starters, eight on offense and seven on defense. The preseason rankings have yet to be announced, but the game against Pitt could easily be the first of three straight games against top-25 teams, facing the Hokies.
USC QB transfer, Kedon Slovis Jr., looks to fill the very large shoes left by Kenny Pickett who was drafted in the first round of last year’s NFL draft. Despite Slovis’ experience the expectation is a regression in QB play. Additionally, arguably the best receiver in the ACC last year, Jordan Addison, transferred to USC. Even with the reloading that the Panthers must do their passing game will remain legitimate. With the departure of Addison, instead of having the best WR corps in the ACC Pitt just has “one of the best” WR corps in the ACC. Although there is some level of turmoil in the passing game that tumult doesn’t exist within the RB corps, which is deep and capable, led by the dangerous Israel Abanikanda. Pitt has one of the best OLs in the ACC, if not the entirety of the NCAA. That line will be protecting Slovis and opening holes for that RB crew. The Panther offense will take a step back from what they had during their ACC championship season, but they will almost certainly remain a dangerous, experienced, and athletic unit.
Narduzzi has spent the last seven years working to build a physical defense and he has it now. The Panthers return six all-ACC players from a defense that ranked second nationally in sacks per game. The LB starters are powerful, but there are depth questions. The DL has sent players to the NFL regularly but return three of their four starters from 2021. The secondary also returns three starters and the Pittsburgh defense looks stout.
Last year Abanikanda, against VT, averaged 6.7 YPC on his way to 140 yards. The Panthers held the Hokies to 224 yards while their offense gashed them for 411 yards. This is another tough away game that could get ugly early. Unfortunately, I don’t see the Hokies escaping the Steel City with a win.
Projected Record: 3-3 overall, 1-2 ACC
Miami Hurricanes @ Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hurricanes return a symmetrical 14 starters, seven on offense and seven on defense. Mario Cristobal has a completely full house left by Manny Diaz and company. This is the hardest matchup the Hokies will face in 2022, perhaps only rivaled by their next game against NC State.
I could write a tremendous amount about Miami, but I don’t need to, because Tyler Van Dyke is a monolith that the Virginia Tech Hokies simply cannot contend with. Everything about their offense is top, or near the top, of the ACC. Their RB, receiving, and OL cadre all figure to be in the hunt of the best of the conference. Three starters return on the line and will be protecting one of the best QBs in the NCAA. The Hokies’ defense is outmatched, on every level, when facing the Hurricane offense. Assuming that Van Dyke is healthy, and barring other apocalyptic injuries, the Miami offense will dominate Virginia Tech’s defense.
After the Hurricanes’ defense struggled in 2021, Mario Cristobal went to the portal to find depth and experience. The linebackers return five with starting experience and the DL is full of talent from portal, as is the secondary. The offense will overwhelm the VT defense, but the Miami defense will have little issue dealing with a rebuilding patchwork Virginia Tech offense.
Like I said, this will be a short write up. Miami is going to devastate the Hokies. Homefield advantage doesn’t answer the mail when facing a talent like Van Dyke and the athleticism all over the ball, for Miami.
Projected Record: 3-4 overall, 1-3 ACC
Virginia Tech Hokies @ NC State Wolfpack
Another brutal away game. NCST brings the most experienced team in ACC to bear with 17 returning starters. Seven on offense and ten on defense. The Wolfpack, like Miami, are legitimate contenders for the CFB Playoff.
Wolfpack QB, Devin Leary, is very experienced and entering his fourth year as a starter. Protecting Leary is an offensive line that returns four starters and features three seniors. The WR corps lost their top receiver, but senior Thayer Thomas and junior Devin Carter look to lead a deep unit and production is not anticipated to fall off. The RB room carries more of a question. NC State lost their top two rushers (Zonovan Knight and Rickey Person). Speedster, Jordan Houston, projects to be the starter for a cadre that doesn’t have that many starting snaps to their name, but there’s not much out there that helps young RBs develop than a stout OL.
The NCST defense features three All-ACC LBs and figures to be the best LB corps in the ACC and one of the best in the entire country. Their defensive line also figures to be a top unit in the ACC with senior DEs, Cory Durden and Savion Jackson, poised to wreak havoc against opposing QBs. NCST only allowed 124.0 rushing YPG last season and should continue being one of the top rushing defenses in the NCAA. With ten starters returning, each defensive unit is packed with experience, and the Wolfpack secondary is no different. They return all four starters and, as with the LB corps, the DB room expects to be at the top of ACC and one of the best in the country. The only defense, in the entire ACC, that figures to be better than NC State is the near pro-level defense of the Clemson Tigers.
This game may be harder than the Miami game. The NCST defense is going to devour the VT offense. The DL and LB corps should have little issue mitigating Thomas and pressuring VT’s QB. The best DB room in the ACC will likely feast on whatever ends up in the air for the VT. Unfortunately, the Hokies are prone to experience two consecutive massacres.
Projected Record: 3-5 overall, 1-4 ACC
Three of VT’s hardest games are away, and rolling Pitt, Miami, and NCST back-to-back-to-back would be a nightmare stretch for any program, much less one facing a coaching transition and full reconstruction. This four-game run is the hardest the Hokies will face all season. It would be a miracle for them to come out of it 1-3. Regardless of how punishing this stretch may be the Hokies must shake it off, because their final four games are much more winnable and VT will need to find purchase in the last third, if they hope to make a bowl game.