First Eight Games Preview Recap:
Predicted Record: 3-5 (overall), 2-4 (ACC)
Wins: Old Dominion Monarchs, Boston College Eagles, Wofford Terriers
The middle four games of the Virginia Tech Hokies’ 2022 season are brutal, and the Hokies will likely need at least three wins out of their final four games to ensure bowl qualification. Let’s look to the final stretch of games VPI will face.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ Virginia Tech Hokies
Head coach, Geoff Collins, is entering the fourth year of his rebuild after taking over from Paul Johnson’s triple option program. GT was hit hard by the transfer portal after the program suffered their third consecutive three-win season. The Yellow Jackets figure to be near the bottom of the ACC, only returning a handful of starters, but may demonstrate improvement over last year’s record, especially if new OC, Chip Long, can make something happen with dual threat sophomore QB, Jeff Sims.
Last year Sims battled injuries and missed half the season, including the final two games of the year. He was at the helm for both of GT’s FBS victories and has shown an ability to make plays with his arm and his legs. In six games he completed 60.1% of his passes for 1,468 yards, 12 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. On the ground he rushed for 372 yards (5.3 YPC) and four TDs. Sims threw for over 300 yards in three of his games and 297 yards in another. He led the Jackets to their surprising upset of then No. 21 UNC, 45-22. Senior WR, Malachi Carter, will be leading a receiver room that carries significant question marks. Carter led the team, last year, with 37 receptions for 489 yards. Sophomore Nate McCollum is a former four-star prospect that could emerge and big Leo Blackburn (6’5”, 212) could create some matchup problems. The offensive line has added transfers from big P5 programs in hopes of bolstering a unit that allowed 33 sacks last year.
Last year the Jackets permitted an average of 455 yards per game (ouch), only mustered 20 sacks, and a paltry three interceptions. The defense has lost most of its starters to graduation and the portal though they do return a pair of experienced LBs, seniors Charlie Thomas and Ayinde Eley, who will need to anchor the inexperienced DL and DB corps. The coaches are hopeful that the young talent they have been developing, or snatched out of the portal, will manifest itself and help a defense that was a perennial back marker in the ACC.
Last year Malachi Thomas (25 carries, 103 yards), Raheem Blackshear (14 carries, 83 yards), and Tre Turner (seven receptions, 187 yards, and one TD) gashed Georgia Tech during VT’s 26-17 win. The most dangerous player the Hokies faced on the Yellow Jacket offense was RB Jahmyr Gibbs (11 carries for 113 yards), but he transferred off to Alabama. Dontae Smith could be a factor in the running game though and will likely be one of the key components the Hokies will need to marginalize. Four-star RB recruit, Antonio Martin, may also find his way on the field and represents an unknown variable for the VT defense. The Yellow Jackets have a hateful schedule that starts with the Clemson Tigers and ends with the defending national champions. Coach Collins will have to perform some upsets if he hopes to get his team to the postseason and the VT game is one that may represent that opportunity to him. I think the inexperience and talent drain will be too much for the Jackets and the Hokies win their second conference game, in front of a home crowd.
Projected Record: 4-5 overall, 2-4 ACC
Virginia Tech Hokies @ Duke Blue Devils
I liked David Cutcliffe. For years he was able to bring bowl appearances to Durham and even won an ACC Coastal championship (2013). Sadly, the sorcery faded over the last two seasons, winning only 17 of the last 18 conference matchups (last year they went 0-8 in the ACC… ouch). Mike Elko, a name that was bandied about as a potential replacement for Justin Fuente at VT, takes over and looks to have the biggest rebuilding job in the ACC.
Duke is returning 11 starters, but lost star RB, Mataeo Durant, who broke Duke’s single season rushing record (1,241 yards, nine TDs), when he left for the NFL. Their starting QB, Gunner Holmberg, and leading WR, Jake Bobo, bolted for the portal. A pair of sophomores will be competing for the starting gig under center. Junior receiver, Jalon Calhoun, had comparable yards and more TDs than Bobo and returns to lead a WR room that has fewer questions than the RB corps. Last year the Durant led rushing attack was the only true strength of Duke’s offense. Now the rushing room is filled with inexperience. The most experienced offensive unit is the OL which features two seniors and two juniors. The Duke offense may start to coalesce during the later portion of the season, when the Hokies will be playing them, but still figure to be near the bottom of the ACC.
Last year the Blue Devils allowed an ACC worst 39.8 points per game. Senior LB, Shaka Heyward, was Duke’s leading tackler and returns to lead a defense that struggled significantly to halt ball carriers. Like the offense, the individual defensive units figure to be near the bottom of the conference. Duke has an extremely inexperienced secondary that showcases a collection of sophomores and freshmen. The defensive line is young and undersized, but they have more experience than the secondary.
Mike Elko and company are in a full rebuild and this should be Virginia Tech’s easiest FBS matchup of the year.
Projected Record: 5-5 overall, 3-4 ACC.
Virginia Tech Hokies @ Liberty Flames
The last time the Hokies and Flames played Liberty beat Virginia Tech, 38-35, in Blacksburg (November 2020). If you’re interested in self-torture, watch highlights of Liberty’s game winning FG when VT blocked the previous attempt and returned it for a TD, but the Hokie coaching staff had called a timeout to “freeze” the kicker before the snap. Ugh. During 2021 Liberty finished 8-5 with a Lendingtree Bowl win over Eastern Michigan, 56-20. This year the Flames return 11 starters (seven on defense, four on offense).
The largest question surrounding Liberty is who will step up and fill the QB position after dual threat, Malik Willis, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round of the NFL Draft. Replacing a talent like Willis is going to be tough, especially considering how many offensive yards and TDs he was responsible for generating. Head coach, Hugh Freeze, looks to reload with Baylor and Utah transfer, Charlie Brewer. Brewer started for three seasons at Baylor and for three games, at Utah, last year. The RB cadre will likely feature another transfer, Dae Dae Hunter, out of Hawaii, but senior TJ Green will also be a factor in a running back committee that will be looking to improve on its production. The offensive line is full of FBS transfers and improves its depth and experience. As with all the offensive units, the receiving corps has bolstered itself with portal acquisitions. Even with the departure of Willis for the NFL the Liberty offense is going to be capable, especially if the improved OL can limit the QB pressures and sacks that plagued them last year.
The defense loses a lot of starters this year but guess what? Just like the offense grabbed a lot out of the portal, so too did the defense. Jay Hardy and Dre Butler hale from Auburn and bolster the DL with depth and P5 pedigree. Liberty’s projected starting defensive ends, Treshaun Clark and Durrell Johnson, are undersized but experienced. The LB and DB rooms are reinforced by multiple transfers, but return rover / FS, Javon Scruggs, a veteran that will lead Liberty’s 4-2-5 defense.
This is Liberty’s final year as an independent before they join Conference USA, and their schedule is the most challenging the program has faced since moving to the FBS level. Their roster is full of transfer athletes, but the true power of this team is head coach, Hugh Freeze. Malik Willis was a phenomenal college QB, and Coach Freeze got the best out of him. Don’t doubt that he can’t do the same with his current team. Willis was instrumental in embarrassing VT, two years ago. Willis is gone, but Brewer is nothing to shrug at. He’s the caliber of player the Hokies would have liked to tempt to Blacksburg. Liberty is almost certainly a bowl bound team and a legitimate threat to the Hokies, in their current form, but if the Hokies play disciplined ball, they should leave Lynchburg with their sixth win.
Projected Record: 6-5 overall, 3-4 ACC
Virginia Cavaliers @ Virginia Hokies
Former Clemson Tigers OC, Tony Elliott, has stepped in after the surprise resignation of Bronco Mendenhall after the 2021 season. The Cavaliers return ten starters (four on offense and six on defense).
The skill players that created last year’s record-breaking passing attack all return. QB Brennan Armstrong arguably has the best corps of WRs in the conference and one of the best in the entirety of the FBS. Dontayvion Wicks, Keytaon Thompson, and Billy Kemp IV are all back and Lavel Davis is back from an injury that prematurely ended his 2021 effort. FYI, Davis is 6’’7” and an absolute matchup nightmare. The Hoos lose their leading rusher, but that isn’t saying much because Wayne Taulapapa only generated 324 yards and two touchdowns. UVA does return their second leading rusher, because it’s Armstrong (251 yards, nine TDs). Virginia mined the portal for Miami RB transfer, Cody Brown, but the rushing attack is still nebulous. Most disturbing for the Cavaliers is that they lost every single starter from their offensive line. The OL struggled to establish a running game last year and this year they will need to do that and protect Armstrong long enough for him to get the ball to his receiving weapons. They’ve added some transfers from the FCS, Mac Hollensteiner (Georgetown) and Johns Paul Flores (Dartmouth), but there is a lot of youth and inexperience on an O-line that wasn’t even that great with its starters from 2021.
UVA’s defense was monumentally bad last year and there aren’t any clear improvements available for this year. The DL, LB, and DB rooms all look positioned to be in the bottom half of the conference, but perhaps new coaching blood will help them improve. DC, John Rudzinski, has indicated that he will run multiple schemes, switching between three- and four-man fronts, which may help a defense that only delivered 18 sacks in 2021. Even if they manage to improve, the Hoos’ defense will not be the reason they win games.
If Tony Elliott can find a way to make that offensive line at least average and establish some sort of rushing attack, then the UVA offense could earn a bowl berth. But the OL is going to be the key and it just doesn’t look like they will have the depth or ability to keep Armstrong’s jersey clean enough for him to unleash the absurd talent on the UVA WR roster. Last year the Hokies were in one of the worst program positions they’ve seen, in nearly 30 years, and the Hoos still couldn’t win. AT HOME. Can a talent like Armstrong find a way to beat the Hokies? Sure. Will he? Doubtful. I like the Hokies to win in Blacksburg.
Projected Record: 7-5 overall, 4-4 ACC
The Hokies are not in a reloading phase, they are in a rebuilding phase. There is enough interesting and available latent talent for this young and fresh coaching cadre to put together some exciting offensive and defensive opportunities. I believe that will put the Hokies in a position to earn a bowl berth. Virginia Tech will not be able to challenge for the Coastal during its last year of existence, and they are at least three years away from being in the hunt for the ACC, especially considering the conference reshuffle. That reality is absolutely no reason, or excuse, to not be excited about what these young student-athletes and Coach Pry will be striving to accomplish. Below I will break down each matchup into one of five categories- sure win, likely win, 50/50, likely loss, sure loss.
Sure Wins: Wofford Terriers, Duke Blue Devils
Likely Wins: Old Dominion Monarchs, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Liberty Flames, Virginia Cavaliers
50/50: Boston College Eagles, North Carolina Tar Heels
Likely Losses: West Virginia Mountaineers
Sure Losses: Pittsburgh Panthers, Miami Hurricanes, NC State Wolfpack
Based on the above, I believe the absolute regular season ceiling the Hokies could enjoy is an overall record of 9-3 (5-3 ACC) and their floor at 6-6 overall (3-5 ACC). What I have detailed in the three season preview articles is what I believe the most likely result. A respectable 7-5 overall (4-4 ACC). I predict a fourth-place finish, in the Coastal, and that Virginia Tech earns a bowl berth for Coach Pry’s inaugural season as the HC.
As always, we love to hear your thoughts and opinions in the comments!