The first football scrimmage took place this weekend as Boston College’s football program continued its march towards the season opener on September 3rd against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
In their third game of the season, the Eagles will take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. Last week, we previewed the Hokies and took a look at the season from last year. Now get a look at the opponent from someone who knows them best.
BC Interruption: For the first time in forever, there's a new coach in Blacksburg, with Justin Fuente leaving Memphis to replace Frank Beamer. What's the atmosphere like around the program - are people leery of Fuente or are they excited to get new blood into the program?
Inside the ACC: If I had to summarize it in one word: Excitement.
Look, it's pretty clear what Frank Beamer meant to the Hokies football program for nearly 30 years as a coach, and what he continues to mean to it even now that he's retired. Despite all of the good feelings that still surround Coach Beamer, it was time for him to move on, as the program has been mired in mediocrity for the better part of the last four seasons since the ACC Championship appearance in the 2011 season.
With the Justin Fuente hire, it seems to be yet another spectacular hire by Director of Athletics, Whit Babcock, who since taking over has landed Buzz Williams for the basketball program, and now a young up-and-coming, offensively minded coach in Justin Fuente to usher in the "Post-Beamer" era. With the way that Virginia Tech has struggled offensively, the fans are undoubtedly excited given the track record of Coach Fuente and what he has done in the past, from coaching up Andy Dalton as an Offensive Coordinator at TCU, to reviving a Memphis football program that just had quarterback Paxton Lynch break all sorts of school records en route to becoming a first-round selection in April's NFL Draft.
Not many people are leery at the moment, but that all could change if the team doesn't get off to a great start. It'll take a little bit of time, but on paper, it certainly seems like an excellent hire for Virginia Tech.
BCI: Virginia Tech is really getting hit by departures, especially on the defensive line. Ken Ekanem is the only returning player. What can the Hokies expect from their defense this year when dealing with that much inexperience?
ITA: There's no doubt that they are losing some difference makers on the defensive line. Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy are the major losses on the interior, while Dadi Nicolas at defensive end is the most glaring loss on paper. The good news for the Hokies is that they already know what life is like on the interior defensive line without Marshall and Maddy, as both players have missed time in the past due to injury. Nigel Williams is moving into his senior season, and he will be relied upon heavily at defensive tackle to become a full-time force. He has seen a good amount of playing time because of the injuries to Marshall and Maddy over the last couple of seasons, so it should not be a huge adjustment for him to step in on a full-time basis. At the other defensive tackle, I would expect that Woody Baron would be the other man in the the 4-2-5 look on the interior line. He has plenty of experience as well, getting his feet wet over the last couple of years due to injury and other attrition up front.
At defensive end, having Ken Ekanem back is huge, and a big year is needed out of him in order for Virginia Tech to reach their full potential on the defensive side of the football. Ekanem and the departed Dadi Nicolas both had down years for the Hokies last season, becoming the primary culprits of a lacking pass rush that only further exposed a banged up secondary. Lining up opposite of Ken Ekanem will be redshirt sophomore Vinny Mihota. Mihota received a good bit of playing time as a third defensive lineman last year, playing in all 12 games and making one start. The potential is there for Mihota to become the next great pass rusher at Virginia Tech, so there will be pressure on him to perform right away. He has looked very promising in a limited sample size for Tech, so the hope is that he will step in and meet expectations. Another defensive end that should push for plenty of playing time is redshirt junior Seth Dooley. Dooley missed the spring with a shoulder injury, but is expected to be ready to go this fall. He has an extremely high ceiling, and having three solid defensive ends should serve the Hokies well from a depth perspective when they take the field this fall.
BCI: The offense was hit by departures as well, with Michael Brewer leaving. Is Brandon Motley the guy moving forward or will there be a new signal caller by the end of the year? Also - is that offensive line finally improving?
ITA: By all indications, it's a two-horse race between Jerod Evans, a JUCO transfer out of Texas, and senior Brenden Motley. Motley has the collegiate experience at the ACC level, as he replaced Michael Brewer for a good bit of the season last year as Brewer was recovering from the broken collarbone that he suffered in the opener against Ohio State.
My gut feeling as to who will ultimately be the starter come September 3rd against Liberty changes weekly, but it's hard not to think that Evans will at least play a factor in some capacity, given the fact that he's Fuente's guy and one of his first recruits at Tech.
As for the offensive line, hope springs eternal. The good news about this group is that they have another year of development under their belts, and with changes to the offensive scheme under Coach Fuente, the line should have plays run that are more tailored to their strengths. Rolling out the pocket, as well as employing a quick passing game are some staples of Fuente's offense in the past, which will make the underachieving offensive line improve in that they will not have to hold their blocks as long.
The one negative about Coach Loeffler's offense last season was that many of the passing plays that were called relied on longer-developing routes, which exposed the offensive line that was not quite ready for some of the more ferocious defensive fronts in the ACC. If I had to pick one guy to watch, it would be offensive guard Wyatt Teller. He's entering his junior season and could be a dark horse for an All-ACC team come season's end, especially if the group as a whole performs up to their potential.
BCI: The obvious question for BC fans centers around the new link between the programs - Scot Loeffler. How can the addition of Loeffler help the Eagles get ready for an early season game with the Hokies in Blacksburg?
ITA: I'm not a huge fan of Loeffler as a coordinator, as you may imagine. The good news for Boston College is that the offense can only go up from where they have been. The positives about Loeffler's offense is that he runs more of a conventional spread offense, which is predicated on the quarterback making quick decisions with the football in his hands. The one aspect to watch however, as I alluded to above, is how they offense adapts to different situations, especially when falling behind in a given ballgame.
If Tech fell behind, Loeffler would often panic, shy away from the running game, and try to beat you on nearly every down with the deep ball. With a struggling offensive line, this will do nothing for you as a fan other than make you sick. When the Hokies were most successful on offense last season under Loeffler, it was when they opened up the passing game with their rushing attack. What you will see sometimes out of Loeffler's system, is going away from what is working at the most inopportune times. You can pick up a few first downs in a row rushing the football with your offense, then Loeffler will throw on three straight downs, become unsuccessful, and punt. Maybe he's too smart for his own good, who knows?
To answer the second part of the question, I think that obviously going up against Bud Foster's defense day in and day out will obviously help from a scheme perspective when BC is game planning for the Hokies in September. The Hokies return a good bit of their defense, so Loeffler will know the personnel and what Foster will plan on doing against offenses on the schedule in the past that were similar to Coach Loeffler's when he was at Virginia Tech. Other than that, Loeffler will have to do the best with what he's got on offense, which admittedly will be a struggle, especially in year one. The Eagles are going from an offense that was more conventionally a pro-style looking unit in years past, to a completely different identity under Loeffler. How Loeffler will ultimately use the tools he has to his advantage with this year's team will be the deciding factor in how well the offense performs, not only against the Hokies, but also throughout the rest of their ACC schedule.
BCI: What's the best/worst case for the season for VT? And what’s the most realistic prediction?
ITA: There are three deciding factors in my opinion that will ultimately decide the record for Virginia Tech come season's end: The Quarterback Play, The O-Line Play, and the Health of the Defense. If all three factors end up best case scenario, I believe that the realistic ceiling for the Hokies is 8-4, with their losses coming against Tennessee, North Carolina, Miami (FL), and Notre Dame.
However, I'm bullish on Pittsburgh, where the Hokies NEVER seem to play well, high on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets for a bounce-back season, and I may be one of the only believers in the Syracuse road game in mid-October being a tougher match-up than expected.
Gun to my head win/loss prediction for Virginia Tech is 7-5, as I believe that they'll ultimately prevail in both the game against Syracuse, as well as the home tilt with Georgia Tech. I can see them losing the road game against Pitt to put the 7-5 record heading into the bowl game into full fruition. Floor record is 6-6, as anything worse would be a colossal failure in year one for Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech.