2012 Football Previews Week 12: Virginia Tech

Peter Casey-US PRESSWIRE

This is the Hoos bowl game. They know they won't be playing again, so there's no reason not to leave it all on the field. A win knocks the Hokies out of a bowl, and makes this season look a whole lot better than it does now. A loss, and this season will be a complete disaster.

This is the season. The Hoos aren't going bowling. They won't have a winning season. If there is going to be anything positive about this season, the Hoos need to win this game.

This seems to be a good year for that. While the Hoos have struggled to a 4-7 record, the Hokies have struggled too and are just a game ahead of the Hoos at 5-6. And that 5th win was an overtime win over the 2-9 BC Eagles. This is probably the worst Virginia Tech team in the BCS era.

A win by the Hoos would knock the Hokies out of a bowl game. Combine that with some momentum heading into next season, and this would be a very big win indeed.

Virginia on Offense

We all know that the Hokies, as a team, lead with defense and special teams. This year is no different. They are 33rd in the nation in total defense, and 27th in pass efficiency defense. They are 48th in rushing defense and 48th in scoring defense. They are also 10th in the nation in TFLs and 19th in the nation in sacks. (All ranks are courtesy ncaa.org.)

In 5 home games, the Hokies have given up an average of 14 points per game. In 6 games away from Lane Stadium (5 road games and one neutral site game), the Hokies have given up an average of 33 points per game. Unfortunately for the Hoos, this game is at Lane Stadium.

The Hokies defense starts with a very strong front 4. Junior DE James Gayle leads the team with 5 sacks and is second with 9.5 TFLs. Those numbers are basically right on pace with last season. At 6'4" and 269, Gayle is big enough to be a force against the run, but is also quick enough to be a devastating pass rusher. Opposite Gayle is sophomore Corey Marshall. Marshall played sparingly last year as a freshman, but finished with a solid 3 sacks. He hasn't been as productive this season, coming up with just 1.5 sacks, despite spending a lot more time on the field. One reason Marshall hasn't put up the same numbers is the play of junior Tyrel Wilson, who has 4.5 sacks and 7 TFLs and is a very good pass rusher. At just 6'1" 228, Wilson isn't capable of being an every down DE, but he often subs in for passing downs. Marshall will often move inside when Wilson comes in.

The starters in the middle are brothers Derrick and Anthony Hopkins. Anthony is a senior and Derrick is a junior. Derrick is the better player, and has started every game, coming up with 2 sacks and 8 TFLs. He's also 5th on the team in tackles, and leads the DL in that category. Anthony has split time as the starter with sophomore Luther Maddy, who has 4 sacks and 4.5 TFLs. Similarly to Tyrel Wilson, Maddy will often sub in on passing downs. The Hopkins brothers are both about 6'1" and 310, while Maddy is only about 290, and isn't as strong. Maddy actually has more starts this year, but Anthony Hopkins is listed as the starter, possibly because Virginia Tech still sees us as a rushing team. Hopkins is a stronger player against the rush.

J.R. Collins has seen time at both DE and DT this year, after being an honorable mention all-ACC performer at DE last year. Collins is actually second on the team in QB hurries, and has 1 sack to go with 5.5 TFLs. For this game, Collins is listed as a 2nd string DT.

The Hokies defense uses 3 LBs, 3 DBs and one Rover, who is really just a glorified SS. The LBs are listed as one OLB and 2 LBs. One LB, junior Jack Tyler, plays what is basically the MIKE position and leads the team in tackles by a wide margin. He is also first in with 11 TFLs and 2.5 sacks. Next to Tyler is senior Bruce Taylor, who is 3rd on the team in tackles. Taylor is the biggest of the LBs at 6'2" 244, and is basically the SAM LB is used in a traditional 4-3 defense. Taylor is 3rd on the team in tackles and 2nd in sacks. Taylor played mostly in the middle last year. Tariq Edwards was projected to start at MIKE, but has missed much of the year due to injury and has lost his starting gig. Edwards is listed as the backup to Taylor's spot right now.

The OLB is 6'2" 193 lb senior Alonzo Tweedy. Tweedy is essentially a WILL LB. His lack of size and strength mean that he can be bullied if you can get a blocker on him, but he has outstanding speed. Tweedy started last week for the first time this season, after missing time with a groin injury. Despite so much missed time, Tweedy has 28 tackles and 3.5 TFLs.

The starting Rover is sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett. As I said, that is just a glorified SS, but he will play near the line, especially on early downs. Jarrett is 2nd on the team in tackles. The FS is Detrick Bonner, who is 4th on the team in tackles. Both Jarrett and Bonner are former CBs, so they excel in pass coverage, but neither is bigger than about 190 pounds, so the Hoos would love to get big TEs like Paul Freedman and Colter Phillips matched up with them. Jarrett will often play near the line of scrimmage on early downs, and the Hoos will try to run right at him. He is adept at running down plays from behind, but struggles at the point of attack. Getting a blocker, even a WR, on him can take him out of the running play.

The two CBs are senior Antone Exum and junior Kyle Fuller. Last year, Exum led the team in tackles playing safety and Fuller led the team in the TFLs. Neither has been as productive this year. Exum largely due to the position change and Fuller largely due to a shoulder injury he suffered against Pitt. Exum leads the team with 18 passes defended and 3 INTs. Fuller has 2 INTs. Watch for true freshman Donaldven Manning, who is exceptionally quick and will likely be the nickel CB. Manning struggles against bigger WRs but has very good cover skills.

The Hokies defense, as usual, is a fast, swarming defense. They flow the ball as a team and are always looking to force turnovers. They've forced 17 TOs this year, down from 23 last year. They are very aggressive, and very fast, but they can be beaten with misdirection and play action. What the Hoos can't do is turn the ball over and give up points to the defense. The Hoos should be able to run the ball against the Hokies, but they'll have to stick with it. Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson will be better options than Perry Jones, because of their size. Richardson has kind of had a lost season due to injuries and lack of opportunity, but could redeem himself with a big game this week. His combination of size, quickness and vision make him a good option this week against the Hokies defense.

The Hokies secondary are all good cover guys. They are all ball-hawks. They will play a lot of man, often with a single safety deep. This means that a lot of the short passes we use may not be there this week. But double moves and combination routes could be available. These types of routes require more time to develop, so the OL will have to protect the QB. Those routes are also a strength of Phillip Sims, moreso than Michael Rocco, so I could see Sims having more success this week. Of course, it will require our WRs to actually catch the ball when it is there.

Virginia on Defense

Obviously, if the Hokies defense is still very good, their problems this year must be on the offensive side. This is true, to a degree. Their offense is ranked 63rd overall, but just 75th in scoring. They are 71st in rushing and 56th in passing. They are also 89th in passing efficiency. Honestly, this last one has been their biggest problem.

Logan Thomas, hyped as a Heisman candidate, has struggled. His 53% completion percentage is poor and his 16:14 TD:INT ratio is poor. That makes his QB efficiency of 123.5 just 77th in the nation, behind Michael Rocco and just ahead of Phillip Sims.

That said, Thomas is still a weapon. He's thrown for over 2600 yards this year, and averages 7.5 yards per attempt which is a good number. He's also rushed for 442 yards and 8 TDs, with a long of 71 yards. At 6'6" and 260 pounds, Thomas is a load to bring down once he gets his momentum going forward. The Hoos will have to be mindful of him taking off and picking up big yards, especially on 3rd downs.

The starter at TB is true freshman J.C. Coleman. Coleman has rushed for 450 yards, at over 5 yards per carry. Coleman is just 5'8" 192 (and that 192 seems generous to me, he was listed at 167 coming out of HS). He is extremely quick and has tremendous straight line speed. If he gets into the secondary, watch out. Behind him is junior Tony Gregory and redshirt freshman Michael Holmes. Gregory is similar to Coleman although not as dynamic. Holmes is a much bigger guy, who excels in short yardage. Gregory averages about 5 yards per carry, while Holmes is around 4. Holmes has rushed for 4 TDs. The Hokies will also use senior Martin Scales in short yardage. Scales will see time at FB, but the starter there is senior Joey Phillips. Holmes has also seen time at FB. Their biggest weapon in short yardage is Thomas. A 260 pound QB is tough to stop on a QB sneak. On any 3rd (or 4th) and 1, the Hoos should be expecting the QB sneak.

On the outside, the Hokies have some dynamic playmakers. Senior Marcus Davis is the leading receiver with 43 receptions for over 850 yards and 5 TDs. He shares time at SE with fellow senior Corey Fuller (Kyle's brother), who is 2nd in receptions with 38 for almost 750 yards and 5 TDs. Davis is 6'4" 230 and is great at going up at getting a jump ball. Considering what UNC's Erik Highsmith did last week, Davis must be licking his chops, thinking about all the soft coverage he's going to face. Fuller is 6'2" 190 and a track star.

On the other side of the field another senior, Dyrell Roberts is the starter. Roberts is 3rd in receiving with 29 catches for 350 yards and a TD. Roberts was expected to be behind senior D.J. Coles, but Coles has missed almost the entire season after suffering a knee injury in the Hokies' season opener. Roberts shares time at Flanker with redshirt freshman Demetri Knowles. Knowles has 15 receptions for 200 yards and a TD, but is probably the fastest player on the team.

The Hokies use multiple TEs, and 3 different players have started there this year. Those three are seniors Randall Dunn and Eric Martin, plus sophomore Ryan Malleck. Malleck is the best receiver of the group, and is 4th on the team in receiving. Dunn is more of an H-back, and will often line up in the backfield. Martin and fellow senior George George (yes that is his name, George George III actually) are both very solid blockers. Dunn and Malleck are listed as co-starters, but we'll likely see all 4 (especially since 3 of them are seniors and it is VT's senior day.)

The main reason that Virginia Tech's offense has struggled this year is their OL play. They lost 4 starters from a year ago, and the sole returner, junior C Andrew Miller, is out for the season after ankle surgery last month. That has forced sophomore Caleb Farris (6'3" 310) into action at C. The OGs are junior David Wang (6'1" 286) on the left and sophomore Georgia transfer Brent Benedict (6'5" 311). David's brother is Ed Wang, currently playing OT for the Oakland Raiders. Expectations were high for Benedict, but he's struggled at times, especially with quicker DTs. He was originally an OT, but couldn't handle speed rushes, so he moved inside. Chris Brathwaite could pose problems for him. Wang is solid, but not as athletic as his brother.

The OTs are seniors Vinston Painter (6'6" 309) on the right and Nick Becton (6'6" 317)on the left. Neither has been great, and Painter in particular has struggled. Both are seniors who had never started a game prior to this year, and there's usually a reason for that. They are both strong and can grind in the running game, but neither have the footwork necessary to deal with explosive DEs. There is precious little playing experience behind this group of OLs.

The Hoos have been fantastic against the run for most of the past 2 months. They've given up some big passing days though. A lot of that is scheme, trying to take pressure off the DBs by playing off the line. Logan Thomas' strengths are throwing downfield and running the ball. He isn't the type of QB to throw WR screen after WR screen, like Bryn Renner did last week. The Hoos will likely play a similar defense to what they showed last week, and force the Hokies to beat them with short passes, which is not Thomas' strength.

If they can bottle up Coleman, Gregory and the Hokies ground game, Thomas may try to force things. The Hoos will need to capitalize on Thomas' mistakes. Giving up 3rd down conversions on the ground to Thomas will be a backbreaker, so look for the Hoos to spy him on intermediate distance 3rd downs. We don't want to blitz too much, because the Hokies WRs are all big play threats.

Conclusion

The Hokies have long been known for superb special teams. They aren't as good this year as they've been in the past, but they are still solid. Their main punt returner is Kyshoen Jarrett, who is 9th in the country, averaging about 14 yards per return and has a TD. Demetri Knowles and JC Coleman are the KRs,with Knowles being the primary guy. He is 11th in the country, averaging almost 30 per return and also has a TD. The Hoos will need to shut down those two phases of the game in order to force the Hokies offense to win the game. The Hokies also have a very good FG kicker in Cody Journell.

The Hoos can win this game by playing smart, disciplined football. Do not turn the ball over. Do not commit stupid penalties. And take advantage of any mistakes the Hokies make. Easy TDs will be tough to come back from, and will get the crowd into the game.

This game would look a lot better if the Hoos were at home. The Hokies have struggled away from home all season, and played well at home. The Hoos will have an extra few days to prepare for this game, due to last week's Thursday matchup. The last time the Hoos had extra time to prepare, they came out and demolished a very good NC State team on the road. Can we expect a similar performance to what we saw in Raleigh? I doubt it.

Prediction: Hokies 27, Hoos 10

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