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The Big Preview: Mike London's Last Game?

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We all know that the Hoos haven't beaten the Hokies since 2003. We also know that Frank Beamer is retiring at the end of this season, and that Mike London may be fired after this game. Finally, we know that this is probably the worst Hokie team of the past 20 years. So, can the Hoos pull the upset at home?

Is this Mike London's last game in Charlottesville?
Is this Mike London's last game in Charlottesville?
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

What is there to say about this game? If you're reading this, you know what's going on. There are big things on both sidelines.

For the Hokies, a win extends their longest active bowl streak record. More importantly, Frank Beamer is retiring after this season. A win not only extends their season, but it extends his career. The Hokies are just 5-7 on the season, so even with a win they would have their worst record since 1992.

For the Hoos, could a win save Mike London's job? At this point, we don't know. Most people think that a win would not be enough to save his job. Not after 4 straight losing seasons. Still, going out with a win over the Hokies would help change the overall opinion of Mike London. And, Wahoo fans would love to put an end to the Hokies' bowl streak.

The Hokies have beaten the Hoos 11 straight times. That's a lot. There are people who write for this site who do not remember the Hoos ever beating the Hokies. The last time the Hoos beat the Hokies Matt Schaub and Heath Miller were prominently involved.

VT Offense

The biggest reason for the Hokies struggles is their offense. They simply can't move the ball consistently enough. They are just 89th in the country in total offense. They are 83rd in rushing and 74th in passing. They're also 74th in converting 3rd downs.

Some of that is due to the injury that QB Michael Brewer suffered in the season opener against Ohio State. While backup Brendan Motley isn't bad, he has not been as good as Brewer has. Brewer has completed a higher percentage of his passes and has also averaged more yards per completion. Motley, though, is much more mobile and has added a rushing element to the position. He's rushed for 224 yards, though only 2.5 yards per rush.

Though senior RB J.C. Coleman entered the season as the starter after leading the team in rushing last year, he lost his starting gig to freshman Travon McMillian. McMillian was an option QB in high school and was seen by most schools as a WR or a DB. The Hokies turned to him in the running game, and he's been increasingly productive as the season has gone on. He's very quick, though his top end speed is not great. He's also a bit undersized, so Trey Edmunds will get most of the short yardage and goalline calls. Coleman will also get a few carries here and there as a change of pace. Coleman is very small, but has elite speed.

Though Motley may still get some reps, Brewer is back to 100%. Brewer is a transfer from Texas Tech, and threw for nearly 2700 yards last year with 18 TDs. He's a bit of a gunslinger, as evidenced by his 15 INTs last year. This year, he has a 10:5 TD:INT ratio, and has thrown for 1122 yards. Motley, as the more mobile QB, plays in a slightly different offense. They'll run some read option and even some designed QB runs for Motley.

When passing, the Hokies have a good set of receivers. That starts with Isaiah Ford, a sophomore out of Florida. Ford has over 800 yards receiving on 57 catches, with 9 TDs. Ford will line up all over the field, often lining up in the slot. He's tall and lanky, with good but not elite speed. He is a very strong route runner and has great hands. On the other side is Cam Phillips, a similar WR who plays well off Ford, but isn't as good. Phillips had 5 catches for 73 yards in last year's contest.

The Hokies also have a very strong TE duo in Bucky Hodges and Ryan Malleck. The two have combined for 51 catches and 669 yards. Hodges is the more potent WR, and Wahoo fans will remember his two big catches on the Hokie's game winning drive. He caught a 50 yard pass to set up the TD and he also had the TD.

Obviously, we know by now that Jon Tenuta is going to bring pressure on Brewer. Brewer is a 5th year senior who is not likely to be rattled. So unless we're able to get to him quite a bit, he's going to hit some big plays. Frankly, that is the situation with the Hoos' defense under Tenuta right now.

The Hokies OL is not particularly big, but they all move well. They've given up 31 sacks already this year, which is tied for 106th in the nation. Many of those sacks have come against 4 man pass rushes. The interior of the line, in particular, is not strong and has struggled with better pass rushers. If the Hoos are going to blitz, coming up the middle is the way to go.

The Hokies want to hit big plays, because they aren't consistent enough to dink and dunk their way to long drives. So, it would be nice if the Hoos just let Andrew Brown and Trent Corney get after the QB without forcing the CBs into single coverage on the outside repeatedly. Getting beat deep just once could turn this game.

Player to Watch

#34 RB Travon McMillian - The Hokies need to be able to run the ball to be successful. In games where McMillian and the running games couldn't get on track, the Hokies weren't able to consistently score points. However, in the games where they ran the ball well, they scored points in bunches.

McMillian isn't a prototypical RB. For one thing, he's lanky, which isn't usually the case for RBs. There's a reason why most teams saw him as a WR. Beyond that, he's really not very fast, although he's shifty and hard to tackle in space. He is willing to take a hit, but he'll also make moves to avoid tackles. He also hasn't yet proven to be much of a factor in the passing game.

Slowing down McMillian is the #1 key for the Hoos. He can be hesitant if the hole isn't there and he gets happy feet at time. He's been taken down for loss on many plays. Getting some negative plays against the Hokies is big, because their offense simply isn't good enough to consistently convert 3rd and long.

VT Defense

Not surprisingly, the Hokie's defense is good. They rank 30th in the nation in total defense, though they are 50th in scoring defense. They are 73rd in rushing defense, but 11th in passing defense. In fact, they give up more rushing yards per game than passing yards. They are 4th in passing efficiency defense.

Part of what makes them so good is their propensity for forcing turnovers. Again, this is nothing new. They are tied for 13th in the nation with 23 turnovers. They've forced 17 fumbles and they've recovered 15.

They are only 83rd in the nation in sacks, but they are 49th in TFLs. They run an aggressive defense that attacks on all plays. But they actually have the talent to do it. Seven players have at least 5 TFLs and 6 have at least 2 sacks. (The Hoos have 5 players with 5 TFLs and sacks.)

Historically, the Hokies have used undersized, but speedy players on their defense. This is especially true of the front 7. This year is no different. The two start DEs are Ken Ekanem (248 lbs) and Dade Nicolas (223). The DTs are Luthur Maddy (283) and Corey Marshall (266). And by the way, all of those guys are in at least their 4th year at VT. Ekanem is the only non-senior of the group, but he's also the top player of the group and he may go pro. Marshall may split time with sophomore Woody Baron, who is a good pass rushing DT.

MLB Andrew Motuapuaka is the only non-senior among the starting LBs, and is one of the top playmakers on the team. He's 3rd in tackles, second in TFLs, tied for first in sacks, first in forced fumbles, tied for first in fumble recoveries and has an INT to boot. OLBs Deon Clarke leads the team in TFLs and is second in tackles (and he's tied for the lead in sacks). WLB Ronny Vandyke will come off when the Hokies are in nickel packages, which will happen a lot. Again, all of the LBs are a bit undersized, but all 3 run very well.

Entering the season, the Hokies defense was expected to be led by junior CB Kendall Fuller. However, he's been out for the past 8 games after suffering a meniscus tear in the preseason and opting for surgery. He's one of the top DBs in the nation and a likely first round pick, so he's almost definitely going pro.

With Fuller out, the strength of the Hokies second has been the two safeties. Rover Chuck Clark leads the team with 88 tackles (Deon Clarke is 2nd with 69). And FS Adonis Alexander is 4th in tackles and leads the team with 3 INTs. Both safeties are tall and can run. They can both hit, and they both cover a ton of ground, though Alexander is a much better cover guy.

Replacing Fuller has been freshman Terrell Edmunds. He has two brothers on the team, RB Trey and LB Tremaine. He's a big CB and has gotten better as the season has progressed. He doesn't have an INT yet, but has 5 passes defended and has blocked a kick. The CB on the other side is Brandon Facyson, who also does not have an INT, but leads the team with 10 passed defended. Like the safeties, both CBs are tall and cover a ton of ground. Mook Reynolds is the main nickel back and will play a lot.

The Hokies defense is predicated on attacking the offense. They are fast and the flow very well. But they aren't very big, so the Hoos may be able to get some push up front. If they can pick up yards in the running game between the tackles, it'll make everything else work better. That will open up play-action and it'll open up those jet sweeps that Steve Fairchild loves.

The screen game could also be effective, as the Hokies do have a tendency to over-pursue at times. Smoke had 4 catches for 74 yards last year, including a 54 yarder. The other way to attack the Hokies is on the perimeter. Especially if they have some success on the ground, the Hoos should be able to get Canaan Severin and/or T.J. Thorpe in one-on-one coverage deep. As with the Hokies, one big play for the Hoos could change this game.

Last week, we saw a completely different Wahoo offense, with deep passes and even a trick play. There is little reason to hold back in this game, especially early on. The Hoos are playing at home and they have nothing to lose.

Player to Watch

#4 DE Ken Ekanem - Though Ekanem doesn't have great stats this year, he is still arguably the top player on the Hokies' defense now that Fuller is out. Last year, Ekanem had 14.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. This year, he's gotten extra attention from offenses and his numbers have fallen off. But he's still one of the quicker DEs in the nation and knows how to get to the QB. He leads the team in 6 QB hurries.

Although Dadi Nicholas is also a very good pass rusher, Ekanem is the guy who is most often double-teamed. And when the Hokies blitz, which should be often, the Hoos OL needs to be sure they don't lose Ekanem while focusing on the blitzing LBs. Ekanem had 2 sacks in last year's contest.

Special Teams

Beamer-ball.

Frank Beamer's teams have long been known for big plays on special teams. Blocked kicks, kick returns, etc. This may be the last game of Beamer's career and you can be sure he wants to go out with a bang. Look for the Hokies to pull out all the stops on special teams.

The Hokies have struggled in the return game this year, but their coverage teams are still very good. And they are still one of the best at blocking kicks.

The Hoos need to be very careful on special teams plays in this one. That includes FGs, it includes punts and it includes kick returns. Don't be surprised if the Hokies try an onsides kick, or some other tricky play.

Conclusion

This may be the worst Hokie team of the past 20 years. They've been better recently, with the return of Brewer. The Hoos have been up and down, but have played better at home.

Mike London is probably out after the game one way or the other, and he probably knows it. So, like Beamer, he wants to go out with a bang.

I want to pick the Hoos. If there's a year for the Hoos to finally beat the Hokies, this is it. However, I simply can't see the Hoos knocking off Beamer in his last game.

Prediction: Hokies 27, Hoos 24