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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Gobbler Country

We chatted with our sister site in Blacksburg to get the lowdown on the 100th meeting of the Hoos and Hokies.

NCAA Football: Miami at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Today is the day. At 3:30pm, the Virginia Cavaliers will take the field in Blacksburg and try to end Virginia Tech’s 14-year winning streak. We’ve previewed the game, looked back at the 1998 win, and showed how the time for talking is over. Now, we’re chatting with our SB Nation compadres at Gobbler Country to get their take on today’s game. Huge thank you to Jay Johnson (@jjohnsonVATech), who is an old Navy buddy of mine, for taking the time out to answer some questions.

You can check out my answers to Jay’s questions here.

Streaking the Lawn: Well, well, well. Here we are. The VT season hasn’t you may have expected. How do you begin to assess what has happened this season, going from the high of beating a (now we know not very good) Florida State team to needing to schedule Marshall to maybe get back to a bowl?

Gobbler Country: Although I am normally an optimist when it comes to the performance of Virginia Tech I can say that I have been surprised by how well VT’s program has done during the initial two years of Justin Fuente. =Many of us here at Gobbler Country thought both the 2016 and 2017 efforts would resemble what we have seen in 2018. The reality is the fans base was spoiled with a ten-win season and an appearance in the ACC championship from the outset of the Fuente era. The realities of transition are coming to roost and many powerhouses have faced similar third-year growing pains. Assessing it is simple, in my opinion. The VT fan base is nauseated from this refrain, but it remains the truth – there is a dearth of experience and an abundance of youth. On defense alone starters or 2018 projected starters that have departed the defense: Terrell Edmunds, Tremaine Edmunds, Tim Settler, Mook Reynolds, Adonis Alexander, Greg Stroman, Trevon Hill… the list goes on. My point is, essentially a starting defense departed Virginia Tech. Some of that was due to talent graduating or pursuing professional endeavors, some of the turnover was due to poor academic or attitude performance, some of it is due to injury. There are myriad reasons, but the transition is here. I fully believe that when VT peaked at No. 10 in the polls it was absurd. I did not think that we would find ourselves in this place today, but being a Top-10 squad was an incredible stretch. Scheduling a team to complete a 12-game season doesn’t bother me, it wouldn’t be the first time the Hokies have made it to a bowl by going 6-6.

STL: Willis has been...ok...stepping in for the injured Josh Jackson. What are his strengths and weaknesses, and how confident are you in his game (and that of the wide receivers)?

GC: It seems that Willis runs the RPO and Fuente’s desired offense better than Jackson did in the past. He has deceptive mobility and speed and is a tough competitor. Willis and the receiver do seem to have a hard time connecting at times. Whether this is due to poor progressions, poor play design, or poor execution is a toss up. At any given time the culprit can be one or a combination of those unfortunate variables. I am confident in Willis’ and his offensive teammate’s competitive desire and overall athletic ability, but I am not confident in the offensive gameplay or play calling.

STL: In the same vein, Virginia’s defense has been depleted on the line, but incredibly tough in the secondary (especially Bryce Hall and Juan Thornhill). Does the VT offense have enough to put points up on the board?

GC: VT has this horrible habit of the same exact offensive gameplay for always…run early which forces a throw late. Last week against Miami the Hokies averaged something like eight yards required on third down. That is simply horrific. he Hoos facing some adversity on the line could play into the Hokies’ desire to establish the run with Steven Peoples and Ryan Willis, but the demonstrated consistent need to dig the offense out of a hole on third down will play to Virginia’s defensive strength.

STL: Bryce Perkins is a vision. How can the Hokies attempt to stop him? Can they stop him?

GC: Perkins is a vision, but he seems to be the only thing UVA has going on offense. In order to effectively stop him the defensive coaches and players must be flexible and adapt rapidly. I want to see them rise to this occasion, but I am extremely concerned with how they will stop who is probably the most dynamic offensive player they’ve had to face all season. The key to this one will be to keep Perkins off the field as much as possible. Long, sustained, scoring drives that will allow the defense to make one or two decent stops could open the door to a VT victory.

STL: VaTech’s defense has...struggled, especially in the second halves of games. I know injury and attrition have both been issues, but what gives? Does Bud Foster have something up his sleeve for this one?

GC: Nope. Between off-season departures, dismissals, and injuries the defense is depleted. Foster is positioning these young men in a manner he believes gives the team the best chance to win. There’s a reason you are seeing 18-year olds that would normally be third string seeing substantial playing time. There’s nothing up his sleeve on this one. Though I would love to see him put a constant spy on Perkins. I think that is really the only hope VT has to slow him down.

STL: There are two streaks on the line in this one: the Commonwealth Cup and the bowl streak. How do you see this playing out?

GC: You and I have talked about this for many years. Eventually the Hoos are going to beat the Hokies. I think this is the year. I hate to say it, but I think both streaks come to an end, and I am okay with it. Programs like Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State are currently riding bowl-streaks that aren’t near what VT has, but they have national championships. I believe that the above average success of VT over the past 25 years has made us risk-averse. It’s time to build a team and all that entails – recruiting talent, losing talent, generating depth… all of that takes time. None of that is to imply I don’t hope we blast Virginia, but if we don’t I’m okay with it. I’ll just update my refrain to VT winning 18 out of the last 20 meetings.

Huge thanks to Jay and Gobbler Country. Catch the game at 3:30 on ABC, and GO HOOS!