We round out our season preview with the Virginia Cavaliers’ regular season finale which, once again, is against the Hokies. This time, it’s a home game, where Virginia is riding a one-game winning streak. Over the few years, this game has had enormous impact on the ACC Coastal division race. Whether or not that is the case this year, though, likely has more to do with Coastal favorites Miami and UNC than with either of the Virginia schools.
Led by Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert, the Hokies had the ACC’s best rushing attack in 2020, averaging over 240 yards per game. Herbert rushed for 1200 yards in just 11 games. QB Hendon Hooker is also a running threat, and he averaged over 75 yards per game (but missed three games due to CoVID protocols).
Hooker was also successful throwing the football, which wasn’t something the Hokies did very much. Frankly, when you can run the ball as well as they did, there’s little reason to throw. Hooker averaged just 167 yards per game, but completed 65% of his passes with nine TDs against five INTs. Because he missed three games, Hooker didn’t qualify for the NCAA leaderships, but his QB efficiency would’ve ranked in the top 20 nationally if he had.
Defensively, this was not a typical Virginia Tech team. They ranked 103rd in total defense, giving up almost 450 yards per game. Their rush defense ranked 85th, but their pass defense ranked 107th. The saving grace for their defense was the pass rush, which ranked ninth in the country with over three sacks per game. Eight players had more than one sack, which shows some depth among pass rushers. Also, in a nod to “Beamer-ball”, the Hokies forced 17 turnovers in 11 games, 35th in the nation.
Of course, those defensive struggles didn’t extend to the finale against Virginia, especially in the first half, as they shut down the Hoos. That ended Virginia’s one game winning streak in the series. The Hokies finished 5-6 (5-5 ACC), including a home loss to Liberty.
Key Returners: QB Braxton Burmeister, RB Raheem Blackshear, WR Tre Turner, WR Tayvion Robinson, DL Amare Barno, LB Alan Tisdale, S Chamarri Conner
Key Departures: QB Hendon Hooker, RB Khalil Herbert, OT Christian Darrisaw, CB Caleb Farley, S Divine Diablo,
Key New Faces: DL Jordan Williams (Clemson), S Tae Daley (Vanderbilt)
Burmeister isn’t the runner that Hooker was, but he is a stronger and more consistent passer, which means the WRs should have a bigger impact this year after the duo combined for just 72 catches and 1100 yards last season. But it also means the pressure will be on Blackshear to create plays on the ground without the running threat from the QB.
The defense, which largely struggled last year, must replace two of the top four in tackles, and two of the top three in sacks. Caleb Fairley, an All-American CB who is now in the NFL, did not participate last year, but S Diablo Devine was the leader of the defense and will be missed.
The defense will count on improvements along the DL and at the LB spots. Amare Barno led the team in sacks and returns to anchor the DL, while Alan Tisdale and Dax Hollifield are the leaders at LB. Leading tackler Chamarri Conner returns at S to lead in the secondary.
The Hokies defense will have to improve, especially since there is reason to expect a drop-off offensively with the departure of the top QB, RB and OL.
All-time Record vs. VaTech: 38-59-5
Last meeting: 2020, Virginia Tech win 33-15
Any Virginia fan is already aware of the struggles the Cavs have had in this matchup. All time, they are 38-58-5 against the Hokies. But, Virginia won the previous matchup in Scott Stadium, led by a tremendous performance from Bryce Perkins. Getting a similar performance from Brennan Armstrong would go a long way towards getting another win in this series.