There is nothing more exciting than the start of another college football season, especially at Virginia Tech, where the anticipation of the 2014 season has been growing since January.
It’s a new era in college football – 2014 marks the first year of the College Football Playoff. This fall also ushers in a new era in Tech football, with fresh faces at quarterback and other key positions.
Now, if Tech is to have the season that Hokie fans want, it must improve in three key metrics over last year:
RUSHING: Tech averaged just 119.8 yards per game last season, which ranked 13th in the ACC and was the lowest mark ever during the Frank Beamer era. In fact, that’s the lowest season average at Tech since 1972.
That’s not a typo – 1972, as in President Richard Nixon, Watergate and Sammy Davis, Jr. belting out “The Candy Man”.
Injuries on the offensive line and at tight end were problematic last year. But Tech has more depth and experience on its offensive line heading into this fall, and the talent at running back – judging by what we saw during spring practice – is better. Many of Tech’s problems last year (third-down conversions, red-zone percentage, stalled drives, etc.) all come back to that running game. The rushing stats from last year hopefully were a once-in-a-40-year blip on what’s otherwise been a remarkably consistent part of Tech’s program.
PASSING EFFICIENCY: Tech quarterbacks have thrown 32 interceptions over the past two seasons, the most in a two-year period in Tech history. In fact, the passing efficiency numbers during this period have been the lowest at Tech since 1989. Regardless of who is playing the quarterback position, the Hokies need him to be more efficient, make better decisions and be more productive overall. Want a dramatically revealing metric? Since 2009, when the Hokies threw one interception or less in a game, they’ve compiled 27-2 record against ACC opponents. In that same span, when the Hokies throw two or more interceptions against ACC opponents, they are just 1-7.
KICKING: Tech kickers missed 11 field goal attempts last season, tying for the most misses in a season in the Beamer era. Four different placekickers missed at least one field-goal attempt last season, and that’s why Beamer has brought in new candidates for 2014. He has maintained that he has no qualms whatsoever about using a true freshman as the principal kicker.
“We left too many points on the field last year. Sometimes, you just need the points and have to make a field goal,” the coach told me. “I think we have good kickers. I know we have good kickers. But like at quarterback, we need to find one guy who is going to stand out and be consistent for us all season long.”
So the takeaway is this: last year, Tech posted historic (or near-historic) lows in three key metrics: rushing, passing and kicking … and yet finished 8-5.
Yeah, that’s right. Despite struggling in some critical areas, Tech won eight games, which indicates the 2013 team did a lot of really good things, especially on defense.
You don’t have to be a “Moneyball” expert or even an analytics junkie to believe that if the 2014 team shows slight-to-even moderate improvement in each of those three metrics – which appears likely – this team will have a really nice season.
“I told the staff that we’re going to have a lot of coaching to do,” Beamer said. “We have some young guys at key positions, but we have a lot of talented guys. What I’m interested in is getting better each week. I think when some of these guys get experience and get some real playing time, the talent is there to be really good.”
Some names to watch
Most fans recognize that, in Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, Tech has two of the most remarkable cornerbacks in college football. We saw what those two freshmen could do last year, and both should be even better this fall during their sophomore campaigns. In general, Tech’s defense will be more athletic and faster than last year’s group, which finished among the national leaders in total defense (fourth), pass efficiency defense (fifth), interceptions (tied for sixth), sacks per game (tied for seventh), and rushing defense (10th).
There are plenty of stars out there like Fuller and Facyson – and on both sides of the ball – but more will emerge this fall. Who might they be? Here are some potential candidates for stardom:
Joshua Stanford – Stanford played a bunch last year (707 plays) and had 40 receptions as a freshman. Consider this: only 11 receivers in Tech history have caught 100-plus passes in a career. Stanford is well on his way.
“He’s uber-competitive. He’s one of those guys who wants to win every drill,” receivers coach Aaron Morehead told me. “He’s been more consistent than he’s ever been.”
If Stanford continues to improve – he was named the offense’s MVP in the spring – he is going to have a great career for the Hokies.
Bucky Hodges – In many ways, Hodges was one of the most intriguing prospects to come out of any Virginia High School League program in recent years. At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, he’s an amazing athlete, and many assumed he’d follow in the footsteps of Logan Thomas or Florida State’s E.J. Manuel (also a Virginia Beach product) and end up as a quarterback. But Hodges thrived at tight end in the spring. He was simply exceptional.
Michael Brewer – After graduating from Texas Tech in May, Brewer, a quarterback, came to Blacksburg, where he’ll have two years of eligibility remaining for the Hokies. He’s the first ever “free agent signee” in the Beamer era, and how he adapts to Tech’s system, particularly in making the right reads in the running game and in protection schemes, will be huge. We know the guy can sling the football – that’s not a question. All the other intangibles will be the key to Brewer’s tenure as a Hokie.
Augie Conte and Wyatt Teller – Much of this season’s success, particularly in the running game, will start with this duo. Both are young, athletic guys who moved from tackle to guard. As we watch the offensive line grow over the next three seasons, these two guys will be right in the middle of it. Their progress, which has been really exceptional over the past eight months, will go hand in hand with the progress of the Hokies’ offense.
Deon Clarke – During the last two scrimmages in the spring, Clarke might have been Tech’s best linebacker. He’s very explosive and has sensational speed at the “backer” position. When you hear about the Hokies’ being faster on defense in 2014, well, this is one of the guys who delivers that speed.
Chase Williams – Like Clarke, Williams had a great spring. He has big shoes to fill in replacing Jack Tyler and will certainly be a key guy this year. In fact, don’t be surprised if Williams tops the charts as the Hokies’ leading tackler in 2014. He’s a fifth-year senior linebacker who is smart, fundamentally sound and ready to make a name for himself.
Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall and Dadi Nicholas – I’m grouping this trio of defensive linemen together because they need to play well together this fall. Maddy is a rising star who is the Hokies’ most experienced lineman. As for Marshall, his return after sitting out the 2013 season is huge for this defense. Talk about a huge comeback – this could be the story of the year on Tech’s defense.
“He’s changed his life around,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster told me. “On the field, but more off the field, he’s totally changed, and it’s been great for Corey.”
And as for Nicolas, if he can put it together week after week, he could be a true impact player. He’s a defensive end – with the ability to be more of a hybrid, as he was in the Pittsburgh game last year because of freakish athletic ability.
“This is the first time Dadi will play most of the time,” Foster said. “We need to see how he does getting the majority of the snaps.”
Again, when you talk about speed on defense, keep an eye on the blur that is No. 90. He can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. He’s the closest thing that Tech’s had to Corey Moore since … well … Corey Moore.
Ronny Vandyke and Ryan Malleck – One is a whip linebacker, and the other is a tight end, but both have similar stories. Both suffered shoulder injuries about a year ago during preseason drills and were lost for the season. Limited in the spring, Vandyke has the chance to be very dynamic whip linebacker. As for Malleck, he was also limited in the spring but the coaches are really excited about his return at tight end.
“The thing about both of those guys is the leadership qualities they bring,” Foster said. “Both Ronny and Ryan both bring leadership and those intangibles that, as a coach, you really grow to appreciate as being critical to the success of a team.”
Ken Ekanem – This is the year for the former two-time All-Met defensive end from Centreville, Virginia, to make it happen. Remember, Ekanem was one of Virginia’s most highly recruited players when he signed with the Hokies back in 2012, picking Tech over 20 schools, including finalists Notre Dame, North Carolina and Oregon.
“He looks the part,” Foster told me. “He’s been nicked up some since he’s been here, as everyone knows, but he was outstanding this spring. He really looks the part.”
Ekanem is just a sophomore, and at 6-3, 245, he has three full seasons ahead of him.
“His time is now,” Foster told me.
The unknown freshman: This is the wildcard. Who will be the true freshman who comes in and makes an impact this year? Could be a placekicker, or one of the freshman wide receivers – or both. Last year, left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin, Facyson and Fuller each had key roles on opening night against Alabama, and all three had terrific freshman seasons. Someone in the freshman class will emerge, and as we’ve seen in recent years, Beamer is not reluctant to throw a rookie into the fire.
The 2014 Hokies probably don’t have the experience or depth they’d like at each position, but if they stay healthy, the Hokies have the talent to win a bunch of games.
It will be fun to watch this team develop over the next four months.
Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network Radio/TV info for 2014
Virginia Tech Sports Today makes its 2014 debut on Sunday, Aug. 17. You can catch our weekly 30-minute program on these stations:
|Comcast SportsNet||Va/Md/ DC/||Sunday||10:30 a.m.|
|Fox SportsSouth||NC,SC,GA,TN,KY,AL, MS||Sunday||9:30 a.m.|
Comcast SportsNet will also re-air the show each Saturday morning at 10:30, and Fox SportsSouth will re-air the show on Tuesday nights.
Tech Talk Live, our weekly talk show featuring head coach Frank Beamer, makes its 2014 debut on Monday, Aug. 18 on these radio affiliates.
This year’s show will be one-hour in length and originate every Monday night through the end of basketball season in March. Here’s our lineup of guests through the first few weeks of the season:
|Aug. 18||Bud Foster||Frank Beamer|
|Aug. 25||Whit Babcock||Frank Beamer|
|Sept. 1||Scot Loeffler||Frank Beamer|
|Sept. 8||Charley Wiles||Frank Beamer|
|Sept. 15||Shane Beamer||Frank Beamer|
Enhanced Digital Platforms: HokiesXtra and TuneIn
We have a couple of really exciting enhancements to our digital platforms starting this season.
So, on HokiesXtra, you’ll be able to follow the Hokies on your phone, your tablet, and any mobile device worldwide.
The other really tremendous enhancement this season is our new partnership with TuneIn. TuneIn offers 100,000 real radio stations and over four million podcasts, with all the best sports, news, talk and music streaming live from every continent right to any phone or tablet. Starting this season, all our Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network programming will also be available for free on TuneIn. The free TuneIn Radio app is available on your smart phone and tablet, and you can find it on tunein.com.
And, of course, SiriusXM Satellite Radio will continue to air all ACC games (using the home team’s feed of each game) for all football and men’s basketball games. So with our network of great radio affiliates throughout the region, satellite radio and our multiple digital platforms, Tech fans have more ways than ever to follow the games and our various ancillary programs regardless of where they live. Thanks for listening!
Quick question: have we ever played a Big Ten team on the road? I will be in COLUMBUS for the game in seven weeks! GO HOKIES GO! Scooter, Rochester, New York.
No, the Hokies have never played a Big Ten Conference team on the road. Of course, Tech has played at Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland, but those schools were not in the Big Ten at the time of the game. Tech is 1-1 all-time against Big Ten teams. Both games were in bowls: Indiana (Independence) and Michigan (Sugar). Tech will be the first ACC team to play at Ohio State since 2003 when NC State visited Columbus. We will see you there. Thanks for making the trip from New York.
I enjoyed hearing Coach Shane speak at the Hokie Club kickoff dinner [in Richmond]. It was interesting and surprising to hear the number of players from the Richmond area who are playing at Tech. What areas provide the most players to Tech? Can you list that by region of Virginia? THANK YOU, AND GO HOKIES! Don, Richmond.
I enjoyed hearing Coach Shane Beamer’s remarks as well. He’s really done a terrific recruiting job in the greater Richmond area since coming back to Tech, and – as he mentioned—it’s a fertile area for recruiting.
In terms of breaking down the most fertile region, understand that the Virginia High School League is divided into three groups. Each group is comprised of four regions. Each region is comprised of three to five districts. And each district is comprised of four to 11 schools. Did you follow that? Ha! Probably not.
So instead of using VHSL’s regional breakdown for this exercise, I’ve come up with another way to look at it that’s probably easier for fans to digest. The criteria is what major Virginia airport is closest to the high school that produced each current Tech football player?
Using that criteria, the top four would be:
That’s not surprising. Like the general student body and alumni base, the majority of Hokies are from the I-95/I-64 corridor.
If you had to pick one play that VT football fans still talk about, what is that play? I graduated in 1985 from Tech and live in Athens, Georgia – not the best place to want to talk Tech football! Virginia, Athens, Georgia.
That’s a fun question. In the 1980’s, Chris Kinzer’s kick to beat NC State in the Peach Bowl was the pick. From the mid-1990’s, the Jim Druckenmiller-to-Jermaine Holmes touchdown at Virginia is still talked about often. For some, it would be Michael Vick’s run or Shayne Graham’s kick at West Virginia. And for some fans, the 2009 Tyrod Taylor pass to Dyrell Roberts to beat Nebraska might be the one they talk about the most. On the other side, the Danny Coale catch/non-catch against Michigan is still something we hear discussed. Many more great plays are to come, too!
I am considering going to the “Battle in Bristol.” However, until the parking situation and transportation from lots is clarified, I will not make a reservation. It would be ideal if the Hokie Club could organize bus trips from central locations since lodging is a major unknown. Can you use your contacts with the athletics department and the Hokie Club to expedite an answer? George, Charlotte.
Thanks for your note. The game, of course, is not until 2016, so not all of the logistics, such as bus trips, are finalized yet. I’m pretty confident, however, that the Hokie Club and Alumni Association in Charlotte will have a bus trip to that game. As for parking, please see battleatbristol.com, where you can sign up for information on parking, camping, VIP tickets and more. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you won’t want to miss!
Is there a way to track NFL Hokies during training camp? Rick, Blacksburg.
There were 33 Hokies on NFL rosters at the beginning of training camp. Here’s the list. That will, of course, change. The guy I’m most excited to see is Davon Morgan in Philadelphia. Morgan was cut from the New York Jets in 2011, and now, after being out of the league for three seasons, he is getting another chance with the Eagles.
Great article on the success of the Tech athletics department since joining the ACC. You note that Tech has won 18 ACC championships since 2004. To place that in context, can you say how many ACC championships that other member schools won during that period? Thanks! Bob, Oakton.
Here are two graphs that you will enjoy. Now remember, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Some schools offer more ACC sports than others. For example, only five of the 15 schools in the league have men’s lacrosse, and only four have fencing. The ACC awards titles in both sports. Conversely, the ACC does not award league titles in men’s or women’s ice hockey, which are two of BC’s most successful teams. Take a look:
I saw the picture of you guys eating Beach Bully BBQ on the plane. Being new to Virginia, what are the best BBQ places to visit? I'm guessing you'd know all things food! GO HOKIES! Michael, Virginia Beach.
Thanks for following along on Twitter and for your question. I’ll probably get in trouble for even attempting to answer this one because barbecue fans are loyal and often provincially biased when it comes to rankings. They also have very strong opinions!
That being said, my favorite BBQ places in the Commonwealth are: Beach Bully in Virginia Beach (especially the brisket), Pierce’s in Williamsburg (no place has a more true Virginia feel to it than Pierce’s), Buz and Neds in Richmond, Kings BBQ and Saucy’s in Petersburg, Checkered Pig in Martinsville, Cuz’s in Tazewell, and Bull & Bones in Blacksburg. Now, I do miss Bill’s Barbecue in Richmond, which closed a couple of years ago. Loved the lime-aid there. There are a bunch of others, of course, and trying different places is fun! Enjoy the tastes, and welcome to Virginia.
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