Scouting Ahead: A look at the 2015 Virginia Tech Hokies with The Key Play

By Michael Citro on June 6, 2015 at 9:15 am

We’re less than 100 days until the Ohio State opener, but it’s still a pretty long way off. Even so, it seems the folks over in Blacksburg, Virginia, can’t wait to congratulate Ohio State on its national championship.

Awesome Hokies blog The Key Play was eager to do a little information exchange with 11W and we were happy to oblige. It’s never too early to start breaking down the enemy, after all.

I spoke to TKP's Pierson Booher about the big revenge game and he asked me some as well. You can find my answers right over here.

11W: What happened to Virginia Tech after they beat Ohio State? Michael Brewer stopped looking like Joe Montana, the team lost five of its next seven games, and I don’t even know what in the actual hell that was against Wake Forest. Seriously, was the rest of the season one massive ‘punking’ of Hokie fans or were you just trolling us by making it look like we lost to a really bad team?

The Key Play: Wake Forest? We played them last year? I had no idea...I must have blacked out for an indeterminate period of time on a certain Saturday in November. Last year was one of the more frustrating seasons in recent memory. For every positive experience, there was always at least one negative lurking around the corner.

Arguably the biggest road win in program history, followed by grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory on consecutive Saturdays against ECU and Georgia Tech.

Get back on track with convincing wins and stand-out performances, only to get boat raced on back-to-back Thursday nights.

Beat a ranked Duke team on the road, thanks in part to a throwback performance from our fourth-string tailback, and then completely shit the bed against a depressingly under-talented Wake Forest. I don't even need to continue. Seriously, read that sentence again. Celebrating a road win over Duke—a ranked Duke, no less—and losing to Wake. Welcome to the Bizarro World that was the 2014 Virginia Tech Hokies.

I wish I could definitively tell you what was going on last year, but I think most Hokies fans would agree that it was some combination of youth, a transfer quarterback, an offensive system that wasn't fully fleshed out, and a ton of poorly timed injuries. The strangest thing was that last year's game in Columbus saw everything go right for the Hokies at the absolute best time, which is something we rarely (if ever) see.

The Ohio State offense that takes the field in three months will be a different squad than the one that got pushed around in 2014.

11W: Ohio State’s coaching staff was caught completely off guard by Bud Foster’s defense last season, with a brand new offensive line and a redshirt freshman quarterback in just his second game. Now that Meyer’s team has matured, does Foster roll with that again and hope for the best or does he try to figure out something completely new to counter the OSU offense?

TKP: We can all agree that Bud Foster’s game plan last year against the Buckeyes was stellar and well executed by his players. He put his standout corners on an island and, except for a 10-minute stretch in the second half, they performed exceptionally. Deon Clarke was in J.T. Barrett’s face all game and the young Buckeyes quarterback struggled to get into a rhythm against a relentless pass rush. But we can also all agree that the Ohio State offense that takes the field in three months will be a different squad than the one that got pushed around in 2014. The quarterback position, as unsettled as it may be, is significantly more experienced and confident; the skill positions are arguably even more dangerous; and the Buckeye offensive line is like an entirely different unit.

One thing you can bet your life on is Bud Foster will have dedicated a good portion of his off-season to focusing on how to neutralize the defending champions. The dude never rests on his laurels. Ever. Take Georgia Tech and Coach Paul Johnson’s Triple Option offense. The Hokies play the Bees annually, and every year it is a unique 60-minute chess match between two brilliant minds. I think Bud takes great pleasure in besting talented coaches. It comes from a place of deep respect.

My colleague French could speak to this in much greater detail, but I think come September you will still see a similar approach from Foster. Expect him to continue to rely on his talented secondary to lock down the Buckeye skill players, freeing up his pass rushers to wreak havoc whenever possible. But, in an effort to maximize confusion and disruption, expect lots of wrinkles and disguised coverages to keep things fresh.

the Buckeye offensive line is like an entirely different unit.

11W: What are the biggest holes Virginia Tech must fill both on offense and defense and how will the Hokies fill them?

TKP: Though the Hokies are returning virtually their entire offensive starting 11 from a year ago, wide receiver depth is a huge concern. Last year saw the emergence of two true-freshmen receivers in Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, as well as man-child TE/WR, Bucky Hodges. All three are incredibly talented players, but there is a dearth of experience behind them on the depth chart. Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler has a number of talented pass-catching tight ends and running backs, but questions remain as to who could step in at flanker or split end if someone goes down.

Defensively, Bud Foster and Secondary Coach Torrian Gray have spent the off-season trying to determine who will replace safeties Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett. Gray has been experimenting at free safety with Donovan Riley and Chuck Clark, who have played mostly corner and nickel earlier in their careers. Rising sophomore CJ Reavis stood out this spring, and looks to have an inside shot at earning the starting rover spot. I always get a bit nervous when turnover occurs at the back of the secondary, but I rest easier knowing Coach Gray is arguably the best DB coach in the nation.

11W: Which individual position group is the biggest cause of concern entering 2015 and which is the team’s strength? To dovetail on that, which starter is the one the Hokies can least afford to do without?

TKP: Aside from the aforementioned depth issue at the wide receiver positions, my biggest cause for concern would be multiple injuries at the defensive end position. Ken Ekanem and Dadi Lhomme Nicolas form a dangerous pass rushing tandem, but Defensive Line Coach Charlie Wiles is not 100% sold on the next men up. Seth Dooley has been the Hokies’ “First Man Off the Bus” since arriving on campus, but hadn’t been able to directly translate his physical advantage onto the playing field until this spring. Melvin Keihn and Vinny Mihota have flashed promise and could be solid contributors this season. One positive is that the Hokies are flush with defensive tackles, some of whom are “tweeners” and have the potential to slide inside or outside depending on depth or the opponent. Wiles likes to rotate his lineman to keep them fresh, so it will be extremely vital to identify four—ideally five—ends that can be relied on from the outset.

With regard to strength, I’m struggling to pin down one specific position group. The starting front four is one of the best in years; defensive tackle, as previously mentioned, is extremely talented and versatile; the secondary has always been a hallmark of Virginia Tech football and continues to thrive; and the running back position is well-stocked with as many as five guys who could lead the team in carries on any given day. If I had to pick one, I would probably say I feel best about the talent and depth at defensive tackle. If you asked five other Hokies, I would be willing to bet you would get five different positions. It’s not necessarily indicative of this team being stacked, but rather a reflection of the coaching staff’s heightened focus on recruiting and development after far too many misses left the cupboard bare.

The starter the Hokies can least afford to lose would likely be Bucky Hodges. The dude is a match-up nightmare, and everyone fully expects to see Scot Loeffler spend the off-season in his dork cave drawing up inventive ways to isolate him against poor, undersized opponents. With him on the field—especially in the red zone—defenses will be forced to keep track of him with at least one defender at all times. Pair that with Loeffler’s love for misdirection and you’ve got a lot of field to play with.

11W: Obviously the Hokies will enter the 2015 opener with confidence, having beaten Ohio State in Columbus last year. But with all that Buckeye team learned along the way, how are Tech fans feeling about the team’s potential to repeat that accomplishment?

TKP: I would summarize Hokie Nation’s sentiment as cautiously optimistic. Despite last season’s up-and-down performance, everyone knew this team was young (over 80% of the team’s points were scored by freshmen) and a year or two away from returning to 10-win seasons. If anything, the win in C-bus was too much too soon for this team and fan base. Expectations immediately ballooned to an unrealistic level and everything quickly came crashing back down to earth the following Saturday.

Like a scorned lover, the fan base has become a bit more realistic during the off-season while harboring deep feelings of resentment every time Vegas updates the point spread for the OSU game. Two things are keeping fans quietly confident: Beamer-coached teams are at their best when the pressure is off and they enter as a clear underdog; and 99.9% of Hokie fans feel like we’re all superhuman during night games in Lane Stadium. If the Hokies come onto the field wearing #AllMaroonEverything, all bets are off. People will lose their minds. Don’t ask. 

Big thanks to Pierson for allowing himself to be grilled for your reading pleasure. But maybe someone should tell him about Urban Meyer and revenge games. On second thought, let it be a surprise.

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