We're taking a look at the 2015 nonconference opponents for Big Ten teams. Up now: Virginia Tech, which plays Ohio State on Sept. 7 and Purdue on Sept. 19.
Has there ever been a less inspired 22nd straight winning season than Virginia Tech’s campaign last year? Hokies fans expect more than mediocrity from Frank Beamer. But unless a veteran offense jells and a dice-rolling D can stop big plays, the good people of Blacksburg are in for only marginal improvement.
How the Hokies beat you: “If we stay healthy, we know exactly who we’re going to be,” OC Scot Loeffler says. “A running football team that has the ability to play-action.” The injury bug wreaked havoc in 2014—at one point, Virginia Tech was down to its fifth running back—but the Hokies have no shortage of backfield playmakers flirting with breakout potential. Senior J.C. Coleman gained steam in the final four games (117 ypg rushing); sophomore Marshawn Williams, who’s on the mend from knee surgery, matched Coleman for a team-high 13 runs of 10-plus yards; and junior Trey Edmunds, who took starting reps in the spring, averaged a healthy 4.6 ypc on limited touches in ’14 (21) but is capable of finding the end zone (10 rush TDs in ’13).
How you beat the Hokies: Texas Tech graduate transfer Michael Brewer spent his first months as a Hokie learning on the fly (10 TDs, 11 INTs in the first six games). And while the QB ironed out those kinks (8 TDs, 4 INTs to finish ’14), Loeffler’s pro-style pass scheme did not: 6.2 ypa (No. 105 in the FBS); 28 completions of 20-plus yards (No. 104). Bucky Hodges is coming off a 7-TD freshman campaign (a program record for TEs), but lack of depth behind soph WR duo Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips could drag down an already stagnant air attack.
How the Hokies beat you:: The blitz-happy Hokies sent extra defenders after the QB on 49.5 percent of opponents’ dropbacks last year—the third-highest rate among Power 5 teams. And with senior Dadi Nicolas and junior Ken Ekanem reteaming as the ACC’s best DE duo (18½ sacks in 2014), D-coordinator Bud Foster’s playcalling won’t miss an aggressive beat. “When we’ve been good over the years—and I think we have a chance to be pretty good if we stay healthy—we have experience and depth up front,” he says. Experience is settled: Nicolas and Ekanem started all 13 games last year. Depth, less so, with Foster still on the hunt for a fourth DE to complement the starting pair and sophomore Seth Dooley. Still, QBs recorded a 23.9 QBR against Tech last year—the sixth-lowest total in the FBS— and there is no reason to anticipate less from the QB-hounding D-line in 2015.
How you beat the Hokies: VaTech gave up an un-Hokie-like 79 plays of 20-plus yards in ’14, sixth highest in the FBS and 11 more than it allowed in any season in the past decade. Stud CB Kendall Fuller is back, but both safety spots will go to newcomers to the position in ’15, and they’ll have to develop quickly. Foster’s affinity for the blitz (see “How the Hokies Beat You”) requires a secondary that holds up in coverage.