2023 Preseason Opponent Preview: Virginia Tech

Replacing a legend is never easy, and that’s what Virginia Tech had to do when Frank Beamer retired. Justin Fuente seemed like a good hire after his success at Memphis. However, after going 19-8 with an ACC title game appearance in the first two years, the Hokies went on to have a losing season 3 out of the next 4 years, including going 0-4 in bowl games. They also ended a 27-year streak of making a bowl game, leading to Fuente being shown the door.

In steps Brent Pry, who reminds me of long-time VT DC Bud Foster. Pry actually served as a GA under Foster for a brief period in the 90s. This just hire felt odd to me. He had no previous head coaching experience and, while serving as the former DC at Penn State from 2016-2021, only had their defense in the top 25 twice in 6 years. (Manny Diaz took over and had them top 20 in year 1). He may do just fine, but it wasn’t exactly a hire that screamed VT was ready to play big-boy football again.

Pry inherited a team coming off back-to-back losing seasons, and they also lost their top QB, RB, and two top WRs, so he walked into an uphill battle. Year one was a tough start for the new head coach. The Hokies opened with a loss to Old Dominion and finished 3-8 with a 1-6 record in conference play. (They only played 11 games with UVA getting canceled)

They did start to find some traction late in the season, losing to GT and at NCST by only 1 point a piece, and then ended the season with a win over Liberty.
The Hokie defense was their strength last year, finishing middle to upper third in most categories. However, the offense was just plain bad. They finished 118th in scoring off at 19.3 PPG, which was their lowest since 1989!

On offense this year, they bring back 7 starters which should help. At QB, Grant Wells returns for 2023. Wells transferred in from Marshall, where he was a 2x All-CUSA player. Last season, Wells went 196/332 (59%) for 2,171 yards with 9 touchdowns and 9 Interceptions. He’s thrown for almost 8,000 yards over three seasons but also has thrown 31 interceptions. He also added 410 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground but was sacked 30 times last year. 

Wells has the most experience at QB on the roster. The next most productive QB last season only threw for 65 yards. VT added dual-threat QB Kyron Drones from Baylor. Drones only had 22 passing attempts for 219 yards in 2022. He did average 6.1 YPC but only ran the ball 5 times. Wells has been named the starter, but VT could still use a two-QB system to utilize Drones running ability. Drones was a former 4-star recruit and top 30 QB in the 2021 class, so he has some upside.

At RB, they lose their top 2 backs, neither of which broke 500 yards last year, but they still accounted for 67.7% of Virginia Tech’s rushing yards. They get Malachi Thomas (who missed 8 games in ’22), Chance Black, and Bryce Duke back, but all three averaged under 4 YPC last year. VT did add FCS All-American Bhayshul Tuten from NC A&T, who put up over 1,600 all-purpose yards and averaged 6.6 YPC last season.

Last year, the VT receiving core was led by Kaleb Smith, who put up 674 yards, which was 418 yards more than the next closest receiver at 256, but he does not return this season. They bring back their next four most productive pass catchers, but they only had a combined 852 yards last season.

They did land two quality players from the portal to help. Ali Jennings comes in from ODU, where he was a first-team All-SBC selection and has put up over 2,000 yards in the last two seasons. Jennings will be an instant impact receiver for the Hokies. Jayln Lane transferred in from MTSU and, most notably, put up 130 receiving yards against Miami last year in their blowout win over the Canes. 

Up front, the Hokies had slim pickings in 2022, with only four offensive linemen on the roster with any starting experience. They finished 90th in sacks allowed (33) and 113th in rushing offense (3.14 YPC). This year, they lost an 11-game starter at left tackle and their starting center, who played every single snap for VT last year. They return three starters and added 3x All-Big South OT Clayton Frady. VT has Wisconsin’s old OL coach, a place known for producing quality offensive linemen. Going with the mobile QB could help this group, but it isn’t likely the offensive line will be their strength in 2023.

2023 Virginia Tech Football Schedule

VT wasn’t exactly great on the defense last season, but they weren’t that bad either. The Hokies finished 58th in total defense (371 YPG) and 54th in scoring defense (24.7 PPG). In some areas, they had success, 25th in third-down defense and 32nd in explosive plays allowed. In other areas, they didn’t do so well, 124th in red zone defense, 126th in interceptions, and 96th in sacks.

They lost 19 combined starts on the defensive line, including DE TyJuan Garbutt, who led the team in sacks and TFLs by a wide margin. However, in the middle, they return three 5th year defensive tackles who all graded out very well on PFF. On the edge, they bring back C.J. McCray (70.9 PFF) and Cole Nelson (66.7 PFF), who played in all 11 games last year, and added Florida transfer Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr (69.5 PFF). 

The linebacker group was their strength last season, but they will have to replace the team leader in tackles, who also finished second in TFLs and sacks. They return 6th-year linebacker Alan Tisdale (67.3 PFF), who started the last five games after missing the first 6. They also added 2x FCS All-American Stone Snyder, who has over 2,000 career snaps and highly graded (PFF) seasons back-to-back. I don’t know how much I trust PFF’s grading at the FCS level, but he looks like a good addition for the Hokies. Snyder did play against Wake Forest last season while at VMI and had 1 pressure and 6 Total tackles. 

At safety, they lose Chamarri Conner, who started 48 games throughout his career. However, they return Keonta Jenkins (67.8 PFF) and Nasir Peoples (58.8 PFF) with a combined 33 starts. Safety Jalen Stroman also returns as their #4 tackler despite not starting. 

At Corner, they lost 14 combined starts from last season but return over 700 snaps of experience, including Mansoor Delane, who had an exceptional true freshman season and led the team in PBU’s. They also added third-team All-SBC CB Derrick Canteen from GA Southern. VT finished 84th in passing defense last season despite only facing one passing offense that finished in the top 50, so they’ll have their work cut out against this FSU passing offense.

Florida State vs. Virginia Tech was one of the matchups I was most excited about when the Hokies joined the ACC. However, the two have only met four times in the regular season since VT joined in 2004.

Last year was the start of a rebuild for Brent Pry at Virginia Tech, and the Hokies finished without a single 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team All-ACC player. In 2023, they return 14 starters and bring in a few quality transfers, so they should be better in year two.

It remains to be seen if VT’s offense will find any life this season, and while their defense wasn’t bad, FSU’s offense should be a problem for even the best of defenses. The best offense VT faced last year was UNC, and they gave up 41 points and 527 yards.

VT will be coming off a home game vs Pitt, whereas FSU will be coming off a bye week. VT should be outmanned on both sides of the ball, and with FSU being at home with an extra week to prepare, the Noles should get some revenge for the 2018 game and roll the Hokies in this one.

Thanks for reading! Go Noles!

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