Virginia Tech’s trip to Norfolk turned into a disaster as the Hokies suffered one of the biggest upset losses over the past few years of college football losing 49-35 to Old Dominion. In addition, the Hokies saw starting QB Josh Jackson suffer a fractured left fibula and starting DE Trevon Hill get kicked off the team the day after the loss.
Given those situations combined with some changes on the depth chart, the Hokies are poised to have a trio of new starters this week.
QB: Josh Jackson to Ryan Willis
With Jackson out indefinitely, Ryan Willis will get his shot under center, something that a small contingent of fans have been wanting to see for a while (though not under these circumstances). The transfer from Kansas will make his first start in a VT uniform the day after his birthday with his family set to be in attendance (as they were previously planning on doing before Jackson’s injury).
While Willis is somewhat of an unknown given how he has only seen limited action against William & Mary and Old Dominion as a Hokie, he does bring starting experience from his time at Kansas where he started games during the 2015 and 2016 seasons before transferring after losing the job during the 2016 season.
Willis’ numbers for Kansas weren’t great, but he has shown some signs of improvement since then in his brief appearances for the Hokies after going 9-for-18 for 131 yards and a touchdown against Old Dominion in what was an emergency situation he was thrown into.
One thing to watch with Willis is the potential chemistry he may have with redshirt sophomore WR Damon Hazelton. The duo both spent last season on the scout team after both were ineligible to play due to NCAA transfer rules and likely had the opportunity to spend some time building up a rapport.
One other thing to watch at the quarterback spot is whether the Hokies try to use Hendon Hooker in spurts at times to give opposing defenses a different look given the impressive mobility and speed that Hooker brings to the table especially since the gap between Willis and Hooker doesn’t appear to be all that big.
However, Willis’ challenge will be significant against a Duke defense that has looked pretty good early on even with a significant number of injuries accumulating on that side of the ball. In addition, the Blue Devils hold the eighth best strength of record in the country according to ESPN (ESPN operates that metric).
DE: Trevon Hill to Emmanuel Belmar
With Trevon Hill gone, Virginia Tech is looking to their younger backups to step up led by former linebacker Emmanuel Belmar who seemed bound for DE from the moment he committed to VT even though the Hokies started him at linebacker.
The Georgia native had a strong offseason and was able to stave off competition from redshirt freshmen like Tyjuan Garbutt, Zion DeBose, and Nathan Proctor to emerge as VT’s main backup at DE.
So far this season, Belmar has had 5 tackles with 0.5 tackles for loss in games against William & Mary and Old Dominion. Belmar also looked the part of a productive backup who could be counted on for 15-20 quality snaps a game against Florida State, but Bud Foster will need the redshirt sophomore to step up with Hill, VT’s best pass rusher, no longer on the team.
However, don’t be surprised to see the Hokies rotate guys like Garbutt and DeBose in spreading out the reps that Hill has vacated with his departure. In addition, though Nathan Proctor isn’t in the two-deep, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the former four-star recruit also get a few snaps against Duke with the gap between the redshirt freshmen not appearing too large.
LT: Silas Dzansi to Christian Darrisaw
This is the one depth chart change that has seemed unofficial for weeks now, but was made official this past week when the Hokies updated their depth chart as true freshman Christian Darrisaw is now listed as VT’s starting left tackle over Silas Dzansi.
Darrisaw was out due to an unknown injury against Old Dominion, but the true freshman who spent last fall at Fork Union has been a major surprise early in the season, pushing ahead of Dzansi for a starting LT job that he seemed to have locked down going into the fall.
Though Darrisaw has looked good in his limited experiences, expect the battle between Darrisaw and Dzansi to continue throughout the season especially given how Vance Vice has shown in the past how he isn’t afraid to mix things up on his offensive line if someone is underperforming. In the meantime, Darrisaw’s starter status for Saturday appears set to come down to his health for this game.
Here’s the full Virginia Tech depth chart for this week: