Heading into the second half of the season, Virginia Tech’s youth has stood out showing plenty of promise but also plenty of inconsistency from impressive road wins at Duke and Florida State to a close call at North Carolina and a stunning loss at Old Dominion. The roller coaster of a first half seems bound to continue with the Hokies having all the ability to win a second Coastal title in three years, but the youth and inconsistency that makes predicting the second half of the season almost impossible.
Overall, there’s plenty for Hokie fans to be excited about, but Virginia Tech has some concerns that the Hokies’ remaining ACC foes will look to exploit if they aren’t improved upon or masked. With that said, here’s a look at the top 3 concerns for Virginia Tech entering the second half of the season.
1. Can Virginia Tech Find Answers at Cornerback?
After the departure of Adonis Alexander and loss of Jeremy Webb early this summer, most expected that cornerback would be a major question mark for the Hokies and through the first half of the season, that has been the case.
Caleb Farley and Bryce Watts have shown flashes of potential, but they also both look like guys who should have another year of developing as backups as was previously expected. Instead, both have been thrown to the fire alongside junior Jovonn Quillen who may not have the same ceiling, but has at times provided some consistency.
Now Farley and Watts both have bright futures, but both of them are suffering from the growing pains that should be expected especially Farley who, outside of this fall camp, has only spent 12 healthy practices playing defense which came more than a year before the start of fall camp during the spring of 2017. Meanwhile, Watts has shown somewhat of a more refined game, but Watts is still learning how to turn his speed and athleticism into quality man coverage.
While Watts and Farley should continue to improve along with young freshman backup Jermaine Waller, expect the Hokies to continue to have some struggles, and Bud Foster to look to either run an increased amount of zone or ensure that the Hokies consistently have a deep safety to provide help over the top to limit the number of long pass plays allowed by the Hokies’ defense.
Virginia Tech’s young cornerbacks should get better as Greg Stroman showed from his struggles in limited playing time early in his career to becoming one of the ACC’s best cornerbacks by the time he graduated. However, the Hokies benefited from having plenty of talent ahead of Stroman to prevent putting a young guy in the fire. This time, the Hokies don’t have that anywhere close to having that luxury after a rough offseason depleted their experienced cornerback depth that was supposed to let Watts and Farley get limited reps rather than throw them in the fire.
2. Where’s the Running Game?
After showing lots of promise early in the season against weaker competition, Virginia Tech’s running game has been almost non-existent the past few weeks as the competition has toughened up. Outside of Steven Peoples’ 41-yard run against Notre Dame, the Hokies’ running game has seemed to mostly be coming from Ryan Willis and his escaping the pocket on broken pass plays.
In the past three games, Virginia Tech has averaged 2 yards per carry against Duke, 4 yards per carry against Notre Dame (largely due to Peoples’ long gain before failing to gain 1 yard on 3 plays), and 3.8 yards per carry against North Carolina which was mostly due to Ryan Willis. During that three-game stretch, Deshawn McClease has averaged only 3.2 yards per carry while Steven Peoples has averaged 3.9 yards per carry including his long gain against Notre Dame.
Optimism was high entering the season that Virginia Tech could solve their rushing problems with strong rushing performances against William & Mary and Old Dominion strengthening that confidence. However, time has shown that the running game, at least for now, benefited largely from the competition level in those games as it should.
Ryan Willis and the Virginia Tech passing game has carried the offense over the past three weeks but if the Hokies want to win their second Coastal title in 3 years, they’ll need to find answers on the running game whether that’s changing up the approach or giving a guy like Terius Wheatley the opportunity for some increased. If the Hokies can’t find an answer soon, it could spell trouble for the Hokies’ offense during the second half of the season.
3. Will Virginia Tech Find Consistency?
It’s been well-documented that the Hokies have one of America’s youngest teams, and it’s shown with plenty of inconsistency. Throughout the season, the Hokies have shown they have the upside of a top 15-20 team as their dominant road wins at Duke and Florida State along with their first half performance against Notre Dame showed, but they’ve also looked quite bad at times from a close call at Coastal cellar dweller North Carolina to a shocking loss to 2-6 Old Dominion.
Going into the second half of the season, the Hokies control their own destiny in the Coastal and are the slight favorites to win the division in part because of their current one game lead. However, it’s hard to feel confident about picking the Hokies to win this decision given the inconsistency that we’ve seen.
If there’s one thing that should help, it’s the fact that most young teams usually play a lot better at home than on the road. Now some will bring up the Notre Dame game and what happened in the second half which does show how there will still be some inconsistency but in general, young teams usually play a lot better at home. Now this team could be different, but it’s almost impossible to say that when the Hokies have only played two home games against the third-ranked team in the country and a 3-4 FCS team.
Virginia Tech has shown the potential and upside to be a team that could go 5-0 to close the season, but there inconsistency and youth suggests that there is also a realistic potential for this team to go 2-3 or even worse given a schedule that provides some challenges against an improved Boston College team, a down but still okay Miami team, and a Virginia team that has built on last year’s bowl appearance despite losing several major contributors.
Inconsistency has defined the Hokies so far this season and given their youth, it seems bound to continue to some extent even with four of the final 5 games coming at Lane Stadium.
Hokie fans, buckle up because the second half of the season has all the makings of a roller coaster ride that could result in a trip to Charlotte on December 1st, sitting on the couch throughout the latter half of December, or anywhere in between.