The 2021 Pinstripe Bowl is less than 24 hours away as Virginia Tech looks to end J.C. Price's three-game interim head coach stint with a second victory while Maryland looks to achieve their first winning season since 2014 when Randy Edsall was in his fourth season in College Park.
So will the Hokies with a bunch of new faces be able to finish the brief J.C. Price era with a Pinstripe Bowl victory? Here are our three things to watch for the Hokies against Maryland.
1. Virginia Tech Must Be Hard to Read With Their Rushing Attack
Given what we've seen from Connor Blumrick to date and practice reports from bowl prep, Virginia Tech's passing game may have some difficulties with the former Texas A&M QB to TE/RB at the helm in his first career start. Blumrick has made some throws at times, but Tech is going to have to rely on their rushing attack to win this game.
Unfortunately against Virginia, we saw that the Blumrick rushing offense was fairly predictable with Tech's offense having a lot more success with Braxton Burmeister who actually provided a passing threat.
Tech definitely has the rushing talent with the two-headed monster of Raheem Blackshear and Malachi Thomas who became very productive since Thomas started to receive a larger role in mid-October. Blackshear raised his game especially and Tech will need to lean on those two especially with Tech also having four of their five regular offensive line starters plus veteran Silas Dzansi to fill in for Lecitus Smith.
Maryland's rush defense also hasn't been spectacular giving up 4.1 yards per carry this season and lacking anyone who has had a bunch of tackles for loss on that unit.
Expect plenty of read options and some jet sweep read options that may lean on Raheem Blackshear out wide or Da'Wain Lofton if healthy to add some unpredictability. Any option needs to be a legit option though and not a read that Brad Cornelsen has already told his QB to do as has been well alleged in the Roanoke Times after Justin Fuente's dismissal.
If Tech can't be hard to read with their rushing attack with Blumrick at the helm and can't get it going in general, the Hokies may need to take a chance with freshman Tahj Bullock just to prevent Maryland from predicting instead of reacting on defense.
2. Can VT's DBs Step Up Against Pass-First Maryland W/O Jermaine Waller?
Virginia Tech's secondary has leaned on Jermaine Waller to be a #1 cornerback at times and Waller has risen to the challenge most times. Now, they will be tested without Waller by a Maryland passing attack that is averaging over 300 yards per game and has an insane 10 different players with at least 18 receptions this season.
Dorian Strong and Armani Chatman have both been fairly good this season, but both will be pushed into larger roles especially Strong who will likely match up with Maryland's dynamic lead WR Rakim Jarrett, a former 5* recruit who has 769 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns this season. Jarrett has been the real deal, but Strong will have a chance to show that he's already prepared to be the #1 cornerback without Jermaine Waller across from him.
However, this game will not only test Strong and Chatman, but also the depth of this team including guys like Brion Murray and Nadir Thompson if they are healthy, freshman DJ Harvey, Chamarri Conner, and Tech's safeties.
Taulia Tagovailoa has also been completion passes at an impressive 68.4% rate while averaging almost 40 pass attempts per game so even in what is expected to be cold, rainy conditions at Yankee Stadium, expect the pass defense to be tested early and often. That may also include an increased need for Tech to press cover given that Maryland may look to try to throw a lot of underneath passes to guys like Jarrett, RB Tavon Fleet-Davis, and more.
If Tech's defense can step up and contain the Maryland passing attack, the Hokies will have a great chance at getting a win to end the brief J.C. Price era.
3. Will Tahj Bullock Get a Chance?
Interim head coach J.C. Price has mentioned in the lead up to the Pinstripe Bowl that Tahj Bullock may get some playing time in this game, and many have since called for the Hokies to give Bullock a chance.
While Connor Blumrick almost certainly doesn't factor in as a VT QB beyond tomorrow's game, Bullock still remains a very promising QB for the future. With only two QBs on the roster and Blumrick being mostly a predictable run-only QB, it makes some sense in that regard to give Bullock the chance to get out there and see what he can do as a dual-threat QB.
Additionally, Bullock is a New Jersey native and will likely have plenty of family and friends in the stands at Yankee Stadium. While that shouldn't always dictate a gameplan, Tech would be wise to try to get Bullock a chance to play in a game that is as close to home as any he will play in his collegiate career at Virginia Tech outside of VT's trip to Rutgers in 2023.
Some have argued that Tech should go with who they feel gives them the best chance to win which should absolutely be the case, but there are some arguments that Bullock might do that in some regards over Blumrick.
If that was the only driving factor going into this game, then Tech would have allowed Braxton Burmeister to enter the portal but still play in this game similar to what Florida did with Emory Jones and an outgoing coaching staff. There's nothing that would've stopped VT from doing that and there's no doubt that Burmeister gives the Hokies a much better chance to win than Blumrick.
In my view, Tahj Bullock should absolutely get some reps tomorrow but will he? That remains to be seen.