After a tough season-opening loss to Boston College, Virginia Tech will look to bounce back this week in Lane Stadium. In order to do so, they need to focus on these three matchups.
Eric Kumah vs. Virginia Tech Cornerbacks
All offseason, the talk around the program seemed to be that Virginia Tech’s secondary had vastly improved. Against Boston College, it did not seem that way, at least in the first half.
The Hokies gave up three 30 plus yard passes in the first eleven minutes of the game, including a 33 yard TD to Zay Flowers and a 56 yard pass play to Kobay White on third and 10.
To be fair, the Hokies’ secondary did settle down in the second half. The defense gave up 0 total yards in the third quarter, and Anthony Brown’s arm was largely a non-factor in the second half.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said he attributes the slow start to just coming out a little bit tight. He said the team he saw in the second half was much closer to what he was expecting.
“I think it was as much as anything an adjustment period for those guys,” said Foster. “Two of the big pass plays were busted coverages.”
On the one hand, that is encouraging because a busted coverage is easier to fix than a cornerback who is simply getting beat. However, Virginia Tech is going to need to come out of the tunnel ready to go on Saturday. They can’t afford an adjustment period.
One player who will look to make life difficult for the Hokies’ secondary on Saturday is former Hokies WR Eric Kumah. After transferring to Old Dominion during the offseason, Kumah will definitely have some extra motivation against his old team.
Last year, Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart were a huge factor in Old Dominion’s upset against Virginia Tech before moving on to the NFL after the season. Now, Kumah is looking to follow in their footsteps, and he got off to a pretty good start in Week 1.
Against Norfolk State last week, Kumah caught 4 passes and led the team with 65 receiving yards, emerging as the top target for the Monarchs despite playing a limited number of snaps.
In order to avoid making this game more interesting than they would like, the Hokies need to contain Kumah and prevent him from having a performance similar to the ones Fulgham and Duhart had last year
Ryan Willis vs. Ryan Henry
Last week, Ryan Willis’ inability to read the linebackers in a multitude of ways was arguably the largest factor that led to the loss. There were a couple of plays that clearly highlight this.
First, on Willis’ second touchdown throw to Tayvion Robinson, he misread the strong side linebacker Joseph Sparacio. Sparacio dropped outside instead of staying with the tight end, and Willis threw right at him to get to Tayvion Robinson. Even though it worked because Willis fit the ball into an extremely tight window, it was the wrong read. Fuente tore into him on the sideline afterwards.
At the end of the first half, almost the exact same play unfolded once again. This time, tight end James Mitchell was lined up in the slot, and Willis thought the linebacker would stay inside. Instead, Sparacio read Willis’ eyes the whole way and easily intercepted the pass intended for Mitchell at the goal line.
It was not just in the passing game that Willis struggled to make the correct read. There were multiple instances on the read option where Willis needed to keep the ball and did not. That put the running backs into very difficult positions.
This week, Willis will see a bit of a different defensive look. While Old Dominion will probably not play as much zone as Boston College did, they have a unique position called the bandit.
The bandit position is sort of like a hybrid linebacker/corner, in some ways similar to the whip position for the Hokies. For Old Dominion, the player who fits best is JUCO transfer Ryan Henry.
Henry played defensive back at the JUCO level, so he is very familiar with defending the pass. That, along with his 6’2'', 220 pound frame, gives him a unique ability to be a threat both in the run and pass defense.
In the RPO-based offense that Brad Cornelsen runs, reading the linebacker is a very important skill for the quarterback to have. Willis will need to do a better job of that this week or the Hokies may have some of the same problems once again.
Virginia Tech Defensive Ends vs. Old Dominion Offensive Line
Against Boston College, the Hokies were not able to get much pressure on the quarterback. Even when they did get a sack, it came from linebacker Rayshard Ashby, not a defensive end.
Some of that can be attributed to starter TyJuan Garbutt getting injured in the first series and not returning. That forced redshirt freshman Jaevon Becton to play the majority of the snaps at weak-side DE and while Becton showed some promise, he still has lots of room to grow.
Bud Foster said this week that he is “hopeful” that Garbutt will be able to play on Saturday. That could give the Hokies the spark they need to ignite a pass rush given the talent that Garbutt has shown.
On the other side, Old Dominion’s offensive line did a great job pass blocking in weak one. The Monarchs surrendered just one sack and one QB hurry in their opener.
Of course, Virginia Tech should provide a stiffer test that Norfolk State but still, the Hokies need to prove that they can create pressure against a solid offensive line with ODU presenting an opportunity to do that and build some confidence.
There has been a lot of talk surrounding the Virginia Tech football program in the last couple of weeks. From the Brock Hoffman situation to a less than stellar opener, the bottom line is that the Hokies are a program in need of a win.
There are a few things that need to happen if Virginia Tech is going to turn the tides.
First, the cornerbacks need to play well for 60 minutes and not have any mental lapses, Next, Ryan Willis has to do a better job of reading the linebackers, starting with bandit Ryan Henry. Lastly, the defensive ends for Virginia Tech need to generate some sort of pressure.
If the Hokies can do those things, there shouldn't be much concern about the Hokies having a repeat of last year's disappointment.