Photo Credit: ACC Media
After bouncing back at Louisville, Virginia Tech faces their second top 25 opponent of the season though it's a team no one expected to be ranked in 6-0 Liberty, ranked 25th in the country. The Flames have faced a weak scheduled, but they have still gotten the job done to get to 6-0 including a dominant win at Syracuse.
So with that said, here are our keys to the game for the Hokies against Liberty.
Contain Malik Willis
Liberty has a strong offense led by dual-threat QB Malik Willis who transferred from Auburn to join the Flames. Of course, Tech fans who have followed recruiting may recognize Malik Willis as he was committed to Tech for a while during the 2017 recruiting cycle with Willis decommitting from the Hokies during the 2016 Belk Bowl before flipping to Auburn.
Willis has been a true dual-threat QB as he leads Liberty in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns with 7 yards per carry while also having 9 passing touchdowns and a 67.2% completion rate compared to 1 interception.
Tech has had their issues with dual-threat playmakers including Malik Cunningham of Louisville last week who had a huge day through the air against Tech. Of course, Willis is much more of a dual-threat than Cunningham is with Tech having plenty of issues historically against dual-threat QBs.
If the Hokies are going to take care of business, it starts by containing Willis especially on the ground with his rushing ability being a key piece to Liberty's offense. If the Hokies can make Willis one-dimesional, Tech may not have a close call that some worry could happen in this game.
Given that, expect Tech to run plenty of zone tomorrow to keep plenty of eyes on Willis while also needing their defensive ends to help keep contain against him. Justus Reed and Amare Barno will need to be disciplined with their containment and get the job done on their chances to bring Willis down for a sack while Rayshard Ashby and Alan Tisdale will have to balance their zone coverage and spy duties well.
If those things can contain Willis' rushing ability, they should be able to slow down the high-powered Liberty offense.
Feed Khalil Herbert
It's not a coincidence that Virginia Tech's offense bounced back with 42 points in the same game where Khalil Herbert received 20+ offensive touches for the first time this season with 21 carries.
There's no reason why Herbert shouldn't be getting that type of volume every game with most of that coming on the ground, but also should get touches via screens and wheel routes that can be valuable in opening up space for the vertical passing game.
Liberty's rush defense has been okay so far, but Tech has arguably the best rushing offense in America, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be trying to pound the rock against this Liberty team. The Flames also haven't faced any running back nearly as good as Herbert so far or an offensive line that is as good as Tech's.
Of course, Tech also could be aggressive in the passing game as well, but any strategy should be built around feeding Herbert on the ground first to then open up space on the edge and to get this game in control early with their most effective offense.
The strategy should be simple on Saturday, feed Khalil Herbert and in doing so, maximize their most successful offense first to open up more space for the passing game and get control of this game early.
Don't Overlook Liberty
Even with Liberty being ranked, they are still Liberty and the Hokies have an even bigger game in Lane Stadium next Saturday against Miami. However, the Flames have proven that they are good enough to pull off the upset if the Hokies are caught looking ahead to next week.
Liberty just recently joined the FBS level purely in a money move and haven't able to join a conference to date, playing as an independent that just reached the first bowl game last year. While they have continued to improve, they are still an afterthought after VT, UVA, JMU, and ODU in terms of football in Virginia.
That's a big reason why this is a situation where Tech has to be careful to not overlook Tech especially given the hype of a critical ACC showdown with Miami.
The fact that Liberty is a top 25 team should help along with some of the over the top bragging about their success to the point of false extrapolations. That's bulletin board material that should help along with not wanting a failure similar to the ODU loss back in 2018.
However, the Hokies have to be careful not to look past Liberty to Miami. If they do, this could be a tense affair at Lane Stadium Saturday afternoon.