After a very disappointing loss at West Virginia that cost them the Black Diamond Trophy, Virginia Tech returns home ahead of their bye week looking for a big bounce back against in-state FCS foe Richmond.
So what do I have my eyes on in this game, here are my three things to watch for the Hokies against the Spiders.
1. Open Up and Smarten Up The Offense
Virginia Tech has seemed to tighten up their offensive playbook since the North Carolina loss especially on the offensive side where the read options and jet sweep read options have seemed to disappear as shown against West Virginia. While Tech's main RBs did have some moderate success, the bizarre playcalling got in the way of greater success especially with jet sweeps oddly to the near side as well.
Tech's passing game did pull out some plays to push the field some including with the wheel route that was a smart play design, but Tech needs a little more of a vertical passing game. Yes, Braxton Burmeister is a limited passer, but he has shown some improvement throwing the football and Tech has the receiving talent with Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson, and Kaleb Smith where they should give those guys more chances to make plays down the field.
Brad Cornelsen has rightly been under some heat from fans after playcalling that proved lackluster once again, but Justin Fuente has continued to retain loads of confidence in Cornelsen to call his offense. This game presents a perfect opportunity for Cornelsen (and Fuente) to get a little less outside pressure on them from fans and open up the offense like we saw against North Carolina.
So will we see the Hokies be hesitant and conservative offensively again for the third-straight week or will we see the full scale offense including loads of misdirection and options in the rushing attack? Let's hope it's the latter.
2. Right Tackle Situation
Without Silas Dzansi and Parker Clements, Virginia Tech's right tackle situation was a bit of a mess. Of course, signs have been good that Dzansi and Clements might be ready to go this week, but the Hokies would be wise to be conservative in their approach with who plays there.
With that in mind, this could be a great chance to build up the confidence of Tyrell Smith after he had a tough time last week against West Virginia with multiple penalties plus being beat multiple times. Smith may be a veteran, but even veterans sometimes need bounce back games to get their confidence back up and this game provides just that opportunity.
If Dzansi and/or Clements can play, it would absolutely be important for Tech to get them playing time at right tackle and have the Hokies in their best offensive line which in my view, involves having Luke Tenuta on Braxton Burmeister's blindside at left tackle. Getting Clements specifically time would be more important to give Tech a more established backup there behind Dzansi who has looked solid through the first three games.
This game also could provide a chance for a guy like JUCO transfer Bob Schick to finally get some playing time. The transition to JUCO is always more complicated than it seems, but Schick has shown plenty of upside from his JUCO time and Tech would benefit from getting some tackles farther down the depth chart more playing time especially given how the Brock Hoffman at right tackle experiment didn't go so well at WVU.
3. Safety Battle Remains Wide Open
Virginia Tech's safety playing time battle remains wide open as the Hokies played five different safeties last week led by Nasir Peoples (56) and Tae Daley (30). However, three other Hokies received at least six snaps at safety including Keonta Jenkins (14), Devon Hunter (7), and even true freshman Jalen Stroman (6).
Peoples seems to be the most solidified in his starting safety spot while Tae Daley seems to have the edge for now at the other safety spot. However, it's clear that the competition remains plentiful especially between Daley and Jenkins, but also with Devon Hunter who is starting to see a slight increase in playing time that makes you wonder if the gap is closing there.
Now Jenkins suffering an injury earlier this season may have put him behind the eight ball and may mean that Tech is a little more conservative with how much they play in with a bye week followed by Notre Dame looming.
If Jenkins does end up being limited, Jalen Stroman may be the guy to keep an eye on getting some reps with the first team defense. We've seen Justin Hamilton use these games previously to be a little more aggressive rotating guys in as shown by Dean Ferguson and Keshon Artis playing in the first quarter against Middle Tennessee.
With Stroman starting to receive time even against a team like WVU, it's clear that Hamilton has a lot of trust in what Stroman offers and that could lead to an increased role.
Peoples does appear to still be the clear guy at the boundary safety spot, but it'll be interesting to see if Hamilton tries to get Devon Hunter some more reps than he has gotten most of the season especially to continue to develop Hunter and build up the quality of depth at safety.
Keep an eye on safety tomorrow as we see the continual playing time battle rage on with even a new face starting to join the competition with a familiar last name.