Three Things to Watch For Virginia Tech Against West Virginia

Three Things to Watch For Virginia Tech Against West Virginia
Photo Credit: Taelor Shema
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Sep 22, 2022

The Battle for the Black Diamond Trophy returns to Blacksburg for the first time in almost 2 decades as Virginia Tech takes on West Virginia looking to take back the trophy.

1. How healthy and productive are Keshawn King and Kaleb Smith?

The biggest question surrounds the health of Keshawn King and Kaleb Smith who both seem likely to be able to go based on comments from Brent Pry after Tuesday's practice. However, it's one thing to be healthy enough to play and another thing to be at full strength. Whether they are at full health or not could play a factor in how successful Tech's offense can be.

Without Keshawn King, Tech's running game has been a mess with both Jalen Holston and Chance Black struggling to provide much in terms of explosive plays. Meanwhile, Bryce Duke showed lots of potential in his first offensive reps against Wofford last week though there are some questions about how settled into Tech's offense Duke is at the moment which is understandable for a true freshman.

Meanwhile, the WR corps showed improvement last week with Jadan Blue finding his stride and Christian Moss emerging but there's no doubt that when fully healthy, Kaleb Smith is Tech's top receiving threat. Smith gives Tech a great combination of size with some speed plus loads of experience that made him Tech's biggest threat against ODU before injuries caused him to miss the second half of that game and have limited him since then.

If Tech can have a fully healthy Keshawn King and Kaleb Smith tonight, that could prove to be the difference for an offense that needs their top 2 playmakers to date of 2022 (not including Malachi Thomas who hasn't played yet this season). If not, it might feel at times tonight like the Tech offense is playing with one hand tied behind their back.

2. Can Grant Wells take advantage of a struggling WVU Defense?

Grant Wells has had his ups and downs so far this season but he's found his rhythm slowly but steadily with a solid and very statistically productive game against Wofford. It was his second-straight game without an interception after having 4 in the opener against ODU in what has been a great sign of progress.

The question now is can he keep this up going forward with West Virginia being a tougher opponent overall than anything Tech has faced to date.

Now one area where they aren't tougher is their pass defense which ranks a middling 61st nationally while also not having a single interception through 3 games. Given that weakness, it's going to be important for Tech's passing offense to be running on full steam especially after the momentum that they've started to build up with Wells throwing for over 300 yards last week.

Wells will need to be more accurate as he's struggled with some overthrows at times while he also has locked in on one receiver too much including several times last that led to missed receivers on plays that were incomplete or could have gone for larger gains.

Tech's defense also needs Wells and company to have some strong drives and control the time of possession especially as they'll face their toughest test to date by far and would be better off not having to constantly rotate in later in the game due to fatigue in part from a VT offense that can't stay on the field.

If Grant Wells can keep the momentum he has going after last week's 300-passing yard performance against a mediocre at best WVU pass defense, it may be what powers the Hokies to victory.

3. How good is this Virginia Tech Defense?

Virginia Tech's defense has gotten off to a dominant start not allowing more than 13 points to an opponent in their first 3 games (7 of ODU's points came off the bad snap). However, Tech's defense has faced a mediocre G5 offense in ODU albeit with some talented receivers that they contained well, a BC offense with star talent but a bad offensive line, and a Wofford offense that is just bad.

Tonight, they'll face their best offense by far in West Virginia that has had solid offensive line play with plenty of skill talent to make big things happen.

Transfer QB JT Daniels has looked as good as he has at any point in his winding collegiate career while Bryce Ford-Wheaton looks like a future day 2 or 3 draft pick. RB CJ Donaldson arrived at WVU as a TE of sorts but has been a star as a freshman averaging over 9 yards per carry while doing so in a schedule that has included games against a ranked Pittsburgh and a 3-0 Kansas.

The stats also back up how solid West Virginia has been offensively so far this season and how much better they are than any team Tech has faced to date on the offensive side of things.

  • Total Offense - 13th
  • Scoring Offense - Tied for 11th
  • Passing Offense - 25th
  • Rush Offense - 28th
  • Third Down Conversion % - 14th

Meanwhile, this Tech defense has showed loads of potential to be ready to maintain their very high level of play against tough challenges like WVU with Dax Hollifield leading the charge and playing as well as he ever has so far while TyJuan Garbutt and VT's defensive line have looked strong through 3 games getting loads of pressure and shutting down rushing attacks. Tech has playmakers on the back end of their defense with Chamarri Conner and Dorian Strong who will almost certainly be matched up all night against Bryce Ford-Wheaton in what will be a very compelling matchup to watch.

So far this season, Tech's defense has looked old school with their dominance that has them ranking in the top 20 of the following stats.

  • Total Defense - 5th
  • Scoring Defense - Tied for 16th
  • Rush Defense - 3rd
  • Pass Defense - 16th
  • Third Down Conversions % Allowed - 3rd

This is the type of matchup that you always love to see between a strong offense and a dominant defense. We'll learn a whole lot about both of these units tonight and the winner in this battle of strengths likely will be on the winning side of this game.