Photo Credit: Jake Roth
Virginia Tech steps outside of the ACC tomorrow when they face #25 Liberty in their first of three games against ranked opponents inside Lane Stadium over the next four games. Here's a look at three things that we'll have our eyes on as the Hokies look to get to .500 against top 25 opponents this season.
Will Jermaine Waller Play? How Much and Who Else Starts If So?
This is definitely the biggest question, will we see Jermaine Waller against Liberty?
Waller has only played in one game this season at North Carolina though Justin Fuente has suggested that it may have been a tad rushed for him returning at that game, hence the caution over the past couple of weeks. That will be the first question ahead of next week's critical showdown against Miami.
If Waller does play, then it'll be interesting to see how much he will play and who will be the other first team cornerback with him.
First, if Waller does play, it wouldn't be surprising to see his reps limited in the first half to give some extra room for him to play in the second half if the game is close, and to allow him to get a test run plus knock off some rust with Miami looming next week.
Now who will be the other first team cornerback? Brion Murray may be the elder of the two cornerbacks but Dorian Strong has been Tech's best cornerback, and there's a reason why he's quickly climbed ahead of older players to take a starting job. Murray does have a case and could see more reps if Tech leans more with zone against Liberty and Miami who feature dual-threat QBs in Malik Willis and D'Eriq King.
Even with that, I would expect Strong would be the top cornerback opposite Waller though one guy who could also be a sleeper is Armani Chatman who has surprisingly slipped down the depth chart in 2020. However, Chatman has had plenty of quality play in the past and did have a significant role earlier in the season against N.C. State and UNC before seeing that decrease in recent weeks.
Will We See Changa Hodge, Evan Fairs Get More WR Reps?
If this game ends up not being that close as Vegas and many expect, there should be plenty of opportunities for the Hokies to get players who are farther down the depth chart on-field opportunities for development and evaluation. This game seems like a great opportunity to bring Changa Hodge and Evan Fairs along more especially given the WR depth issues that continue to be a problem.
Hodge and Fairs have seen limited reps so far with the first team offense, but they have barely been involved. Hodge in particular has rarely touched the field and neither have a reception though Fairs has at least seen a couple targets his way.
Both players have had unique challenges with learning an offense without being at Tech in the spring and doing so in a COVID reality with Hodge additionally missing much of fall camp after transferring from Villanova during August. That put both behind the eight ball a little, but the Hokies need both of them to find their footing more in this offense.
This game feels like a potential opportunity ahead of an ACC stretch run where Tech has a small path to reaching the ACC Championship that will almost certainly requiring winning their final four ACC games. If Tech is going to pull that off, they definitely have to strengthen their weaknesses including with their WR depth with Hodge and Fairs being the type of players who could do that.
If not this game, it's easy to wonder if Hodge and Fairs may simply be very limited this season and get a reset in the offseason for 2021.
Can Virginia Tech Have Another Fast Start
Virginia Tech is built to be a team that can hold on to a lead well with arguably the best rushing offense in the country led by Khalil Herbert and Tech's strong offensive line. That shows given the fact that the Hokies are 3-0 this season when they have held the lead at the end of the first quarter.
While Liberty may not be as good as their record and ranking would make you think, they are still a more than capable team with a dual-threat, efficient-running QB in Malik Willis, making it important for Tech to get off to a fast start and get control of this game earlier.
Getting off to a fast start could also be key to building some momentum and knocking the wind out of the sails of a Liberty team that at 6-0 and ranked #25, likely comes in with lots of confidence and belief that maybe this could be their chance, especially with no more than 1,000 in attendance.
If the Hokies get off to a fast start, expect this to be a comfortable victory for the Hokies as you would expect. If not, this will likely be a four quarter game.