Three Things to Watch for Virginia Tech Against Syracuse

Three Things to Watch for Virginia Tech Against Syracuse
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Oct 22, 2021

After a home loss to Pittsburgh last week, Virginia Tech is back at Lane Stadium for the sixth time in the opening seven games hungry for a victory before finishing the season with 4 of 5 on the road. Meanwhile, Syracuse is hungry for a win as well after nearly upsetting Clemson last week at the Carrier Dome.

So will the Hokies be able to avoid being upset by the Orange? Here are my three things to watch for Virginia Tech against Syracuse.

Establish an Identity on Offense

There has been plenty of criticism about Virginia Tech's offensive issues which are built around the core problem of the Hokies lacking any sort of offensive identity.

While you may not be able to fully establish that within a week, Tech needs to start figuring out a cohesive approach offensively to maximize their strengths. Given the limitations of Braxton Burmeister and his injured shoulder, Tech's strategy has to be built on finding creative ways to stretch the field and getting creative with screens, jet sweeps, pop passes, and quick passes like the slant we saw gain 29 yards to Da'Wain Lofton last week.

One thing Tech has to get back to with those type of plays is getting their best athletes in one-on-one matchups that those guys win. That includes using Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson on smart screen designs that create just that and on jet sweep to the far side of the field that give them more time to find the angles they need to turn up the field for a big play.

At its core, Tech's best identity at this point should be as a spread rushing and quick passing attack that gets their fastest athletes in space where they can make plays in one-on-one matchups.

Now whether Tech goes with this or not remains to be seen but with whatever the Hokies they do, they have to have an identity and a clear method to what they're doing. If not, it'll be another tough day for the offense.

Contain Sean Tucker

Virginia Tech's defense has been greatly improved in 2021 as the Hokies have found their groove under Justin Hamilton. Of course, Tech's defense has been out on the field a ton which hurts their numbers but the reality is that with a better offense, Tech would be even higher nationally.

However, this matchup isn't exactly a best case matchup as though the Hokies' pass defense has been quite good, their rush defense has been slightly above average at best and has been the weak point through six games. That rush defense will be tested greatly by not only Syracuse's mobile QB Garrett Shrader but even more by their star RB Sean Tucker.

Tucker has been quite impressive averaging 6.1 yards per carry with 9 rushing touchdowns so far this season while breaking the 100 rushing yard mark in 6 of his 7 games this season. He's known for being a tough runner that's hard to bring down and will test the tackling ability of the Hokies.

Tech will need linebackers Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale on top form in filling holes and getting him down while guys like Amare Barno and TyJuan Garbutt who have strong run stopping pedigrees on the edge will play a big role also. Even with Jermaine Waller potentially out, you wonder if Tech may try to load the box more than normal and try to force Shrader to throw it to beat them similar to adjustments that were made against Notre Dame to force Tyler Buchner to do just that.

For Tech's rush defense, this will be arguably their biggest test of the season as they face off against one of the leading rushers in America. If they can contain Tucker, it should be smooth sailing for the Hokies.

Special Teams X-Factor

Special teams have been a strength overall for the Hokies with Tayvion Robinson playing like one of the best punt returners in America with Keshawn King being quite effective on kick returns. Peter Moore has also received plenty of high praise as The Athletic named him a Midseason Freshman All-American while John Parker Romo has looked solid for the Hokies this season.

Given the offensive struggles, Tech will once again need their special teams to play a big role in winning the hidden yardage battle against a Syracuse offense that has found some rhythm recently, but has also had their fair share of struggles as well.

King missed last week's game against Pittsburgh with Raheem Blackshear being okay but not nearly as good as King as a kick returner. Tech could use King to boost their kick return average starting spot from around the 20-25 to closer to the 30-35 yard line on average.

Robinson has plenty of big returns this season headlined by his 60-yard touchdown return and has looked like the playmaker who earned Freshman All-American honors in that role. If Tech can get some big plays from Robinson, it could make life a lot less complicated for the Hokies in what is a clear must win game.

Overall, special teams is one area where Tech need to be dominant especially given what we've seen from them so far this season. If they aren't as they've been previously, that could cause some major issues.