After a much-needed bye week and a reprieve from the media narrative that the sky is falling in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech returns to action on Friday night against Duke.
The Hokies have not played to their potential this year so far -- that much is clear.
However, when evaluating Virginia Tech compared to the muddled mess that defines the rest of the ACC, the Hokies still have all of their goals in front of them in 2019. That does not take away from the fact that Friday night is the biggest game of the year thus far. The Hokies, who are already behind the 8-ball in ACC play after their season-opening loss to Boston College, need a primetime win on Friday night to help gain momentum heading into the rest of the season.
The Hokies, while 2-1 (0-1 ACC) on the season, have rebounded since the Boston College loss. However, their play has not inspired much confident in regards to how the rest of the season is going to look when facing tougher competition. A win against Duke on Friday could paint a more rosy picture on the month of September as a whole, one that could leave the Hokies with a 3-1 record on the season.
If the Hokies are truly going to get momentum heading back in a positive direction on Friday night, the passing game, which has been a total mixed bag all year long, must emerge in a big way. Ryan Willis is completing a career-high 65% of his passes, but his five turnovers have left fans clamoring for a replacement. In a game in which the Hokies need their passing offense, bad, Willis has an opportunity to win back some of his naysayers.
Virginia Tech's makeshift offensive line, one that has been plagued by injuries all year long, needs to protect Willis. And Willis, who has shown some good and some not-so-good, needs to turn in a consistent performance.
The Hokies and the Blue Devils are pretty evenly matched across the board....except for one area.
Entering play, Duke ranks 107th nationally in passing efficiency defense, while Virginia Tech's passing offense ranks 60th nationally entering play. Take away the three interceptions that Willis threw against Boston College, and the passing offense as a whole is likely sitting well inside the top 50.
The point being, in a game that shapes up to be as close as anticipated on Friday (Hokies currently sit as a 2.5-point home favorite), every small aspect helps. In the passing game itself, the Hokies hold a significant advantage, and need to play a game through the air that untaps the offensive ceiling and is tailored to the strength of the offense as a whole -- the receiving corps.
If the offensive line keeps Willis upright, the receivers that Tech will trot out can beat Duke in coverage. And with the way the Hokies' defense has played so far this season, a unit that ranks 53rd-nationally in scoring defense that has looked far more consistent than a year ago, a handful of passing touchdowns from Ryan Willis may be enough.
It is Willis' time to win the fan base back, and Friday night provides the perfect opportunity for both he, and the Hokies.