What to Watch for #19 Virginia Tech Against Middle Tennessee State

What to Watch for #19 Virginia Tech Against Middle Tennessee State
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Sep 10, 2021

Virginia Tech made a statement on their opening night as the Hokies beat formerly #10 North Carolina 17-10, launching themselves into the top 25 at #19 in the AP Poll.

Now, the Hokies look to turn the page and not look too far ahead to next week's Black Diamond Trophy battle with West Virginia as they host a Middle Tennessee State team hungry to try to pull off a big upset at Lane Stadium.

With that said, here is what I'm watching in this matchup for the Hokies.

Consistent Game for Braxton Burmeister

There's no doubt that Braxton Burmeister has improved as a QB with his first half performance showing that as he was near perfect in all facets going 7-8 through the air while being an effective runner and seeing his offense convert their first 6 third downs.

Burmeister's night as a whole was solid, but his second half was more inconsistent with the Hokies failing to convert a single third down while Burmeister combined some great throws with some questionable decisions and inaccurate checkdowns. While there was some questionable situational awareness and conservatism in playcalling that may have thrown Burmeister off some, the Hokies' starting QB also just wasn't as good in that second half.

Tech's defense fortunately continued to keep UNC in check offensively but going forward, Tech needs Burmeister to be at a high level consistently throughout and not one half great, one half not bad; if Tech wants to keep rising up.

This game against MTSU provides a great opportunity for Burmeister to put in a consistent performance and build up a stronger rhythm. While MTSU won't be at the same level as upcoming big games against West Virginia and Notre Dame, having a consistent game for however long he plays would be a huge confidence to launch his play to a higher level going forward.

How Does Position Battles at RB, Safety Shake Out

Running back and safety are two positions that seem poise for some of the most competition throughout the season for reps with this game providing another data point in the competitions at both positions.

The running back battle shook out with Raheem Blackshear and Jalen Holston driving the ship while Keshawn King played sparingly after his fumble in the first half. Blackshear and Holston appear poised to continue being the top 2 guys going forward after both looked solid in the season opener especially Blackshear who led the Hokies in total yards of offense among skill guys.

However, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Hokies try to get Keshawn King a good amount of carries this week to get his confidence back up especially given his big play potential.

Meanwhile, safety is loaded with competition at both spots after Keonta Jenkins and Tae Daley almost evenly split reps at free safety last week while Nasir Peoples, who was previously listed behind Devon Hunter, received 61 reps compared to 2 for Hunter. This week, Tech had it as an OR between Peoples and Hunter while Tech still listed Jenkins ahead of Daley on the depth chart.

This game should give us a little more insight into where Tech is at with their safeties though we could see Tech try to get more playing time for Devon Hunter as he gets back comfortable. Meanwhile, free safety is a fascinating situation with Daley having started out at boundary safety and Jenkins being the younger, higher ceiling player.

This game may not provide us with a great insight into the Peoples-Hunter battle at boundary (though it should give us a little more insight), but it definitely may give us a better picture to how close the Jenkins-Daley battle is especially after how close it was for reps in week 1.

Getting Young Backups Reps

Virginia Tech coaches stated during the offseason that their depth was a concern and a priority for development. While practice is always important for that development, finding a way to get those guys valuable game reps in non-pressure situations is what every coach hopes to get especially in a matchup like this.

Now MTSU is a respectable Conference USA program with an experienced coach in Rick Stockstill at the helm and a QB with plenty of ACC experience in Bailey Hockman, the former N.C. State QB who will be looking for redemption for his struggles last year at Lane Stadium for the Wolfpack.

However, this is definitely a matchup where the Hokies need to be in a position ideally to have most if not all of the fourth quarter be a garbage time period.

There are plenty of areas where Tech needs to try to get young guys plenty of playing time starting at places like wide receiver and running back. This includes the talented backup WR trio of Jaden Payoute, Jaylen Jones, and Da'Wain Lofton who all have loads of potential but very little experience. Additionally, garbage time could be a great chance to get the younger Keshawn King some extra reps along with other freshman backs like Tahj Gary and Malachi Thomas.

Defensively, Tech's depth at DE is a major concern so being able to get Jaylen Griffin and Eli Adams more reps plus the freshmen including Cole Nelson and Mattheus Carroll would be huge. CJ McCray would also benefit a lot from some extra reps as he adjusts at DE while Dean Ferguson seems like a major linebacker for the future and could use some extra playing time.

For this to be a truly successful weekend, Tech needs to create some live game reps for their backups in their fourth quarter to help their development.