What to Watch for Virginia Tech Against #10 North Carolina

What to Watch for Virginia Tech Against #10 North Carolina
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Sep 02, 2021

The wait is over as Hokie fans are set to return to a sold out Lane Stadium tomorrow night as Virginia Tech opens the season with a critical ACC Coastal showdown against #10 North Carolina.

Here's a look at what we are keeping our eye on for the Hokies against the Tar Heels.

What Braxton Burmeister Will We See

While Braxton Burmeister has shown plenty of promise in his time in Blacksburg, he's also shown plenty of inconsistency that caused him to lose and regain his starting QB job last season.

There's been plenty of fan hype surrounding Burmeister's strong performance to end the season against UVA last year when he went 15-22 for 212 passing yards and a touchdown plus 36 rushing yards. However, Burmeister had lots of inconsistency in part because of his struggles with arm strength and downfield accuracy that limited his ability to stretch the field, and also may have led Tech to over conservative passing down playcalling.

While he did so lots of improvement with his vertical passing game against UVA, that's a major question mark for a Virginia Tech team that needs to stretch the field not only to open up the running game but also set up the screens and jet sweeps that are at their best when defenses can press up near the line of scrimmage at all levels.

If Tech's offense is going to have the high level of success that they expect given the weapons at receiver they have, Tech must have a Braxton Burmeister who is consistently effective in the vertical passing game as he was against UVA and unlike others game last season.

If not, Tech's offense may have the skill positions players to push the ball down the field, but they'll be limited to finding creative ways to try to get players in space and use Burmeister's legs in option packages effectively, something that will allow UNC and others to press the line of scrimmage.

Who Leads The Way at Running Back?

Adam Lechtenberg has said that playing time at running back will come down to production with Tech having a tightly contested battle between Jalen Holston, Raheem Blackshear, and Keshawn King. While Holston profiles as the lead back to start the game, he may not be the explosive big play back or the passing game back that Tech needs as the game evolves.

There's no doubt that Raheem Blackshear is the top passing down back and may see a lot of playing time in passing down situations along with game time if Tech is down in the second half and has to throw the football. King profiles as an ideal home run threat and change-of-pace guy, but he's definitely shown the potential to breakout for big games beyond one or two moments that should allow him to push his more experienced brethren.

Holston is definitely the focal between-the-tackles runner of the three and while he has shown improved explosiveness, he's definitely the perfect back to get 15-20 carries and wear down a defensive front 7. He could be valuable in a multitude of ways from trying to get Tech's defense rest to controlling time of possession if Tech is up during the second half to grinding down a defense to set up a home run threat on the outside.

While there's not a lot of clarity on how this all will play out, what is clear based on Lechtenberg's past comments is regardless of situation, it will come down to simply who's producing the most.

How Much Will Top Transfers Play

Tech landed a few major transfer additions this offseason but Jordan Williams was listed as a co-starter with Norell Pollard opposite Mario Kendricks while Tae Daley and Johnny Jordan were both listed as backups.

This comes after all three have received loads of praise, but makes you wonder if their designation is simply because they haven't had as much time in either the offensive or defensive systems, and Tech is leaning towards the player who had more on the depth chart.

Of course, some of those systems worries go out the window when you're playing a top 10 team and it comes down to putting out the best 11 players that can maximize your success.

While it does seem likely for Williams to start and have a larger role, both Jordan and Daley seem like guys who will come in and play lots of snaps as if they are starters. Jordan is in a particularly fascinating spot behind Kaden Moore who has received loads of praise but also has very little experience. Given the matchup, it wouldn't be surprising to see Tech use the experienced Jordan a lot at right guard.

Keonta Jenkins has more experience than Moore with a pair of starts against ACC competition last season under his belt, but Daley is an experienced SEC starter who received loads of praise at the beginning of fall camp for his leadership and full defensive scheme understanding. That also makes you wonder about how much Jenkins has developed and if Daley might be more of a first guy off the bench this season.

All three of these transfers should be intriguing to watch especially as they push for playing time to show they have what it takes to play in the NFL.