Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics
A season ago, Virginia Tech had just completed one of its most dreadful seasons in more than 30 years, finishing 5-6, and culminating in the nation’s longest bowl streak falling by the wayside.
While this season wasn’t much better, through all the adversity, through all the battles, the Hokies (6-6, 4-4 ACC) once again find themselves bowling in late December.
The destination? No, not sunny South Florida.
No, not out west in Pasadena.
Instead, it’s a baseball stadium — a pretty recognizable one too.
Yankee Stadium is all set for football. The Hokies will tango with the Maryland Terrapins (6-6, 3-6 Big Ten) in the 2021 New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Game Day Information
When: Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2:15 p.m. ET
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
PXP: Matt Barrie
Analyst: Tim Hasselbeck
Sideline Reporter: Sam Acho
Forecast: 44 F, Cloudy, 10% Chance of Rain
Series History: Maryland Leads 16-15
Last Meeting: Maryland Won 27-24 on Nov. 16, 2013
Line: Maryland -3.5
A Pair Of Reunions
The quest for a winning season will be fierce between two ex-ACC foes. But that won’t be the only reunion that takes place Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx.
Sure, Virginia Tech and Maryland shared the same conference logo for 10 seasons before the Terrapins bolted for the Big Ten. But the relationship between the Hokies and the team that typically occupies the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium runs much deeper.
In April 2007, tragedy struck the Virginia Tech campus. 32 lives were senselessly taken inside Norris Hall.
The community was mourning. The people were hurting.
That’s when the New York Yankees and the late owner George Steinbrenner made a life-changing call to Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech’s then-director of athletics.
The next spring, when the 27-time World Series champions were supposed to be preparing for the upcoming 2008 season, Steinbrenner had something else in mind for a single day in the middle of March.
“The Boss” wants what “The Boss” wants. Days later, the Yankees were on a charter flight from Tampa to Southwest Virginia, preparing to face the Hokies in an exhibition game in front of a record 5,311 fans at English Field.
The relationship between the two organizations has distantly continued for years. The Yankees signed off on a hefty check as a token of gratitude and have worn specific “We Remember” patches on the anniversary of the tragedy. Now, it’s the Hokies making the trip to the storied Bronx.
Tech is set to return the favor as well by decorating their helmets with the commemorative orange and maroon Yankee logo. It serves as a thank you for all the “Bronx Bombers” have done for the folks in Blacksburg.
In this day and age where bowl games are deemed much less meaningful than they once were, this one carries a special significance. One that directly correlates with the inner values that represent the entire Virginia Tech community.
New Look Hokies
As true as that is with the meaning that surrounds the 2021 Pinstripe Bowl, it’s easy to contradict in today’s college football world.
Look no further than Virginia Tech’s roster. The Hokies have been decimated by transfers, opt-outs, and injuries for Wednesday afternoon’s contest.
There’s still a football game to be played though.
Out goes starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister, who entered the transfer portal.
Out goes starting wide receiver Tre Turner, who opted out to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft. Fellow receiver Tayvion Robinson, who has transferred to Kentucky, is also a no-go.
Then there’s the defensive side of the ball. Well, it doesn’t get much better.
Jordan Williams, Amare Barno, and Jermaine Waller are among those readying for a paycheck. So there’s limitations on both sides of the ball.
So who’s stepping up as a replacement?
In comes Connor Blumrick at quarterback, who is set to make his first career start behind center.
In comes Da’Wain Lofton and Kaleb Smith as Blumrick’s top targets. Still, that duo is dealing with nagging injuries.
So then it goes to Jaylen Jones and Jaden Payoute. Two young receivers with a ton of potential, but mainly untapped with both combining for just a single reception in the regular season. It gets quite thin at that point.
Defensively, it’s not as big of an issue.
Eli Adams takes over for Barno, while the experienced Norell Pollard, Brion Murray, and Armani Chatman expect to see much more reps in Justin Hamilton’s curtain call as Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator.
It’s going to be a tough task for this limited Tech team, but an opportunity for growth awaits.
The Hokies will put the finishing touches on JC Price’s tenure as interim head coach, and fully transition to the highly-anticipated Brent Pry era.
A Mirroring Opponent
When Virginia Tech walked into the Merryman Center, cut on the film, and began scouting the Terrapins, an oddly similar visual began to emerge on screen.
Maryland eerily resembles the Hokies. That’s not just in terms of style, but how their seasons have gone.
Both teams have had teeter-tottering campaigns. Both teams have very capable backs and both like to throw the football.
For the Terps, a lot of its offensive production is due in part to star signal-caller Taulia Tagovailoa. Of course, he’s the brother of former Alabama and now Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa.
An Alabama transfer himself, the younger Tagovailoa has had quite a season in year two in College Park.
The Hawaii native has amassed nearly 3,600 yards through the air, 24 touchdowns, and a 68% completion rate. With the absence of Waller, and question marks residing in the Virginia Tech secondary, he’ll have a chance to build on that to close out the 2021 campaign.
Leading receiver Rakim Jarrett will certainly help him do just that. The longtime LSU commit has had a whale of a season for Maryland, totaling 769 yards and five touchdowns for the Terps.
Tayon Fleet-Davis has big-play ability out of the backfield as well. If his eight touchdowns on the ground weren’t enough, the Maryland native can also be a threat in the receiving game to complement Jarrett and the injured Dontay Demus Jr.
Defensively, well, it’s OK.
Third-year head coach Mike Locksley’s team has allowed at least 40 points four times throughout the regular season. While senior Jordan Mosley is a stud in the Terps’ secondary, the inability to stop the run has plagued that side of the ball.
The matchup isn’t bad at all for Virginia Tech, but we’ll see if Price’s team can keep up with all the absences across both sides of the ball.
Hokies’ Keys To The Game
The Hokies may be depleted. But there’s still an opportunity for the ground game to get going with star running back Raheem Blackshear.
Virginia Tech’s going to appear vastly one-dimensional; that’s no secret. But with the Terrapins’ struggles in defending the run all year long, the Rutgers transfer may be poised for a breakout performance at Yankee Stadium.
The Hokies need that out of Blackshear, too. Virginia Tech badly needs a solid performance from the Philadelphia native in his final appearance in maroon and orange.
A Confident QB
To reiterate, Blumrick has never started a game at quarterback at the collegiate level.
It’s a concern.
The converted running back didn’t even throw his first career touchdown pass until November against Miami. So getting the Texas A&M transfer’s confidence up could be crucial for the Hokies to finish the season with a winning record.
Try The Unexpected
In Price’s first game as interim head coach, Virginia Tech successfully ran an onside kick when the Hokies were badly in need of a spark.
It’s a bowl game, it’s an interim head coach, it’s an outgoing coaching staff. There’s nothing to lose. Virginia Tech could get fancy.
Don’t be surprised if the Hokies get weird against a fairly evenly-matched team. Don’t be surprised if it comes at a game-changing moment.
Full strength, Virginia Tech is the better team on paper, and likely would be our pick to win.
The problem is, the Hokies are going to be extremely compromised, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
It’ll be a nice opportunity for some young guys for Virginia Tech. But under the current circumstances, and the lack of opt-outs the Terps have endured, it’s tough to pick Price’s team to leave the Bronx with a victory.
Prediction: Maryland 24, Virginia Tech 17