Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics
Those who have been waiting for Virginia Tech have only hours until the Hokies take the field.
Virginia Tech opens the 2020 campaign on Saturday night against NC State. It will be the first meeting between the teams since 2015.
Game Day Information
When: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA
TV: ACC Network
PXP: Dave O’Brien
Analyst: Tim Hasselback
Sideline Reporter: Katie George
Forecast: 69 F, Mostly Cloudy, 15% Chance of Rain
Series History: Virginia Tech leads, 27-18-4
Last Meeting: Virginia Tech won 28-13 on Oct. 9, 2015
Line: Virginia Tech -7
Christmas Comes Early
Hokie fans, take a minute to exhale. Because guess what? It’s game day!
The NC State Wolfpack will come into Blacksburg to take on the 20th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. It’ll be the 50th meeting in school history, and the first since 2015. The Wolfpack are led by eighth-year head coach Dave Doeren. Doeren has done a solid job since taking over the program prior to the 2013 season.
The stage will be set for the Hokies and Wolfpack to take the field in an essentially fanless Lane Stadium. Governmental restrictions will force the Hokies to cap their capacity at 1,000. This will include players and coaches’ families, support staff, and limited game operations and media. The band and cheerleaders will be across the street at the nearby English Field at Union Park. That’s the home of the Hokies’ baseball team.
To get your game day fix on, here’s your official preview and prediction of the Hokies’ opener against NC State to make sure you’re all caught up before toe meets leather at 8 p.m. ET.
The Depleted Hokies
In reality, it’s quite hard to preview this game due to the fact that we don’t know who’s playing on either side. That’s particularly true for Virginia Tech. The Hokies had reportedly 52 members of the team in quarantine prior to last week’s postponement of their original season opener against Virginia.
The number still in quarantine is unclear. But what many inside the Hokie program are saying it is “a lot.”
Head coach Justin Fuente said earlier this week that it would be “all hands on deck” this weekend for the Hokies. Keep in mind that there may be players available to dress, but may not play due to lack of reps during practice.
Inside The Offense
At full strength, the Virginia Tech offense is full of playmakers. Starting at quarterback, you have the dynamic Hendon Hooker. Hooker went 6-2 last season behind center for the Hokies.
He’ll likely share playing time with Oregon transfer Braxton Burmiester. Burmiester, a dual threat quarterback from San Diego, started five games for the Ducks as a true freshman in 2017. He accounted for five total touchdowns.
Watch out for the Hokies to target star wide receiver Tre Turner constantly throughout the contest. Also look for Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelson to run some quarterback draws throughout the game based on how the Pack lines up defensively.
To add on to that, expect to see a lot of carries from the combination of Khalil Herbert, Keshawn King and Raheem Blackshear. Keep your eyes out for some jet sweeps involving both Turner and Blackshear as well.
New Look For The “Lunch Pail D”
Defensively, the Hokies are stacked across the board when at full strength. Virginia Tech returns the likes of Dax Hollifield and Rayshard Ashby at the linebacker position. Jermaine Waller and Divine Deablo are key returnees in the secondary.
Virginia Tech also retains the talent of Emmanuel Belmar, Jarrod Hewitt, and Dashawn Crawford up front. The Hokies do add a key member of that line up front. Youngstown State transfer Justus Reed is set to make a huge impact for Virginia Tech, causing havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
A name to watch for this weekend is true freshman Rover Keonta Jenkins, who will be starting in place of the suspended Devon Hunter. It’ll be interesting to see how he fills in.
New defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton and company will definitely have to stop the run if the Hokies wanna pull this one out. With a lack of depth at receiver, NC State will certainly look to beat the “Lunch Pail D” on the ground.
Wolfpack On The Hunt
As far as the Wolfpack are concerned, Doeren’s team is coming off a huge 45-42 home win against Wake Forest last Saturday. Quarterback Bailey Hockman was fantastic in place of starter Devin Leary, who had just got out of quarantine.
Hockman ran all over the Demon Deacons. The trio of Ricky Person Jr., Jordan Houston, and Zonovan Knight combined for 250 yards in the Pack victory.
Look for the Hokies to try to dial up some pressure to make Hockman and company throw the ball, as that could be a huge swing in the game. We’ve seen quarterbacks run all over a Hokie defense before, and if the Hokies want to win this game, they can not allow the same to happen.
Defensively for the Pack, they’ll line up with star linebacker Payton Wilson. Both Virginia Tech quarterbacks will need to get the ball out quickly if Wilson blitzes. Establishing a run against the Wolfpack will be crucial for the Hokies against former defensive line coach Charley Wiles’ front.
Wiles spent 24 seasons in charge up front for the Hokies, and now will return to Lane Stadium hoping to get one more win at a familiar place. The Hokies may also look to throw deep, as NC State’s secondary may be the weakest position group for the Pack. It’s one that Doeren has always struggled with recruiting-wise.
Hokies’ Keys To The Game
Mix It Up Offensively
As we mentioned above, Wilson can wreak havoc on the Hokie run game. Being able to establish a type of run game will be crucial if the Hokies want to pick up the win. The Wolfpack also boast one of the weakest secondaries in the ACC. Perhaps hitting a few deep shots here and there will work in Virginia Tech’s favor.
One of the main things Cornelsen struggled with the most last year was the variety of play calling. The way the Wolfpack play defense, this is a perfect opponent to diversify the playbook. That’s especially the case in a season with essentially nothing to lose.
Make The Wolfpack Throw The Ball
The Wolfpack running game was absolutely dominant last weekend against Wake Forest. If they’re able to replicate the numbers they did last weekend, this game could be over quickly.
Aside from wide receiver Devin Carter, State has very few targets to throw to. The Hokies need to apply the pressure and force either Hockman or Leary to throw the ball as much as possible.
This sounds cliché. But with the passing game for the Wolfpack being very minimal, the Hokies need to keep NC State deep in its own territory. Luckily for the Hokies, they return star punter and Ray Guy Award nominee Oscar Bradburn.
Pinning the Wolfpack down deep will create more scoring opportunities for Virginia Tech, and less stress on the defense to give up a big play.
This is an extremely hard game to pick. With a fully healthy Virginia Tech team, the Hokies may cruise to a 3-touchdown win against the Wolfpack. However, we don’t know who the Hokies are missing due to quarantine measures, and probably won’t until game time.
With that being said, with the number of players having to sit out for Virginia Tech, and having no idea who they are, it’s hard to pick the Hokies to win.
The Wolfpack will run just enough on the No. 20 Hokies and apply enough pressure on Hooker and Burmiester.
Prediction: NC State 27, (20) Virginia Tech 17