Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics
Coming into the season, even with all the uncertainty surrounding Virginia Tech football in 2021, you would’ve thought the Duke game was a gimme.
Turns out, that’s not exactly the case. The Hokies (4-5, 2-3 ACC) will limp their way back home to Lane Stadium hoping to somehow, someway, find a way to get back on track this late in the season.
It’s a program that’s about to be tested going forward with change seemingly inevitable at the end of the regular season. Even if head coach Justin Fuente’s job can’t be saved at this point, there’s still plenty to play for on Senior Day in Blacksburg.
A bowl bid is still very much in reach, and a win over the Blue Devils (3-6, 0-5 ACC) is imperative to get to that point.
Game Day Information
When: Saturday, Nov. 13, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA
TV: ACC Network
PXP: Chris Cotter
Analyst: Mark Herzlich
Sideline Reporter: Jalyn Johnson
Forecast: 43 F, Sunny, 0% Chance of Rain
Series History: Virginia Tech Leads 18-10
Last Meeting: Virginia Tech Won 38-31 on Oct. 3, 2020
Line: Virginia Tech -11.5
Last Time Out
What we thought was a bad Virginia Tech offense, turned even worse real quick.
Coming into the Hokies’ Friday night matchup with Boston College in Chestnut Hill, many felt pretty good about Virginia Tech’s chances.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister and the offense seemed like they’d finally got it clicking. Star receiver Tre Turner was starting to show some promise, and the Eagles found themselves with below-average quarterback play after the injury to Phil Jurkovec.
Everything seemed like it was going Virginia Tech’s way. That was, until about an hour before kickoff.
Not only was it announced that Jurkovec would return after a two-month absence due to a wrist injury, but Turner inexplicably was going to miss that evening’s game. In fact, he didn’t even make the trip after sustaining a hit in the Hokies’ win over Georgia Tech that trapped air inside of his neck.
Then the game got underway, and two series in, yet another domino fell in the direction of Boston College.
Scampering for extra yardage, Burmeister was taken to the ground, landing awkwardly on his ribs. He was forced to exit the game – for good.
The Hokies were officially in a bind, as Knox Kadum took the keys behind center for Virginia Tech, but could never quite put them into the ignition.
Without Turner and Burmeister, Fuente’s offense was helpless. The Hokies only put up 235 yards throughout the duration of the contest.
While the defense put together another solid effort, there was little it could do with the Hokie offense not scoring a touchdown for the first time since 2014 in a 17-3 defeat.
It was a wash of a game for Virginia Tech. Now, with the health of its top offensive play-makers in doubt, it brings up more questions than answers for Saturday afternoon.
What To Watch For – Virginia Tech
Only one thing will possibly dictate whether or not the Hokies will win this game. It’s all based on the health of Burmeister.
As both sad and generic as that is to say, it’s true. While Kadum has now had a full week working with the first-team offense, the drop-off between the quarterbacks is sizeable. That’s even more true with Turner out. Burmeister’s health could be the deciding factor on Saturday afternoon.
There is good news for Virginia Tech fans, however. Burmeister and fellow signal-caller Connor Blumrick, who has missed the past month due to injury, both practiced at some point this week for the Hokies. So keep an eye on that situation there.
Elsewhere offensively for Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen, look for Virginia Tech to try to gash the Blue Devils up the middle with both Malachi Thomas and Raheem Blackshear. If both guys can consistently average better than five yards per carry, the rushing attack can be used effectively.
Defensively, linebackers Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale will need to replicate their performances from the 26-17 win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 30 if the Hokies are going to be successful on that side of the ball. Duke can beat you on the ground, and that corps for Virginia Tech will be key on a chilly fall Saturday.
Inconsistency has plagued Virginia Tech all year long. But can this week sway in its favor? It’s a must if the Hokies are keen on going bowling in December.
What To Watch For – Duke
The Duke Blue Devils are no stranger to winning in Lane Stadium under 14th-year head coach David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe has done wonders throughout his tenure in the Research Triangle.
The last time the Blue Devils came into Blacksburg, it was a beatdown – at the expense of the home team. A 45-10 Duke victory in ways marked the beginning of Fuente’s downfall. With Saturday potentially being the sixth-year head coach’s final home game sporting the “VT” logo, it’s all come full circle.
Virginia Tech has already allowed two teams to pick up their first win in conference play in Syracuse and Boston College. With a victory on Saturday, the Blue Devils could be the third.
They’ll have a real shot too if star back Mateo Durant continues to run the ball the way he has all year long. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has run for 1,062 yards on 210 carries with nine touchdowns this season. Considering how Virginia Tech has struggled with stellar backs, the South Carolina native could be in for another big day.
Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg has actually had a fine year behind center for Duke, throwing for 2,034 yards and seven touchdowns. Receivers Jake Bobo and Jalon Calhoun provide two solid threats for the senior quarterback in the passing game. But the Blue Devils’ inability to get into the end zone has been a huge problem all year long.
Defensively, well, that’s been a problem as well. Cutcliffe’s defense ranks statistically as one of the worst in the league. Although Duke has solid linebacker play with Shaka Heyward, there’s very little around him that can compete with ACC talent.
If Burmeister plays, this Virginia Tech offense will have a shot to put up some points. But like the rest of Virginia Tech’s season, everything seems to be a bit of a wild card.
Hokies’ Keys To The Game
Hone In On Durant
If Duke is going to win on Saturday afternoon, it’ll be because of a big day from Durant.
If you’re the Hokies, you can’t let what happened with Syracuse’s Sean Tucker and Boston College’s Pat Garwo happen again on Saturday afternoon. It’s no secret, but this Virginia Tech defense has got to subdue No. 21 if it is to be successful.
On the flip side for Virginia Tech, regardless if Burmeister is healthy or not, it must continue to feed the duo of Thomas and Blackshear up the middle.
Those two have continued to shown flashes, and against this lackluster Duke front, this could be a monster day.
Send The Seniors Out
The final home game of the year always stands out as something special, no matter the circumstances. Virginia Tech will do everything it can to send guys like seventh-year senior Tyrell Smith out on the right foot, leaving a fond memory in a season many consider lost.
It’s all going to depend on the health of Burmeister.
If he plays, Virginia Tech could win comfortably. If he doesn’t, there’s a good shot that Duke could leave with a second-consecutive victory in Blacksburg.
With the toughness Burmeister has shown all season and with him practicing this week, we’ll say he goes.
Virginia Tech will get the victory with the La Jolla, Cal. native behind center.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Duke 10