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Who Should the New Leader in Blacksburg Be?

Charles Huff

The Hokies clawed their way to six wins by beating their in-state rival Saturday, so now that the regular season has come to an end, Whit Babcock’s top agenda item is clear: find the next head coach of the Virginia Tech football program – with no disrespect whatsoever to J.C. Price.

Over the past couple weeks, many preferred candidates have received extensions – including our pal Ricky LaBlue’s top option, Dave Clawson from Wake Forest. That may take away some excitement about who the next guy will be, but it certainly doesn’t negate the importance of the hire.

Much like I did last season, I have written what I believe is a comprehensive list of coaches that the Hokies might consider – a discussion about 35 potential candidates, including an in-depth profile for 23 of them.

Now that I’ve talked myself into a lengthy list of coaches, here’s who I believe are the top candidates given specific criteria.

Best Veteran Head Coach: Dan Mullen

I don’t know how Babcock will feel about him – or how Mullen will feel about the program – but I believe at face value, they’re each the best that the other can do. Mullen is one of the better offensive coaches in college football, and Virginia Tech is probably the best program beneath Florida’s tier (where Mullen was recently fired from).

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Maybe Justin Fuente Isn’t Virginia Tech’s Biggest Problem

In the famous words of legendary NFL coach Dennis Green, “The [Hokies] are who we thought they were.”

But it's possible Justin Fuente and the coaching staff may have been forced to shoulder too much of the blame.

Virginia Tech enters Saturday’s home game against the Pittsburgh Panthers with a 3-2 record, having just lost to Notre Dame, and they won every other game except for one of the North Carolina/West Virginia rivalry games.

This is exactly what most people expected; yet here we are, feeling as if the Hokies have let everyone down.

Many key findings have come to light throughout the early portion of the season, but I challenge you to ask yourself this: How many of these things are actually surprising? Are the Hokies really losing because of in-game coaching decisions, or are there larger issues with the roster that are driving these decisions? Is the coaching staff truly the problem?

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What I Learned From Watching AA Harrisburg Senators

After being forced to cancel plans a couple times this season, I finally made a trip to Harrisburg, the home of the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate.

I attended Friday and Saturday’s games. Although I missed many top prospects – such as Cade Cavalli and Donovan Casey – and shortstop Yasel Antuna has not been promoted from Wilmington, there were still interesting things to see, including my good friend Eric (he’ll love how I phrased that sentence).

The Pitchers

The starting pitchers were right-hander Jackson Tetreault and lefty Tim Cate (MLB Pipeline’s No. 14 prospect in the organization), respectively.

That’s the area where the Senators are the strongest. Their starting rotation boasts three of the organization’s top 30 prospects, including Cate, Gerardo Carrillo (No. 7) and Joan Adon (No. 23). Aside from that trio, however, baseball scouts don’t view many other players very favorably.

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It's Time To Take A Look At The Numbers From UNC-VT

By now, you've probably read Dave's thoughts on the season opener, as well as Ricky's offerings about what he thought were the biggest takeaways of the game. With the high-level analysis out of the way, it's time to take a deeper look at specific elements that guided the Hokies to a victory Friday night.

In other words, let's look at the numbers and see what the statistics have to say.

The Game Was Statistically Strange

Not many offensive categories in the stat sheet will lead you to believe it was a good game for Virginia Tech. Braxton Burmeister threw as many interceptions as touchdowns, although he also scored once on the ground. The top three running backs each averaged fewer than three yards per carry. Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson and James Mitchell only hauled in eight of the team’s mere 12 receptions.

In fact, 40 percent of the total passing yards (66 of Burmeister's 169 yards) came on three catches by running back Raheem Blackshear, with the biggest play of the night a 34-yard wheel route to Blackshear on what looked like a busted coverage by UNC on the Hokies' third play from scrimmage in the game. The lack of a downfield threat may have been related to the 3-yards per carry by Virginia Tech running backs, as UNC's secondary crept closer to the line due to a belief Burmeister was not going to be taking any long shots to stretch the defense.

Conversely, North Carolina’s top skill position players fared pretty well. Ty Chandler and D.J. Jones picked up 111 yards on 16 carries, and Josh Downs caught eight balls for 123 yards and a touchdown.

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Nationals Promote Patrick Murphy, Cade Cavalli and Others

Highly-touted prospect Cade Cavalli is officially one step away from the big leagues.

Tuesday morning it was announced that the big right-hander, along with lefty Seth Romero, had been promoted to Triple-A Rochester.

Various other promotions were announced throughout the day, including a big league call-up for right-hander Patrick Murphy.

You may be asking yourself what the point of a minor league promotion is so late in the season. Most years, the minor league regular season concludes at the end of August or beginning of September. This year, however, it extends until September 19 as the minor league season didn’t begin until May, so the late finish partially compensates for it.

Nevertheless, numerous key prospects will be playing at new levels in the organization for approximately the next month. Here are the specific players who earned promotions:

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The New Washington Nationals Are Not Disappointing

It's been just a little over three weeks since many Nationals fans had their hearts broken, as Mike Rizzo tried to sell fans on the idea that starting over was best for the organization.

Since sending many of their top veterans at the Trade Deadline to other teams, Washington has lost 14 of its 20 games. But despite that losing record, many of the team’s top young assets – including some of whom were acquired at the deadline – have made great impressions.

Plenty of Gray Area On The Mound

No one in their right mind will try to convince anyone that the Nationals’ starting pitching has been good this year. Prior to the deadline, the trio of Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester and Erick Fedde were among the five worst starting pitchers in the National League, in terms of ERA. Addition by subtraction is typically a convenient myth, but could it actually be true in this case?

The success of Josiah Gray has been often chronicled. In his first four starts since leaving the Dodgers, the 23-year-old right-hander is sporting a 2.86 ERA with as many strikeouts as innings pitched (22), compared to only five walks. His batting average against is .225 (17 points better than the league-wide rate), and he’s lasted six innings in each of his last two starts.

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Tonight's The Night: Hokies To Watch During NFL Preseason

For fans hungry to watch their favorite pro football team, the preseason begins tonight for most of the NFL, and when the games begin, Virginia Tech will be well represented.

Currently, there are 25 former Virginia Tech players on NFL rosters. This year, there will be a few more guys playing significant roles than there have been recently – especially given the program’s impressive representation in the 2021 NFL Draft.

From VT To WFT

The Washington Football Team has rostered a few Hokies for the past few seasons, and although the faces have slightly changed, the WFT will still have more than its share of Virginia Tech players. Kendall Fuller remains one of their starting cornerbacks, while Logan Thomas (who recently received a three-year, $24 million extension with the team) is their top tight end (No. 82 at right).

Tim Settle will be one of their second-team defensive tackles for the third consecutive season, and Justus Reed (an undrafted rookie) has joined him this offseason as a reserve defensive lineman.

Cornerback/part-time kick returner Greg Stroman is also on Washington’s roster for the fourth year, but he is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

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Is Jordy Mercer Beginning a New Chapter in Baseball?

No matter what people tell you, Jordy Mercer knows baseball.

Admittedly, I’m in the minority who has consistently believed that Mercer belongs on Washington’s roster. He’s similar to the team’s backup infielders in past seasons. Stephen Drew’s presence from 2016–17 immediately comes to mind.

While he shouldn’t be asked to play much, Mercer is a dependable option off the bench or as a starter once or twice per week – not to mention as a leader in the dugout.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that Mercer (who turns 35 years old later this month) no longer merits much playing time in the big leagues, which puts him at a crossroad. Does he want to be a clubhouse presence off the bench, or is it time to acknowledge that he has no real future as a player?

Mercer was a nearly forgotten member of the Nationals roster earlier this summer. However, as the organization has battled COVID-19 during the last couple weeks, and since the departure of Kyle Schwarber at the Trade Deadline, Mercer has been serving as manager Dave Martinez’s unofficial bench coach.

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Gray And Adams Are A Reminder Of What Matters In 2021

Having witnessed a game in which young players like Josiah Gray and Riley Adams stole the show, the DC community should also be reminded of what’s important for the next two months.

Don’t let the potentially poor production of Gerardo Parra and Alcides Escobar cloud your opinion of the Nationals. The young players are who matter, whether they produce enough to win games or not.

Whenever he’s on the mound, that starts with Josiah Gray.

The second start the 23-year-old made for the Nationals was better than his first – which was impressive in its own right. Against a Braves team that features some intimidating hitters (even with Ronald Acuña Jr. on the Injured List), Gray struck out 10 batters and allowed only four hits over five innings.

Sure, we can all argue that Dave Martinez should let Gray pitch into the sixth inning, but that’s not the point. Any double-digit strikeout performance from a rookie pitcher is worth getting excited about.

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Gray Makes Nationals Look Like Trade Deadline Winners

If you want to learn about the new, young additions the Nationals made at the Trade Deadline, keep reading.

Right-handed pitcher Josiah Gray made his debut for Washington Monday night, and while it wasn’t spectacular, it was nonetheless impressive, and it could be a sign of things to come for the franchise.

Gray’s outing was inarguably a success. He didn’t go particularly deep into the game (71 pitches over five innings), but he was very effective and “looked the part.”

His first strikeout came against Jean Segura, who entered the night batting .308 with the No. 15 lowest strikeout rate in the majors.

The lone true blemish he suffered was a home run off the bat of Odubel Herrera to lead off the fifth inning. It was one of four hits “Jojo” surrendered – and the only run he allowed to score

Gray’s fastball frequently reached 95 miles per hour, and he seemed to have clear command of his pitches for most of the night – which is always key for young pitchers. He only walked two batters, and he kept his pitch count below 15 per inning.

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The Washington Nationals Are Officially Rebuilding

It’s a four-letter word in sports, but dressing up what Washington did at the Trade Deadline any other way doesn’t negate the truth.

The team is officially rebuilding, as between Thursday and Friday, the Nationals traded away eight veteran contributors for a bevvy of minor league prospects.

That doesn’t mean the future isn’t still bright, but there will be growing pains. Juan Soto and Josh Bell are their top hitters by a considerable margin now, they don’t have a true frontline starting pitcher, and there are multiple holes in the back of the bullpen.

How Did We Get Here?

When teams are 47-55 with lots of contracts that are due to expire in the offseason, they trade the impending free agents away. They don’t hold onto the veterans simply because the franchise won a World Series two years ago. They evaluate the present and future, forget about the sentimental ties they have to players who may have been valuable to them in the past, and make trades that ensure the team will be better in the near future.

That’s what the Nationals did, regardless of how jarring each individual deal may have felt.

Ahead of Friday’s game against the Cubs (who also emptied the big-league cupboard at the deadline), Mike Rizzo called Friday “as tough a day as I’ve ever had as a general manager.” He’s not wrong for saying that, but it was also a necessary process.

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