Virginia Tech welcomes a lesser-regarded team to Lane Stadium Saturday in Middle Tennessee State. The Hokies have done this regularly in the early part of past seasons but lately, those games haven’t always gone as well as they’d hoped.
It happened twice in 2019, when the Hokies knocked off Old Dominion by 15 points and Furman by just 10 points the very next week. When the Hokies hit the road to face Old Dominion team in 2018, Tech lost by two scores after opening the season with a big win over Florida State. Back in 2017, Virginia Tech scored just 27 points against Delaware.
The Hokies have an opportunity to reverse that trend Saturday. While Middle Tennessee State opened its season with a 50-15 win over Monmouth, it would not appear MTSU has the depth that would allow them to compete with Virginia Tech on the field for a full 60 minutes.
Because of that, rather than break down the Hokies’ specific matchups against the Blue Raiders, I’d instead like to create a to-do list for Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Play Angry On Defense
One of my favorite parts about Virginia Tech’s 17-10 win over North Carolina last weekend was the tenacity and tempo the Hokies’ defense played with. You don’t just walk in and generate six sacks and enormous amounts of pressure without playing with a little rage or fury.
Tech played angry on defense and it was obvious. Jermaine Waller literally took a ball away from a Carolina receiver for an interception. The Hokies played physical on the outsides all night long and lived in the backfield. It was easily the most impressive we’ve seen Justin Hamilton’s defense play since he assumed the defensive coordinator position.
But let’s not forget that this is largely the same defense that looked slow and disinterested at times in 2020. Friday’s performance vs. the Tar Heels was stellar, but we need to see it consistently.
How aggressive will the Hokies be? Will they let their cornerbacks feast in one-on-one situations on the outside? Can they dominate the line of scrimmage once again? They should be able to on Saturday.
Establish A Consistent Offensive Presence
Virginia Tech started red-hot on the offensive end vs. North Carolina, totaling 211 yards and 14 points in their first three drives. After that, the Hokies’ offense earned just 89 yards.
The Hokies struggled to move the ball on the ground as the game progressed, and Braxton Burmeister missed some key throws to move the chains on third down. That needs to change Saturday.
Tech’s offensive line is replacing some serious talent from last season, but Luke Tenuta, Lecitus Smith and Brock Hoffman should be able to manhandle Middle Tennessee’s defensive front. Jalen Holston needs to show he can be productive as an early-down back and Brad Cornelsen must continue to get Raheem Blackshear involved in a variety of ways.
Maybe most importantly, Burmeister needs to stay sharp and build on his fast start. He made great decisions for the most part last Friday and we need to see that consistently throughout the season.
Put The Blue Raiders Away Early
This should not be a game midway through the third quarter. Virginia Tech should jump out to a solid first half lead and expand on it after the break.
If so, it’ll allow Justin Fuente to pull some of his starters and try to develop the depth in his second unit. Getting Knox Kadum snaps should be a priority, and putting some of Tech’s younger offensive and defensive linemen in the game is imperative to preparing them for play in the ACC.
Allowing some of the Hokies’ younger receivers to see the field could be critical as well. Jaden Payoute has yet to contribute in his career and it’s time to see if he can get it done. We’ve heard that Da’Wain Lofton and Jaylen Jones are capable, but it’s time to see it on the field in a game like this.
Getting some of the Hokies’ reserves into the game means that they’re not only gaining valuable experience, but also that Virginia Tech fans can enjoy a comfortable win at home.