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Hokies Will Need A Few Things If They're Going To Improve In 2023

As bad of a football season as Virginia Tech had in 2022, it at least ended with a victory.

Harken back to a few weeks ago when the Hokies upset future Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze and the Liberty Flames in Lynchburg. The upset wasn’t historic, but it at least felt meaningful at the time.

With the Commonwealth Clash canceled and no bowl game to look forward to, however, Tech has moved on from 2022 already. Players have entered the portal and are pursuing other opportunities while the Hokies eagerly look for young men to take their spots.

It’s almost like the win didn’t matter, which is a shame.

But before burying this dreadful season in a shallow, unmarked grave in the swamps of Back Bay, I think it’s appropriate to take a step back and take inventory of Virginia Tech’s 2022 season with an eye toward the future.

The Coaching Learning Curve

Rather naively, I expected first-time head coach Brent Pry and his young staff to provide a coaching boost on the sidelines and on the practice field. Justin Fuente’s group left a lot to be desired, especially on the offensive end, and I thought that it wasn’t likely to get any worse.

I was sorely mistaken.

It should have been rather predictable that a rookie head coach, rookie offensive playcaller and rookie defensive coordinator would have issues in Year 1. I should have expected Pry to make clock management errors. I should have expected Tyler Bowen to struggle with the flow of the game on offense and I should have known that Chris Marve needed time to learn what exactly his role was on gamedays.

All this inexperience showed on the field in more ways than one. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single position group that got better from 2021. Many position groups showed serious regression from last season, none more so than the offensive line. The play calling, albeit different, didn’t seem to be any better.

Hopefully, the 2022 season provided ample opportunities for Pry and his staff to look inward and learn from their mistakes. The learning curve of coaching, in any profession, is long and arduous. The more progress that these coaches can make now finished with Year 1, the better.

Leadership Needed Next Season

Most, if not all, of Virginia Tech’s upper classmen from this season are leaving the program. Some are exhausting their eligibility, like Silas Dzansi. Many are departing via the transfer portal, including Kaleb Smith and Keshon Artis.

Of Virginia Tech’s seven captains this season, four of them have already left the program — Dzansi, Smith, Chamarri Conner and Dax Hollifield. Norell Pollard is eligible to return in 2023 but his status is currently unknown.

The Hokies desperately need players to assume leadership roles next season. Guys like Sam Rogers don’t just come through the door.

Nasir Peoples is an early candidate. He’s one upper classman who’s publicly stated that he’s returning to Virginia Tech in 2023. Mansoor Delane might even be an option, despite just finishing his freshman season.

There aren’t many obvious options. Nick Gallo and Alan Tisdale could serve as captains, should they return. Josh Fuga would make sense as well.

The best team in recent Virginia Tech history was the 2016 group, and their strongest asset might’ve been exceptional senior leadership. It helps to have talent and depth on the roster, but you need guys who bring it all together. The Hokies will have to spend this spring and summer cultivating that asset.

Solving The Quarterback Dilemma

As much as the offense around him struggled, Grant Wells did the Hokies no favors in 2022.

Nine touchdowns-to-nine interceptions isn’t going to cut it at the Power 5 level. He did not effectively lead the offense this season and anyone that watched a Virginia Tech game can tell that Wells is likely not a long-term solution.

Rather than banking on Wells improving, Virginia Tech needs to be aggressive in adding quarterback talent to the roster. Dylan Wittke, a 2023 prospect, is expected to sign with the Hokies but that’s not a solution for the next one-to-two seasons. The Hokies need some short-term assistance.

Judging from the quarterbacks that have entered the portal, the Hokies’ chances at landing a proven difference maker are low. Former Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims might be the Hokies’ best option, and he’s by no means a sure thing.

What I do know is this: the Hokies must have better quarterback play in 2023. Whether it comes from Wells, Devin Farrell or someone else doesn’t really matter. But it’s probably the single-most important personnel issue to address this offseason.

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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