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Hokie Offense Is Going To Need To Take More Deep Shots

It’s now the Tuesday after Labor Day. Everybody’s back at work. The first full weekend of college football is over. So it’s time to empty the notebook about things seen this weekend before moving on to week 2.

Which Version Of Braxton Are We Going To See Saturday?

Oh, I know his name will be Braxton Burmeister, but Friday night we really saw two different players. First-half Braxton was smooth and cool, completed 7 of 8 passes with the only incompletion a dropped pass by Tre Turner in the end zone, and his team ate up huge chunks of time in running to a 14-0 halftime lead.

Second-half Braxton wasn’t quite so cool. He only completed 5 of 11 passes for 43 yards, threw an interception, and missed some wide-open people on what should have been easy throws. Some of that was caused by the plays being called, as Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen went very conservative in protecting that 14-0 lead.

But while seeing a lot of good things Friday night, it was the consistent lack of the Hokie offense taking deep shots again UNC that bothered me. You don’t have to be the Oakland, er, Los Angeles, er, Las Vegas Raiders and go deep all the time. But if you look at most successful teams over the last two decades, it has been the threat of a deep ball that keeps defensive backs from creeping up close to the line, and thus opens up the running game.

Of course, if you pass all the time, the running backs and offensive line never get in a rhythm and the running game doesn’t realize its potential, so finding that optimum mix is something coaches experiment with all season long. I didn’t think the Hokies really tried to find such a mix Friday, and you’ll notice in the second half that as the passing game stumbled, so too did the running game.

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Exactly Seven Years Ago Today, In Norfolk and Columbus...

When you get to be an old geezer like me, you look back, and at times remember really special occasions you did not expect to end up being so special.

Like what I experienced exactly 7 years ago.

That’s because September 6, 2014 was the date of my 40th high school reunion in Norfolk. That alone should have made the night special enough, because unlike earlier reunions where people try to impress their classmates with their success, 40th reunions don’t have such drama. The number one thing people are impressed with is that we all survived and are still standing. Nothing else really much matters.

But while I was reeling in the years hearing story after story from my friends, something else was going on. Virginia Tech was in the Horseshoe in Columbus playing Ohio State, and as anyone who knows me understands, my blood types are Type Orange and Type Maroon. I didn’t have great expectations for the Hokies, so it was being DVR’d back at my house in Ashburn, and I was going to get up early the next morning, drive home, and then watch what I thought would be athletic carnage.

But as I was donating my drink tickets to old friend Wendy Rieger (of NBC 4 fame here in the DC market), my phone started buzzing. Texts from multiple people – who happened to be in Columbus – filled my phone. Whatever I was doing, they all said, I needed to extract myself from what was going on and find a television.

The Hokies were beating the eventual National Champion Buckeyes.

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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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Recent comment in this post
Doug Johnson

Clock Mis-Management in the 4t...

I am sure that you heard me screaming from Sec. 8 for Fuente to "Run the Ball!" and "Run the Clock" when Tech got down into FG ran... Read More
Wednesday, 08 September 2021 23:07
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UNC-VT Game Recap: The Justins Get Their Revenge...

After enjoying the emotional roller coaster that was Virginia Tech’s 17-10 victory over No. 10 North Carolina, I intentionally waited a while before I sat down and collected my thoughts. I wanted this to be as emotion-free of an assessment as one can make after such a dramatic win.

Now that I’ve taken some time, I think there are three logical conclusions to draw from the Hokies’ upset win on Friday night.

The Justins Get Their Revenge

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente and defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton took it on the chin for the majority of the 2020 season. Fuente has been used to it, but Hamilton’s first season as coordinator unleashed a whopping amount of criticism that was mostly valid.

Friday night, those two men exacted some revenge.

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Rumors Of VT's Demise May Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

In the hierarchy of Hokie football games, there are those you want to win. There are others that you can only hope to win.

But tonight’s 17-10 victory over North Carolina was one Virginia Tech needed to win.

These last few years have seen a crisis of confidence in Hokie Nation. The glory days have drifted away to the point that it wasn’t a year or two since the football program was really good; it was a decade or two. Questions about whether Justin Fuente could coach, recruit, or even just smile in an interview were constantly asked.

Visiting teams no longer feared Lane Stadium and its fans. Even the signature moments of the team coming on the field to Enter Sandman grew great notoriety, but then you remembered when the game actually started, the team lost.

Add in the doldrums created by the pandemic that may never end, and folks during the summer talked in tones of a strange and unusual indifference when it came to the season. They needed to be awakened from this low-energy slumber by things like a huge crowd screaming its guts out so people even inches away from each other couldn’t hear what was being said. They needed a win over a top 10 team like North Carolina to give them hope this could be done more than once in a lifetime.

They needed a reason to believe.

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Recent Comments
Dave Fulton

Pundits

Thoroughly enjoyed watching your Hokies defeat North Carolina. Instead of feasting on Gobblers, the pundits ate crow.
Saturday, 04 September 2021 00:17
Dave Scarangella

I kind of enjoyed it myself :)

Could be an interesting year in the Coastal...
Saturday, 04 September 2021 00:40
Guest — Joan Jackson

Turtle Like Head

"Reared its turtle like head". lol
Saturday, 04 September 2021 10:49
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For Levi Wentz, Bumpy Roads Have Led To Beautiful Places

When Levi Wentz signed with ODU on Signing Day in 2020, it was the completion of one journey, but the beginning of an even greater one.

Wentz, a three-star defensive back out of Pine-Richland High School in Pennsylvania, only played one year of high school football, but his journey to signing with the Monarchs was one that was, to put it in a word, unfathomable to most.

(Photo Courtesy Of Old Dominion Sports)
For Levi Wentz (11), It Has Been A Long Journey To ODU

As a kid, Levi, along with his brother and sister, bounced in and out of foster homes until being adopted by the Wentz family in 2012.

“I grew up in foster care and had to basically raise my brother and sister. Kids like me aren’t supposed to make it out and I was blessed with the right people surrounding me to be able to be where I am today,” Levi told me back when he signed with the Monarchs in February of 2020.

“It has been a long journey and I'm blessed to be here,” Wentz said. “I'm ready to put in the work, play my role, compete and do what I have to do.”

Wentz chose the Monarchs over Army, Navy, and a host of Ivy League and FCS schools before signing and enrolling in August of 2020.

Now, with Wentz’s first college football game approaching as the Monarchs travel to Wake Forest to open their season tonight, Wentz prepares for a new challenge, that being his transition from defensive back to linebacker for Ricky Rahne’s Monarchs.

“I think with Levi, his natural athletic ability is very high, it’s just about developing all those other things in football that some guys get when they are 14, 15, 16 years old and he was just playing basketball,” Rahne remarked earlier in fall camp. “The football IQ stuff and just how to do a few things, for example. Football is not a real natural game so you have to be trained. I think he has made some huge strides and that athletic ability is going to really help us out in the end.”

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Tyran Hunt Hoping To Cook Up Something Special For ODU

In a year of change for Old Dominion, many transfers have come into the program, but the most unique might be Maryland transfer offensive lineman Tyran Hunt.

Over his three years at Maryland, Hunt appeared in two games after redshirting as a freshman. But while Hunt can be a beast on the field, he is equally as good as a chef in the kitchen.

“My favorite dish is baked mac 'n cheese,” Hunt says. “I can make it with my eyes closed.”

Not all his off-field kitchen adventures have been good, however, as Hunt nearly burnt down his apartment while trying to perfect a certain culinary masterpiece.

“I had a great friend who I had cooked chicken cordon bleu with,” Hunt says. “ I was trying to be spontaneous and cook it on my own. I put it in the oven, baked it at the perfect temperature and everything. I went to check on it and it wasn't done in the middle, so I turned up the oven a little bit, and the next thing I knew I smelled smoke. I literally almost burnt down my apartment. I haven't made chicken cordon bleu since, but hopefully, I'll get back to it.”

Hunt still hasn’t attempted the chicken cordon bleu again, but has expanded his interests in the kitchen since arriving at ODU, including getting fancy with a famous Northern Italian dish, putting his own spin on it to help fuel him on the field.

“I would say my best dish is alfredo,” Hunt remarked. “I put all the protein in it. I put bacon, shrimp, chicken, and make the alfredo sauce from scratch. I take pride in that.”

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What Does Success Look Like In 2021 For Hokie Football?

A wise man once told me — actually, he tells me this all the time — that the only way you can accomplish your goals in an efficient manner is to have a plan.

In making that plan, you’ve got to outline what success looks like. What outcome could be considered a success?

That’s the spot I’m in right now with Virginia Tech football. What does success look like for this program this season?

Is it a specific win number? Is it passing the eye test? Is it competing for the Coastal title? What does competing for the Coastal even look like?

For starters, success probably includes eight-plus wins. For a program that has been flirting with .500 for three straight seasons — and falling short of that number twice — reaching the eight-win plateau seems like a reasonable goal for a team with as many questions as the Hokies.

Tech will have plenty of chances to win games. Even their toughest matchups — Friday vs. North Carolina, Oct. 9 vs. Notre Dame and Nov. 20 vs. Miami are winnable, even if unlikely.

But as we all know, all eight-win seasons are not created equal. This is where the eye test comes in. How does Virginia Tech play in their losses? Who are those losses against? Getting run off the field is way worse than losing a one-score game.

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Britt Looking To Go From Zero To Hero For Monarchs

The numbers people talked about when linebacker Malcolm Britt was the senior leader of Oscar Smith’s defense? A 13-2 record and a state final.

The numbers people talk about now that Britt is in his first season with Old Dominion? Zero. As in the number he'll become the first Old Dominion football player to ever wear.

A mere two weeks after hiring Ricky Rahne as the newest Old Dominion head coach, the Monarchs landed their biggest local commit to date in Britt, and now as a new season approaches, Britt is ready to hit the field.

A three-star linebacker coming out of nearby Oscar Smith, Britt had his choice of schools, including the likes of Army, Navy, Liberty, and a host of others, but on December 18th, 2019, Britt put pen to paper and made his commitment to Old Dominion official by signing his letter of intent. He was the 6A defensive player of the year, earned All-Tidewater honors, and was ranked as the No. 10 player in Hampton Roads by the Virginian Pilot. 

Now, after almost 18 months and a canceled season due to COVID, it’s time for Britt to shine.

“It’s a great experience being able to be on the field again,” Britt said. “It’s everything you dreamed of from high school coming to college, now we finally get to experience that this year. It’s exciting to look forward to.”

Coming out of Oscar Smith, Britt was at that time the 18th best recruit to sign with ODU, according to 247 Sports. Since that moment, the work ODU has done in the Commonwealth, and in the 757 has been nothing short of remarkable.

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UNC Game Will Be Excellent Test For Virginia Tech Secondary

For Virginia Tech’s secondary, Sept. 3rd's game with North Carolina is more than just a chance to start the season on a winning note.

It’s also a chance to shut down one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

North Carolina’s Sam Howell is really good, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. His 68-14 career touchdown-to-interception ratio is also really good, but you probably didn't need me to tell you that either.

What might be of interest, however, is that while Howell is a great college quarterback, the weapons around him aren’t what they used to be.

Of Carolina’s top five receivers from 2020, four of them are no longer suiting up for the Tar Heels. Carolina’s leading returning receiver, Khafre Brown, caught just 15 passes last season. Beau Corrales and Garrett Walston are also back, but neither played a large role in the Tar Heel offense in 2020.

So, while Sam Howell’s mettle has been tested, those around him are far less proven. Thus, Virginia Tech’s defensive backs are presented with maybe their best opportunity of the season.

The talent is there, at least in the starting lineup. Jermaine Waller seems to have put his injury issues behind him and will anchor the unit opposite of 2020 Freshman All-American Dorian Strong. Waller was one of the best cornerbacks in the country two years ago and pairing him with a seasoned Strong gives the Hokies one of the better cornerback duos in the nation.

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After An 18 Month Wait, James Is Ready To Play For ODU

It's been 18 months since LaMareon James signed his letter of intent to play for Old Dominion.

A lot has happened since.

One of the most athletic high school football players in recent memory in the area, the former Indian River 3-star cornerback is finally going to show off his talents on Sept. 11,  when ODU plays its first home game since November of 2019. He'll be joined by a number of highly-ranked players from the Commonwealth, as his signing set off what some may even call a paradigm shift in recruiting within the state. A plethora of highly-sought after talent has followed since James decided to pick the Monarchs.

“It feels good to know that I started something big,” James said. “I’m from Norfolk, so knowing that the whole city is behind me, that's a big blessing for me. Ever since I was little it has been like this. Knowing I can play in front of my hometown is big for me.”

The hype around James ever since youth football resembles a hurricane, and landfall will be coming at the home opener. Ever since he first put pads on, people have thought James was a special talent. He was ranked as the No. 3 recruit in Hampton Roads by the Virginian Pilot, was a two-time first-team All-Tidewater selection and was named first-team All-Region his senior year. Rivals rated him the No. 7 recruit in the state, and as a senior caught 24 passes for 681 yards, rushed for 475 yards and 10 touchdowns, plus recorded 5 interceptions and returned two for touchdowns on defense.

That hype could form pressure, but for James, he embraces it.

“I don't look at it as pressure, I’m the type of person who likes that," James said. "I like pressure and I like showing it out in front of people. I have a lot of people who have been doubting me since I was little so it doesn't pressure me, it makes me go harder in the game and show out for my hometown.”

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