Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has been as popular a guy in Blacksburg as Jeff Bowden was for most of his tenure. However, the Hokies have actually fielded a pretty formidable offense this year, averaging over 400 yards per game, over 6 yards per play, and nearly 35 points per game. While Tech is still a run-oriented team, they’ve been very efficient throwing the ball with just 4 interceptions in 282 attempts and hitting for 14 yards per completion and 20 TDs. Add to that the fact that Tech is converting 42% of their third down attempts and you have an offense that can move the chains, but also break the big play.
Tyrod Taylor has mainly been a good athlete playing QB for his first three years at Tech. The fact that he struggled to maintain a hold on the starting job, with less than exceptional competitors, is testament to how much he has grown this year. Taylor (2,258 yards, 60%, 20 TDs, 4 ints., 613 yards rushing, 5.2 average, 4 TDs) is still a threat to run the ball (he ranks 2nd on the team in rushing), but he has become a very efficient passer and game manager as a senior. You still want to force Tech to beat you by passing, but Taylor has shown marked improvement in that phase of the game.
As expected, the Hokies have one of the best stable of running backs and, consequently, running games in the country. Behind Taylor, Darren Evans, David Wilson, and Ryan Williams, Tech is averaging 211 rushing yards per game. Evans (748 yards, 5.6 average, 10 TDs) has bounced back nicely from a knee injury that cost him the 2009 season and has a great size-speed combo. Wilson (573 yards, 5.9 average, 5 TDs) is the home-run threat who has breakaway speed. Williams (428 yards, 4.5 average, 9 TDs) has been limited to 8 games due to injuries and has suffered a bit of a sophomore slump, but he has the total package, as evidenced by a 142-yard, 2 TD performance on just 14 carries against UM.
The pass-catching group is nothing to be overly afraid of, but this unit does have size and some experience. Junior Jarrett Boykin (45 receptions, 728 yards, 5 TDs) is the go-to guy who has a great blend of size and speed. He’s tough to shut down. Classmate Danny Coale (26 receptions, 497 yards, 2 TDs) doesn’t look like much, but always produces and can burn you deep. He reminds me a bit of former FSU wideout Matt Frier. The Hokies have been hurt by an injury to #3 wideout Dyrell Roberts (21 receptions, 303 yards, 2 TDs), who is expected to miss the FSU game. In his place, sophomore Marcus Davis (16 receptions, 213 yards, 2 TDs), who goes 6-4, 230, has seen more extensive playing time, although he suffered a concussion in the UM game. Youngsters Austin Fuller and Xavier Boyce have played more with the injuries to Roberts and Davis and done okay, but caught just 3 balls between them.
The Hokies feature a decent tight end, too, in senior Andre Smith. A big guy at 6-4, 270, Smith (17 receptions, 164 yards, 5 TDs) is a threat in the red zone and is a solid blocker to boot.
Defense has been Tech’s calling card for years, but coordinator Bud Foster’s unit has not always been as tough as year’s past. On the plus side, Tech is 14th in scoring defense, leads the ACC in pass efficiency defense, has picked off 20 passes and gotten 32 sacks, and has been very good on third down and in the red zone. On the downside, the Hokies rank just 68th against the run, are 8th in the ACC in yards per play given up, and have given up 21+ points per game 7 times. This unit is not infallible by any means and not as scary as some past Tech defenses, but they are solid and well coached.
Virginia Tech has an active defensive line, but these guys aren’t space-eaters by any means and have been blown off the ball a few times. At end, the Hokies have two experienced starters in senior Steven Friday (61 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) and junior Chris Drager (27 tackles, 3 for loss, 2 sacks). Friday has had an excellent season, but neither guy is all that big (Friday-6-4, 230; Drager-6-3, 240) and depth is chock full of freshmen, although both J.R. Collins (6.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks) and James Gayle (6.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks) have had flashes. At tackle, Tech really only has a three-man rotation with starters John Graves (34 tackles, 4 for loss) and Antoine Hopkins (41 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 sacks) and true freshman backup Derrick Hopkins (9 tackles, 1.5 sacks). None of these guys are exactly massive and can get pushed around.
Tech typically has a very active LB corps and that is no different this year, although this unit is young with three sophomore starters and almost nothing but freshmen as backups. Bruce Taylor (84 tackles, 15.5 for loss, 6 sacks) has had a monster year and has an extremely bright future. He also brings great size (6-2, 250) to the table. Lyndell Gibson (61 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 2 sacks) has been solid and encapsulates the lunch pail image of Foster’s defenses. Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (37 tackles) is a bit undersized (6-2, 206) and is often sacrificed in nickel packages.
The strength of the defense has been a secondary that features a nice blend of experience and talented youngsters. At corner, sophomore Jayron Hosley (35 tackles, 8 ints., 15 passes defensed) leads the country in picks and has been a stalwart. Senior Rashad Carmichael (34 tackles, 4 ints., 11 passes defensed) has not had a shabby year himself, but he suffered an ankle injury in the UM game and missed the season finale against Virginia. He may play, but could be limited. In his place, true freshman Kyle Fuller (31 tackles, 4 for loss, 6 passes defensed), who has started 5 games, would feature and he has been a revelation. The Hokies have a solid duo at safety in Davon Morgan (72 tackles, 4 ints.) and Eddie Whitley (64 tackles, 3 for loss, 2 ints.), both upperclassmen. Both can help in run support and Morgan is a pretty solid ball hawk. Antone Exum (42 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 9 passes defensed) has played a lot in nickel situations and has been good.
As is typical with Frank Beamer teams, the special teams have been, well, special. Kicker Chris Hazley has hit on 19 of 20 attempts. Brian Saunders is averaging 44.4 yards per punt and Tech is only allowing 4.2 yards per punt return. The Hokies also boast two dangerous return men in Jayron Hosley (13.5 yards per punt return, 1 TD) and David Wilson (26.8 yards per kick return, 2 TDs), although Tech has yet to block a kick or punt, which they seem to do every year.
Few people probably would’ve believed it after their 0-2 start, but Tech has run off 10 straight victories, is the first ACC team to go undefeated in conference play since the 2000 Seminoles, and is probably the best team FSU will face all year. Yes, and that includes Oklahoma. Sure, Tech is not quite as fearsome on defense and has been prone to giving up some plays, but the unit is pretty good at creating turnovers, getting sacks, and stopping people in the red zone. That has helped Tech eke out a few wins along the way. In fact, turnovers could play a big role here. Virginia Tech leads the nation in turnover margin and has really lived and died with that stat. If the Seminoles can create a few turnovers and not be forced into any themselves, they stand a pretty good chance.
On paper, these two teams are pretty similar—don’t put up great defensive stats per se, but make stops in the red zone and create turnovers. Seem to run the ball a bit better than pass, but have efficient passing games led by senior QBs who can also tuck and run. The thing that worries me as an FSU fan is whether the Noles can stop, or even contain, Tech’s running game. Somewhat lost amongst the euphoria of whipping UF and getting to the ACC Championship game is that the defense really struggled against the run for the better part of the last half of the season and the Hokies could feast on that. don’t think Tech’s defense is good enough to shut down FSU’s offense, but I do think Tech’s offense could have a big game on the ground against FSU. Thus, the Hokies can eat the clock and grind out a win. And, unfortunately, I think that is just what happens. FSU keeps it close, but Tech pulls it out 28-24.