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Know Your Enemy: The Virginia Tech Hokies

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West Virginia kicks off the 2017 season in our nation’s capital against a familiar foe, and the Black Diamond Trophy is on the line

Belk Bowl - Arkansas v Virginia Tech Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

2016 Synopsis

Virginia Tech, under new head coach Justin Fuente, won ten games in 2016, surpassing most expectations. After a solid start against the FCS Liberty Flames, the Hokies stumbled at Bristol Motor Speedway and fell to the Tennessee Volunteers. Virginia Tech would rebound with dominating performances against Boston College, East Carolina and the then No. 17 ranked North Carolina Tarheels. Even with loses to Syracuse and Georgia Tech, the Hokies still found themselves in the ACC Championship game against the Clemson Tigers, and nearly upset the eventual 2017 College Football Playoff National Champions.

Who did they lose?

Most notably, the Hokies lost their starting quarterback Jerod Evans after he declared for the NFL Draft after just one season in Blacksburg. The former JUCO quarterback threw for 3500 yards and had a 29:8 touchdown to interception ratio, and led the Hokies as they scored 35 unanswered points to beat the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Belk Bowl. Evans ended up going undrafted in May, and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent.

The Hokies also lose tight end Bucky Hodges, free safety Chuck Clark, fullback Sam Rogers and wide receiver Isiah Ford, all of whom were major contributors, to the NFL Draft.

Who do they return?

Unfortunately for the Hokies, they’ll probably have to rely on a freshman quarterback to lead the offense, but they do return their second leading receiver, Cam Phillips. Phillips finished the 2016 season with 983 yards on 76 receptions, an average of about 13 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. In the backfield, they’ll return their top rushing threat from 2016 that’s not named Jerod Evans. Travon McMillian finished the season with 671 yards on 145 carries and seven touchdowns. McMillian should be the Hokies’ go-to back this season, unless true freshman Terius Wheatley comes in and fights his way up the depth chart.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Hokies are returning three of their top four tacklers from last season, linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Terrell Edmunds. Motuapuaka led the Hokies with 114 tackles, three interceptions and 5.5 tackles for loss, while the Edmunds brothers combined for 195 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and 5 interceptions. They, along with returning cornerback Mook Reynolds, will be looked upon to lead Bud Foster’s vaunted defense in 2017.

Why should West Virginia be worried?

The Virginia Tech defense is no joke, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. More specifically, Tech’s linebackers stand out as the strongest unit on their defense, and should have themselves a really good season if their production is anything like it was last year. If the Hokies win this game, it’ll be because Bud Foster’s 4-4 defense shut down Dana and Spav’s offense.

Why should West Virginia not be worried?

The Hokies will most likely be starting Josh Jackson or Hendon Hooker at quarterback. Both are freshman, and have not played a single snap at the collegiate level. Inexperienced quarterbacks don’t typically perform well against the 3-3-5, because it’s not a scheme they’re used to seeing. I’m not saying the Mountaineer defense is going to shut the Hokies out, because God knows I’d love to see that happen, but I think they’ll be able give them enough trouble to force a few punts.

If the West Virginia defense can get the ball back in the offense’s hands early and often, this one should go in the Mountaineers’ favor. The Mountaineers have arguably their most talented group of running backs since Steve Slaton, and the West Virginia offensive line should be able to open up some holes against Tech’s depleted defensive line.

Key player for Virginia Tech

Linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka will be the key to the Virginia Tech defense. Motuapuaka finished fifth in the ACC in total tackles last year, and will relied upon to help stop the Mountaineer rushing attack.

Key player for West Virginia

I have to go with the obvious here and say Will Grier. Grier will be playing in his first game in nearly two years, and making your return in a new offense against a long-time rival probably isn’t the most ideal scenario. If Grier can perform half as well as the expectations most West Virginia fans have set for him, the Mountaineers should be able to slide past the Hokies and move onto East Carolina with a 1-0 record.