Today we did something a little different.
Rather than just previewing the teams and the series, we enlisted the help of Pierson Booher (@PhillyHokie007) of The Key Play, to get the scoop on the Hokies.
We'll be sure to check back in with Pierson again before the 10/17 match-up at Sun Life Stadium.
Full Q&A below:
SOTU: Virginia Tech started last season by beating the soon to be National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes. But the wheels came off in a hurry. What happened? What needs to happen for them to make some noise in the ACC in 2015?
TKP: This is going to sound like a complete cop-out, but the Hokies faltered after defeating Ohio State due to a frustrating combination of injuries to key players, a banged up quarterback, youth and some questionable play calling from Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler. It was a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, occurring during a season in which Virginia Tech entered the fall knowing newcomers would be forced to play key roles from the outset. The good news is most of the injured players have returned to full strength (most notably DT Luther Maddy and CB Brandon Facyson), and the young-ins that were thrown into the deep end a year ago are significantly more experienced. Consider this: More than 80% of the points scored by Virginia Tech last season came from freshmen.
I think Frank Beamer's squad already has a lot going for them heading into fall camp. All-World Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster is always going to get the best out of his unit. OC Scot Loeffler continues to put his stamp on this offensive system, and spring practices offered glimpses into an offensive identity many have craved since, well, forever. If they can keep their stars healthy and continue to integrate many of the young playmakers the staff has worked so hard to bring into the fold, this season could pull the Hokies back over the hump to the top of the ACC.
SOTU: QB Michael Brewer. Mistake prone game manager, or soon to be break out big time signal caller?
TKP: I think we can all agree that Michael Brewer played the game of his life last September in Columbus. During the course of that performance, Brewer took an absolute beating from the Buckeye defense. From that point on, Brewer essentially played hurt through the bowl game, including battling through a mid-game dislocated shoulder against Virginia. The one thing people quickly forgot after Ohio State was that Brewer transferred to Blacksburg in May and only had fall camp to learn the playbook. When you combine the modified playbook with a supporting cast that was still learning the route tree and where to get their laundry done, it's no wonder the offense was so hit-and-miss.
Many expected an open competition at the quarterback position this spring, and if there was one, Brewer quickly grabbed control with a strong command of the playbook and phenomenal touch on deep balls - an element the Hokies sorely lacked last year. I think the running game will be much stronger this year, due in part to a talented offensive line and solid stable of dynamic running backs. Pair that with talented wideouts Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and three solid tight ends (led by manchild Bucky Hodges), and I think we will see a markedly different version of Brewer this season. Will he be stellar from the opening kick on Labor Day night against OSU? Who knows. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he will be that guy when the Hokies and Canes meet in October.
SOTU: Does "Beamer Ball" still exist? Can the Hokies return to the form that made them one the scariest teams to face week in and week out because of their Special Teams?
TKP: To an extent, but the reality is Beamer Ball will almost surely never be what it once was in the late 90's and early 2000's. Frank Beamer changed the way college coaches prepare for and utilize their special teams units, proving that these once forgotten plays have the ability to immediately shift momentum. The irony is, in recent years it has felt more like opposing coaches have Beamer Balled us more than we have Beamer Balled them. Wait, that sounded perverted...you get the idea.
All sports have their visionaries, but by-and-large, most coaches are copycats. Beamer was unquestionably the modern visionary for special teams play, but sadly the secret's out and coaches seem to love flipping the script on the legendary coach. The good news (for us) is that there are a few youngsters (specifically Greg Stroman) that have the makings of something special in the return game. Our resident #PunterSwag A.J. Hughes is back to full-strength this season, after battling back problems all last year, and rising sophomore kicker Joey Slye was a welcome surprise a year ago.
SOTU: Which under the radar players on the VT roster should ACC fans take note of leading into 2015?
TKP: Great question. I think the young Hokie wideouts Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips have the ability to become stars, especially when you line them up alongside TE/WR Bucky Hodges. Guard Wyatt Teller, who runs an All-American mullet game, is a special talent and has really distinguished himself as a blocker since sliding over from the defensive side of the ball his freshman year.
The defensive side of the ball returns an awful lot of talented, established players that many ACC fans are likely already familiar with. A few weeks ago I probably would have mentioned safety C.J. Reavis as a breakout candidate, but he has since been dismissed from the university. I'm going to go a little outside the box and say back-up defensive end Vinny Mihota is a guy to keep an eye on. He vaulted up the depth chart during the spring after moving outside from tackle, and has been really impressive during the live action we've seen. He's enormous for a Hokie DE - 6'5" and 270 pounds - but he is the quickest off the line and his explosiveness has caused serious disruptions in the backfield. DL coach Charlie Wiles loves to rotate his lines to keep guys fresh, so if Mihota can grab ahold of that fourth DE spot or simply find himself in Wiles' top eight, he has a chance to really shine.
SOTU: What match-ups concern you looking ahead to the October 17th battle Vs the 'Canes at Sun Life Stadium?
TKP: Like Syracuse and their 2-3 Zone, the one thing you know you're going to face year-in-and-year-out versus the Hurricanes is speed. It terrifies me, regardless of where it's coming from. Skill position guys, defensive ends, the kicker, I don't really care. They all terrify me. It's similar to playing Georgia Tech's triple option - you can't take your foot off the gas, because they always have a chance to break a long play. So while I feel confident in the staff's recruiting efforts to bring in more playmakers, you always worry that if a speedster turns the corner there is no one at the second level to bring him down.
The other area that gives me pause is the talent in the Canes' front seven. As I noted above, I think Brewer and the offensive line are going to be much better in 2015 than 2014; however, you worry about the impact a talented defensive group like Miami's can have on an offense if they are able to bottle up the Hokie backs and knock Brewer to the turf early.
SOTU: Last but not least, give me a prediction for both the Hokies season and the ACC as a whole (Coastal, Atlantic winners)?
TKP: Similar to past seasons, the Coastal Division is wide open and could easily be won by any one of five teams (GT, VT, UNC, Miami & Duke). Georgia Tech has gotten the most attention heading into the season thanks to quarterback Justin Thomas, but when you lose 7 out of your top 10 rushers in CPJ's system, I'm going to temper expectations. I'm going to be an optimist and say that the Hokies will improve by a few games this season and finish with 9 wins and win the Coastal. I think NC State and Louisville have an opportunity to surprise in the Atlantic, but FSU's talent will ultimately prevail...unless of course their roster continues to do stupid things.
Thanks again to Pierson for working with us. Be sure to check out The Key Play for all things Hokies.