The Hokies finished the 2018 season with a 6-7 record and a 55th ranking per the S&P+. Head coach Justin Fuente was supposed to modernize the Hokies offense, but instead has put the 41st, 71st, and 39th ranked offenses on the field in Blacksburg. Fuente has managed a 22-15 overall record but the Hokies have lost to Old Dominion, a struggling Syracuse in 2016 and finished 0-3 against Georgia Tech.
Fuente wasn’t the only one to blame for 2018 as Bud Foster’s defense that was 21st and 9th in the previous two seasons finished 77th after a ton of turnover from the year prior. Foster returns most of this defensive playmakers for 2019, but if the Hokies can’t find a solid starting quarterback they might struggle to win eight games even with a really soft schedule. They are expected to climb to 30th per the S&P+ which would put them behind only Clemson, Miami and Florida State in the ACC.
Ryan Willis, a Kansas transfer, is back at QB for the Hokies. He replaced Josh Jackson after Jackson went down with a season-ending injury. Willis was just okay behind center as he averaged 7.5 yards per attempt and scored 28 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He’ll be pushed by Hendon Hooker, Quincy Patterson II, and I’ve been hard pressed to find info on Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister’s eligibility for 2019. Willis is mobile having ran for over 300 yards and four touchdowns in 2018.
The Hokies also return wide receivers Damon Hazelton Jr and Tre Turner who combined for 12 receiving touchdowns last season. Turner also averaged 20.6 yards per reception a year ago.
The Hokies like to use a tight end in a variety of roles from being a fullback type in the backfield, to inline with their hand down and in the wing or slot. Six-foot-four, 246 pound Dalton Keene is that guy for Fuente in Blacksburg.
Kirk Herbstreit might be confused but this isn’t an RPO, it’s a play-action pass. Willis throws a strike to the posting slot receiver which gets behind Miami’s aggressive linebackers and in between two safeties. Fuente picked on the ‘Canes weakness there and it paid off.
Play-action tight end screen
Knowing that Miami is over-aggressive and very athletic leads offensive coordinators to game plan to find empty space. There are 11 defenders and 15 empty bubbles to defend on the field. Even though football is an 11 versus 11 game the defense can’t be in 15 spots with 11 people and that offense has to find those bubbles.
This play-action screen back to the tight end is a great example. The trips receivers to the top of the screen lure four defenders into that area, while the play-action bites on linebackers and defensive linemen. That leaves a 1-on-3 look (including the receiver) to the back side. It’s a scoring play for Keene and the Hokies.
On this play, Miami brings a ton of pressure from the two receiver side where Tech is motioning away from. This serves Miami in no way and leads to the ‘Canes being out numbered to the side the sweep is being ran towards.
Manny Diaz’s defense is an all-or-none type and the slot takes the handoff and breaks a touchdown run because there are only three defenders against four blockers for the Hokies.
Willis doesn’t look off
For all of the game planning an OC can do if his QB won’t look off receivers this is the result. Shaquille Quarterman comes away with the interception because Willis stares down his target. Quarterman dissects Willis’ eyes and steps right in front of the pass- it really is a thing of beauty from Shaq.
As McCloud vacates the low hole, Willis locks on his target who is going to settle over the center. Look at Shaq, he’s already reading Willis’ eyes and is up on his toes ready to move.
Quarterman flashes his football IQ that made him a starter as a true freshman, and has allowed him to be an All-ACC linebacker who has an NFL future.
You can check out the full play here from Quarterman in GIF format.
This is going to be a huge game on October 5th for both Manny Diaz and Justin Fuente. For Diaz his team could easily be 3-1 if not 4-0 heading into the Virginia Tech game. For Fuente, his team could be 2-2 before heading down to Miami Gardens. The Hokies start with Boston College before playing Old Dominion (a 2018 loss), Furman (FCS) and Duke. While ODU shouldn’t beat the Hokies we’ve seen it happen and BC and Duke are no slouch games.
Coach Fuente could seal his fate if the Hokies start off the 2019 season with a 2-3 record. Tech could end the season 5-7 if they drop games to Miami, BC, Duke, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Pitt and UVA which are all conceivable losses. Then again, the Hokies are ranked 11th in the FBS in returning production per Bill Connelly’s Hokies preview.
Prediction: Miami wins at home by 14.