Virginia Tech is at a crossroads of sorts. The Hokies went to the ACC championship game six times in their first eight seasons in the league. Since then, Virginia Tech is 12-12 in the league. A 6-6 season saved the Hokies from missing the postseason for the first time since 1992. A bowl win preserved a streak of 22 consecutive winning seasons. The streaks look good in the media guide, but Virginia Tech will be hard-pressed to reverse its slide.
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Previewing Virginia Tech’s Offense in 2015
It’s now-or-never for the Hokies under third-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who spent Year 1 introducing his system and Year 2 dealing with youth and injuries. All the major players are back, including quarterback Michael Brewer, a Texas Tech transfer whose good moments last year were often negated by bad ones. He threw for 18 touchdowns and 2,692 yards but also 15 interceptions, 11 coming in the first six games.
He’s more experienced now, as are his offensive weapons. Receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips combined for 96 catches, 1,207 yards and nine touchdowns as freshmen, and Bucky Hodges shattered all the school’s tight end records with 45 catches, 526 yards and seven touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Just who will carry the ball remains a question, with Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams coming off ACL injuries (and McKenzie some legal issues). But 2013 leading rusher Trey Edmunds is healthy again, and J.C. Coleman showed he could carry the load after rushing for 468 yards in the final four games last year.
As always, the offensive line is a question, but coaches were encouraged by the starting five in the spring, particularly left guard Wyatt Teller, a bruiser who entered the starting lineup midway through last year and earned O-line MVP honors. If the line jells, the stable of young playmakers makes a jump, and Brewer can cut down his turnovers, the Hokies have a chance to churn out a decent offense for the first time in years.
Previewing Virginia Tech’s Defense for 2015
The strength of Bud Foster’s group lies in the trenches and on the back end. The Hokies have four starting defensive linemen who have earned All-ACC recognition in their careers. Tackle Luther Maddy returns from a medical redshirt, paired with undersized but quick Corey Marshall on the interior. The ends are even more disruptive. Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem combined for 18.5 sacks and 33 tackles for a loss last year, the most productive D-line tandem in the ACC.
The secondary is in flux because of spring absences, but cornerback Kendall Fuller is a stud, an All-American who might be the best the program has produced. The big domino is cornerback Brandon Facyson, who missed last year with a stress fracture in his leg, which he reinjured at practice in December. If he returns to form, it allows Tech to move the versatile Chuck Clark to his more natural position at safety. This group gave up a ton of big plays last year, but it’s as talented as ever.
The biggest question mark is at linebacker, where Deon Clarke returns but Andrew Motuapuaka is a first-year starter. Nevertheless, the Hokies are set up to rush the passer and cover, two hallmarks of Foster’s defenses over the years.
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Previewing Virginia Tech’s Specialists for 2015
Kicker Joey Slye (20-of-28 on field goals) has the leg to go 50-plus if his accuracy comes around. Punter A.J. Hughes had offseason back surgery, partly explaining why his average fell from 44.1 in 2013 to 39.9 last season. Greg Stroman nearly broke half a dozen punt returns for touchdowns last year, although the stagnant kick return game needs a jumpstart.
Virginia Tech is 22–17 overall and a .500 team in the league since 2012, prompting the uncomfortable conversation about how much longer revered coach Frank Beamer will walk the sideline in Blacksburg. A return to prominence would quash that talk, and with 16 returning starters, including a promising group of up-and-coming playmakers on offense and Foster’s usual great defense, Virginia Tech has a chance to challenge in the Coastal Division again. Another middling season, however, will only intensify the chatter that perhaps it’s time for Beamer to pass the torch.