Virginia Tech will play three Top 25 teams in their next four games and it begins with this week's home game against Liberty. Liberty? Top 25? Yes sir, Hugh Freeze has his Flames sitting at 6-0 and No. 25 in the latest AP Poll. They also own an ACC win, beating Syracuse 38-21 in the Carrier Dome three weeks ago.
Virginia Tech once again showed off their offensive firepower last Saturday, defeating Louisville 42-35. The 4-2 Hokies have scored at least 38 points in five of their six games and have gone north of 40 four times. They are still involved in the ACC chase but this tough non-conference game will get their attention.
In 2016, Virginia Tech won the only other meeting between the two schools.
No. 25 Liberty at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 7 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia Tech -16
When Liberty Has the Ball
The Flames' offense is led by quarterback Malik Willis, who has completed 67 percent of his passes, has a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and is averaging 8.6 yards per attempt. His favorite target is D.J. Stubbs, a shifty receiver that has 27 catches on the year.
However, the strength of the Liberty offense is the running game, which also is paced by Willis. The Auburn transfer leads the team with 495 rushing yards and has crossed the goal line seven times. Joshua Mack, Peytton Pickett, and Shedro Louis are a trio of running backs that have more than 300 rushing yards each and have propelled the nation's No. 6 rushing offense.
The offensive line, which has done a great job opening up holes in the run game, has allowed 17 sacks on the year and that is important when playing Virginia Tech. The Hokies like to bring pressure and they have several guys that can get after the quarterback. Justus Reed has 4.5 sacks on the season and four other players have at least two.
But if Liberty can withstand the pressure, they could make some plays. The Hokies are 11th in the ACC in both rush and pass defense. Outside of a 90-yard Javian Hawkins touchdown run, Virginia Tech did a pretty good job slowing down Louisville's running game last Saturday. But Malik Cunningham threw for 350 yards as Louisville put up 35 points. Liberty's offense may not feature playmakers like Hawkins, Cunningham, and wide receiver Tutu Atwell, but the Flames have enough to make the Hokie defense uncomfortable.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
The Hokies' running game was so dominant in the win over Louisville that the team scored 42 points and quarterback Hendon Hooker only had to throw the ball 10 times. Khalil Herbert started the year strong and after a little slow down against Wake Forest, the Kansas transfer got right back in the groove, rushing 147 yards and a score at Louisville. But Herbert now has help, as the return of Hooker has provided the offense with another dangerous runner. With 359 rushing yards in four games, Hooker has already eclipsed last year’s total.
Of Hooker's 10 passes last week, every one of them was caught by a Hokie receiver and those completions resulted in 183 yards. It was clearly his best passing game of the year, even with the low number of attempts. Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson, and James Mitchell all got involved and made big chunk plays.
Along with having a highly ranked offense, Liberty also has a defense that is 10th in yards per game allowed, with slightly better numbers against the pass. However, they have not faced an offense as talented or as diverse as Virginia Tech's. The highest-scoring team the Flames have faced to this point is Southern Miss, who at 26 points a game ranks 68th in the country. The Hokies will have to pay special attention to defensive ends TreShaun Clark and Durrell Johnson. The pair has combined for 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for lost yardage.
In past years, Virginia Tech has had the occasional struggle in games against lower-level competition. FCS member Furman stayed with the Hokies until the end last season and Old Dominion pulled off a major upset in 2018. But Liberty comes in with a number next to their name and that should be all the motivation Virginia Tech needs, especially since the Hokies are currently unranked. Plus, as impressive as the Liberty start has been, their six wins have come against teams with a combined record of 4-28. And Syracuse is the only Power 5 team the Flames have played. Energy and determination will keep Liberty alive early, but size and talent will win out in the end.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Liberty 24
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of @HokiesFB)