Virginia Tech Blogger Q&A With @GobblerTown

When looking at the first game of the year it is not too difficult to come up with story lines. Revenge is on every ones mind. So when I sat down with Justin Clark of @GobblerTown we discussed all the story lines and tidbits for the game in Blacksburg. Here is the link to my answering the questions for them. Below is their answers to my questions.

Jeremiah- Looking at Techs offense they were 96th in the country last year in scoring. How do they plan on improving on that?

Justin- To first understand how Virginia Tech will improve offensively this season you first have to understand where this offense has come from over the past two years. Certainly, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has taken some heat over the past two seasons for our offense being inept at times (Wake Forest last season is a good example) but he hasn’t had much to work with.

The offensive output during our first two games of last season really showed what this unit is capable of doing when the unit is fully healthy. Unfortunately, after beating Ohio State, quarterback Michael Brewer spent the rest of the year nursing several injuries, our most effective runner in Shai McKenzie tore his ACL, our backup running back Marshawn Williams tore his ACL, our top offensive lineman broke his ankle, and we lost one of our most experienced receiver in Josh Stanford because he simply left the team.

While Tech’s rankings were horrid by the end of the year, there’s still plenty of potential on this offense, especially when you look at how many freshmen played last season. In fact, every person who scored a touchdown last year returns this season. So, just by experience, the Virginia Tech offense should be better in 2015.

Jeremiah- How many starters is Tech returning on Offense and Defense? Which new starter on both offense and defense should OSU fans get to know about now?

Justin- The pre-season magazines will say we return eight starters on offense, eight on defense, and both special teams guys. But, that’s a little misleading.

First, our starting right tackle Wade Hanson started three games last season filling in for an injured Jonathan McLaughlin. So, he’s not exactly a newcomer on the offensive line. The same can be said for JC Coleman, who’s a fourth year senior with nine career starts under his belt. Really, the only new starter on offense is Eric Gallo, who is our new starting center.

Defensively, the same is true mainly due to the injuries we suffered down the stretch. Andrew Motuapuaka isn’t listed as a returning starter but he started three games last season in substitute for Chase Williams, who suffered a knee sprain. Donovan Riley is likely to be our new starting rover but he started seven games at cornerback last season and was the one who helped clinch the win in Columbus with his 4th quarter interception that he promptly returned for a touchdown. On the whole, this defense will be the most experienced unit we’ve had since Tech finished first in the country in total defense back in 2007.

As for a new name to know, I think there are a few on both sides. Offensively, you may see the Hokies use incoming freshman quarterback Dwayne Lawson briefly in our Wild Turkey package. Lawson is a phenomenal prospect and a terrific, high football IQ guy that’s going to play this season. At tight end, you’ll see Tech use redshirt sophomore Kalvin Cline. He did extremely well as a true freshman two years ago but missed all of last year due to injury.

Defensively, Mook Reynolds is a guy you’ll see and hear about. He’s going to be Virginia Tech’s next great defensive back. Right now, he’s penciled in as the backup at field corner behind Brandon Facyson. But, he’ll likely see some snaps at some point in the game.

Jeremiah- Virginia Techs defense is great every year. Your DBs are arguably the best group in CFB. What can you tell us about the LBers and DLmen?

Justin- When Virginia Tech has produced great defenses in the past, we’ve been able to go at least eight deep on the defensive line. I think the Hokies are back to having that kind of depth this season. Our entire starting defensive line that wrecked havoc against Ohio State last season returns with Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem anchoring our defensive end spots. Nicolas gets all of the praise as a potential first round pick but Ekanem actually led our teams in sacks last season, coming on big-time at the end of the year. Of course, our defensive tackles are fantastic with Luther Maddy back after missing the final 9 games in 2014 due to injury and Corey Marshall will join him again in the starting lineup. The backups are a little green at defensive end but I love the potential Seth Dooley and Vinny Mihota have in our system. Tech will be able to pull from three or four backup defensive tackles, including Nigel Williams who started nine games and registered 4.5 sacks in relief of Maddy.

Linebacker could be our weakness but it depends on how Andrew Motuapuaka plays in the middle. He’s just a sophomore and he appeared a little overmatched when he started last season. Miami made it a point to run straight at him and the results worked in their favor, whipping us 30-6 on Thursday night. If I were Ohio State, I would make Motuapuaka work in the middle. If he plays well and doesn’t prove to be a weakness then this defense is going to be the stingiest unit we’ve had in years. If he struggles then it could really drag the entire unit down. Otherwise, I’m confident in our other two guys. Deon Clarke is a fifth year senior at our “backer” position and Ronny Vandyke is a talented senior who will start at our WHIP linebacker position.

Jeremiah- I know there have been some off the field issues for some VT players this off-season. Shai Mckenzie comes to mind. Any news on his status or anyone else as to who may be suspended?

Justin- To be honest, I don’t think McKenzie missing the Ohio State game is the worst thing in the world. I was sort of hoping they would suspend him for the year just so we could redshirt him. McKenzie tore his ACL as a senior in high school then re-tore it again last season. Ideally, I’d like to give him a year to recover.

Other than CJ Reavis, who was penciled in as our starting rover before being expelled a few weeks ago, the Hokies should have everyone available to start come Labor Day. The only other player who may be a little iffy is running back Marshawn Williams, who was very limited yesterday in practice as he too continues to recover from ACL surgery.

Jeremiah- What should traveling OSU fans expect from their visit to Blacksburg and any traditions they should take in or places to eat that are must dos?

Justin- Blacksburg is truly an awesome place on gamedays. I would highly recommend going to TOTS (Top Of The Stairs) and getting a Rail before the game. It’s their signature mixed drink with a shit ton of alcohol. For food, I would highly recommend Mike’s for great burgers, Cabo Fish Taco if you love seafood, Big Al’s for great drinks and bar food, or River Mill if you’re looking for just a nice sit-down place with an eclectic menu. Seriously, just pick a joint off Main Street and you’ll be fine.

After the game, go to CookOut off Main Street for the best cheap southern fast food you can get. Five bucks gets you a double cheeseburger, fries, onion rings, and a large drink. Can’t beat it at 2 a.m.

Lastly, try to make your way to the stadium about 45 minutes prior to kickoff. If you wait to long, the gates can get a little backed up and you don’t want to miss Virginia Tech running onto the field to Enter Sandman. It’s truly one of the most exciting entrances in sports.

Jeremiah- What is the feel of Tech fans do they believe they can pull off another upset of Ohio State? Are they worried OSU may blow them out?

Justin- I haven’t polled the posters over on my site yet but I think there’s a quiet confidence with our fanbase. Obviously, Ohio State fans are confident heading into this game and they should be after the season they had a year ago. But, it’s a new year and the best time to pull an upset is early in the year when neither team has fully installed their offense and mistakes are more likely to occur. So, this game does favor the Hokies in that regard.

Combine that with Ohio State’s suspensions and I’m feeling fairly optimistic heading into this game. Ohio State isn’t going to come in and win this by 40. If the Buckeyes win by 10, it will be something to celebrate. I truly feel this is going to be a three point, down to the wire kind of game.

Jeremiah- Is Frank Beamer on the hot seat? Is he close to retiring? Could this be his swan song season?

Justin- The feeling around Blacksburg is that Beamer will likely stay through 2016, which was the end date of his original contract before we extended to 2019 solely for recruiting purposes. Beamer had throat surgery in the off-season and from what I’ve been able to gather, it was fairly extensive. So much so that his voice is notably different this pre-season. He’s also lost a lot of weight, perhaps doctor mandated, so his health is definitely something that may play a role.

But, I don’t believe he’s on the hot seat. The reason for our recent swoon is talent driven not coaching driven, at least not anymore. Our last two recruiting classes have been very good and thus you’re going to see a much better, much deeper Virginia Tech team these next two years.

Jeremiah- How do you see this game going? Score prediction?

Justin- I’m confident that the Hokies can hang in there and keep it close. But, in rewatching last year’s game it amazed me how many chances Ohio State squandered as well as how many 3rd and longs Virginia Tech converted. I don’t see either of those two things happening again this year. The Buckeyes will be ready for Tech’s offense and whoever starts at quarterback for Ohio State will be better prepared for the Hokie’s defense.

That said, there are three things that make me optimistic as a Virginia Tech fan

1.) Our offensive line will be drastically improved this season. I think on every single offensive snap last year, our center and our left guard were pushed into the backfield. Thankfully, Wyatt Teller emerged as our top offensive line prospect at the end of last year and he is now our starter at left guard. Eric Gallo at center is a future all-conference player as well. I have a lot of confidence in our starting five up front, especially with no Joey Bosa on the other side.

2.) Our running game should be better. JC Coleman ran for over 450 yards in the final five games of last season. That won’t compare well to Ezekiel Elliot but it was a major step forward for our running game that has stalled since David Wilson left for the NFL. This also proved that our offensive line got better at the end of last year.

3.) I have a lot of confidence in Bud Foster to design a gameplan that eliminates Ezekiel Elliot from the equation. Stopping the run is always the first order of our defense. If Elliot runs for over 100 yards then odds are the Buckeyes will win. If not, then Tech’s chances increase dramatically.

Of course, despite all of that I just see Ohio State, like so many great teams throughout the years, finding a way. It probably won’t be pretty if you’re a Buckeye fan and at the end you may drop to your knees and thank whatever deity you believe in. But, I’m taking the Buckeyes 24-20.

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