The eyes of America will be on the Hokies and the Yellow Jackets when they face off in their Labor Day showdown, and I think it’s safe to say that fans of both teams are feeling some combination of excitement and pure terror right about now.
My feelings on the game have varied wildly over the last few weeks, going from complete confidence to abject horror at varying points of the summer, but now that the game is less than 24 hours away, I feel a strange sense of calm.
Let’s start with why this game worries me.
Despite all the confidence that the team has been espousing recently, the first game of the year has been tough for Frank Beamer’s boys these last few years. It definitely doesn’t help that this opener will be against Georgia Tech, a team that has history with the Hokies, but also has both an offense and a defense that are notoriously difficult to prepare for.
But we’ve known that Bud Foster has had plenty of time to think about how best to stop Paul Johnson’s offense, and Logan Thomas and company are no stranger to the team’s 3-4 defense either. Obviously, you can’t know how the team will actually execute until game time, but preparation shouldn’t be a concern.
Instead, what’s concerning are some of the developments along the offensive line. The Hokies only return one starter on the line, but every indication was that the team had found all of its starters for this season, and that even newcomer RG Brent Benedict was coming along nicely. Now the word from coaches is that Benedict will share playing time with utility linemen Michael Via.
If the team wasn’t confident in Benedict and wanted to look at Via, why wasn’t this reflected in the team’s scrimmages and practices? Rotations on the offensive line rarely work, especially this late into camp, and although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a great defensive team, it’s never good to see this kind of change.
The whip linebacker situation also concerns me. Early reports were that Kyle Fuller would play whip against GT as he did the past two seasons, and there were extensive questions about Jeron Gouveia-Winslow’s ability given the improvement of Ronny Van Dyke. Now Fuller says he’ll only move over to whip if necessary and Gouveia-Winslow will start.
I suppose that’s a vote of confidence for G-W from the coaches, but for such an important position in this game, I’d certainly be more comfortable with Fuller staying at whip for the entirety of the contest.
These issues are important, but they’re certainly not insurmountable. Georgia Tech has issues of their own, considering they’ll be missing two members of the secondary and a starting RB.
It’s also worth noting that Virginia Tech’s defense is perhaps better suited to containing the Yellow Jackets this year than it has been in years past. Georgia Tech has normally given the Hokies fits because their offense has forced them to abandon Foster’s patented gap control system, making life especially difficult for the team’s linebackers.
Things will undoubtedly be similarly hard on this year’s linebacking corps, especially as Jack Tyler steps in for the injured Tariq Edwards, but the defensive line is what sets this team apart. This group is athletic enough, and deep enough, for the team to stymie Georgia Tech at the line, before the injuries and inexperience in the defensive backfield can take their toll.
James Gayle is an absolute monster that was built to stop an offense like this, and when J.R. Collins, Tyrel Wilson, Zach McCray, Luther Maddy and the Hopkins twins get involved as well, Foster should be able to use them to shut the Jackets’ run game down.
This team has something to prove, considering that this might be Tech’s best shot at making waves nationally for the next few years, and I expect that they’ll treat this game with the appropriate amount of intensity to bring home a win.
If not, the Hokies have another game against a Division I-AA opponent in just five days, and will have to shake off memories of the JMU catastrophe as they attempt to salvage the season.
So, no pressure at all really.