Virginia Tech (1-0) vs. Tennessee (1-0)
Game will be played in front of 160,000 fans at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. This will be the largest college football game in history with a “pro” Volunteers crowd expected on hand.
The Hokies started slowly in their opening season victory over Liberty last Saturday but pulled away in the second half winning 36-13. New head coach Justin Fuente is a solid game planner and will look to create mismatches on the offensive side of the ball against the Volunteers. Last season, the team struggled to find offensive consistency after quarterback Michael Brewer was injured in week one to Ohio State.
On Saturday, the Hokies opened their 2016 campaign by rushing for 202 yards and passed for 252 yards through the air. Quarterback Jerod Evans is an athletic quarterback (6’4 242 lbs) that completed 62% of his passes for 221 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. Evans can put pressure on the Volunteers defense because of his athleticism as he rushed for 46 yards on the ground averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Fuente stresses offensive balance and the Hokies will look to spread out the Volunteers defense to create mismatches for their play makers in both the passing game and the rushing attack. Running back Travon McMillian rushed for 39 yards last week and look for him to have a more active role in the offense this coming weekend in Bristol.
Wide receivers Cam Phillips and Isiah Ford both combined for 16 receptions for 170 yards with 2 touchdowns. Their ability to take the top of the defense will force Tennessee to account for both players at all times and take double teams off of tight end Bucky Hodges. Hodges is the X-factor for the Hokies because of his size (6’6) and big play ability. In the win last week, Hodges caught 3 passes for 42 yards with 2 touchdowns. Fuente will look to match Hodges on nickel backs and linebackers especially in the red zone to create easy passes for Evans in locating him. Hodges has wide receiver speed and can challenge the deep middle of the field with seam routes which can open up running lanes later in the game for both McMillian and Evans.
Defensively, the Hokies struggled shutting down the run last year and gave up 180 rushing yards per game. In the win against Liberty, the defense held the Spiders to 90 rushing yards and only 70 passing yards in the game. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster will look to keep Tennessee quarterback in the pocket on Saturday night and force him to make progressions in the passing game. Dobbs has shown inconsistency in the vertical passing game and has success when he breaks contain and throws outside the pocket. Virginia Tech allowed 189 passing yards per game last year and has a solid secondary that can play man to man coverage which will allow Foster to blitz early on in this match-up. The Hokies were +4 in turnover margin and the defense will need to step up in this area to give their offense field position.
The Volunteers struggled at home last Thursday beating Appalachian State 20-13 in Overtime. Running back Jalen Hurd recovered a fumble in the endzone which proved to be the deciding touchdown for the team and could be the play of the year depending on how the team plays out the season.
Offensively, quarterback Josh Dobbs will be the key to the offense. His play on Saturday will dictate the offensive consistency for the team against Virginia Tech. Last week, he completed 16 of 29 passes for 192 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Dobbs does not like to throw from the pocket and is lethal when he breaks contain against opposing defenses.
Running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara will need to pound the rock against the Hokies in order to take the pressure off of the offensive line in pass protection. Hurd rushed for 110 yards and one score while Kamara rushed for 21 yards in the win against Appalachian State. Both players are solid pass catchers and can be utilized on screens to neutralize the Hokies pass rush on Saturday night.
However, the most important player could be wide receiver Josh Malone. In last week’s victory, Malone caught a big touchdown pass from Dobbs that tied the game at 13 and forced the game into overtime. Malone caught 2 passes for 81 yards and one score and will need to test the Hokies secondary over the middle of the field on Saturday.
Defensively, the Volunteers allowed 152 rushing yards per game last year and in the win last week gave up 184 rushing yards. They will need a better effort against Virginia Tech and cannot get beat up front like they were last Thursday. The secondary played very well and held Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb to 108 passing yards on the night. Tennessee does not have the benefit of watching a lot of film on Evans because he has only started one game. Evans showed poise in the pocket and they must account for Hodges at all times. Tennessee will need to win the turnover battle as well and lost that match-up last week by a 2-1 margin.
Last year, the defense recorded 30 total sacks but did not have one last week. They will need to put pressure on the pocket against Evans to rattle his confidence and force him into errant throws.