For the second year in a row, despite heavy personnel losses from last year, Virginia Tech is in the middle of the ACC Coastal Division race. Actually, at 5-1 the Hokies are one game better than they were at this time last year.
The difference this time around is that all six of their remaining games come against division opponents. The opportunity is there, but so is a considerable challenge. Here is a look at how the first half has prepared Justin Fuente’s team for the stretch run.
Offensive MVP: QB Josh Jackson
There was a buzz around Jackson a year ago and now we know why. The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder has completed better than 65 percent of his throws with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. That he has been able to make plays with an inexperienced receiving group after Cam Phillips is a testament to the 6-foot-1, 211-pounder’s ability.
Defensive MVP: LB Tremaine Edmunds
The in-state product from Danville has continued to be a force on the second level. Edmunds (above, right) leads the team in tackles, with 4.5 of those resulting in lost yardage, and has forced two fumbles. His numbers may not quite be up to his 2016 standards, but he is still the guy opponents have to focus on.
Best Moment of the First Half: Keeping West Virginia out of the end zone to end game
With 1:59 remaining in a 31-24 game, Tech kicker Joey Slye missed a short field goal that would have sealed the deal, giving the ball back to West Virginia at its own 20-yard line. Led by quarterback Will Grier, the Mountaineers drove into the red zone and had two shots to tie the game. The Hokies held on both plays to come away with their biggest win so far this season.
Best Newcomer: QB Josh Jackson
Losing Jerod Evans unexpectedly to the NFL draft was a shock, but the redshirt freshman has more than done the job. While he may not be as dynamic as a runner, his passing numbers so far this year (1,700 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs) are comparable to what Evans put up last season.
Biggest Surprise: WR Sean Savoy
The Hokies needed someone to emerge as a No. 2 receiver behind Cam Phillips and the true freshman from Washington D.C. has taken hold of that spot. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder has 27 catches for 337 yards and three scores so far this year. Savoy has a lot to deal with going forward as he lost his older brother in a tragic shooting last week.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. More consistent running game
The Hokies put up big rushing numbers in three games and were held in check the other three games. Granted, Boston College and Clemson have some defenders that can stop the run. But more production from Travon McMillian and Deshawn McClease will help take some of the pressure off of Josh Jackson.
2. Red zone efficiency
Defensively, the Hokies have been outstanding with their backs to the end zone. But the offense has to improve in this area. Virginia Tech is 80th in the nation at converting red zone opportunities into points and they are 103rd in touchdown conversion rate.
3. Joey Slye
Starting right from the opening game, the normally reliable kicker has been inconsistent. The senior has missed three kicks inside of 40 yards and is only one of three from 40-49 yards. With big games coming up, the Hokies need Slye to return to form.
Ranking the Toughest Games Remaining on the Schedule
1. Nov. 4 at Miami
This is the game that will probably decide the Coastal Division title. Thanks to a little luck, the Hurricanes are unbeaten on the year and ranked in the top 10.
2. Nov. 11 at Georgia Tech
The following week, Virginia Tech goes to Atlanta to face Paul Johnson’s option attack. Last year the Yellow Jackets went in to Lane Stadium with a backup quarterback and knocked off the Hokies.
3. Nov. 24 at Virginia
Perhaps the rivalry will return. Tech has won 13 in a row in this series, but the Cavaliers are sitting at 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference, including a impressive road win over Boise State.
4. Oct. 28 Duke
The Blue Devils have given the Hokies problems in recent years, winning the last two times they’ve come to Blacksburg. But after a strong start, Duke has dropped their last three games.
5. Nov. 18 Pittsburgh
The Panthers have struggled on both sides of the ball, ranking 103rd in total offense and 107th in total defense. They are now relying on Ben DiNucci at quarterback after an injury to starter Max Browne.
6. Oct. 21 North Carolina
The Tar Heels have been ravaged by injuries this fall with 15 players expected to miss the rest of the season according to sports-reference.com. Redshirt freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt has potential but there’s not much around him.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of www.hokiesports.com)