Whit Babcock Has No Easy Solution to Stop Virginia Tech’s Football Freefall

I really like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, particularly where in The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent famously says, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente knows this all too well.

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The Coming Tests for Virginia Tech’s Offensive Line

I think most Virginia Tech fans agree that the offensive line has been the most reliable and productive unit all season long.

They’ve done a remarkable job opening holes for the Hokies’ running game, springing Khalil Herbert and Hendon Hooker for big gains regularly. Herbert and Hooker have been tremendous — they’ve combined for 1,427 rush yards and are averaging 8.1 and 5.6 yards per carry, respectively.

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Depth a Growing Issue at Receiver for Virginia Tech

We knew coming into the 2020 season that Virginia Tech’s depth at wide receiver was a problem. But did we know it was this thin?

The Hokies are an offense centered around running the football. That much is indisputable. That said, it is fair to say that Virginia Tech’s lack of depth at receiver is a contributing factor to that reliance on the run.

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ACC Analysis: Breaking Down the Remainder of Virginia Tech’s 2020 Schedule

Three games. And if COVID-19 has its way, it might be two.

Virginia Tech’s 2020 season has hit the final stretch. The Hokies will likely get a bowl invite if bowl games are played this winter, but all Tech can count on are the three remaining ACC games on their schedule.

So instead of reviewing the entire conference, let’s take a look at the three teams left on Tech’s slate.

Pitt’s rebound threatened by COVID-19

It’s been a frustrating season for Pittsburgh. Their stellar defensive line has been virtually wasted by an anemic offense and an inconsistent secondary. The Panthers have played in a bunch of close games, but they also lost to Notre Dame by 42.

Pitt’s win over Florida State on Nov. 7 is hard to gauge — did the Panthers find something on the offensive side of the ball, or is Florida State that bad? You could make an argument either way.

The Panthers’ strength is clearly their defensive front, which has generated the most productive pass rush of any team in the country — the Panthers lead the FBS in sacks (38) and tackles for loss (93).  Oddly enough, the Hokies are tied for second and eighth in each of those, respectively.

Kenny Pickett may decide the outcome of this game. He’s a mobile playmaker who has missed a couple of games this season due to injury. Pickett’s return came against Florida State, when he completed almost 78 percent of his throws and scored a rushing touchdown.

This game may not happen. The Panthers were forced to postpone their contest vs. Georgia Tech this past weekend after an outbreak of COVID-19 within the program. Pitt paused all football activities on Nov. 12 and just resumed practice on Tuesday.

I’m not sure if the Panthers will be ready for their game against Virginia Tech, but this is worth monitoring. And with both Pitt and Virginia Tech already slated to play on Dec. 12, I’m not sure when the game could be made up.

War Machine Clemson is Coming

Clemson lost their first regular season game since the Ronald Reagan administration a couple of weeks ago and they’ve had a long bye week to think about it.

If you don’t think Clemson is about to steamroll every opponent in front of them, you are sadly mistaken. Dabo Swinney is going to dare the College Football Playoff committee to leave them out of the top-four by nuking the remaining teams on their schedule.

Clemson plays Florida State and Pittsburgh before traveling to Blacksburg. Trevor Lawrence is back, though his absence wasn’t what befell Clemson in their loss to Notre Dame. The Tigers’ defense has plenty of time to get right before they play the Hokies, who own the best offense left on Clemson’s schedule.

This represents another challenge for Virginia Tech’s offensive line. The Tigers’ defense is tied for second in sacks (with Virginia Tech) and third in tackles for loss, most of which come from the front four. Stud tackle Bryan Bresee should be healthy by then, but the Tigers have plenty of other options.

Virginia Close to .500

Don’t look now, but the ‘Hoos are hot.

Virginia has won two straight — a three-point win upset over North Carolina and a 31-17 win over a decimated Louisville. The Cardinals were without both of their top offensive weapons, Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell.

To Virginia’s credit, wins are wins. Brennan Armstrong has been better since returning from a concussion earlier in the season, throwing six touchdowns to just two interceptions in his last three games. Add what he’s done on the ground — 217 yards and three touchdowns — and the ‘Hoos are once again becoming a one-man band.

Virginia plays three more games before their showdown with the Hokies — a cakewalk vs. Abilene Christian, a winnable road game vs. Florida State and a tough contest vs. Boston College. We’ve got plenty of time to learn more about Virginia before the clash for the Commonwealth Cup takes place.

Tech Takeaways: Hokies’ GRIT Not Enough in Loss to Miami

Vegas knows. I don’t know how, but Vegas knows.

The betting line on Virginia Tech’s noon tilt with No. 9 Miami rested at Virginia Tech (-2), which was shocking. The Hokies were bordering on freefall and had just lost to Liberty, while Miami was still in contention for an ACC Championship berth.

Sure enough, that line was pretty close. Virginia Tech fell to Miami 25-24 in a game that could’ve gone either way in the fourth quarter. The Hokies battled all game long against a superior opponent, but they failed to close the deal. Continue reading “Tech Takeaways: Hokies’ GRIT Not Enough in Loss to Miami”

Pulling the Plug on the Justin Hamilton Experiment

It was a nice idea, but things just aren’t working out.

When Justin Fuente decided to hand the reins of his defense to up-start defensive assistant Justin Hamilton, there was reason for optimism.

Hamilton, a Hokies legend in his own right, showed signs of developing into a superstar coach. His work with defensive backs, specifically safeties, resulted in on-field improvements. Reggie Floyd became a leader and captain at rover, Divine Deablo was groomed to take his place and Chamarri Conner grew into a high-reward player still learning to play at a consistent level.

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Tech Takeaways: Virginia Tech Finds Futility Under Fuente Once Again

Yeah, that will just about do it.

I wrote back in 2019 about Virginia Tech’s abysmal loss to Duke and how it might serve as a tipping point in the Justin Fuente era. That felt like a loss that Fuente and his staff simply wouldn’t be able to come back from.

While that might have been premature, I’m now confident that what I was feeling was justified.

The Hokies entered their matchup on Saturday against Liberty as 14.5-point favorites, a rarity against a top-25 ranked opponent. The Flames were 6-0, but they achieved that mark beating exclusively awful competition.

Virginia Tech was supposed to slap Liberty back into reality, bringing them back down to Earth. Instead, the Hokies found themselves yet again upset by an inferior opponent.

The manner in which it happened was the most frustrating. Virginia Tech’s defense leaked like a sieve on Liberty’s nine-play, 72-yard drive to give Liberty a 35-28 lead with 1:41 left to go. After the Hokies quickly marched down the field and tied the game, Liberty again moved down the field towards the redzone.

With just a few seconds remaining, Liberty lined up for a 59-yard field goal attempt, only to have it blocked and returned for a touchdown by Jermaine Waller. But all of it was for naught, thanks to Fuente‘s timeout before the kick.

Liberty took another play, completed a pass for eight yards and won on a walk-off 51-yard field goal by Alex Barbir.

It was as heartbreaking of a loss as one could imagine, something Virginia Tech fans are becoming all too familiar with.

The fanbase is checking out

Virginia Tech will not win an ACC Championship under Fuente. They may never play for an ACC Championship again under him either.

Fuente’s Hokies have consistently declined in his tenure. The program has looked worse and worse on the field and on the recruiting trail, save for a 6-1 stretch in 2019. Fuente reached his peak in 2016 and he is nowhere close to hitting that mark again.

For one reason or another, Virginia Tech has an issue underperforming. This is a consistent issue, one that shows up multiple times every season.

In 2016, the Hokies fell flat on their face in shocking losses to Syracuse and Georgia Tech.

In 2017, the Hokies got run off their home turf by Clemson, blown out on the road against Miami and lost in knuckleheaded fashion vs. Georgia Tech.

In 2018, Virginia Tech lost to Old Dominion, looked lifeless for most of the season and needed a rescheduled game against Marshall to become bowl eligible.

In 2019, Fuente oversaw the worst home loss in school history in a 35-point loss to Duke. Virginia also ended their losing streak against the Hokies, costing Tech an ACC Coastal Championship.

So far in 2020, Virginia Tech has been upset twice — Wake Forest held the Hokies to just 16 points and Liberty bested Virginia Tech as two-touchdown underdogs.

These monumental disappointments year after year have soured the Virginia Tech fanbase, who has yearned for a landmark win to signify progress. Fuente hasn’t earned that landmark win, and his teams have far too many landmark defeats. In the last three seasons, Virginia Tech has lost to every other FBS team in the Commonwealth.

Fuente and his staff will not regain the trust of the Virginia Tech fanbase. Fans do not directly result in wins and losses, but it’s a real sign that this marriage is doomed for divorce.

Hamilton hasn’t justified his promotion

Justin Hamilton‘s first season as defensive coordinator has been quite awful.

Virginia Tech has consistently looked lost on defense, allowing points in droves. The Hokies have struggled tackling, found themselves out of position several times each game and have ultimately failed to generate defensive stops when necessary.

Hamilton was billed as an up-and-comer of sorts, but his unit has consistently struggled. Their best performance came in the season-opener against NC State, a game in which Hamilton was sitting at home and many of his players were out because of COVID-19.

I think it was reasonable to expect Hamilton to take his lumps in Year One, but we have not seen enough signs of hope to justify being patient. Hamilton’s defensive backs have played worse as the season has progressed, his linebackers have played poorly for most of the season and his defensive line has been far too inconsistent.

Hamilton was clearly unprepared for Saturday, as he allowed Liberty’s do-it-all quarterback Malik Willis to complete 20 of his 30 throws for three touchdowns, all the while Willis was running for 108 yards and another score.

After Fuente’s timeout that called back the blocked field goal, Hamilton’s unit played prevent defense with just a handful of seconds left on the clock. Willis fired a quick strike to CJ Yarbrough, putting the Flames in position for Barbir’s game-winning field goal. Hamilton’s defensive call literally gave Liberty a better chance of winning the game.

No time for weeping

Virginia Tech doesn’t have time to lick their wounds and heal from this loss.  They host Miami next Saturday.

There is no realistic path for the Hokies to pick up a win in that game. The Hurricanes boast one of the better offenses the Hokies will see all season and their defense has enough talent to bottle up Virginia Tech’s offense. Even if Khalil Herbert returns from his hamstring injury, the Hokies’ goose might be cooked.

After Miami, Virginia Tech travels to Pitt, who picked up a resurgent win over Florida State this weekend. The Hokies then have an open date before back-to-back games against Clemson and Virginia. Both of those teams are trending upward, while the Hokies are spiraling down.

Removing Liberty’s Top-25 Facemask

If I told you before the season started that only one of the teams in Virginia Tech and Liberty’s game this weekend would enter the contest ranked, that wouldn’t surprise you.

Now if I added that Liberty was the ranked team, then you might wonder what decade it is.

Relax. It’s still 2020, which has featured more than enough nonsense for one year. Liberty is a decent football team, but as we’ll discuss later in this piece, their ranking is questionable.

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ACC Analysis: Clemson Solidifies Dominance, Virginia Awakens and Notre Dame Lurks

Week 9 provided all sorts of headlines from the ACC. Not only did Duke drop a 50-burger on Charlotte in shocking fashion, but another ranked ACC team fell to an unranked opponent.

Let’s dive right into this week’s ACC Analysis.

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Tech Takeaways: Hooker Shoulders the Load in Hokies’ Win at Louisville

Talk about responding to adversity.

After a deflating and heartbreaking loss to Wake Forest, Hendon Hooker rebounded from his worst college game with an efficient and impressive performance in Virginia Tech’s 42-35 victory over Louisville.

Virginia Tech was far from perfect — any time you allow 35 points you open yourself up to some criticism. That said, the Hokies returned to form on offense and played just enough defense to win.

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