Positives for Virginia Tech Football Entering the Offseason

Virginia Tech’s 2018 season did not come to a merciful end. The Hokies lost a back-and-forth slugfest with Cincinnati by a score of 35-31, which included a 64-yard drive by the Bearcats in the final minutes that sealed the Hokies’ fate.

The Hokies finished this year 6-7, marking the program’s first losing record since 1992. This was an infuriating season for fans, mired dismissals of star players, embarrassing defeats and calls of changes to the coaching staff.

But Tech’s season of agony and despair is over. Virginia Tech can now focus on finishing up the 2019 recruiting class and get ready for winter workouts. The focus in Tech’s football offices will no doubt be turning towards next season over the coming days and weeks, so our focus should turn as well. I’ve written extensively about Virginia Tech’s struggles in 2018. Now, let’s focus on some of the positives heading into 2019.

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Monday Mail: Boosting Recruiting, Wide Receiver Depth, Miami’s Problems and More

Merry Christmas, you filthy animals. Welcome to a holiday edition of Monday Mail, which is jam-packed with my opinion and analysis that you desire.

Thanks for the questions this week, folks. Instead of wasting time, let’s dive right in.

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Previewing Virginia Tech’s Military Bowl Opponent: The Cincinnati Bearcats

Virginia Tech’s coaches are pounding the recruiting trail at the moment, as they should be. The early signing period is just days away, and securing young talent is the best way to improve the Hokies’ prospects moving forward.

However, Virginia Tech still has a game left on the schedule. Due to some late-season heroics, the Hokies are going bowling once again, this time in the Military Bowl vs. Cincinnati.

The Bearcats finished the regular season at 10-2, their first 10-win season since 2012. They’ll pose a healthy threat to Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve in Annapolis.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive review of Cincinnati, but it is meant to shed light on the Bearcats and what kind of team they are. We’ll take a look at their schedule, some of the team’s best players and how the advanced metrics view Cincinnati.

The schedule

There’s a reason Cincinnati finished the season outside the College Football Playoff Top 25 with a 10-2 record — the Bearcats played a weak schedule and failed to earn a marquee win.

Here’s Cincinnati’s schedule…

  • at UCLA (3-9), 26-17 win
  • at Miami (Ohio) (6-6), 21-0 win
  • vs. Alabama A&M (6-5), 63-7 win
  • vs. Ohio (8-4), 34-30 win
  • at UCONN (1-11), 49-7 win
  • vs. Tulane (6-6), 37-21 win
  • at Temple (8-4), 24-17 loss in OT
  • at SMU (5-7), 26-20 win
  • vs. Navy (3-9), 42-0 win
  • vs. USF (7-5), 35-23 win
  • at UCF (12-0), 38-13 loss
  • vs. East Carolina (3-9), 56-6 win

Of Cincinnati’s 10 wins, only five of them came against teams who are bowl eligible. Their most impressive wins include a four-point victory over Ohio and a 12-point victory over South Florida. Not all that daunting, eh?

Cincinnati played two teams that won more than eight games, losing both. They lost at Temple in an overtime defeat, and got pummeled by Central Florida down in Orlando. Losing to UCF is entirely understandable, but when you lose both games against teams you play with a pulse, it hurts the resume.

The leaders

Redshirt freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder put together a terrific debut season, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 2.359 yards, 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

As a runner, Ridder was even more prolific. Ridder carried the ball 148 times this season, rushing for 574 yards and another five touchdowns. Ridder rushed for 60 yards or more on six different occasions. He’s a true dual-threat quarterback and finished as the team’s second-leading rusher.

Cincinnati’s leading rusher is sophomore Michael Warren II, a 5-foot-11 and 218-pound rock that racked up 1,163 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Warren played his best two games against UCLA and USF, rushing for more than 140 yards and scoring three touchdowns in each of those two contests.

None of Cincinnati’s receivers finished the year with more than 800 receiving yards, but they’ve got a balanced attack on the outside. Senior receiver Khalil Lewis led the way for the Bearcats, catching 55 passes for 768 yards and nine touchdowns. Lewis waited until their season finale vs. East Carolina for his best performance of the year, totaling nine receptions for 203 yards and three touchdowns.

Josiah Deguara and Rashad Medaris are the only other Bearcat receivers to finish the regular season with 400 yards or more, totaling 465 and 429 respectively.

On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Malik Clements was the team’s most impactful player. The Danville, Va. native finished 2018 with 53 tackles (tied for the team lead), six tackles for loss and two sacks. Cortez Broughton led the way up front, finishing with 46 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Safety James Wiggins picked off a team-high three passes and was credited with five pass breakups.

The metrics

First, let’s use Cincinnati’s traditional statistics to create a baseline for comparison.

  • Scoring offense — 34.9 points per game (tied for 26th)
  • Total offense — 458.2 yards per game (25th)
  • Scoring defense — 16.1 points per game (7th)
  • Total defense — 291.9 yards per game (8th)

Here are some of Cincinnati’s advanced metrics, courtesy of Football Outsiders.

  • Offensive S&P+ — 28.4 (74th)
  • Defensive S&P+ — 19.2 (19th)
  • Special Teams S&P+ — minus-0.2 (76th)
  • Overall S&P+ — 9.0 (32nd)

By all standards, Cincinnati’s defense is pretty stellar. Despite the weak schedule, the Bearcats defense ranks in the top-20 in S&P+. Offensively, it’s definitely much more of a mixed bag. Cincinnati’s offense looks a lot better in the box score than it does in the S&P+.

Bringing it all together

Cincinnati’s defense led the way in 2018, making up for an inconsistent offense under a freshman quarterback. The Bearcats will give Ryan Willis and Co. plenty of problems, but that’s not to say they’ll shut down the Hokies.

As inconsistent as Cincinnati’s offense is, they have some firepower. Desmond Ridder should only get better with another set of practices before the Military Bowl, and he’s already shown the ability to take care of the football. He’s got a balanced receiving corps around him and a star running back beside him.

But still, Cincinnati hasn’t played many good teams this season. Their overall numbers are no doubt inflated by the team’s weak schedule. South Florida and Ohio are Cincinnati’s best wins, and neither of them are that impressive.

I encourage you to dig deeper than I have, if you have the time, to get an even better idea of what kind of team Cincinnati is. Hopefully this was a good primer of what is to come. We’ll get the full experience on Dec. 31 in Annapolis.

 

Monday Mail: Reasons for Optimism and Concern in 2019 for Virginia Tech

Another Hokies win, another semi-positive Monday Mail.

That doesn’t mean fans are thrilled, but they are indeed happy that Virginia Tech’s nation-leading bowl streak is still alive and well. However, if this week’s questions are any indication, fans are already looking towards 2019.

Let’s dive in.

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Postgame Observations: Hokies Show Resiliency in the Face of Adversity With 41-20 Win Over Marshall

Let’s begin this article by hearkening back to an old tweet from yours truly. I’m sure you’ve seen it all over Twitter.

Obviously, this prediction went nowhere. Virginia Tech proceeded to win their next two games, capping things off with a 41-20 win over Marshall that cemented the Hokies in a bowl game for the 26th-straight season.

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Paul Johnson’s Retirement Potentially Changes the Dynamic of the ACC Coastal

For years, Paul Johnson has been a thorn in the side of every single head coach in the ACC.

Johnson’s option attack at Georgia Tech never brought him tremendous national success, but the Yellow Jackets were always good enough to mess with teams who doubled them in talent. Virginia Tech is no different.

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Monday Mail: Conservative Play Calling, Staff Changes and More

It feels like it’s been forever since we did a Monday Mail after a Hokies win. Virginia Tech ended their four-game losing streak on Friday, winning their 15th in a row against Virginia and locking in a matchup vs. Marshall with bowl implications.

The Hokies made plenty of mistakes, but made just enough plays to win. If Virginia Tech can knock of Marshall on Dec. 1, the fans might be able to forgive this team for their season-long struggles.

Without further ado, let’s get into the questions this week.

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Postgame Observations: Virginia Tech Defies the Odds in Dramatic Win Over Virginia

Virginia Tech wasn’t supposed to defeat Virginia for a 15-straight time on Friday night.

Tre Turner wasn’t supposed to make two uber-important receptions, one for a touchdown and another for 45 yards. Dalton Keene wasn’t supposed to make a miraculous 45-yard reception on a third-and-10 in the final period. Virginia Tech wasn’t supposed to recover Steven Peoples‘ fumble for a touchdown. And Virginia wasn’t supposed to mishandle a quarterback/running back exchange in overtime, leading to a Hokies’ recovery and a Tech win.

And yet, all of these things happened.

Virginia Tech knocked off Virginia once again, extending one of Tech’s most important streaks and giving the Hokies one more shot at another bowl game.

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Mid-Season Transfers and What They Mean for Virginia Tech’s Football Program

The transfer market is all the rage these days. More and more college athletes are leaving their original schools and looking for greener pastures, in search of playing time, a bigger spotlight, etc.

Virginia Tech is no different. Players leave every season, usually looking for a bigger role and a chance to showcase their talents. These transfers are generally announced after the season or after spring practice, when a player’s role on the team is clearer and more defined. But this week, two Hokies left the program and announced their plans to transfer.

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Monday Mail: Continued Offensive Struggles and Leaving the Hokie Club

These Monday Mail’s are becoming a bit redundant. But when Virginia Tech keeps losing, what else is there to talk about?

The Hokies are on the verge of a worst-case season. Murphy’s Law is in full effect, as Virginia Tech now sits at 4-5 with a four-game losing streak. Miami earned bowl eligibility with their win over the Hokies on Saturday, something that is becoming less achievable by the week for Virginia Tech.

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