Monday Mail: The Impact of Recent Transfers, Bench Depth and Home/Road Disparity

Welcome back Hokies. Monday Mail has returned and boy, is there a lot to discuss. I issued a late request for questions this weekend and you all responded. Thank you for the questions.

Let’s dive into this week’s mail, which hit on three different Virginia Tech teams.

I don’t think there is any way you can positively spin these defections and transfers. For the most part, the players that have left contributed in a noticeable and impactful way, even if the player hasn’t done as much as fans would have liked.

For example, Josh Jackson leaving the program removes depth from the most important position on the field. Jackson leaves Blacksburg with 16 starts under his belt, which is more starting experience at Tech than any of the other Hokie quarterbacks combined. For all of Jackson’s faults, he was a generally reliable quarterback who took care of the football.

The same goes for guys like Deshawn McClease, Eric Kumah or Chris Cunningham. Their absence leaves the position weaker than it was before. Tech now has to find contributors to take their place, and there’s no guarantee the guys on the roster can fill that void.

If there is any silver lining to all of this, it’s that the guys left on the roster want to be in Blacksburg. All of them had an opportunity to transfer, but they didn’t. Instead, they stayed.

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Now some of the team will likely leave the program after spring ball, that’s almost guaranteed. But for now, all the guys that are going through winter workouts are committed to Virginia Tech football. Having a group of guys that want to be there makes a difference in your culture, and the results of your offseason conditioning. In many ways, the 2019 season has already started. If Tech doesn’t make the necessary gains now, then 2019 will go as poorly as 2018 did.

For those who have forgotten, rising sophomore Devon Hunter redshirted in 2018. Hunter arrived in Blacksburg to much fanfare and acclaim, but the in-state product has failed to do much more than contribute on special teams.

Hunter is a physical specimen. At 6-feet and 225 pounds, Hunter has excellent range and strength for his size. However, as teams run more and more spread formations and concepts, a big safety is becoming less and less valuable. Safeties need to be able to cover more than they need to be able to help in the run game, at least at the college level.

That’s why Hunter has been moved down to the whip linebacker position, which functions as a nickelback. Here, Hunter can cover smaller areas of the field while also being able to help slow down the run.

Unless Hunter wants to add 10-15 pounds and move to linebacker, playing whip is his last hope. It’s really the only position left on the field that suits him physically, and another position change would hinder his development even more.

I think Hunter will come ready to play this spring. Hunter played in four games in 2018 before sitting for the rest of the season, and sitting on the bench isn’t something former five-star prospects like. I think it’ll have a humbling effect on him and that he’ll emerge this offseason as one of the bright spots on a defense that needs to grow up in a hurry.

It does always seem like Virginia Tech never has depth on the bench. Whether it’s because Chris Clarke can’t stay healthy (or gets suspended), or Ty Outlaw blows his knee out prior to the season, or Landers Nolley isn’t declared eligible, it’s always something.

Right now, Tech is running with a two or three-man bench, with Outlaw and Isaiah Wilkins being the primary guys. Tech has zero frontcourt depth, with Kerry Blackshear Jr. being the only big man on the roster.

Tech’s lack of depth, particularly in the frontcourt, will hold them back from making a run at the ACC title. Duke is obviously on another level, but Duke and Virginia have more depth than Virginia Tech could ever imagine. What you see is what you get for Virginia Tech basketball. There are no reinforcements coming. The Hokies will go as far as Justin Robinson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Blackshear will carry them.

As far as the women’s basketball team, I must admit ignorance. I haven’t been able to follow the team as closely as I did in past years, so my knowledge of the team and their strengths and weaknesses is very slim.

What I do know is that the 2018-2019 season is shaping up to be another example of the team falling apart in conference play. Consider these ACC records over the last few seasons…

  • 2015-2016: 5-11
  • 2016-2017, Kenny Brooks’ first season: 4-12
  • 2017-2018: 6-10
  • 2018-2019: 0-7

Virginia Tech has absolutely collapsed in conference play, going from an undefeated 13-0 to being almost guaranteed to miss the tournament again.

I can’t explain why Tech struggles so much in the ACC. The problem pre-dates Kenny Brooks’ arrival in Blacksburg, though Brooks has seemingly had enough time to point things in the right direction.

My ignorance keeps me from being able to dive deeper into the problems this team is having. But anyone who looks on the surface can see that something is wrong. There’s still time for Virginia Tech to turn this thing around before the end of the season, but that time is getting shorter and shorter.

Despite its problems, Cassell Coliseum is quite the homecourt advantage. It’s unbelievably loud inside, even when the crowd isn’t at full capacity. It’s hot and stuffy, and the arena’s unique design makes it feel like the crowd is almost on top of you. The lights are in different positions. It’s just a unique set up, and it benefits Tech tremendously.

On the road, Tech doesn’t have those advantages. They don’t have the crowd to pick them up after a bad sequence. Tech has to fight through the same obstacles that every team fights through when they’re on the road.

I think Buzz Williams’ guys are extremely emotional. Though they are mature and well put together, they feed off the highs and lows of the game. It’s clear when they play.

Those highs are a lot higher and more frequent when you’re in your own building. When you’re on the road, you don’t have a few thousand fans picking you up on every defensive possession. That passion, that energy, it matters when we’re discussing college kids.

Maybe Williams will be able to coach his kids out of that feeling as he learns and grows. But for now, Tech fans should expect a home/road disparity. Any win Tech can get on the road is a blessing, and any game at home is almost a must-win.

8 thoughts on “Monday Mail: The Impact of Recent Transfers, Bench Depth and Home/Road Disparity”

  1. Ricky,

    You and the Richmond Times Dispatch are the only two places where this is described as negative. Every other source I read says it gets rid of the bad blood and most of the players leaving weren’t going to play much anyway. Plus, it is happening at almost every other school. Why don’t you take a second look . . . otherwise, I appreciate your writing and thanks for your articles.

    Sandy Seay ’66

    1. I think having players who don’t want to be in Blacksburg is indeed a positive. However, when you take into account their talent and the depth they provided, I don’t think their decisions to leave are a net positive.

    1. Good riddance to you then. You can’t seem to tolerate anyone with a different opinion other than your own? I can only imagine how you handle dissent or disagreements in your home and personal life.

      1. Flip a coin; James’s capacity to handle dissent or disagreements might be honorable and obliging at home or in all other facets of his personal life. Discord on VT sports might very well get his blood roasting. I get all sweltered and discombobulated when discussing climate change, evolution, religion, etc. but I am calm as a cucumber at home and in all other aspects of my personal life.

        I appreciate your text and opinion but getting into a tinkling match with one of your readers is not cool.

  2. Ricky don’t you think this is a case of better talent/recruiting lapping the holdovers from the previous regime? Add the first year for the transfer portal and voila!

    1. I don’t think that is the case. Even though the depth behind him was strong, Eric Kumah would have been a starter next season. Cunningham had indeed been passed on the depth chart, but Jackson could have won the starting job again this offseason.

      Some of the lesser guys had been passed on the depth chart (Savoy, Plantin, etc.) but Kumah and Jackson didn’t leave for those reasons.

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