The Hokie Roundtable has returned. My friends and astute followers of Virginia Tech, Stephen Newman and Franklin Heinzmann, have joined me once again to hit on some of the bigger topics surrounding Virginia Tech football.
If you didn’t read the first Hokie Roundtable and you’re wondering who Stephen and Franklin are, you can read that here.
Now, let’s jump into it.
Is Lane Stadium still valuable on gameday?
Stephen Newman: I don’t particularly like this question. Critics say that the Hokies don’t win as much as they arguably should at home. However, let’s dig a little deeper. Throw out this year, because they’ve only played three games, and the two losses have nothing to do with location.
Anyway, in Justin Fuente’s first season, the team went 5-1 at home, only losing to that pesky Tech school down south. That sounds familiar. Even including that game, the Hokies outscored their opposition 248-86.
Last year, it was much the same. The Hokies went 5-1 again at home, only losing to No. 2 Clemson, with a point differential of 185-55. No, that’s not a typo, they held four teams to one score or less, yet we’re complaining about their performances at home.
The better question–maybe–is regarding why they can’t beat ranked teams at home at the same rate they do on the road. Oh wait, who have they played at home? No. 6 Notre Dame this year, No. 2 Clemson last year, and three teams in 2015 (prior to Fuente), including No. 12 North Carolina and the top-ranked Buckeyes–and the Hokies weren’t good then. What did you expect them to do?
Let’s talk about ranked teams they’ve played away from Lane the last two years. They beat No. 22 Duke, No. 19 (somehow) Florida State, and No. 22 West Virginia, and they lost to No. 19 Oklahoma State, No. 9 Miami, No. 3 Clemson, and No. 17 Tennessee. Sensing a trend yet? The Hokies lose to high ranked teams, regardless of where they play. They’ll beat any team outside the top 20, unless it’s Georgia Tech and often ECU. Location doesn’t matter; there is no “curse of Lane Stadium.”
If you want to tell me Lane is a magical atmosphere that they shouldn’t be able to lose in, I’ll entertain it, but I’ll still think you’re wrong, because after the team is trailing five minutes into a matchup against a juggernaut, the fans go silent anyway, so it’s hardly different from a road game. Challenge the fans if you want to, but that’s the way it goes at 99 percent of schools. Crowd atmospheres are tied almost entirely to success. Don’t give me “Enter Sandman.” It looks nice, and it’s a great experience to be a part of as a fan, but that isn’t enough to shake the opposition once the ball is kicked off. If anything, it makes them want to kick your you-know-what. The glory days of Lane Stadium were that way because there was a high-level product on the field. If the Hokies were perennial contenders–and not just for the Coastal–we’d likely be singing a much different tune.
Franklin Heinzmann: Lane Stadium hasn’t been the “Terrordome” in quite some time now, but it has seemed to lose more of that advantage in the last couple of years. This obviously has to do with the product on the field, but not in the way that you think. I use this term loosely, but for lack of a better term, Tech fans have become fair weather fans.
Now I don’t mean that in the traditional way. Fans still show up and there is still a ton of loyalty and excitement for the program. Attendance has been increasing in the last few years.
Anytime a top-10 team comes to town, the pre-game atmosphere, Enter Sandman and everything leading up to kickoff is electric. But five minutes into the game, when the Hokies have a drive stall and the opposing team has scored, Lane might as well be empty. You can look at the Notre Dame game this year, Clemson in 2017, and Miami from 2014. Once the deficit is more than a touchdown all hope is lost, and the stadium goes silent. Even if Tech comes right back to score and pull the game within a couple of points the atmosphere never truly comes back.
I’m not trying to put all of this on the fan base, but if you want to see the Virginia Tech of old, it must start in the stands. Everyone needs to try harder to stay in the game and stay loud, and actually stay for the duration of the game. I get it, its cold and Tech is down by 20, but leaving early has a huge impact on recruiting.
As of today, Lane Stadium isn’t an asset to Virginia Tech Football. But it needs to be. When the team struggles, the fan base needs to step up and try to turn the tide. Lane Stadium at its best will attract better players which will make the program better and easier to cheer for.
Ricky LaBlue: I got into it with a Virginia Tech fan on Thursday night after retweeting Yahoo’s Pat Forde. Here’s what he posted.
This talking point gained steam just a few weeks ago, when Notre Dame humbled the Hokies at Lane 45-23. Lane Stadium is supposed to be a boneyard full of opposing teams’ hopes and dreams, but it’s been the exact opposite in recent seasons.
Look at these numbers. We’ll start from 2015, even though this trend goes further back than that.
Virginia Tech’s overall record since 2015: 30-17 (.638 winning percentage)
Virginia Tech’s record at home since 2015: 14-8 (.636 winning percentage)
Virginia Tech’s record on road since 2015: 14-6 (.700 winning percentage)
Virginia Tech’s record vs. Power 5 opponents at home since 2015: 7-8 (.467 winning percentage)
Lane Stadium is supposed to be a big advantage for the Hokies. The stadium is 90-plus percent full every gameday, the fans are usually engaged and the stadium holds noise well, despite so much open space.
Instead of thriving, Virginia Tech is struggling in front of their home fans.
I don’t have a reason for this. I have theories that have no evidence to back them up, but I’ll just keep them to myself. The fact of the matter is that the Hokies have to find a way to be better at home. Successful programs don’t hold a sub-.500 record vs. Power 5 teams in their own building.
What word describes your level of worry regarding the Virginia game?
Newman: I will never be scared of Virginia until they actually win something. Looking at their schedule, their lone win that holds much weight was at home against Miami, and they also have a red-flag loss: to Indiana in Week 2. In terms of threesomes, the Cavaliers aren’t that different from the Hokies, they’ve just had — arguably — an even easier schedule and avoided the dud that Tech couldn’t.
They have two more games that they should probably take care of, Pitt and Liberty at home, before making the trip to Georgia Tech, and then to Blacksburg. By the time the finale comes around, they should have at least eight wins.
That right there is another reason why I’m not as worried as other people are. Outside of ending the winless streak against Virginia Tech, what will Virginia really be playing for? There’s a solid chance that it will almost be a tune-up game before playing Clemson — let’s be honest with ourselves, it won’t be Boston College — for the ACC title.
Not to be condescending, but Tech has two chief standards: making a bowl game and beating Virginia. Both could be on the line. I’ll favor the hungry underdogs, especially at home.
Heinzmann: This is the best Virginia team that Fuente has had to face and one of the better ones from the last decade. This is a solid team across the board.
While the Wahoos are 6-2, their best win is against Miami and in all honesty, I don’t know what Miami is. They show flashes of being good but are extremely inconsistent. With that said, I am still terrified of this game. They have a good quarterback in Bryce Perkins and his mobility has made this ‘Hoo offense explosive.
Bud Foster and the Hokies’ defense historically has a hard time against running quarterbacks and the last few games haven’t made me feel better about that. To stop Virginia, the Hokies must stop Perkins in one facet or another. He’s thrown eight interceptions on the season, which is a good sign for a defense that has shown they have the ability to find the ball in the air and come down with it.
I want to see the streak continue and see the Commonwealth Cup stay in Blacksburg, but I’m not going to say I expect that to happen.
LaBlue: Tense. Virginia football isn’t a joke anymore. In fact, the Cavaliers are playing good football look like the favorites in the ACC Coastal Division. ESPN’s Football Power Index agrees.
Hooville is buzzing and rightfully so. Bronco Mendenhall has surprised many, including me, in the way he’s been able to turn things around. Virginia tanked last season after starting strong and several impactful seniors departed over the winter.
And yet, Virginia is rolling. JUCO transfer Bryce Perkins has exceeded expectations, completing over 63 percent of his throws for 1,623 yards, 15 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. More importantly, Perkins has given Virginia a dual threat at quarterback, adding 575 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
The ‘Hoos defense has led the way. Virginia is tied for 18th in scoring defense (18.8 points per game) and 21st in total defense (327.4 yards per game). In Virginia’s six wins, they’ve allowed 21 points or less five times.
Virginia and Virginia Tech are headed in opposite directions. The ‘Hoos are a group finding their rhythm while the Hokies are a young team struggling to perform on a consistent basis.
What are Virginia Tech’s chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division?
Newman: Looking at this on paper, the Hokies aren’t out of the Coastal race. At 3-1, they’re tied with Pitt, half a game behind Virginia and one game ahead of Miami. And yet it feels like their chances are dead, mainly because of the on-field product.
Looking at the rest of their schedule, they host Boston College, travel to Pittsburgh, and finish at home against Miami and the ‘Hoos. I don’t know if they’ll be favored in a single one of those games — although upsetting the ranked Eagles might change that.
They certainly aren’t out of it. They still play the three teams they’re jockeying for position with. On the other hand, what are their conference wins, considering they still have those teams on their slate? Florida State, Duke, and North Carolina, who have four conference wins between them. Even Georgia Tech —yeah that team —only had one conference victory before last week. Call me a Debby Downer, but I think we should be asking whether they’ll make a bowl game instead.
Heinzmann: The good news is while Tech is 4-3, they are 3-1 in the ACC. The bad news, they have not looked like a winning team since the first half of the Notre Dame game. Tech won at North Carolina, but both teams tried their hardest to lose.
After seeing the last 10 quarters of football, I don’t think there is much of a chance of winning the Coastal. To win the Coastal, the Hokies would need to go no worse than 3-1 to end the season and I don’t see that happening. Boston College hasn’t been this good since Matt Ryan and Tech has allowed over 6 yards per carry in their last 10 quarters. Pitt isn’t the best team out there, but the Hokies have a history of playing poorly at Heinz Field. Miami is just as much of a question mark as the Hokies are, and that game will be determined by which team shows up for both schools. Then there is the Virginia game, which could decide who wins the ACC Coastal.
If you ask me, with the way Tech has been playing, I don’t see three wins in those four games. At this point, with only playing 11 games this year, the focus needs to be on becoming bowl eligible.
LaBlue: I’ll give the Hokies a 25 percent chance of winning the division. Virginia Tech controls their own destiny, meaning if they win out they’ll win the division.
That said, I think the chances of Virginia Tech winning out are very slim. Boston College has gotten their stuff together and behind AJ Dillon, they have a legitimate chance of knocking off the Hokies this Saturday. A road trip to Pittsburgh is never an easy game, and then Tech has to play Miami and Virginia in consecutive weeks.
Virginia could definitely lose one of their remaining games before their season finale in Blacksburg, but you can’t bank on it. They do have a road trip to Georgia Tech coming up, but the ‘Hoos look like they can handle it.
Virginia Tech likely won’t win the Coastal, and they’ll have to scratch and claw to make a bowl game. We all knew this season could be a long one, but it’s turned out to be longer than most thought.