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.
Options at quarterback
Despite losing Josh Jackson to a broken leg early in the season, Virginia Tech’s quarterback play was relatively good all season long.
Here are Tech’s quarterback stats for 2018…
- Josh Jackson: Three games, 36-of-58, 575 passing yards, 20 carries, 61 rushing yards, six total touchdowns, one interception
- Ryan Willis: 12 games, 213-of-364, 2716 passing yards, 113 carries, 354 rushing yards, 28 total touchdowns, nine interceptions
- Quincy Patterson: Three games, 1-of-5, nine passing yards, nine carries, 25 rushing yards
- Hendon Hooker: Three games, four carries, 57 yards, one rushing touchdown
Neither Jackson nor Willis played bad, in the overall scheme of things. Both had low points in their seasons, but in the aggregate, the two played well. Patterson and Hooker failed to make a serious impact on the season.
Next year, there will be an open quarterback competition. Jackson, Willis and Patterson (and Hooker if he sticks around) will be fighting for the job, with all three having a legitimate argument. Jackson is the most experienced and has the most time in the offense. Willis presents a higher upside, in terms of throwing the ball, while Patterson is the up and coming prodigy.
Whoever wins the starting job at quarterback should give Virginia Tech good quarterback play. If things go right, the level might be even higher than that. But Tech fans should have little reason to worry about their signal caller in 2019.
Serious talent and depth at wide receiver
Both Damon Hazelton and Eric Kumah emerged as legitimate threats on the outside this season, catching a combined 93 passes for 1,361 yards and 15 touchdowns. Hazelton started the season hot, catching touchdowns in eight of Virginia Tech’s first nine games. Kumah emerged later in 2018, hauling in five touchdowns in Virginia Tech’s final six contests.
Hazelton and Kumah should both be starting next season, given that Kumah returns to school and doesn’t test the NFL waters. Tre Turner came on late in the season as well and with the three all slated to return next year, Tech’s starting receivers are very good.
Even the backups should be able to hold their own. Hezekiah Grimsley has played in 23 games in two seasons and caught 31 passes for 382 yards this year. Should he return, Phil Patterson gives Tech another older player with three years in the program. Freshmen Darryle Simmons and DeJuan Ellis are coming off redshirt seasons and Tech signed four receivers in the 2019 class.
Not only does Virginia Tech have top-of-the-line talent at wide receiver, they have the depth to match it. The Hokies should have no problem putting explosive players on the field in 2019, which will raise the offense’ level of success.
More experience on defense
I don’t need to run through the statistics to tell you how bad Virginia Tech’s defense was in 2018. Bud Foster’s unit let down the team repeatedly this season.
Things should improve. Even though many of this year’s starters struggled, 10 of them will return next season. Most of this year’s starters will be back next season with another year in the strength and conditioning program, as well as another spring season to learn the defense.
Returning that many starters doesn’t guarantee that Virginia Tech will return to their normal defensive ways in 2019. But it does mean that most of them should improve. Dax Hollifield is already pretty good for a true freshman, and another year should make him one of the better linebackers in the conference. Houshun Gaines proved to be a borderline-elite pass rusher before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Bryce Watts and Caleb Farley have nowhere to go but up after this season, and another year of experience should help Divine Deablo be a better safety.
Fans should expect the defense to be better in 2019. How much better is the real question. Are there any other areas you’re expecting to improve in 2019? Leave them in the comments below.